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!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Fork In The Road, Part Two: Making distinctions

            So what do I mean when I say that the main diving line between conservatives (hereafter “cons”) and liberals (hereafter “libs”) is their respective view towards distinctions? Cons tend to like them, or at least acknowledge them, while libs tend to downplay or ignore or reject them.
            Let’s take the issues of abortion and capital punishment. Cons tend to be opposed to the former and support the latter, while libs tend to oppose the latter and support the former. Libs might quibble at my characterization of them as “supporting” abortion, but they at least have to admit that they oppose legal restrictions on them, so they support abortion at least in that sense. But why do they take such an opposite view of abortion and the death penalty? How can cons who claim to be pro-life be in favor of putting murderers to death? Isn’t this a contradiction in the conservative viewpoint?
            No. It’s not contradictory at all, at least not to us. We make a distinction between a full-grown man who chose to murder someone and an innocent baby growing in the womb. Ron Sider, Christian leader on the liberal side of the political spectrum, once proposed that believers should be consistently pro-life. In other words, we should be both anti-capital punishment and anti-abortion. Life is a “seamless garment” as far as God is concerned, and the church should reflect that. To say that one life is precious and worthy of life--while another is not--is to ignore the fact that we’re all created in God’s image.
            In stark contrast, based on what Scripture repeatedly teaches, we politically conservative Christians make a distinction between a murderer and a preborn baby who’s never done anything good or bad.
            Why would libs be the opposite, supportive of (or at least ambivalent towards) abortion but be against the death penalty? Well, to be fair, most Christians on the political left tend to be against abortion. But what about non-Christian libs? That’s a good question. I don’t know anyone else’s heart, so I can only guess. Their system is emotion-based, and quite frankly it might just be a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” They see a mother who’s in a sticky situation, and they don’t see the preborn baby inside her.  Or—and this is a slightly less noble explanation—they’re all about sexual freedom. Every other type of freedom they’re not so quick to defend. Freedom of speech? Who controls the universities with speech codes? Freedom of religion? Well sure, as long as it’s not Christianity. But when it comes to any perceived threat to sexual freedom, they squeal like the proverbial stuck pig.
            Let’s take another big issue: welfare. You see someone in need, and everyone’s first instinct is to take care of them. You want to hand them money or food. The problem is that often—especially in this prosperous nation—most of the time long-term poverty is caused by dysfunctional behavior of either the poor person or his/her parents. If you hand money to someone who’s addicted to something, or who makes really bad financial decisions, or who quite frankly doesn’t want to work, you’re not helping them. You’re hurting them. You might have the best of intentions, but you’re hurting them. We know of “enablers” in dysfunctional relationships with alcoholics, right? They’re the spouse or child or parent of an alcoholic or addict to some other drug, and instead of helping them, they make excuses and “enable” the addict to continue making their self-destructive choices. Quite frankly, we see libs as well-meaning enablers in these situations.
            Libs see someone in need and they want to help. They make no distinction (there’s that word again) between someone who just fell into a bad situation and someone who’s in need because of really bad decision-making. We cons want to help, but we believe (with a ton of evidence to back us up) that the best way to help is A) through family support, then B) the church, and C) the government as an absolutely last resort, mostly for short-term relief such as in disasters (and even that raises some questions with us). And lo and behold, that seems to comport with what the Bible teaches.
            Or let’s take the issue of national morality. Every Christian knows—or ought to know—that there are no perfect people (save One), and that sin’s infected every aspect of our existence in this world. You’ve never seen a church, a business, an organization, or a government which hasn’t been affected by sin. To take it on the international stage, every believer should know that no nation is perfect. Every nation is made up of sinful people, and the official actions of that government will reflect that. It’s a canard that cons see America as perfect. We readily admit that our nation has flaws. It started out flawed, and while some things have somewhat improved (like race relations), other things have gotten worse (like public acceptance of sexual immorality). It’s going to be flawed until Jesus returns or until it falls.
            But where cons and libs part ways is. . .again, making a distinction. Libs apparently can’t make a distinction between a good country which sometimes does bad things and a thoroughly bad country. During the Cold War, they tended to shy away from condemning the Soviet Union: “Well, sure, Russia’s done some terrible things, but what about racism in America?” They mocked and derided President Reagan’s characterization of the U.S.S.R. as an “evil empire.”
            I think, and most cons would agree with me, that there’s a difference between a good person who sometimes does really bad things vs. a thoroughly bad person. Now, of course as far as our eternal relationship with God is concerned, none of us are good enough for him. His standard is perfection, so anything short of that is worthy of eternal condemnation. Christ didn’t come to make good people a little bit better, but to save thoroughly bad ones (like me). I believe that because the Bible teaches it.
            But when he brought up Job before the heavenly assembly, this was the Lord’s general verdict concerning the man: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job certainly wasn’t sinless, but he was a good man who sometimes did bad things, and the Lord apparently recognized this. Read through the books of First and Second Kings, and you’ll constantly see appraisals of this king vs. that king (most of the time unfavorably comparing them to David). David and every other king in the history of Israel and Judah was a sinner, but the Lord could do an overall assessment of their behavior as kings, and some of them did better than others. The inspired writer didn’t simply say “Well, they all fell short of God’s standards, so they’re all equally guilty.” No one even remotely familiar with their history would ever claim that Hezekiah was no better than Ahab as king. Assuming that either of them was eternally saved, they were saved by grace through faith just like Abraham, and just like me. But that seems to be a separate issue from how the Lord viewed their performance as kings.
            Or take the seven churches addressed in chapters two and three of Revelation. My wife and I just started reading the book, and I was struck by how the Lord Jesus addressed them. In each one of his short letters dictated to John, he gives an evaluation of their performance: Not to determine whether or not they’re going to make it to heaven, but their performance as a group of believers. Some of them were better than others. There’s only one church which had a 100% positive review, and only one had a 100% negative one. Most of them fell somewhere on the scale in between the best and the worst. Again, none of this is to dispute the truth that we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. But unless the same writer who wrote John 3:16 is contradicting himself in chapters two and three of Revelation, we need to maybe reconsider how we look at things.
            Having said all that, this comes back to what I was saying about how Christians of the left vs. the right tend to look at Western civilization in general and America in particular. Libs tend to look at America and point out its flaws. They view America as a terribly racist country which is imperialistic and quick to resort to military force when diplomacy would work. They see Americans as materialistic and driven by greed.
            I can’t claim that there’s no racism here, or no greed. I certainly don’t see the U.S. military as the savior of the world, but I do see it as the greatest force for earthly good in our lifetime. Yes, the world has wars and injustice, but it always has. The question is not “Do we still have wars while America is the dominant country?” but “What would the world look like if America withdrew from the world stage?” As Robert Kagan made the point so forcefully in The World America Made, we don’t have to guess. We know what the world was like before American dominance. It looked the same way any neighborhood looks like when the police abandon it: The strong oppressing the weak with impunity.
            Again, we don’t claim that America is perfect. That’s a straw-man argument that really needs to be laid to rest. But we do claim that America is overall a good country that sometimes does bad things. To say that we’re no different from a country that routinely as a matter of policy jails and even murders political dissenters, that stifles free speech, and that purposefully starves its own people, to put it kindly, is morally obtuse. Once more, there’s a distinction to be made.
            So are all distinctions good and legitimate? And does the Bible have any further guidance for us on this? Those are good questions to answer on the next posting.


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