Monday, November 2, 2020

An Election Day Prayer

God of Sovereignty, we believe there is no outcome we choose tomorrow that falls outside of your permissive will[1] (and perhaps your decretive will[2]). May this lead us to peace in the midst of an election storm. 

  

God of Freedom, we pray for the wisdom to follow the principles of your preceptive will[3] and vote such that we move our nation toward a land of spiritual, moral and relational plenty and not famine. 

 

God of Life, inspire all leaders we elect tomorrow at federal, state and local levels to value human life from the moment it begins until the moment it ends such that all people are given the opportunity for a flourishing life. May our leaders have the ability to “see” the unborn, the weak, the poor, the powerless, the oppressed, the overlooked, the overwhelmed, and the despairing, and may they have the wisdom to rally the nation to lift the imago dei who are floundering as a signpost that points toward the “life more abundant” that is offered in Christ (John 10:10). Position your church to be shining on the hill when that signpost points our way. (Matthew 5:14)

 

God of Love, inspire all of our leaders to guide us in attitude, action, word and deed to build communities grounded in the kind of love that echoes God’s love for the world: service, sacrifice, honor, commitment, generosity, humility, grace and truth that begins with “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) and encompasses all. May we, your church, truly model what it means to love God and love our neighbor, and may that holy commitment be the conscience of the nation. 

 

God of Creation, guide our leaders to take care of your lovingly crafted creation that you declared to be ‘very good’, as so many ills in the world follow from soiling natural wealth you have given to us. Lead them to enact policies that steward your creation for our good and your glory. (Genesis 2:15)

 

God of Humanity, enable our leaders to recognize the imago dei, the image of God (Genesis 1:26), that which gives value, dignity and worth to every human being. Guide them to attitudes, words, and policies that show honor to your image wherever it is found, which is in everyone, with no exceptions. 

 

God of Justice, build those we elect such that the good, true, and noble in the world and in your Word seeps into their hearts and minds and compels them to seek justice. Your prophets remind us that God requires His people to do this (Micah 6:8); surely it is good advice for us all. When there are individuals or groups who have suffered from injustice, may our leaders work to right that which has been wrong, restore justice to those who have been wronged, and build systems that protect and promote the presence of justice in the world.

 

God of Mercy, your prophets remind us that mercy must come with justice (Micah 6:8), as the cross of Christ so prominently made clear (Psalm 85:10). May the hearts and minds of our those we elect lead them to the compassionate use of justice, seeking measures that stop both evil and the evildoer such that chaos of sin is minimized in the world, while moving us toward being a culture that values restoration and reconciliation whenever possible.

 

God of Peace, as we your people preach of the peace with God made possible to all through Christ (Romans 5:1), help our leaders to love all kinds of peace more than any kind of sword (Matthew 10:34), both literally and figuratively. 

 

God of Hope, inspire our leaders to enact policies that, while the church preaches Christ to make spiritually crooked paths straight (Luke 3:5-6), give hope to those who are hopeless, that give relief to those in oppression, that make a way for those who feel trapped. 

 

God of Grace, you have offered grace through Jesus in both this life and the next (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our political leaders cannot give an underserved mercy to souls, but they can give it in so many practical ways to the bodies of those who are lost, sick and dying. May it be another signpost. May we yet again be shiny,  illuminating the source of all grace.


God of Truth, inspire our leaders to love truth wherever they find it, and may that truth point them toward the One who is the Truth (John 14:6)



[1] God permits things to happen in a free world. 

[2] God decrees things to happen.

[3] Precept-ive, not perceptive. God reveals His will for the world through precepts, such as the 10 Commandments, or principles such as those found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Friday, October 9, 2020

A Memoir Wrapped in Quotes

I have been humbled by how many people graciously went out of their way to read, interview, and write reviews of a book I wrote in the aftermath of my father's death from cancer.  It was an attempt to take an honest look at grief, disillusionment, faith and hope. A review at CSI  offered some kind words:
In a grief memoir, I expected to find romantic poets, crusty theologians, and maybe a mega-church youth pastor or two. Instead, each chapter began with quotes from some of my favorite writers: Elie Weisel, J.R.R. Tolkein, Stephen R. Donaldson, Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, and Voltaire. And the quotes were thought provoking and, above all, authentic, adjectives that also describe the memoir that comes wrapped in these quotes.  

If you are interested in the book, click on the picture in the right hand column of this blog to go to the website, or just go to amazon.com.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"Vote Your Conscience." Well.....Maybe?

Honestly, I don't know what I think about this slogan. 

Joss Whedon once said, "Always be yourself. Unless you suck." He's not wrong. Well-intentioned comments can easily waver off course. "Always be yourself" seems like good advice, but do we really want the Jeffery Epsteins of the world clinging to that mantra? 

I feel the same way about "vote your conscience."  It's not that I want people to ignore their conscience. I believe God placed it in us for a reason, and we ignore the genuine nudges of that still, small voice at our peril. I just also believe that, in a fallen world, our conscience is fallen, and that still small voice might just be our own preferences - or might be cultural voices actively undermining the clarity our conscience is intended to bring.

So where, as a Christian, do I turn? I'm not going to reinvent the conscience wheel. For 2,000 years, the direction for Christians has come from the Bible. If I want to cut through the static, if I want to know if the nudge I feel inside is legit, that's where I go. I get it - not everyone reaches the same conclusions or arrives at the same applications on a lot of secondary issues, but there is always a foundational model that can be applied across times and cultures. 

When it comes to politics, there is no direct correlation between the United States and any nation from Bible times. However, God rolled out a vision for a just society through biblical revelation, starting with the Israelites in the Old Testament and moving into the church in the New Testament. As a Christian, I see a lot of issues to which the Bible speaks - issues which ought to guide my conscience and form my heart for the world. Justice is many splendored thing, and while some of issues will be more prominent in the minds of Christians than others - and should be - all of them are worth considering. Check out just a small sampling of verses. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Non-Partisan Ethical Framework For Christian Voting In 2020

So what’s a Christian to do when it comes time to vote?

We are citizens of Heaven first, but we are also American citizens who have been given the opportunity and perhaps even the mandate to be involved. The Bible uses imagery of salt and light to describe a Christian’s spiritual influence; it’s easy to see how this has a pragmatic aspect as well. It's just not easy to see what to do when, as voters, we are balancing flawed people, parties and platforms.

I wrote a series of posts during the last Presidential election that covered various ethical theories that can be applied as one prepares to vote. I hope the process of viewing people, parties and platforms through different ethical lenses will bring voting clarity. As a Christian, I build my ethical foundation on Divine Command and Natural Law theory, but it's not as if the others don't have something to offer (the importance of virtue; the weighing of both the means and the ends, etc). 

The following links all take you to posts that referred to Trump and Clinton in 2016; apply as needed in this year's elections.

  • Virtue or Vice? (Virtue ethics). Which candidate or party do you believe will be most likely to perform the right action, with the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, and in the right way?
  • Commands And Contracts (Deontological, or duty-based ethics). Which candidate or party most values the social contract (the laws of our society)? Which do you believe is genuinely attempting to protect the weak, disadvantaged, and marginalized in our midst? If you are a Christian, which is most committed to promoting God's design for human flourishing (love, justice, mercy, truth, etc.) and honoring God's commands for what a just society looks like?
  • The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number (Consequentialist or Utilitarian ethics). Which candidate or party do you believe has a better understanding of what constitutes the 'good'? Which is most likely to enact policies that will bring this good to the greatest number without trampling on the rights of the few? Which is most likely to defend those who are viewed as lacking utility?
  • The Categorical Imperatives (Kantian Ethics). Which candidate or party are you most confident will not try to universalize a principle that is destructive, but will instead live and govern within the constraints of the Golden Rule? Which values people for their humanity and not their utility, treating them as ends in themselves (with value, worth and dignity) rather than the means to accomplishing an end? Which is most consistent in establishing rules for others that they themselves follow?
  • The Overlap Of Natural Law And Societal Law (Natural Law ethics). Do the candidates and/or parties believe there are morally demanding Natural Laws at work in the world? If so, do they believe they come from Nature's God (objective, authoritative Law Giver), Nature itself, or from a social contract (common experience and rational consensus of the people)? Which candidate is most likely to promote legislation in which the Natural Law referenced in our founding documents overlaps with our ongoing implementation of human law?
  • Who Best Understands Your Rights? (Rights-based ethics). Do the candidates differ in their perspective on negative rights (what we can't do to others) vs. positive rights (what we must do for others)?  Which is more likely to limit their agenda to duties of non-interference, and which one is more likely to demand duties of assistance? Which supports the idea that rights are natural, universal, equal and inalienable vs. culturally constructed?

THE CONCERNS OF BIBLICAL ETHICS

As a Christian, I see a lot of issues to which the Bible speaks. Justice is many splendored thing, and while some of these issues will be more prominent in the minds of Christians, all of them are worth considering. This list could be much longer, but I am trying to limit myself to issues the Bible addresses as part of what will characterize nations that walk in the path of righteousness (that is, right living in line with God's design for the world).

So, which candidate (or party) is most likely to do the following things:
  • Protect innocent human life from conception until death. This involves everything from abortion, euthanasia, and war to immigrants/refugees fleeing violence and persecution. 
  • Protect all life from abuse. This involves fighting against unjustified violence and fighting for all innocent victims.
  • Honor all people as image bearers of God.  There is no room for leaders or parties who mock, debase, or refuse to stand for the honor, worth and dignity of fellow human beings. "In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)
  • Promote just policies that help those in dire economic situations. Here I am thinking of quality of life issues. Who are the most needy among us?  Are we as a society investing in and caring for them? Our policies should neither punish success nor overlook the needy; they should promote generosity and discourage greed. A just economic system does not guarantee equal outcome, but surely it strives for equality of opportunity. 
  • Steward creation well. This is, in particular, sound environmental policies. This command to Christians is as old as Genesis.
  • Create genuinely just systems of justice. We need a court system that is truly impartial and not effected by race, riches, or status. God cares about justice. So should we. 
  • Do justice and love mercy. A nation whose laws are not honored or enforced will descend into chaos; a nation whose laws are not honorable or ought not be enforced is no better.  How do we exercise compassionate justice well? 
  • Protect religious freedom. This is freedom to practice religion and worship - or not - without unjust discrimination or coercive social policy. 
  • Promote marriages and families in which children flourish. We as a society have a vested interest in raising children in stable, low-conflict families for the sake of the children first and the stability of society second. In addition, we should have policies and people in government that generously help those who, for whatever reasons, are not in this kind of situation. 
  • Model truth, grace, justice, mercy and integrity. 

The most exhaustive list I have found of side-by-side comparisons of presidential platforms (for Democrat Biden, Republican Trump, Libertarian Jorgensen and Green Party Hawkins)  is at procon.org, "Compare 2020 Presidential Candidate Positions." There is also an easy-to-take quiz that will show you how you are aligning with this year's candidates (at least those four).

Isidewith.com has an extensive quiz about a huge range of issues. It offers the choice wof nuanced answers that you can weight according to how important they are to you. The summary includes not only national and state candidates that align with how you answered, but an overview of where it places you in the political spectrum. 

There is no party or person that is going to offer us the opportunity to vote with no second thoughts. We weigh them in the balance and vote with the awareness that empires of the earth will never align smoothly with the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, here we are, exiles in Babylon, and we seek the prosperity of the nation (Jeremiah 29:7). 

May we all have wisdom. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Why "Christians Arrested For Singing Hymns In Moscow, Idaho" Is Not An Accurate Headline

You’ve heard about the Christians arrested in Moscow, Idaho for singing hymns, right? Well... it turns out there is more to the story that is worth knowing. Most of my quotes and info are from a local paper, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, from which a lot of national sources have pulled their material. Other sources will be noted throughout.  

This past Wednesday, 150 - 250 Christians from Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho showed up to sing at the Moscow City Hall parking lot. They’ve done this kind of thing before without any problems. “Ben Zornes, a Christ Church pastor and organizer of the event, said the church hosts psalm, or hymn, events about once a month at places like Friendship Square, East City Park or at a house.” You can find the history of these "flash choirs" easily on the church’s Facebook page. It seems like a pretty cool idea.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Protocols Of The Elders Of QAnon

As Solomon once noted, there is nothing new under the sun. QAnon is no exception. 

It turns there are a lot of parallels between the plot line of the Q narrative and the infamous Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, the anti-semitic forgery that fueled the Holocaust. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that anti-semitism - which at this point is largely on margins of the movement - is beginning to creep closer to the center of the storm. 


But you don’t have to take my word for it. I have the opinions of those who are deeply invested in this issue - namely, those who have been the targets of anti-semitism.


I spent some time this week looking up what Jewish people and Israeli news sources have to say about Q. It's one thing to read about Q from within the sphere of my comfortable life as reported on by people who are merely observers. I wanted to hear about from those who have a lot at stake in the discussion. The amount of links that follow may seem like overkill, but I want to stress that these were easy to find with a simple google search, and all but one come from a source in the nation of Israel, or feature interviews with people of Jewish ancestry.


If those who feel the full brunt of anti-semitic movements dismissed the concerns about anti-semitism in QAnon, I probably would too. 


They don't. 


I think I won't, either.

Barriers vs. Boundaries

We don't tend to like restraint here in the United States.   

"I did it my way" is our favorite anthem;  "Don't tread on me" our historical birthright. As Kacey Muscgraves sings so whimsically, "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy." 

I get it. Who doesn't want to be free? There's a ton of upside. I don't think anyone disputes that. And yet none of us who live around even one other person are free in the most unfettered sense of the word, at least as the word is used when we talk about our rights. 

Rights coexist with responsibilities. My freedom to do or not do X means someone else has that same freedom to do or not do X, which means - if we are remotely morally consistent - we have responsibilities  of non-interference, at minimum. This means - if we want a remotely civilized society - we will live in the tension of freedom and restraint, of rights and responsibilities. 

My right to swing my fist ends at the space where your nose begins. Same with you. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

800,000 Missing Children? A Deep Dive Into The Numbers


Human trafficking is a blight on the world, with a reported 5 million adults and children around the world trafficked for sex each year – and that doesn’t include those trafficked for labor.  I find it encouraging that news outlets everywhere are covering this moral pandemic. (When I google “human trafficking United States," I get 108,000,000 hits. AP news is the top hit in my feed.) 

I decided to look more deeply at this issue after seeing numerous memes stating that 800,000 children go missing or disappear every year, and many then insinuating these children were trafficked.





This struck me as a) horrifying if it were true, and b) a really high number, since that would mean 1 out of 5 kids born each year in the United States eventually go missing/"disappear" and apparently end up in the sex trade. So, I took a dive into the numbers, because as stomach-churning as this topic is, I don't want to be blind to even the harsh realities of the world. 


The bad news is that the disappearance, sexual abuse, prostitution and trafficking of children are real and terrible things. The good news is that the situation, while devastating in terms of the depth of impact to every individual involved, does not have the breadth of impact so often portrayed.