Thursday, October 20, 2016

In I Samuel 4 is a rarely noted story which is unfortunate in that it has great importance for modern Christians. In this Old Testament chapter, the Israelites our battling the Philistines who have driven south to invade Israel. On the first day of fighting, the battle does not go well for the Israelites, and they start to wonder why. They come to believe that they lost that day’s battle because they did not have God on their side, and men were sent out to bring the Ark of the Covenant into their camp.

The army celebrates and rejoices when the Ark of the Covenant arrives for it means that God in in their camp and that they will be victorious the next day in battle. The next day, the battle does not go well for the Israelites. The battle turns into a complete defeat with the army running for their lives and the Ark of the Covenant captured as a war trophy by the Philistines.

Besides poor strategy, the Israelites, the people of God also lost the battle because they trivialized God and their relationship with God. They treated the Ark as a lucky rabbit’s foot, that all they needed was the supreme representation of God to be with them to win. The passage indicates that their thinking is wrong and that trusting in a religious object and earthly powers is a fool’s errand. Many centuries later Hosea wrote in Hosea 6:6 that God seeks people’s heart, them living merciful lives and heart level acknowledgment, not their religious ceremonies and their empty routines.

Today have large portions of the American church forgotten this lesson by putting their trust in a dishonest, despicable and bombastic man because he promises them to appoint church friendly Supreme Court justices? Are large swaths of the American church willing to have a leader who undermines the democracy that they value, whose grasps of a plethora of issues is paper thin, and who has by his behavior and conduct indicates that he will restrict the press and short-circuit the judicial system? Are they thinking clearly by trusting a dishonest, self-absorbed man to keep his word just to have a Supreme Court to help safeguard their spirituality and bring them victory?

If the belief that restricting and demeaning those of another faith is appropriate as a means to help safeguard the religious freedom of Christians, and that the Supreme Court is critical to safeguarding the future vitality of the Church, then has not the Church lost its way? While many evangelicals are not voting for Trump, many still are. They make up a significant portion of Donald Trump’s base of support, standing fast with him even when serious questions have been raised about his character, holding to his word and truthfulness. Then as such, has not those believers surrendered the moral ground for speaking to issues regarding upright leadership, leadership, rape, sexual assault, truthfulness and honesty, humbleness, personal sacrifice, and the importance of character?

While the evangelical community is my faith background, and still have the affinity with traditional evangelicalism, the term "evangelical" is a term that I ceased applying to myself for at least fourteen years ago. The term became covered in distasteful and restrictive political clothing versus a broad summary religious believes about the sharing of faith in a respectful and non-imposing manner (as noted in an earlier blog, the Church harms itself whenever it aligns itself with a political party).  

I will not be counted in such a crowd. I will not be casting a vote for a debased, tempestuous, egotist who by his actions and conduct undermines a key foundation of our democracy, freedom of the press and the electoral process.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Crisis in the Evangelical Church?

For over a month I’ve been turning over in my mind Matthew 4, where Jesus is tempted by the devil. Jesus was promised great power, and wealth, that he could have used to better the lives of the people. He refused. He knew the subterfuge and the danger of allowing such earthly bobbles to distract from the spiritual ministry which Jesus was about to launch.    

I’ve thought of that passage in light of the American presidential election which has created a crisis in the American Evangelical Christian community. It is a crisis that has its roots stemming back to the late 70s and early 80s when the Evangelical Church intentionally and aggressively aligned itself with the Republican party. Today, gaining the support of evangelical pastors and key church leaders is a critical early step for a Republican to be successful in a run for state wide or a national office.    

Since the late 1970s the evangelical community, which admittedly is my spiritual roots, has been steadfastly entwined with the Republican party. For decades they have vigorously spoken about the importance of the nation’s leaders such as the President, Vice-President, Speaker and Senate Leader, and Governors, being of solid upright character. Furthermore, the expectations that an evangelical vote Republican, that in many congregations if a person votes for a Democrat, the veracity and sincerity of their faith is questioned by their fellow worshippers. Such an expectation is so strong that there are Christian colleges that allow a student led Republican club on campus but will not allow Democrat club to be formed or operate.

Christians should be involved in politics and stand as candidates in all parties. The church and its leadership should speak to specific issues, particularly those directly related to morality, but without supporting particular candidates and parties. Because of the respect that they are given, clergy much be careful about stating their voting preference. A pastor who says to the press or congregation, “I’m just speaking as a private citizen, not on behalf of my ministry,” is being disingenuous as they know full well that most of those who follow them will follow their lead.

When the church aligns itself with a party, it is compromising the gospel. When its clergy openly involved with a party on behalf of their ministry, they enmeshing the church with a process that tarnishes the church and its spiritual ministry. As has been evidenced again and again, when the church is in bed with a political party, there is an unfortunate tendency for the church and its clergy to remain silent on ills and bad legislation rather than speaking out. When the church and its leaders have remained silent so as not to damage the party, the church has accepted earthly power over its moral and spiritual ministry.

The church must speak to issues and help the whole community to come together, working with people to build consensus for the greater whole. The church is about building people up, thinking the best of people, helping all to find grace and give grace. In contrast, politics involves forging alliances and negotiations, and seeking ways to position yourself to look better while making those in the other party look as bad as possible. It is about the securing and holding of earthly power, pushing one’s agenda forward by whatever means possible.

Recent history demonstrates with parties attacking vigorously policies and legislation that the other party seeks to advance even when that very position they themselves held prior to the other party embracing it. Too often political positions are postures of convenience, conveniences that can be fleeting. When the church and its leaders cease speaking only to issues and instead align themselves exclusively with a party, then the community of faith dismiss good policies and legislation that the other party seeks to advance, and thereby hindering good governance, and the aligned faith community finds itself forced to switch positions when the party changes, to demonize those of the other party, and in so doing the church has harmed the cause of Christ and its moral integrity as it tows the party line.     

Today, as a collective whole and a host of thinking individuals within, the Evangelical Church are facing a crisis because it crawled into bed with a political party. The presidential nominee of that party has demonstrated that he is long removed from the character and morality standard the evangelical community has long claimed as being critical. He is a man who claims to be of faith, yet cannot pronounce II Corinthians correctly when even the most nominal church attendee knows to say “second Corinthians” not “two Corinthians”, and has stated on several occasions that he has not needed to ask God for forgiveness for anything in his life.

Donald Trump is steadfastly supported by evangelicals. This support is most clearly evidenced by the position of the largest evangelical college, Liberty University, whose leadership, staff and students gave their early endorsement, an endorsement that continues to stand even in light of recent reports and actions that do not speak well of his character. 

Has the Evangelical Church and their leadership sold their souls, and thereby diminishing credibility, to a man who has promised them that he will pick Supreme Court judges who will to the liking of Evangelicals?  Have they bought into a untrustworthy man’s promise to make their lives better, to give them full religious liberty while suppressing the same liberties of another religious group? Has the Evangelical Church accepted the deal that Jesus rejected when the Devil offered him power to rule over the kingdoms of the earth? What message is the religious community's silence on atrocious ungodly behavior and bragging of sexual assault, invasion of privacy saying to the community? If there are more reports will evangelicals remain with him? And if they do, how will they reconcile their endorsement with their proclaimed values of family values? What is the religious community saying to its youth and the youth beyond its worship communities when its leaders and adult members explain away or accept ungodly behavior? If the world speaks against Trump's character, conduct and statements, and evangelicals remain strong for him when the world at large repudiates him, does that place the church in the place the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying one thing and doing opposite?  

This politician in question, Trump, for that is what he is and has been for years, has courted Christians while claiming to be a Christian. He has been embraced and enabled by large segments of the Evangelical Community. As this politician has claimed to be a member of the faith community and has actively sought faith community support using such a claim, then it is right to evaluate him on such a basis, and as an insider. Though others may wish to overlook the words of Paul to the Corinthian church leadership in I Corinthians 5, I will not.

I absolutely reject the fear of Supreme Court nominations as being righteous. I reject the promise of religious freedom for Christians from a man who will restrict the freedoms of others. Both are forms of idolatry and entrapments. If the Evangelical Church needs the Court, and a flawed earthly power, to save souls and empower faithful witnessing to the Gospel in both word and deed, then the Church has not only lost its credibility to speak on a host of issues, including morality, but is harming the gospel message. When the freedom of worship is denied or restricted to one group, we are all loose for we are only a step away from adding another group as we stand in the doorway to the room into tyranny of the majority.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Trump and Paying No Taxes

That Trump has carried forward $916 million over subsequent years to eliminate or greatly diminish his taxes does not really bother me that much. Evidently, we are told by his minions, Trump rightly took advantage of existing tax laws. The same acolytes are shoveling the notion that he is brilliant for doing so, that he knows the tax code better than anyone else, and that only he can fix the tax code. His minions are giving their puppet master too much credit, for Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that while he has the gifts of the golden tongue, confidence and showmanship, the gift of following and knowing the details is an ability that is highly lacking. It is his accountants and tax attorneys who are the real masters of the tax code. He signed off on their work. Trump is taking credit for their work, which shouldn't be surprising as it seems his ego may be in the same league as the beloved of North Korea who is beloved at least by his military. 

That said, I am deeply troubled by numerous points about this $916 million loss in a single year. My concerns are:

·       The size of the loss in a single year is huge, and this from a man who asks that I trust him with the finances of the nation.

·       That the concern over this loss is reinforced by his six business bankruptcies. Reports that his current debt is at least two times larger than he claims is again troubling from one who we are asked to trust with the public coffers. 

·       That even when one of his businesses is struggling, Trump has a habit of pulling significant fees and income from the business into his private funds, and thereby putting the business into greater stress and increasing the risk of its failure.

·       That he claims that the $916 million was a personal loss and using that claim to reduce personal taxes for nearly two decades is most troubling. Most, if not all, of the funds that he lost was not his personal money, but are bank loans made to his companies, companies that then filed for bankruptcy protection. It seems to me to be ethically questionable to take business loss as a personal loss for tax purposes. I’m not clear on the legality of this action, but the ethics and the morality are clear to me...and how can I then respect and trust him? And this is done by a man who seeks to be the nation’s leader, inspiring people and setting the example for our youth?

·       That while his acolytes speak of Trump fixing the tax code, their claim seem to be as solid as the morning mist on a sunny summer day, little content that soon disappears. If Trump is for make an overhaul of such codes, then why has the candidate be absolutely silent about addressing these tax code issues that are overly generous to developers? He speaks of closing and addressing various issues regarding hedge funds and hedge fund managers while remaining absolutely silent about the tax laws he has used to take a free ride, or at least a highly discounted ride. The silence contradicts what his mouth pieces are reporting.    

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why Trump is Likely to Win the Presidential Election

The other day my wife, Evie, asked why I’ve been saying for months that Trump will more than likely win the American Presidential election. Following are my reasons.

I will note for the reader that I am an Independent who will not be voting for the current Republican nominee. My reasons for not doing so will be saved for another posting.

Following are reasons why I see that Trump will likely win the 2016 presidential election:

1.       As with the primary, Trump is running an aggressive image marketing campaign defining himself as a glamorous success man who has all the answers. That he is not as successful as he proclaims is not the issue, he is using the old Madison Avenue technique that it is about projecting an image and brand, with quality and content being secondary. As with his primary opponents, Hillary Clinton and her team running a standard political campaign which is not adequate in fighting a populist marketing campaign. An image marketing campaign, even one that lacks depth of policy content, will defeat a traditional formulaic political campaign.

2.       As with the primaries, Trump will successfully rebrand his opponent in a negative light. He is building upon what the Republicans have been quietly doing for decades, attacking both Clintons both subtly and openly. For decades they have demonized her, creating a strong revulsion and fear towards both Clintons. Trump’s rebranding work builds off the instilled fear.

3.       In a mass marketing, image projection is critical. Projecting charisma is a Trump asset. History is replete with examples, including several since in the 1900s, where nations and people followed to an electrifying person who give them simple shallow answers to complicated fears and issues. Trump has a core of supporters that have bought into his personality cult that only a series of shocking and disturbing  Though she is an analytical thinker with thought out policies, she Clinton is not charismatic and lacks the ability to move people or clearly articulate a well defined vision.

4.       Trump is a highly skilled pitch man, promising and saying whatever needs to said to close the deal. That he has a history of over-promising and under-delivering is not an issue. He has the ability to sell the clunker as if it was the greatest thing.  

5.    While not representing the majority of Americans, Trump will continue to tap into the base nature of people, giving voice to their fears while assuring them that he is their savior and will make their lives much better. Any national or international mass shooting or terrorist event, or a poor economic report will be used to fuel fears. Though he will not be able to articulate any answers beyond the broad statements and platitudes, his statements and promises that he will have the best people work on the issue will be adequate. When people are in fear, people will believe in empty assurances when they are given with confidence.

6.       Trump will win male blue collar workers by more than 18 pts. This group has tended to vote for Democrats but will not be supporting Clinton. Blue collar men have been more harmed by the international economy. Also, this demographic is the most reticent group to vote for a female for president. Trump’s appeal to the fears of this group will deliver him Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Also the similar segment, blue-collar retirees, will help deliver him Florida.

7.       Clinton has a major problem with men, and the problem is so deep and broad that her advantage with women and minorities will be more than off-set by Trump’s advantage with men. Because of Hillary, the number of men who will come out in this election will be higher than normal. There is a sizable portion of the male American population who are not prepared to support any female for president (they will accept a female vice-president).

8.       Clinton has a major personality issue and sexist stereotypes have an impact upon the election. In the business world, study after study demonstrate that when a woman says and does exactly what a man does, she is perceived more negatively than her male counterpart. She is viewed as cold, pushy and harsh. If she is quiet and reflective, she is viewed as being week in leadership qualities. The same holds true in American politics where major female leaders have been viewed negatively by the general public. The general population sees Clinton as lacking warmth and class. At best she is a mediocre campaigner. She is viewed as snarly, evasive and untruthful, and she has moments and does things that play into that image. While Trump is highly snarly when you cross him or he perceives a person to be a threat, people will overlook and forgive him. It is part of his maleness, image and charm. While Trump is far less truthful and forthcoming than Clinton, he is not viewed in that light. Due to his gender, when he does those same things he viewed as being a leader who projects personality, strength and charisma.

9.       As Trump has not held elected office, there is no public policy record that he will have to defend from attack. Any old statements denied as occurring or explained away. A sizable portion of the electorate are very accepting of his lack of clarity. Also, decades of non-disclosure statements for every employ will limit insights into his corporate world processes and conduct. While he has no public policy record to defend, a personal implosion or an over the top reaction to an issue with outrageous personal attacks could be his undoing as much as a record of past controversial votes.

10.   And lastly, the IS factor. We should not be surprised by a significant terrorist attack or two taking place within the last eighteen days before the election. By fueling anger and the worse of our human natures, the attack(s) will be timed to be close enough to the elections that the emotions will still be raw, and thereby impacting the election. IS would love nothing more than to impact the election and against the incumbent president’s party (if a Republican was in office they would try to prevent a Republican from being the next president).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Alma Mater Class Names Reflect Evangelical Mindset Changes

From the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s America evangelicals underwent a highly significant change in how evangelicals saw themselves and in their interaction with the world. A shift in class names at my alma mater reflects how the evangelical mindset transitioned during this period.

As noted in an earlier blog, evangelical churches grew tremendously between 1966 and 1980s with a noticeable decline in mainline denominations. The growth corresponds with enormous social upheaval and stress. This was the period of the availability of the pill, desegregation, Vietnam and Watergate which caused the questioning of traditional social structures and authority, Roe v Wade, and the push effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Also, it was a period of tremendous economic upheaval that two major oil embargoes, gasoline and heating oil skyrocketing, gasoline rationing and odd-even gas purchasing days, and several years of double digit inflation.

Feeling validated by its numeric growth, the evangelical churches became increasingly militant in its language and interaction with the world. Its leadership was speaking how God had blessed them and that much greater growth was ahead. This was the age of mega conferences on church growth and the mantra of following the formula to growth that would double one’s church within 5 to 8 years. With the emergence of Moral Majority and other evangelical political groups this was the period when the evangelical church becomes wedded to the Republican party and the quiet mantra that a good Christian and being a Democrat was an oxymoron became more vocalized.           

At Asbury College (now Asbury University), an evangelical liberal arts college, has a traditions of giving each class a name. A clear transition takes place with the class names. Prior to the class of 1979 not a single class has a name that commonly carries strong religious connotation. Prior to the 1979 the classes were included Patriots, Cavaliers, Aztecs, Titans, Highlanders, Beavers, Eagles, Green Dragons, etc.

The Crusaders, the class of 1979, is the first class with a strong religious connection. If not for what followed, and what Freshmen were told during orientation in September 1975, the title could be viewed outside a non-religious context. During orientation the incoming Crusader freshmen were told that the class were named for the crusaders who defended faithfully the Christian faith and the holy land.

The class of 1980 was the Voyagers, a name not heavily laden with religious language and imagery as such. Starting with the class of 1981, with the exception of the 1988 Olympians, all class names carry a religious imagery and meaning, with names such as, Defenders, Overcomers, Victors, Heralds, Proclaimers, Seekers, Pathfinders, Anointed, Agape, Consecrated, Awakened, Ransomed, etc.

Was this a change triggered by the college's leadership? No, but it does reflect a change in evangelical views of themselves.