Thursday, October 20, 2016

Has the Lesson From I Samuel 4 Been Lost by Many Evangelicals?

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 for 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 must 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 fully that most of those who are under their leadership will not only follow their lead, but tend to view it as the view of divinity.

When the church aligns itself with a party, it is compromising the gospel. When its clergy openly involved with a specific party on behalf of, or in association in some manner with their ministry, they enmesh the church with a process that ultimately tarnishes the church and its spiritual ministry. As has been evidenced again and again, when the church is in bed with a political party, the unfortunate result is the muting of the church's moral voice. The tendency for the church is to remain silent or speak in muted terms when the officeholder of one's party says or does something unseemly. Its clergy to remain silent on ills and bad legislation rather than speaking out against the party, thereby surrendering the obligation to speak truth forthrightly to officeholders. 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, not contribute to the broadening of division. To often politicking involves unseemly demonizing, obfuscation, and outright telling of falsehoods. What does it say about the body of Christ when its representatives remain silent because they do not want to damage their party and candidate.

The church is about building people up, thinking the best of people rather than demonizing, helping all to find grace, receive 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 how a political position can quickly shift when the other side advocates a similar. In recent years we have witnessed major politicians and their parties attacking vigorously the very policies and legislation that they sought to advance before their opponents started embracing it and even improving it. Too often political positions are postures of convenience masked in language of moral conviction, but such conveniences 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 dismisses good policies and legislation out of hand because it is being advanced by the other side, and thereby the church hinders good governance. Further, the politically aligned faith community finds itself forced to switch positions when the party changes, and to demonize those upright and honorable proposals, which though they have shortcomings and flaws, can be honed and made stronger for the benefit of the community, state or nation, but is not because the church demonizes the idea instead of helping to hone the proposal. In so doing the church harms the cause of Christ and its moral integrity as it tows the party line.     

Today, as a collective whole, 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 so critical for the office of the presidency. 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 because he has not made mistakes.   

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? Is that the way to secure freedom for the Christian faith? 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? What does it say about the state of the evangelical community when it advocates for a man who daily tells numerous falsehoods, has not guiding principle other than saying and doing what is needed in the moment to gain an advantage, who has used ethically questionable practices to make a buck, and who demeans and bullies people? And as they do, how will they credibly 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?  

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters the guidance the novice demon Screwtape is given by his mentor demon, that he could dull the Christian or a church by enticing them blindly think that they are achieving a godly thing, give them that thing but with a load of evil along the way and attached to it. Screwtape is told, when that happens, the Christian's testimony, or the church's, is compromised and becomes more powerless. Are we not seeing such a process at play with the Supreme Court. 

The politician in question, Trump, for a politician 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 am disappointed that this narcotic man, who has appealed to the worse nature of the nation, is being viewed by large segments of the evangelical church as God's man for this hour, as a man worthy of their strong support.  The evangelical community explaining away or dismissing this man's statements that fuels division and openly empowers those in the white supremacy movement causes me to recall the condemning words of St. Paul to the church leadership in Corinth for not standing against a man who was having an ongoing affair with his step-mother, by noting that they remained silent to their shame and to the harm of the gospel even when the non-Christian community knows the affair is wrong. While I no longer view myself as a part of the evangelical community, it is my heritage and roots, one of which I'm becoming increasingly ashamed for belonging. 

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. When the church supports a most ungodly man as if he was their earthly hero, then the gospel's power has greatly been compromised for the sake of earthly power, and history will judge harshly the American Evangelical church of this age.

And when Trump is in the White House, and his the debased nature of his character becomes glaring, and when he continue to attack the foundations of the nation, its electoral process, separation of powers, and the press, will the church speak out against him or remain silent? When his tempestuous character comes out, bullies people, and his countless glaring falsehoods become a growing mountain of national shame, will the church's leadership speak out, or remain silent because he is our man? I hope it is not the latter. If it is, it is to the church's shame!

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.