Archive for March, 2010

Doug Wilson’s 10-pt. "Resisting Tyranny" Mandate, Part 2 — Point-by-Point, Error En Toto

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

From Blog and Mablog, Doug Wilson on the Christian (man’s) Biblical obligation to resist the “tyranny” of a Barack Obama administration. My comments follow each:

1. “Active resistance to tyranny, and to this tyranny in particular, is not just permissible for Christians. It’s mandatory.”

Again, I find this astonishing from a man who has been biting in his critical assessment of slave rebellions, Christian abolitionism, and the civil rights movement. Evidently, the presumed horror of Barack Obama, the man and the presidency, is beyond those evils and requires “active resistance,” the parameters of which he doesn’t really define. In this culture of Obama-hate and fearmongering, which he and others like him have created, that’s reckless. At best.

2. “The question is therefore what form the resistance should take, and not whether there should be resistance.”

No, the question ought to be, “What profound evil greater than other evils for which he does not prescribe resistance does Wilson find in Obama’s presidency?” And, in the climate of hate and violence he and others like him have fomented, it would seem reasonable that he might lay out some guidelines on what form the resistance should NOT take.

3. “The theological basis for this resistance is that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. Jesus is our Savior, and one of the meanings of Savior is Healer. We already have a messianic health care program, thanks. Not only do we not need two of them, but as Christians we are not permitted to have two of them.”

It’s tempting to just go with “HUH????” But let’s examine the idea that worshiping Jesus as Savior and Healer somehow relates to healthcare policy in any way OTHER than recognizing, as Christians, the utter immorality of a healthcare “system” that, in its obscene devotion to the free market, is an abomination of discrimination and injustice. Would Wilson suggest that seeking a just, efficient healthcare delivery system, much less making use of one, is a foray into idolatry of “Obamacare as ‘Messiah’”? Evidently. But such an argument is an embarrassment — if it’s not itself a tyranny of egregious pastoral counsel.

4. “The great danger is this developing resistance movement is not that it will be unsuccessful. The danger is that it will be successful, and that the credit for it will go to the “conservative, good sense of the American people” instead of to Jesus Christ.

Let’s not ever ascribe to the Lord Jesus any actions or policies that result in, by design, the injustice of inequality. If the “resistance” Wilson commands against Obamacare is successful, by whatever measure, I pray the Church would distance itself immediately and vocally.

5. “Christians may not give lip service to any resistance that by-passes the need for repentance. We elected this man to the White House . . . “

No reasonable Christian should ever attempt any engagement in the political process without first examining her heart and repenting of her own sinful participation in that which they plan to protest. I recognize that many, perhaps most, Christians didn’t vote for Barack Obama. That some of us did is not, in my estimation, evidence of our individual or our corporate sin. I might also ask when Wilson demanded national repentance for having elected George W. Bush not once, but twice.

6. “Resistance must be corporate, not solitary, and by this I mean more than you and your buddies. I’m referring to Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrates, and the more the merrier. We need officials who will ‘just say no.’”

Effective resistance is corporate, not merely solitary. But each of us is accountable for the state of our own souls; our decision to join the corporate resistance is our own, and must be informed by the teachings of Scripture — not of John Calvin.

7. “In the political maneuverings that will occur in the months to come, sharply distinguish allies from cobelligerents. Don’t think about them, or speak about them, as though they were the same thing . . . “

Wilson’s anti-ecumenicalism survives even his most reckless politics. This is amusing in light of his unconscionable acceptance in the wider evangelical community as a legitimate spokesman and apologist for Christian faith, regardless of his questionable conduct and the bass-ackwards doctrine of his Federal Vision. Wilson certainly has benefited from others’ willingness to set aside correct doctrine and embrace him as an ally in secondary matters. John Piper comes to mind here.

8. “Civic repentance means doing something fundamentally different than (sic) what we have been doing for a number of generations. It does not entail a rewind to the status quo ante. If you rent a movie and it turns out to be a dog, what would be the point of rewinding and trying again?”

Wilson is calling here for “something fundamentally different” from the same-old, same-old forms of Christian resistance, without taking any responsibility at all, or not even, apparently, caring at all, if anyone reading his words decides that that “fundamentally different” approach might best be demonstrated by an escalation of resistance. How that might lead to violence isn’t hard to imagine, and Wilson is reckless in asking for “different” while not specifically cautioning against an escalation that leads to violence. He can hide behind his vagueness, but he cannot escape accountability for any new form of resistance that his followers might devise on their own because of it.

9. “When it comes to anxiety, panic, worry, distress, or fear, repent of that . . . God loves a cheerful warrior.”

God also loves a prudent pastor. And God loves Doug Wilson. The two, however, are not the same. I would hope that a measure of distress would creep into the Christian’s heart when considering not only the state of our nation, but also the abysmal counsel that this man offers in response to it. I’m not convinced that God loves this type of “cheerful warrior,” but I’m fairly sure he hates cheeky warmongering.

10. “Pray that God would raise an army of men who will preach the ancient gospel in power and simplicity. Apart from that, all the activity referred to in this list will be born as nothing, grow up to a mature nothing, and its gray hairs shall descend to the grave of nothing.”

Wilson clearly doesn’t end his tirade by describing “resistance” as the preaching of “the ancient gospel,” thus clearly defining what he means in the nine previous points. No, he says, the preaching of the gospel is what must accompany resistance; it isn’t, of itself, resistance. So his is not a Wesleyan call to answer all social ills with fervent preaching and soul-winning; his is an unspecified and wild call for resistance against tyranny, a resistance which he doesn’t describe, other than to remind the resistor to preach the gospel while committing it. I agree that without the proclamation of the Gospel, no efforts at societal improvement will succeed. I’m astonished, though, that in specifying the obvious, he leaves open to the individual reader how, exactly, to resist tyranny — without condemning the violence that so easily could result from his mandate.

This is perhaps the most dangerous post Wilson has written in the last year, and that’s saying a lot. From the beginning of Obama’s rise to the presidency, he has lead the charge locally against him, and to say he hasn’t played fair or judged prudently would be an enormous understatement. He’s filled his anti-Obama screeds with the worst kind of reckless fearmongering and innuendo, counting on his congregation’s awe of him and his merciless filleting of his opponents to insulate himself from accountability for his words. He is an agitator and instigator of the worst sort, and all Christians, particularly those whose disagreements with Barack Obama take a reasonable, measured, responsible form, ought to be ashamed of him.

I pray that the Lord’s mercy would be abundant toward Wilson — a mercy and grace that brings repentance. Until that repentance, I would ask his followers to resist what passes for mature and sober teaching from his pulpit.

Because that’s a tyranny of error and a reign of recklessness no Christian ought ever try to justify embracing.

Doug Wilson’s 10-pt. Mandate For Resisting Tyranny — Intro, or "How Bad Is It?"

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I don’t often write when I’m angry. Or, more to the point, I don’t like to “send” when I’m angry. Sometimes anger is righteous, sometimes not. Sometimes it comes from the Spirit, and sometimes from the flesh. I want to make sure I write, and post, from the Spirit. The flesh doesn’t accomplish much, even if it feels satisfying.

So I’ve waited for three days before responding to Doug Wilson’s obscene 10-pt. guide to resisting tyranny — “tyranny” here is defined as “Obama nation-building,” as reflected in the passage of the healthcare overhaul. I remain angry, and profoundly so, and there is no scenario under which I can imagine ever reading this filth without becoming angry. But I think it’s an affront to the Gospel and to the character of Christ, and I think that Wilson’s fearmongering and bigotry regarding Obama have reached a fever pitch that could well be dangerous. After all, if this is “tyranny,” and if there’s a Biblical mandate to resist it, and the call is both urgent and vague enough to provoke “resistance” neither defined nor restricted, it would not be surprising if the frenzy whipped up resulted in violence against the presumed tyrants. Wilson would then almost certainly profess dismay and disgust. He would never, I think, examine any role he played in encouraging it, and since he is accountable to no one, he won’t be asked to.

So I will. He won’t care what I have to say, and he won’t take my rebuke to heart — but I won’t carry the burden of being silent in the face of the tyranny of fearmongering he foments. That would be a burden entirely too difficult for me to bear, as is the case with the burden of any sin.

Let’s keep in mind that this call to resist “tyranny” comes from a man who believes the Northern abolitionists, in fighting for an end to the tyranny of slavery, the institution Wilson calls a harmonious relationship between slave and slaveholder, were to Wilson “godless” haters of the Word. Let’s remember that Wilson believes slave rebellions — the resistance on the part of Christian slaves against the tyranny and tyrants who enslaved them — were not permitted by Scripture. And let’s never fail to consider the judgment of a man who fails to see the tyranny not only of slavery, but also of other evils in this world — the tyranny in Darfur, the tyranny of genital mutilation on young girls, the tyranny of sexism, the tyranny of a judicial system weighed against the interests of the poor, the tyranny of domestic violence; the list goes on — that don’t, to him, require the profound commitment to resistance that resisting Obama’s healthcare plan does.

Healthcare legislation. Insuring the uninsured. Mandating the purchase of health insurance, not unlike the mandate to purchase homeowners’ and automobile insurance. In this day and age, THESE are the things Moscow’s most prominent pastor calls “tyranny.” This is what provokes his call to Biblical resistance, not as an option for the Christian man — it’s always the Christian man — but as an imperative. Be assured, though, that the issue at hand is the presidency of Barack Obama, to which Wilson has ascribed all manner of terror, tyranny, treason and travesty.

With that in mind, my next post will be an analysis of Wilson’s ten points of “Biblical” resistance to what he calls “tyranny.”

Joe McCarthy, King Herod, and Chicken Little Walk Into A Bar . . . And Become Michele Bachmann

Monday, March 29th, 2010

“I said I had very serious concerns that Barack Obama had anti-American views. And now I look like Nostradamus.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, quoted in yesterday’s Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune

My response, from today’s Moscow’s Vision 2020 community forum:

Not to worry. In a few years, when this country begins to recognize the anti-Obama forces for what they are — namely, devious fearmongers bent on destroying the man even if they take down many of our country’s principles in the process — Michele Bachmann will look like the combination of snake-oil salesman, Joseph McCarthy, King Herod, and Chicken Little that she really is.

Of course, in a climate wherein passage of the health care bill drives Doug Wilson to publish a 10-pt. manifesto on the Christian’s Biblical mandate to resist “tyranny,” this likely won’t happen soon. But it will. Someday, Bachmann, Palin, McConnell, Boehner, the Tea Party movement, and the hysterically bigoted anti-Obama forces they represent will be revealed, and the U.S. will find itself in a state of deep embarrassment that it ever listened to them — a conclusion the rest of the world will have reached long before.

Michelle Bachmann is nobody’s finest.

(And I’m going to ask C.S. Lewis and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen to take a seat for awhile as I prepare a response — and it will be a blistering response — to Wilson’s “resisting tyranny” mandate from Blog and Mablog).

Beck and Palin and Common Cause

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Moscow’s community email forum, Vision 2020, was briefly abuzz last week about the likelihood, in the aftermath of various Tea Party conventions and rallies, of a political alliance between Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck — either ascending to the leadership of their respective Tea Party constituencies and combining forces, or perhaps even running, together or not but with each other’s support, for national office in 2012 or 2016.

Inevitably, the question of who was more dangerous — I believe it was phrased, and not by me, as “more nutty” — came up. In response to a comment from Moara about Beck’s LDS affiliation and the strange notion that evangelicals would even consider his call to sprint out the doors from “social-justice churches,” which he believes to be hotbeds of socialist and anti-American foment, I thought I’d copy my Vision 2020 comments here. They are in quotes, below, followed by further remarks written today.

From Vision 2020, March 19, 2010

” ‘Who’s nuttier, Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck?’ This is a question much more important, say, than ‘Could Superman beat Batman if they wrestled?’, no matter how cartoonishly unreal both Beck and Palin appear at times.

I think it’s conceivable — not likely, but conceivable — that the two could join forces at some point to catapult her onto the national stage again. I think Sarah’s evangelicalism would make it very unlikely that she and Glenn, an LDS, would share a ticket, though, given that most evangelicals would view that as “un-common cause” religiously. However, a PAC, Third Party, or other organization specifically designed to elevate her, him, Lou Dobbs, or some other Tea Party favorite (that’s not going to be Pawlenty, I’m certain) to contender status in 2012 is, I think, very likely. It would have to be something other than the grass-roots, or AstroTurf, movement(s) we now see; I think the hardcore Constitutionalists, some extreme right evangelicals, the fiscal-but-not-social-policy Libertarians and the racist elements now attempting to mainstream are all very likely to coalesce into that organization, and only Palin, Beck, and Dobbs have the fame necessary to make it a factor.

For all it’s worth, I think Beck is odious and Sarah, merely dumb. Both, however, are dangerous to what most of us hold dear. The odious fan the flames, and the dense attract the powerful. Bad combination.”

Really, the only thing I want to add is that I’m chagrined at the ease with which the evangelical religious right — the non-Mormon religious right — has flocked to those elements of and players in the Tea Party movement that are so clearly anti-Gospel. They may not be “opposed” to the Gospel; in all likelihood, these people may claim to be Christians and expend enormous effort in trying to shoehorn Tea Party activism and issues into the contours of Scripture, which I think is more often than not futile.

By “anti-Gospel,” I mean re-shaping the Gospel into a philosophy that’s not only unbalanced, unfruitful, and unproductive, but also unlike the teachings of Jesus. (I find this to be true as well with some of what passes for the activism of the “religious left,” but evangelicals tend not to flock to the left). The arms that too many religious right Tea Partyers run into are not arms that honor Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior — Jesus as Republican-in-Chief, perhaps, or Jesus as icon of American Christiandom, but not Jesus as the Christ through whose teachings any philosophy must be run before it can be accepted by his disciples. As I’ve said before, our politics should be informed by the Scriptures, filled by the Spirit, and shaped like the cross — some to the left, some to the right, rooted solidly in the fertile soil of faith and reaching for the heavens.

An example of what cannot be embraced by evangelicals is the ugliness — the often-racist, always-nasty, peppered-with-bigotry and fear-mongering ugliness — of Glenn Beck. This is not because Beck is Mormon. It’s because Beck is a divisive, hateful opportunist exacerbating and profiting from this nation’s economic and social stresses. Certainly evangelicals and LDS can find common cause on some things, as long as those things are civic in nature — public schools, parks, business — and don’t constitute an individual partnership. Good neighbors share good-neighbor concerns; being “unequally yoked” with one’s neighbors in a campaign for a new public library, for example, ought not be objectionable to the evangelical.

When the issue becomes religious, or reflects the presumed religio-political agenda of any demographic, the evangelical and the Mormon cannot, however, pretend that they hold to the same faith, nor can followers of Biblical Christianity be expected to take direction on spiritual things from LDS pundits — or vice-versa. Like most evangelical Christians, I believe Mormon theology to be tremendously, unchangeably at odds with Scripture and LDS practice to be based on a faulty foundation that is not the Rock of the historic Christian faith. This is not to say there are no Mormon people who don’t love Jesus Christ and worship him sincerely, and their eternal destiny is, in the same way mine is, solely because of the lovingkindness of God Almighty. The LORD knows his own, and in his great grace, he has people, I’m convinced, in the Mormon Church. I can’t say, and you can’t either, that no Mormon will ever reach Heaven.

I can say, however, that the beliefs and sacraments of the Mormon Church are antithetical to the testimony of Scripture, and no civic or political movement can be more important than loyalty to the Christian Gospel. We can’t decide to accommodate objectionable religious views simply because the people holding them are sincere, or because they agree with our own political views despite differences in theology. Fortunately, when it comes to Glenn Beck’s counsel on what kind of church to attend, the Christian has it easy — ignore him. Evangelicals ought to reject Beck’s politics, punditry, and practice of hateful divisiveness simply because it’s not Spirit-filled behavior bringing forth good fruit. It doesn’t matter what religious beliefs, if any, someone who acts like Beck on the public stage has — he, like the comparatively non-religious Rush Limbaugh, behaves badly enough to be not a model for the Christian, but an object of evangelistic effort and prayer. He certainly can’t be a reliable spiritual advisor, and says something about Christianity in the U.S. that some consider him to be.

That so many Christ followers have embraced Beck’s politics is lamentable; that many of them would actually take seriously the spiritual counsel, in the name of Christ, of a man whose understanding of Christ and his Gospel is so demonstrably faulty as his is tragic.

C.S. Lewis Meets One Of My Heroes

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

A couple of years ago, at a Christians for Biblical Equality conference in Toronto, I was privileged to meet Dr. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, an evangelical feminist and professor of psychology at Eastern College. She’s the author of My Brother’s Keeper: What The Social Sciences Do and Do Not Tell Us About Gender, and it’s one of the books I’ve found most important to my development as a woman of faith and ministry.

She is an imposing woman, and I’d been following her work for years. She towered over me, and I’m not speaking only in terms of intellect; her face looked as grandmotherly as scholarly, and her voice was like the low, comforting rumble of thunder. Or, perhaps, like part of the mighty cloud of witnesses surrounding us all. She’s provided the foundation of much of my work, in the same way, perhaps, that C.S. Lewis has been an influence to our local classical Christian scholars. In fact, his views on gender roles and Scripture have informed much of the work of conservative complementarian scholars like Douglas Wilson and his pals, the sneering and smug Tim Bayly, a speaker at last fall’s Christ Church Sexual Orthodoxy bull session, and John Piper, a member of the Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I don’t like the CBMW. There are a lot of complementarian Bible scholars who I disagree with, but whose scholarship, emphases, and ministries I admire greatly. But I see the CBMW, lead by Piper, Grudem, and Vern Poythress, veering recklessly toward the heresy of subordinationism in the Trinity, about which I’ve written extensively and which scholars (Kevin Giles, Gilbert Bilezikian, and Millard Erickson, for example) have warned is dangerously close to the heresy that casts Jesus and the Holy Spirit in permanently, ontologically lesser roles than that of God the Father.

Further, they’ve used this bad theology — I’m not convinced it’s not in itself heretical, by the way — to insist that as Jesus is eternally, functionally subordinate to the Father, women, while ontologically equal to men, are to be eternally, functionally subordinate to them. I think that’s bad scholarship. I also think it’s conveniently self-serving in support of the status quo that has crippled the Church and pleased the aims of its Enemy.

CBMW may be eternally, functionally committed to gender inequality, and complementarians may be eternally eager to rely on their views, but Stewart Van Leeuwen demonstrates that in casting their lot with C.S. Lewis, they have a less-than-reliable ally in the gender wars. Because the C.S. Lewis of the early 1930s and 40s evolved into the Lewis who, later in life, became much more egalitarian in his theology and in his actual dealings with real women.

That, demonstrated aptly by Stewart Van Leeuwen in her just-released book “A Sword Between The Sexes? C.S. Lewis and the Gender Debates” (Brazos Press, 2010), should cause some reexamination on the part of our local Christian patriarchs. Lewis’ theology wasn’t always consistent; to the extent that he was an apologist for the faith, his writings show that his strengths were much more in logic and observational philosophy than in serious theology, and yet it appears that the Holy Spirit used experiences in his life, particularly his marriage to American poet Joy Davidman, to re-cast the rigidity with which he had examined the Scripture’s teachings on gender roles. I think it’s fair to say that Lewis’ early work reflects a tendency to speak for Scripture far beyond, and in different directions, from how the Scriptures themselves speak. We can all praise God for Lewis’ opened eyes, softened heart, and enlightened mind.

I thank God for Stewart Van Leeuwen’s book and will quote both from her citations of Lewis’ work and from her own in subsequent posts on Prevailing Winds. Some of Lewis’ words are cringe-worthy. Some have resonance in the first things, the deeper things; others are regrettable now and probably would be to Lewis if he read them. But God is always working in conforming us to his will and to the person of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was the One who modeled right behavior between among people.

Being like him is the only goal worth attaining, and as I read Stewart Van Leeuwen’s book, I’m pleased to see what God has wrought in her life, and how he worked in Lewis’.

The Act Of Contrition

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

I was raised Roman Catholic, and for quite awhile during my adolescence, I was very devout. I knew nothing of knowing Jesus, but I was a good Catholic until . . . well, until I wasn’t. And then I met Christ, and I became not-Catholic, which, since I’m not of the Orthodox communion, means I’m Protestant.

And because Protestants rebel against “formal” prayers — memorized script that can be mumbled through by rote or offered to the Lord in utter sincerity — I’ve filed away, largely unretrieved, the ones I learned in catechism. I say the Lord’s Prayer; Catholics don’t claim it as only theirs. I reject the Hail Mary, though, just as I no longer sing the hymn “Immaculate Mary” — because it refers to the Immaculate Conception, which is not, as many people think, the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth, but the peculiarly Catholic doctrine (and by “peculiar,” I mean “specific to,” not “weird”) of Mary’s impeccability, or her absolute, unchangeable sinlessness. Mary needed a Savior, too, and I’m pretty sure, after reading the Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, that she was well aware of it.

But for whatever reason — very likely the reality that, like Mary, I’m also not in possession of a sinlessly impeccable soul — I have held onto the Act of Contrition, a lovely prayer that doesn’t confer grace or forgiveness, but simply pleads it, and pleads it with a simple confidence in the finished work of Christ Jesus. It may be something to commit to memory, just in case you, Mary, and me have that sin thing in common among us.

Oh, Lord, my God, I am heartily sorry
for having offended Thee.
And I detest all my sins because of
thy just punishments,
but most of all because they offend Thee,
my God,
who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin,
Amen

Our impromptu, unscripted prayers, whether in crisis or devotion, don’t save us, and neither do traditional, scripted prayers. Only God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, saves us and rescues us from sin’s hold. We evangelicals reject “rote” prayers, which cease to be rote, only written, when uttered in humility and sincerity. But I think there are words and prayers, traditions and rituals, that guide and comfort us. The Spirit’s work isn’t guaranteed in the impromptu, nor necessarily quenched in the written. There’s nothing specifically “Catholic” in the Act of Contrition; it speaks nothing of transubstantiation or Purgatory or Mary’s conception, immaculate or common. It does, though, firmly place the commission of sin in our own rebellion and will, and seeks only God’s merciful promise to remedy what we’ve wrought.

In our fear of “looking Catholic” by reciting scripted prayer, we sometimes end up looking, sounding and feeling just a bit less Christlike. We may be avowedly Protestant, but being Protestant never saved anyone. That someone else first thought of the words of a prayer, and generations have preserved it, makes it no more or no less appropriate and grace-filled. For us to believe that only the impromptu prayers that spring from our hearts can please God is, I’m afraid, evidence that there will always be a need for the love affirmed in the Act — words on paper, pouring nonetheless from the hearts of women and men afraid to pray a formal, scripted prayer out of worry that they might get it wrong, not do it right, or otherwise offend their God.

Relationship and Observation

Monday, March 15th, 2010

“When a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind. A woman . . . carries everything that happened in the room along with her.” — Alice Munro

Glenn Beck and "Social Justice" Churches

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Glenn Beck, too many words of whose should, I think, be taken with a grain of salt and a stiff spray of Lysol, last week warned his many listeners to stay away from any church that proclaims an interest in “social justice.”

Run, Glenn says. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because these churches, he warned, are nothing more than bastions of liberal/socialist politics, determined to wreak havoc in the name of Christ on all that’s good and decent in America.

But Jim Wallis, of Sojourners community, an evangelical social-justice church and ministry, objects strongly, pointing out that a concern for the poor ought to be part of the agenda of every Christ-following church in the world. He correctly points out that when a church calls for and demonstrates peace, justice, and righteousness in dealing with “the least of these,” it does so not because it’s liberal or conservative, but because it’s Biblical. Wallis and millions of other Christians who care about social justice — and I’m one of them — believe that God is not a Democrat or a Republican. What I’ve called elsewhere the “Third Way of the Cross” is what motivates us — not allegiance to our preferred spot on the political couch. Sadly, there’s much truth, but little of the Truth, in the contention that “liberal” churches care about social sin at the expense of personal holiness, just as “conservative” churches focus on personal sin and ignore, or define very narrowly, the corporate sin that pervades society. In doing so, both miss the boat, regardless of the banners and flags they run up the mast.

When Christ-followers take up certain political or social positions that fall somewhere to the left of other people’s beliefs isn’t an indication that they’re operating as the Church Of Jesus As Divine Liberal, utterly divorced from the counsel of Scripture or the will of God. And when sincere believers examine Scripture and are convinced that certain positions are correct — positions and views that may fall on the right part of the spectrum — it can’t be assumed, with “proper” bitterness from the left, that they’ve re-cast Christ as frontman for the GOP. It’s not that easy, however tempting it may be.

Conservatives are wrong when they proclaim that only those things that fall, in the economy of our current political parlance, under the “right-wing” heading are truly Christian; liberals ought to be corrected, too, when they assume that truly following Jesus will always send a disciple further to the left than the guy next to him is. And while true believers can legitimately disagree on social policy — a truth that appears to come as a real shock to too many otherwise decent folks — it seems clear to me that there is only one hallmark of a true, Christian Church, only one criteria that reveals whether or not its allegiance is to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, to Jesus As Ultimate Liberal, or to Christ As Conservative King.

The Church exists to worship God and make disciples. Period.

It shouldn’t preach salvation and ignore the plight of the poor, just as it shouldn’t devote itself to peace, justice and poverty issues without announcing forgiveness of sins in Christ. The “social gospel” without conviction of sin and the promise of new life in Christ is no gospel at all; the “salvation gospel” without calling for justice in showing Biblical concern for the outcast isn’t, either. Beck, who tragically thinks that “social justice” is the province only of fools and liberals, cares little for the Church Jesus is building; he does conservatives no favors in presuming that they agree with him. That anyone other than his dog listens to Glenn Beck is truly tragic, as tragic for him as it is for the health of civil discourse in this country.

There are many ways to describe a particular congregation’s mission. It might announce that it exists to know God and make him known. It may announce its intent to go into the world and make disciples; it may focus on prayer, praise, and proclamation. A congregation may call itself a “Christian community” or a “family fellowship,” and the Lord Jesus is pleased if what binds the people together is their unity in worshiping him and in seeking to introduce others to him — not just to get them saved, not only to minister to their needs or speak for their protection, but to help them become devoted, growing disciples, worshiping together our Triune God. Lord help the church whose highest call is social justice, even in his name. And may God give life to the church whose only focus is on saving souls — without transforming lives or confronting both the personal and societal sin that chains them.

James writes that the one who insists he has faith but has no deeds of kindness to show for it has, in reality, no faith at all. What good is it if we have the very Word of life but don’t also offer bread to the one both lost and starving? Likewise, how dare we offer a banquet to the poor while allowing their spiritual starvation? James writes that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

That sounds like a call for social justice and care for the poor to me. It also sounds like a plea for personal holiness. Do we dare echo Glenn Beck in deciding that either part of this mandate is unnecessary — or, worse, the province of false prophets and enemies? I love to see churches with banners proclaiming Good News for the poor and calendars full of ministry work with the poor and outcast. But if a ministry doesn’t plead with people to come in repentance to Christ Jesus and humbly accept his sacrifice for their sins, its ministers themselves are as poor and lost as those they seek, even in all sincerity, to serve.

Our politics ought to look much like, and certainly reflect, the Cross — spreading a little to the right, a little to the left, and always reaching up to the One who is all Truth and who will not be held hostage to the whims and wills of even his most fervent followers on the left or the right.

Parry And Thrust With Ashwin

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I really appreciate dialoguing with Ashwin, who comments regularly on the blog — you can read them at the end of the posts. But I’m dismayed that he thinks that my disagreements with, in this case, the Crazy Demon-Obsessed People and the “Satan curses the womb” Bible study leader took the form all those years ago of angry outbursts and blistering interaction. He thinks I’m a really angry woman, easily set off and entirely likely to erupt in verbal volcanics at the slightest provocation.

Kind of not, actually.

I doubt that Ashwin and I will ever have the opportunity to sit down over a cup of coffee, and that’s too bad. I think, though, that he sees me through a framework, whether informed by culture, theology, practice or experience, that pictures dissent as arguing, arguing as anger, anger as belligerence, and belligerence as damaging. That’s an interesting point of view, but it can lead, I think, to an unfortunate leap from “dissent” to “belligerence.”

Belligerence is, indeed, damaging. It’s always wrong, never productive; Ashwin and I agree on that. But dissent doesn’t have to lead to viciousness in dialogue or practice. That assumption is dangerous in itself — good arguments are disregarded, or feared, because “argument” is taken not as “valid point,” but “fight.” Ashwin and I clearly would argue this point; we might even have an argument over it. But I don’t think that leaping off the dock of dissent always results in swimming in the shark-infested waters of anger, disrespect, and loss of self-control. Far from it.

I wish the Church fought more — against the bad stuff, against sin. But to sprint from “dissent” to “belligerence” in framing debate, while appearing noble, can actually be cowardly. I wish that Ashwin were more able to simply read my words, which I don’t think are belligerent or vicious or damaging, without assuming that what’s behind them is an angry woman. There are things that make me angry, and ought to make him angry, too. Frankly, if you’re not angry about much of what happens in the world, you’re either not paying attention or you’re too damned comfortable.

But there’s a difference between feeling anger and being an angry person, and I suspect that “angry woman” is the real point here. My sense is that Ashwin’s filter results in a processing of my writing that dresses what I say with a little extra burden of ” . . . as a woman.” You know — as in, “she analyzes Wilson’s theology AS A WOMAN,” or “AS A WOMAN, she dares to confront Crazy, Demon-Obsessed People,” which I think can drift toward a cultural viewing, particularly in the Church, of women’s anger and women’s beliefs as vaguely irrational and emotion-fed even before that apparently inevitable point of bitchiness is reached. It becomes, then, not my point that’s considered, but the MAKING of that point, as a woman, that adorns it with the burden of presumed irrationality, emotion, and even inappropriateness.

I wonder if to Ashwin I’m “she who dares to speak apart from her husband’s covering.” It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard that. I think that Jeff doesn’t engage with people while carrying the burden of gender expectations and misconception, primarily because men haven’t had to wrestle with that one; he has that in common with Wilson, Ashwin, and every other man motivated to speak out. Their words stand on their own — no layers of emotion, hormones, or irrationality to peel away. Doug Wilson has literally written the book on the use of sarcasm and biting interaction and has garnered a well-earned reputation for his ability to verbally fillet opponents. He’s heir to the mantle of Chesterton in Ashwin’s eyes; I write passionately and strongly about very real problems of conduct and doctrine, and the presumption is that I’m just flying off the handle. That’s instructive.

While I’m acutely aware that I speak sharply, even cross the line on rare occasions, for which I’ve always apologized, I can’t help but wonder if Ashwin reads my words on their own, or if they arrive to him only seen through a filter of Woman Speaking. I am convinced that the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life requires that I be kind, which usually, but not always, involves being nice. Sometimes it doesn’t; “nice” can be an impediment to truth-telling and insight, but unkindness is never called for. Meanwhile, Ashwin’s hero Wilson is neither particularly nice nor even terribly kind in his writing — and that writing quite often leads to the sort of pastoral involvement that’s quite unkind in burdening the flock. It’s true that Wilson doesn’t seem to get angry very often, but he’s got snottiness down to a “T.” While it’s not real ladylike to say so, that doesn’t make it less true. Besides, I value being a strong woman over being a lady, and I value truth and righteousness, even righteousness in anger, more than anything else. “Snotty” fits here — “homos,” “aging hippies,” “druid lesbian softball coaches,” and harangues against the “litur-gay,” anyone?

There is no point worth making that can’t be made kindly. Likewise, even the strongest words in dissent of error or in defense of truth don’t have to slide inexorably into abusive anger. But fear of genuine debate, a preference for niceness over substance, and an assumption that the gender of the speaker is itself the filter through which words are studied is part of what’s led Evangelicalism to the irrelevant, ineffective, and inane cultural game of catch-up it’s been engaging in for the last 50 years or so. Prophetic voices come from women and from men; so do erroneous ones. But let’s take the words themselves and not assign perspective, or make conclusions about her or his character, to the speaker on the basis of gender.

How NOT To Use Statistics

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

We all know that desperate, ignorant, or misguided people can use statistics, as errant theologians sometimes use Scripture, in the way a drunk man uses a streetlamp — for support, not light.

This is especially common, it seems, when addressing social ills. Unfortunately, when it comes to drug policy, true data leads to conclusions that are anything other than true. Religious conservatives, inoculated against critical analysis of information by a culture that disdains the academic while relying on the emotion, often fall prey to this in arguing social policy — with disturbing results. Stats are that part of the arsenal that make the user look solid, unless the one wielding them can’t figure out which end is up.

I experienced this a few months ago while debating with a friend, a 20-year veteran of prison administration, about the legalization of marijuana. Don is foursquare, vehemently, solidly against it. I am, as I’ve made clear, in favor of legalization. I readily admit that he knows more about prisons and criminals than I do, and I know more about . . . well, some things, one of which, in this conversation at least, was the correct use of statistics.

Don pointed out that more than 95 percent of the men serving drug-related sentences in his particular prison, a high-security unit in Western Washington, had used marijuana before moving to cocaine, meth, heroin, and other narcotics. And he’s right — as a matter of fact, I bet the number is higher than that. Point conceded.
Only a very few men serving drug-related sentences haven’t used marijuana; for those who did, marijuana was clearly the “gateway” drug Joe Friday and every cop since then has warned about. His belief, then, is that if 95 percent of the drug criminals he knows of began with pot, then pot is the problem and should be outlawed.

But that point — that an overwhelming number of drug users and drug criminals started with marijuana — says only that. It doesn’t say, not even close, that 95 percent of people who use marijuana go on to use hard drugs. That would be significant, but Don’s stats don’t say that. It sounds ironclad, but it’s an argument from the wrong end and a terrible way to formulate social policy.

Most hard-drug users began their mornings with Rice Krispies, enjoyed baby carrots at lunch, and snuck extra cookies after dinner. Tell me that 95 percent of Snap, Krackle, and Pop fans go on to methamphetamines, and there might be a point to cereal prohibition. But to conclude that the slurping of kiddie cereal is the primary contributing factor to future drug use falls wide of the mark, we can all agree, particularly because it turns out that most cereal-eating kids don’t go on to anything harder than Multi-Grain Cheerios.

True: An enormous percentage of drug criminals started their mornings as children with cereal. False: Cereal consumption inexorably leads to drug usage. True: A tremendously high percentage of drug criminals smoked marijuana before they found heroin. False: A tremendously high percentage of marijuana users become drug criminals. Switch around the nouns, and the argument stands or falls.

Unfortunately, that happens too often, and those rigidly devoted to law and order seize upon stats like those offered by my friend to make false — and societally damaging — conclusions. I was dismayed, frankly, that a man as experienced and intelligent as Don would handle data so clumsily. But arguments like his have prevailed in marijuana legislation for decades. I understand the difference between baby carrots and marijuana, and I would caution anyone who uses weed that it could — could — get out of hand, kind of like beer, brownies, and butter. But I wouldn’t assume that virtually every pot smoker I know will go on to manufacture meth in a trailer or sell coke to schoolkids. I didn’t, and I bet you didn’t, either.

There are myriad social factors that contribute to hard-drug use and addiction. We’d all be better served if legislators focused on those things rather than continue a failed, illogical policy of criminalizing pot. The things that contribute to addiction and criminal behavior are complicated, but aren’t common to everyone who smokes. Responsible pot smokers aren’t contributing to major social dysfunction. They’re breaking the law only because there’s a law in place to break, and it’s time that we acknowledge that all that’s rolled up in a joint is a little bit of dried weed — not the decline of civilization as we know it.