Tag Archives: Government

Now What?

flagToday at noon we get a new President. This makes some of us very sad, and this makes some of us very happy.  I “get” that.  What I don’t “get” is the “Not my President” response that seems to be so popular as this less than popular President takes office.  Deeper than the angry rhetoric and political posturing that this slogan expresses, I detect in it an alarming crack in our national life that weakens the very foundation of our Constitutional Republic.

I certainly get the disappointment of an election that doesn’t turn out the way that you had hoped. I get the very real concern about the changes that a new administration promises to make.  And I even get the rejection of the values and the criticism of the character of the people who have been elected to high public office.  All of these things have been part of my own personal political experience at one time or another as well.  In fact, if the truth be told, I’m rarely happy with Washington D.C., and I am almost always troubled politically.  Yes, I “get” it.  But what I don’t get is the absence of “Political Grace” that the “Not my President” slogan betrays.  It just seems to run so contrary to our best impulses and highest instincts as participants in the American experiment.

bookIt lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that Jimmy Carter displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Ronald Reagan, the candidate who had just defeated him in a bitter election. It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that George H.W. Bush displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Bill Clinton, the candidate who had just defeated him in a bitter election. It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that Bill Clinton then displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of George W. Bush who finally won the closest of elections on the basis of a controversial Supreme Court ruling.  It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that George W. Bush displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Barack Obama who won the election campaigning on a repudiation of the Bush policies.  And it lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that Barack Obama has been putting on display as he has been facilitating the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Donald Trump who won the office without winning the popular vote and that is clouded with evidence of attempted foreign influence on our democratic process.   Donald Trump may or may not have been your candidate, but today at noon, he is going to be our President.

So, the question for all of us today, both the glad and the sad is – now what?

On Monday this week I posted a “Soundings” on “Partisan Praying.” If you haven’t read that blog yet, then I would certainly encourage you to do so now.  As a Christian speaking to other Christians, this is the most important thing that I would say we need to be doing today.  And then, only after saying that, as a citizen speaking to other citizens, I would then urge a quick civics lesson.

abeAfter hearing all about it on the news, I took a look last week at “Indivisible,” the political action manual that was recently put together by a group of progressive Congressional staffers on how to get and wield political power when the administration that is in in office doesn’t reflect your values and convictions. They based “Indivisible” on their observations of the emergence of, and their experience with the political effectiveness of the Tea Party in the early years of the Obama Administration.   At its core, “Indivisible” is just a basic guide to political organization and influence.  It pulls back the curtain of Washington D.C. and shows us how things actually get done there.  Its authors clearly have a political agenda, but the process that they describe does not.  It’s just as good for the gander, and it was for the goose.  In fact, these Progressives say that they learned it from watching the Tea Party!  I learned it in my high school civics class, and from my volunteer work at the headquarters of a major political party in my suburb of LA during a Presidential and Gubernatorial election in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was growing up.  There is nothing dangerous, subversive or particularly innovative here.  This is all just stuff that we should already know and be regularly doing as citizens.

A pretty good list of what involved and concerned citizens should be doing these days was recently put together and posted online by Evan McMullin, an Independent candidate for President in the last election.

  1. Read and learn the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Know that our basic rights are inalienable.
  2. Identify and follow many credible sources of news. Be very well informed and learn to discern truth from untruth.
  3. Pay attention to what the Administration says, decides and does.
  4. Be very vocal in every forum available to you if you think that rights are being violated and democracy is being threatened. Write, speak, and act.
  5. Support journalists, artists, academics, clergy and others who speak truth and who inform, inspire and unite us.
  6. Build bridges with Americans from the other side of the traditional political spectrum and with members of diverse American communities.
  7. Defend the rights of people who don’t look, think or believe like us. An attack on one is an attack on all.
  8. Organize online and in person with other Americans about the things that concern you.
  9. Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now.
  10. And finally, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, have “malice toward none, with charity for all” and never ever lose hope!

And while he has been a political rival and remains a public critic of our new President, there is nothing on this list that I find to be particularly partisan or pointed. In fact, it seems to me that these are ten really good things for all of us to be doing as citizens no matter who is in office, and even if Evan McMullen himself had been elected to office!

And that’s the whole point.

Whether this is a day of rejoicing for you, or a day of despair, tomorrow’s another day. The election is over, the transition of administrations is complete, and now the hard work of governing begins with a new group of leaders at the helm.  You may have voted for them.  You may have voted against them.  They may fill you with hope.  They may fill you with dread. But either way, they are the ones who are now in office.  But they aren’t there as tyrants to unilaterally impose their will on us any more than the last administration was, or the next administration after this one will be.  They are there to cast a vision and then to try to implement it through a constitutionally established political process.

Choose to be part of that process!

A government of the people, by the people, and for the people, requires the people. In our system of government, being governed requires the consent of the governed, and that means people, all of the people, stepping up and conducting ourselves as responsible citizens in a participatory democracy.  So, whether you are glad or sad today, let the full exercise of your citizenship begin, and be grateful that we have the privilege.  DBS +

Leave a comment

Filed under Soundings

“God Reigns, and the Government at Washington Still Lives!”

garfieldJames A. Garfield was a 33-year old freshman congressman when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  …Over the years, a story emerged about Garfield’s actions in New York after learning of Lincoln’s death.  Like so many other places across the North, New York City was in chaos after the news of the President’s murder began to spread.  Anger, sadness, and fear gripped many of the city’s residents as suspicions of a conspiracy and the expectation of more killings ran rampant.  Supposedly, a mob of some 50,000 people filled Wall Street and screamed for the heads of southern sympathizers.  As the story goes, the crowd had just resolved to destroy the offices of The World, a Democratic newspaper, when a single figure appeared above them on a balcony and began to speak – “Fellow citizens!  Clouds and darkness are round about Him!  His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies!  Justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne!  Mercy and truth shall go before His face!  Fellow citizens!  God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives!” These are the words supposedly spoken that day by Congressman James A. Garfield.  A supposed eyewitness to this event reported “The effect was tremendous,” and that Garfield’s words brought calm to the crowd (and saved The World’s office from destruction, one assumes).  This witness then turned to someone close to ask who the speaker was, and was told, “It is General Garfield of Ohio!” …This story became famous and, as historian Allan Peskin relates, “an enduring aspect of the Garfield mythology.”  Regularly re-told by newspapers under the heading “Garfield Stills the Mob,” it was widely circulated in Garfield’s later political campaigns, including his 1880 run for the presidency.  Sadly and ironically, it was also regularly mentioned in memorial pieces after Garfield was, like Lincoln, murdered by an assassin.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________     https://garfieldnps.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/james-a-garfield-and-the-lincoln-assassination/

I just love this story about James A. Garfield, apocryphal or not. Remember, he is a “Brother” President, one of the three Presidents of the United States with a direct “Disciples” connection.  Garfield was actually a preacher in our churches as well as the President of one of our church-related colleges in Ohio before his election to political office.  Lyndon Baines Johnson was a lifelong member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and his Washington D.C. funeral was actually conducted at the National City Christian Church, a church that was begun in James Garfield’s home when he was a Congressman.  And Ronald Reagan was raised a Disciple, went to one of our church-related colleges in Illinois, and held membership in a Southern California Disciples congregation for many years.

This week the United States will elect our next President. Depending on your politics, this will either be a week of great rejoicing for you, or a week of deep distress.  You are either going to feel like the Kingdom of God has come, or else that the world is about to end.  Either way, I’d advise you to tap the brakes.

The next four years are neither going to be as good as you imagine, nor as bad as you fear.

lincoln

Remember, the United States survived both the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s best Presidents, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s immediate successor, and one of America’s worst Presidents. I certainly hope our next President is more a Lincoln than a Johnson, but either way, I have every confidence that the Government in Washington will live because God reigns.

This was Max Lucado’s point in a recent post. He wrote –

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. (https://maxlucado.com/prediction-november-9/)

God’s sovereignty refers to God’s will and how it actually gets done in the vagaries of human history. Leslie Weatherhead’s three categories in his classic 1944 book The Will of God have long proven to be useful in my thinking on this matter –

godGod’s Intentional Will – This is God’s ideal purpose, what God intends for us and our temporal well-being in any given moment.

God’s Circumstantial Will – This is what God actually does when our free choices set up circumstances that are contrary to God’s ideal purpose for us. Rather than giving up on us, God finds the best way to cooperate with us in those circumstances to continue to advance His good purposes.

God’s Ultimate Will – This is God’s final goal. It is the same goal as would have been reached if God’s intentional will would have not been frustrated by our free choices, and it is the goal that will finally be achieved because God and His purposes cannot be finally defeated.

What these careful distinctions in the will of God try to hold in balance is the mystery of how God can ultimately be in charge of the universe while human beings still remain truly free. Someone has said that Weatherhead’s answer turns God into a kind of master chess player who is in a game with a rank amateur.  The amateur freely moves his pieces on the board just as he chooses, but the master knows what the amateur is doing, and he is always thinking seven and eight moves ahead of him.  The master sees the whole board all the time, and he knows how he will be able to turn every move that the amateur makes to his own advantage.  And so, while I don’t believe that God has a candidate in this or any election — that’s our “move” — I do believe that God has a purpose for the whole world that He will finally bring about regardless of who wins the election.

It was the Protestant Reformer who observed that “God can ride the lame horse and carve the rotten wood.” And in his reflection on what will happen on November 9th, Max Lucado cited Proverbs 21:1 – “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases.” All of which is to say that no matter who gets elected President this week, God is still going to be God, and His will — His Ultimate Will — is going to get done no matter how poorly or wisely we vote, and no matter how nobly or ignobly the one who gets elected governs.  Oh, we can certainly make things harder than they need to be.  History is proof of that.  God’s Intentional Will can be, and often is, frustrated by the poor choices we make.  But in those less-than-ideal-circumstances that our free choices create, I believe that God still finds a way, just like a master chess player, to cooperate with us where we are, and to advance the accomplishment of His will on earth as it is in heaven.

There have been 11 men elected President of the United States in my 63 years of life – 6 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Counting this one, I have now voted in 12 Presidential elections.  The candidates I have voted for have won 6 times, lost 5 times, and we’ll see what happens this year.   Without exception, the Presidents I have voted for have pleased me, and they have disappointed me, just as the Presidents I haven’t vote for have pleased me, and they have disappointed me as well.

King David’s last words were a reflection on Rulers –

“When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:3-4).

This is what I want for every President of the United States, the ones I vote for and the ones I don’t. I want them all to be “like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.” And the fact is that sometimes they have been, and sometimes they haven’t — all of them, the Republicans and the Democrats, the ones I voted for and the ones I didn’t.  And my hope for #12 is that s/he will be, even though I already know that sometimes s/he will be, and sometimes s/he won’t.

And so, while I expect to be pleased sometimes, and disappointed at other times during the next four years by whoever gets elected President next this week, my faith is not in him or her, but in the God who never disappoints (James 1:17), which is why, with my “Brother” President, #20, James A. Garfield, I will wake up on the morning of November the 9th, and know that whoever has been elected President #45, that –

“Clouds and darkness are round about Him!  His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies!  Justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne!  Mercy and truth shall go before His face!  Fellow citizens!  God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives!” 

DBS +

2 Comments

Filed under Soundings

Changing Laws ~ Changing Hearts

monument

 

Dr. Bill Baird, my professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, and the reason why I wanted to go to seminary in Ft. Worth in the first place, used to say that our natural reflex is to use Biblical texts as “springboards” to Washington D.C.

What he meant by this was our tendency to move immediately, unhesitatingly and uncritically from Biblical teachings to some specific public policy proposal. We get political in the blink of an eye and become partisan in a heartbeat. Both the Christian right and the Christian left pronounce their particular take on a pressing social issue of the day and leave the distinct impression that it is the only conscientious position that a serious Christian can take.  We call it being “prophetic,” and we think that it’s how we speak truth to power.

As Christians, we use the Bible politically to speak to the world. But when I read my Bible, in context, more often than not, what I encounter is not a word that’s being spoken to the world at large, but a word that’s being spoken instead to the community of faith, both to whole congregations and to individual Christians.  When He was in front of Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ explicitly disavowed the suspected grab for worldly power through a political strategy that made Him a cause for concern to Rome.   “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said (John 18:36).  And when addressing a problem about sexual expression in the Corinthian Church, Paul explained –

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. [1 Corinthians 5:9-13]

I know, I know, these verses beg many important questions, but for right now try to focus just on the inside/outside distinction that Paul was making here; the difference between what the church is supposed to say to “anyone who claims to be a brother or sister,” and what the church is supposed to say to “the people of this world.”

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” Paul asked, assuming that his readers knew that the answer was “none” — that it’s not our “business” to hold people in the world accountable to the moral and spiritual standards that we who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ hold sacred.  “Are you not to judge those inside?” And again, Paul assumed that his readers knew the answer to this rhetorical question as well. “Yes,” we are supposed to hold ourselves accountable to each other within the community of faith for the things that we say we believe are true, and right, and good.

Don’t try to play the trump card of Matthew 7:1-6 here. Even in context, Jesus’ “judge not lest ye be judged” assumes a capacity on our part to be able to identify “specks,” “logs,” “dogs” and “swine.” And within a mere 8 verses of this teaching, Jesus was warning His disciples about “false prophets” and the necessity for His disciples to be able to know who they were by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20).  The appeal to Matthew 7:1 as a universal prohibition to judging that we like to use to avoid the hard work of getting clarity for ourselves or being challenged by others about what it is that we believe and value ignores what the verse actually says in context and attempts to have it bear more freight than it was designed to hold, which brings us back around to the inside/outside distinction and to the question of who the Bible is talking to?

The reason why we use Biblical texts as springboards to Washington DC is because we think that the primary way that the world will be changed, made more just and compassionate, will be through legislation. And while I’m not unaware of the necessity of political action or unappreciative of the way that good legislation and responsible government can serve the establishment of justice and liberty for all, neither am I naïve.  I’m truly glad that racial segregation and discrimination was officially outlawed in the United States by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but as the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, 50 years later have painfully shown us, it’s one thing to change the law and another thing to change hearts.

black

The “takeaway” from Carl F.H. Henry’s 1964 book Aspects of Christian Social Ethics for me was his strong emphasis on Christianity’s “supernatural resources” for social change. This was his restatement of Pietist Christianity’s traditional approach to addressing social problems and fueling social improvement.

The twentieth century has cherished high hopes for socio-politico-economic reconstruction. First it trusted mass education to propound a new vision of society, then domestic legislation and possibly even international jurisprudence, and more recently it has looked to mob pressures and revolutionary techniques to being about rapid social fulfillment. (9)

But the Christian Church ought to rely on the spiritual regeneration of individuals to transform society. (72)

History shows that the thought of Christ on the cross has been more potent than anything else in arousing a compassion for suffering and indignation at injustice. (29)

Supernatural regeneration is the peculiar mainspring for the social metamorphosis latent in the Christian movement… Evangelism and revival remain the original wellsprings of evangelical humanitarianism and social awakening. To ignore or lay aside this chief armor of apostolic Christianity for reliance on other social dynamics means retreat from the peculiar glory of the New Testament to the world-wisdom and world-power of the Greeks and the Romans.  Those who in social agitation sponsor a morality of compulsion, or simply trust the word and will of unregenerate men, thereby betray their skepticism of the adequacy of spiritual reserves latent in the Christian religion. This gnawing doubt is manifest in the notion that social problems are not wholly responsive to spiritual solutions. Consequently, the Church has often turned aside from its evangelistic and missionary priorities, attempting to chart a socio-political thrust alongside rather than in and through the evangelistic thrust. (26-27)

The Gospel of Christ is the Church’s peculiar “dynamis” (power) for facing the entire world. Christian social action condones no social solutions in which personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is an optional consideration. Personal regeneration and redemption are inherent in its hope for the social order.  (25)

The Gospel is the Church’s distinctive message and its distinctive dynamism for social transformation. (79)

When the New Testament addresses a social issue like slavery in Paul’s letter to Philemon, what it says was not being offered as a plank in the platform of a political party, or as some specific political policy proposal. Rome wasn’t listening.  The Emperor didn’t care.  What the New Testament had to say about social justice was a word that was addressed to the hearts of believers who then as salt and light and leaven would penetrate the world around them.  And my hope as a Christian today for the emergence of a more just and compassionate social order still depends less on the persuasiveness of a political argument and the results of the next election than on the spiritual transformation of people by the power of the living, loving God in their lives through the Word and the Spirit.  As Edward Beecher, Lyman’s son, put it –

Great changes do not begin on the surface of society, but in prepared hearts; in men (and women) who by communion with God, rise above the apathy of the age, and speak with living vital energy, and give life to the community, and tone to the public mind. (Wirt 147)

In closing, I put into evidence in support of this argument a story that J. Mack Stiles told in his book Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel (IVP 2010).

When our missionary friend, Mike McComb, tried to introduce protein into the diets of the largely illiterate Guatemalan farmers, it was a masterful combination of expertise, training, and strategy. He started his work towards the end of the murderous civil war. During that time Mike also faithfully shared the gospel. And Mike noticed it was the gospel that allowed protein to get to the people.

protein

When the gospel was understood and accepted in villages, Mike reported, men stopped getting drunk and beating their wives. As they attended church, they started to attend to their crops and their children’s education. Tomas, the mayor of Nebaj, told me that it was only when the gospel came to the Ixil lands that real change happened. Mike says that the preaching of the gospel did more to eliminate hunger than fish farms or crop rotation ever did. We must never forget that the Gospel brings more long-term social good than any governmental aid program ever developed.

Changed hearts change the world.  DBS+

 

1 Comment

Filed under Soundings