I am not a label; I am a free man!

There are some blogs I still seem to follow even though I seldom agree with very much they have to say.

That fact seems especially apt when I come to this post, purporting to expound the reasons why liberals and conservatives (or Muslims and Christians, or whoever and whoever else) can’t “just get along”.

The author’s contention seems to be that because it is impossible for people who hold different values to have any real fellowship, liberals and conservatives exist in a natural state of undeclared war one with another. A liberal cannot have conservative friends, nor vice versa, because they want and value different, opposing things. Referring to the popular bumper sticker, she calls the idea that we can all get along the “COEXIST fallacy”.

While I take the point that “Can two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3), I have to take issue with what seems like an astonishing amount of missing the point and unreasonable pigeonholing.

Maybe I’ve read too much into what she’s saying, but the implication that rather than friendship, the proper response of liberals and conservatives to each other is hostility sets my teeth on edge. There is a large field existing between the sort of fellowship she rightly says is unlikely if not impossible and the sort of ongoing conflict that she seems to imply is the only other possible alternative. For example, I’m constantly amazed at how well I get on with my father-in-law when we have such different basic approaches to the world. His political priorities are often worlds apart from my own, yet we both love and serve the Lord Jesus. We share the values of truth, justice, mercy, peace, faith and integrity. We don’t talk politics, because neither of us really approve of throwing our pearls before swine, metaphorically speaking, and our relationship is too important to jeopardise by meaningless arguments about peripheral issues like economic policy.

And this leads neatly on to what I was saying about unreasonable pigeonholing.

Throughout the post, the author maintains a very rigid idea of “Christians don’t want abortion”, “Muslims want Sharia law”, “liberals hold these values”, “conservatives hold these values”. I have a big problem with this monolithic understanding of different groups. In the real world, people are usually more complicated than that.

As a defining trait of the followers of the Saviour I claim, I have to say I find “Christians don’t want abortion” to be a very limited summary statement. Is that truly what we think defines a Christian? Even politically? What about “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)? Nope, apparently what defines “Christian” politics is whether you oppose abortion or not.

Now, your understanding of what “doing justice and loving mercy” looks like in practice may very well lead you to oppose abortion-on-demand as a matter of motherly convenience (in fact, I’d say that it had better!), but the same values of justice and mercy ought to move you to stand for “liberal” causes like wage equality, treating God’s clean earth with respect and raising up the poor as well.

I can get along with my father-in-law even though he’s an arch-conservative while I lean left, because we do hold the really fundamental values in common. We only differ on the outworking of those values.

And that’s the thing. Every human being is a mixed bag of different values, and not everyone that’s a “conservative” is exactly the same.

For some conservatives, their Second Amendment rights are the really important thing, for others, it’s keeping the government out of as much as possible, or the issue of abortion, or opposition to the supposed “organised liberal attack on traditional family values”, whatever that really means. “Conservative” as a political category in a monochromatic political spectrum like America is of necessity a broad term, and people vote for conservative politicians for all kinds of reasons. Someone for whom Second Amendment rights are the big end-all issue is going to look upon someone who might be in favour of rational enforcement of reasonable measures to make it more difficult for criminals to access firearms, for example, as insufficiently conservative or even downright liberal, even if that person favours Republican laissez-faire capitalistic economic policy, opposes abortion with a vehement passion and believes wholeheartedly in what are called traditional family values.

That same person may view the first hypothetical individual as dangerously liberal becayse they believe that in certain circumstances abortion might be the least worst option. They’re both considered “conservatives”, but their priorities, while both lying in the general sphere of values labeled “conservative”, are different.

The same is true of liberals. If conservatism is not a monolith of identical clones espousing one single constant viewpoint, neither is liberalism. I lean left in terms of economic policy. I live and move closer to the bottom of the economic ladder than the top, and I see conservative economics as more than a little unjust, unfairly favouring the already-wealthy and with nothing in place to protect the little guy from large businesses’ predation and economic bullying. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I encourage homosexual practice or support abortion-on-demand or favour policies that deny Christians the right to the free expression of their faith or whatever else it is you think this monolithic thing called “liberals” believes.

I know plenty of Muslims that favour Western-style democracy and don’t want Sharia law. I’ve met people who styled themselves Muslims in the former Soviet Union who didn’t believe in God. Yeah, Muslim atheists. I’ve encountered Buddhist monks in Thailand who were more interested in the Soccer Football World Cup than in the practice of their religion.

What the “COEXIST” bumper sticker is saying is that we’re all human beings, complex mixes of values and beliefs, some of which conflict while others mesh. I share with Muslims a belief that there is only one God who exists as a Person, not an impersonal Force or spirit, I share with atheists the understanding that pagan gods aren’t real gods, I share with Hindus the understanding that ultimate reality is spiritual and there is more to life than the material world.

Labels are a convenience, not an absolute defining parameter. Particularly ones like “liberal” and “conservative” which exist on a spectrum and define two general areas of it. Witness current political difficulties between the Republican establishment, the Freedom Caucus and the White House, or look at the clashes between the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. People aren’t their labels, when you vote Republican you aren’t immediately stamped into the “correct” shape like a coin taking on its imprint. With all due respect to the American Green Party and the Libertarians, they aren’t going to be forming a government any time soon and many people who might have a lot in common with their party outlook are going to see a vote for them as a waste. The political establishment on both sides has a lot invested in maintaining the dual-party status quo, because they fear the loss of their members to other “fringe” parties.

“Liberals” and “conservatives” can get along and even be friends, if they remember their common ground. As a more-or-less liberal-leaning centrist in Texas (or in other words, anyone even slightly to the left of the Ferengi from Star Trek: The Next Generation), I find my nose constantly ground in the fact that most people around here don’t share my political priorities. And yet that doesn’t mean I have no friends. There are people at my church with whom I can’t have a political discussion without feeling myself concerned about their faith, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. And yet I know they love and trust the Lord, even if it doesn’t look the same as my own faith’s political outworking.  We have that much in common.

Labels encourage divisiveness, an “us against them” mentality which sees another person not as a human being lovingly created in the image of a good God, maybe flawed and fallen and sinful and mistaken, but bearing that divine imprint nonetheless, but as a thing, a collective, with values utterly opposed to ours. There can be no compromise or coexistence; neither’s beliefs can exist without the destruction of the other. To quote an obscure sci-fi television series, “the classic pattern for war”.

And yet, aren’t we all flawed and fallen and sinful and mistaken? And aren’t we all loved by God nonetheless, even in our unregenerate state, dead in our sins? We none of us earned our way into God’s favour; we have no call to be waging metaphysical total war against other people He loves.

There isn’t some monolithic construct called “Islam” any more than there’s a monolithic construct called “Christianity”; as Christians we believe the same body of core doctrines, but within that we are free to have differing viewpoints about non-core issues like whether it’s possible to genuinely believe and then fall away or which English translation of the Bible is best.  Individual Muslims vary a lot in their actual functioning beliefs depending on where they are from, how educated they are, lots of factors.

Let’s get past the labels, and particularly past the tendency to treat the label as a uniform undifferentiated mass. As Christians we should know better: the Christ-following community is after all described as a body. Bodies are made up of organs, different types of cells doing different jobs to make the whole thing function. A mass of uniform undifferentiated tissue is what we call a cancer. And people aren’t cancers.

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Compromise Is Not A Dirty Word

Compromise.

Remember when it was considered a mostly positive thing?  A way to resolve differences without coming to blows, a recognition that the universe is imperfect and you’re probably not going to be able to have everything you want all at once.  That other people have things they want, too.

These days, it seems like any compromise is universally bad.  I hear radio advertisements beginning “I hate compromise”, like that’s a positive trait to be proud of.  We associate compromise with political double-dealing, with selling out your people or principles, with some sort of hypocrisy.  “I don’t compromise”, we proudly proclaim, meaning “I’m going all out for this”, whatever it is.  Black and white.  All or nothing.  My way or the highway.

I think we Christians began it.  I remember from my growing up how “no compromise” became a rallying-call among the evangelical, Bible-believing community to say “There are some things that aren’t negotiable”.  We believed ourselves under threat from the theologically liberal, secularising, politically-correct world, and the entire evangelical movement was a response to that sense of pressure.  A way to say, in effect, “we understand that sometimes you have to go along to get along, but there are some non-negotiables, beginning with the value of Scripture and the place of faith in our lives.”

These days, that list of non-negotiables seems to have become longer and longer.  My faith.  My interpretation of Scripture, even the questionable, tricky parts that we used to agree to disagree on.  My values.  My political beliefs.  My hopes for the future.  My way, my style, my fashion, my stuff, to the point where “No compromise” is being used to sell underwear to men.

Oh, it sounds rugged and manly to say “no compromise”, I’ll grant you.  A way to stick two fingers up to the world, prove your independence of spirit and general masculinity.  No-one tells me what to do.  Hooah!  I suppose that’s the point, if you’re an advertiser, but it seems to be rather missing it if you ask me.

The point is not that there aren’t non-negotiables.  We are human beings, and there really are things we value enough to say “no, I cannot bend on this point.”  That’s good and right; the basis of the ability to resist evil and stand up for what’s right.  In its best incarnation, it energises the true Christian martyr to be able to stare death in the face and refuse to deny the Lord no matter what kind of pressure is piled on.  We remember stories coming out from behind the Iron Curtain, and there are other stories today from places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea.  Some things really are worth dying for.

It also energises the Godly resister, the agent of change in society.  All the William Wilberforces and Harriet Tubmans and others of that kidney, people who refused to bow to the majority when they knew the majority was wrong about an important issue.

The problem is that we keep adding things to the list of non-negotiable stuff.  If we’re at the point now that the selection of men’s underwear is on the list of things that we cannot compromise, then we are at the point of social anarchy because no-one can get along with anyone any more.

Non-negotiabiliy is a hierarchy.  At the top there are the true non-negotiables; the things it really is better to die than give up.  I don’t think anyone is seriously placing underwear in that category, but it’s symptomatic of the urge to keep enlarging the list.  Then we come down the list to the group of things that aren’t quite as important, but we really don’t want to give them up.  I’ll put myself through the inconvenience of a long commute in order to live somewhere that my children can get a good education, that sort of thing.  It’s not a single category, it’s a ranked scale.  How much inconvenience are we prepared to put ourselves through for this thing?

It’s here that the advertisers part company with reality.  To them, and I’m beginning to suspect to a lot of political activists on both sides of the great divide between parties, it’s not a case of putting yourself through inconvenience for something so much as a rigid determination to make other people bend around what you personally want.  Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this; it’s the reason politics is such a mess right now.  We all have a tendency to see everything in black and white, absolute evil or absolute good, “he who is not for us is against us”.  And while there are things that are like that, the reality is that sometimes “no compromise” is just code for “I want what I want and if I don’t get it I will sulk.  Or get angry.”

Either way, it’s a little… petulant, sometimes.  Depending on what we’re currently claiming as being of such vital importance that any attempt to meet the other side halfway is wrong and evil, it might be good or it might be a two-year-old’s temper tantrum.

I’m not going to tell you what your core value non-negotiables ought to be.  I recognise that there are issues of black-and-white ethical division, things it’s worth dying for and things it’s worth self-sacrifice for.  I’m also aware that the lists aren’t going to be precisely the same for everyone.  Justice is a big deal for me; situations in which justice cannot be done for some reason anger me.  But I have friends who aren’t quite so hot on the subject of justice but who will spend themselves to the last penny for mercy.  Different values, but both of us valuing good things.

This is why we have different political parties to begin with.  Not everyone values every good thing equally, and sometimes the reality of the world is that to get one thing right you have to accept getting other things less right.  Parties are by nature a compromise, a collaboration of multiple people with a whole gamut of functioning core values, but who unify around a specific set of ideals.  Most people aren’t going to hold all of those ideals equally; indeed, in the monochromatic US political landscape there are probably a huge majority of people who vote for one or the other party for a short list of reasons and can’t stand other aspects of the party platform.

We make that sort of compromise all the time, but then we go into black-and-white, non-negotiable mode when it comes to the other party.  Many of whom may very well not like aspects of their party’s stated platform, but who feel like certain other aspects of which are sufficiently important to them that they are prepared to put up with the junk.  I suspect that if we actually listened to people on the other side, we might find that we have more in common than we thought.

And by “listen”, I don’t mean “listen while maintaining a checklist of points on which they are wrong so we can argue with them”.  I mean actually listen.  Assume that there is a valid reason for why they support what they do; it’s not “because I’m eeeeeviiiiiiil!!!!!!!!!!!”  It’s not “I’m just retarded and believe something I ought to know isn’t true”.  We need to rediscover the art of withholding judgement in order to dig a little.  Discover the why.  What’s important about that thing you’re supporting?  What value led you to support something I have problems with?  Not listening to condemn, but listening to understand.

Compromise.  There really are still things that we don’t actually need to get our own way on.  Oh, it’s nice when we can, but we should not use “no compromise” as an excuse to pout when things don’t go the way we want.

And I’m looking at both liberals and conservatives when I say that.  You’re both as bad as each other at this.  You conservatives think you understand why liberals believe what they believe, so you’ve mostly stopped listening.  You liberals think you understand why conservatives believe what they believe, so you’ve mostly stopped listening.  Neither of you are going to get everything you want, because the reality of the situation is more complex than can be encapsulated in a single sentence.  Nor even a paragraph.  We really do have to decide that we can flex on some things; rigid inability to compromise on a single iota isn’t doing anyone any good.

Enough tearing ourselves apart, enough using “no compromise” as an excuse to try and force the other guy to give in to your demands.  This isn’t a hostage situation, and you aren’t the kidnapper.

We’ve just come through the Christmas season, and I should point out that even my five-year-old understands the difference between a wish list and a demand list.  It seems that sometimes, as we grow up, we lose that simple wisdom.

Maybe it’d be a good idea to try and regain it.

Eyes Off The Waves

It’s already five days into 2017, and I’m still not ready for it.

Christmas was our first Christmas in our new home, and while I was concentrating on that, New Year sort of snuck up on me.

Most years I’ve spent some time in prayer and have some idea about a direction for the New Year, but this year, nothing. When my wife asked me on New Year’s Eve what I wanted from the upcoming year, I thought about all the craziness of 2016 and said “to survive it”.

Surviving is a pretty low bar, though. And if I’m honest with myself, I want more than mere survival.

But as for more precise direction? Not a clue.

The New Year feels a bit like standing at the top of a precipice; political weirdness in both my country of origin and my country of residence make the future a decidedly uncertain and unresolved thing. Hope seems in short supply. All bets are off; anything could happen. Look at the past year.

Maybe that’s the focus. Developing the sort of Divine confidence and expectation of God’s goodness that really does laugh at circumstances.

It would be easy to get disheartened. The less said about current politics, the better, but I have to say that I worry about the anti-reason, anti-fact, anti-truth nature of what appears to be current politics. And it’s conservatives who claim to believe in absolutes like truth I mean at least as much as liberals who claim to believe in relativism.

As someone who places a high value on truth, I find this disturbing. Fact is the least form of truth, and if we can’t even agree on what the facts actually are, then Pandora’s box is standing open and all the demons that have ever troubled Mankind are loosed upon the world.

In that kind of environment, Biblical Hope is a powerful weapon. The confidence that God is still good and hasn’t dropped the ball, regardless of my personal situation.

Like the Apostle Peter, here we are in the unnatural position of standing on the water in the middle of the storm. The winds are howling, the waves mount up like jagged cliff-edges. The other followers of Jesus are back in the limited safety of the boat, afraid of the storm themselves and even more afraid of doing what Peter did. The invitation to fear is everywhere. It’s reasonable to be afraid; that’s what reason tells us to do.

But there’s Jesus, holding onto my hand as I call desperately for salvation. Eyes off the waves, son, back onto Me. I’ve got this. I’ve got you.

The One who raises up kings and dethrones them – as messy as that gets when rule is for life and dynasties matter – is still Sovereign of the universe. The One who promised to build His church with no people or empire on earth to provide shelter and support for us – and then did so – is still Lord of all the earth.

These aren’t even very big waves compared to what the early church experienced. The persecution still hasn’t begun in America, despite the occasional rumour to the contrary.

I talked a good line through 2016 about God’s Kingdom being our paramount concern, about how these light and momentary trials reveal how small our view of God is, about how vital it is for us to act like followers of Jesus towards Muslims and other people who do not trust Him for salvation.

Now it’s apparently time to prove it.

I need to keep my eyes off the waves and on the Lord enthroned over the flood. I need to act with kindness and grace even to those believers who I deep down think are bringing the name of my God into disrepute. I need to have a large enough and Biblical enough view of my God that it puts these momentary troubles into proper perspective.

We’re Under Attack

Christianity in America is under attack. A coalition of pro-abortion activists, LGBTQRGBetc fanatics, hardcore atheists, Communists, liberals and secularisers is currently persecuting and threatening to wipe out Christianity in America.

Or so we’re told.

It’s apparently the reason so many evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. According to this article and many like it, they consider the left an existential threat to the faith.

Personally I think this is a lot of fear-mongering guff. I’ve seen enough of the world to know what real persecution and attack looks like, and America, you ain’t even close.

People claiming to be Christians still constitute a massive supermajority of the US population, and even evangelicals are a sizable portion. Ok, the actual percentage of people who take that profession of faith seriously may be tiny by comparison, but if we were really being persecuted it wouldn’t be safe to call yourself a Christian if you weren’t going to be serious about it. The government doesn’t consider the followers of Jesus Christ to be dangerous seditionists. No, not even Obama’s government. He wouldn’t have claimed to be one if that were the case – and he did, in the runup to both his elections. No-one is being jailed or killed just because they call Jesus their Lord. No-one is throwing stones or taking pot-shots at our kids because of what we believe. No-one is forbidding our churches to open their doors or forcing us to worship in secret. No-one is denying us access to government help or anything like that and using our faith as a reason.

Christians are warned in the Bible to expect opposition and even persecution. But we in America really are not being persecuted. Not right now, and God willing we will not be for a long time yet.

To me, a lot of our persecution complex looks like the temper-tantrums of a community who’ve been told that they can’t have their own way all the time.

There are Christians and Muslims and Jewish people and atheists and Buddhists, Baha’i and Mormons, Hindus and pagans and everyone else too in American society. America has had a diversity of religious opinions ever since there has been a United States of America; it’s one of the most genius parts of the US Constitution. The government can’t tell people what to believe, and no one church or religion can tell the government what laws to pass. Everyone is free to believe whatever they like and to try and convert others to their viewpoint by any peaceful, noncoercive means.

Since I believe that followers of Christ have the best answers to the great questions of life, the universe and everything – or rather, Jesus does, even if His followers are lunatics sometimes – I have nothing to fear from this marketplace of ideas. Christianity doesn’t need anyone to protect it; it’s like what CS Lewis said about the Scriptures. “Defend the Bible? One might as well try to defend an uncaged lion.”

If we get the truth out there in a way that people can really understand what we’re saying, the Holy Spirit will do His work and people will trust their lives to Jesus Christ. Well-informed followers of Jesus aren’t going to become Muslims if they really know the One who is the Truth.

The people of Jesus the Messiah in Iran, of all places, are now the fastest-growing church in the world. We don’t need to be afraid just because the government does something we don’t like.

No, LGBTQetc people don’t like us very much. Tell me they don’t have reason, solely in our behaviour as a community without going into matters of doctrine. I still can’t see that the Bible approves of homosexual practice for followers of Jesus, but I cannot and will not approve of the unloving, spiteful behaviour of some Christians towards people of that community. They’re people God loves, made in His image, regardless of what I think about what they’re doing. You think your gossip or greed or self-righteousness or idolatry of wealth or whatever is any less a sin?

We’re followers of the Prince of Peace, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the One who instructed us to love our enemies otherwise we’re no better than demon-worshipping pagans. We ought to be better than the hateful spite some of us direct against those we disagree with.

Besides all that, isn’t politics the wrong forum for trying to bring spiritual change to the nation?

You think that fallen human beings are going to stop being wicked just because we legislate against wickedness? You think passing a law banning something is enough to change people’s hearts? What about your guns, O right-wing Christian? You make the argument that banning guns won’t get rid of them but will only drive them underground, but you want to ban certain behaviours and think that will work. This is double-mindedness. You can’t legislate spiritual change.

The nation will change spiritually when people come to Jesus and acknowledge Him as their Lord in truth and with actions, not just in words. We can achieve this only through fervent, heartfelt prayer and proclamation of the Good News about what Jesus has done for us, in all humility and grace.

I’ve heard Christians say things like “God will send revival if we overturn Roe vs Wade”. This is tosh, and we ought to know it. Genuine spiritual revival is a sovereign work of a merciful God at His discretion, and the only prerequisite that matters is that His church, those who call on His name, humble themselves, seek His face and turn away from their own wickedness.

It’s not about society turning away from godless liberalism or whatever human face you put on the enemy. It’s about you, personally, and me, personally, turning away from our little white lies and our whitewashing of certain forms of evil and our personal greed and our personal impurity and our personal arrogant pride and so on. It means we have to own our own personal crap: we can’t fudge or generalise to make ourselves feel better.

We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the high call of God to which He has called us. None of us truly deserve to take the name of Christian, “little Christ”. Real revival has always begun not with a political movement but with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ falling on our knees and getting serious about living for Him. Revival and a restoration of the church to the wider society will only come when we do that.

Christians can’t assume an automatic prominence of our own viewpoint any more, but that doesn’t mean we’re an endangered species. “Existential threat”? Please; how can mere human legislation extirpate what our Lord said the very gates of hell would not be able to hold out against?

Is our view of our Saviour truly that weak and pitiful? Do we truly have so little sense of the true strength of our God that we believe we have to do His job by politicking? If we try to fight to preserve and protect visible public Christianity in America, we will lose, because we are fighting the wrong battle with the wrong weapons. If we truly want to demolish strongholds of the enemy, we have to use the true weapons of our warfare, which are “not carnal”. Not of the flesh, not the way the world does it. No barrage of Facebook memes or tweets or angry hostility or political campaigning: heartfelt prayer, personal repentance, real holiness of lifestyle, graciousness. Love God and love other people. All the rest is commentary.

Those are our weapons. And all the powers of hell tremble when we take them up.

You think “the evil liberal agenda” won’t wither like a snail in a fire, faced with genuine compassionate love from those calling themselves by the name of the Master? You think “the evils of reactionary conservatism” can stand up to people acting with real love for them despite what they believe? You think the devil’s politics stand a chance? What does it matter if abortion remains legal, if we have such a spiritual revival that no-one wants to take up that option?

If we’re under attack, the mastermind behind it is that foul spirit called the devil. I’m sure he’s laughing at all the wasted energy we’re expending counterattacking the wrong targets. The human ones. The ones he’s duped into being his puppets. Put whoever you think fits into that category, but be aware that someone else probably thinks you should be there.

Yes, we’re under attack, but not in the way you think. The war is spiritual, not political or social except at second hand. The appropriate weapons for the true battle are found in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in the character of Christ. Facing temptation to greed? Give generously. Being reviled? Speak positively in return. Under attack with lies? Hold unswervingly to the truth and trust your reputation to the Lord. All sorts of accusing lies were told about the early church by the pagans, too, but they didn’t reply in kind. Guess who won in the long-term.

What I’m trying to say is that spiritual warfare isn’t just some weirdly mystical exercise of naming and shaming various unclean spirits. It’s right here and right now, every Christian, every point of decision. Am I going to act in loving obedience to my Lord or selfish rebellion? That’s the fight that’s ours to fight.

It’s war, people. And we need to stop shooting at the POWs the enemy has taken.

Betrayed

I’m still trying to come to terms the prospect of a Trump Presidency.

It’s not really the fact that he won the election. People are allowed their political opinions and I totally understand the perspective of much of the Midwest whose jobs and job prospects vanished a long time ago and were faced with a man promising to bring them back.

No, it’s the fact that self-confessed evangelical Christians voted for him and supported (and support) him in such overwhelming numbers that is giving me such difficulty.

If you want the truth, I feel betrayed.

Betrayed by a Church that I expected to show more discernment, betrayed by a Church that has been talking for a generation and a half about how much character matters in politics and then sold themselves to elect one of the vilest-charactered individuals ever to enter the Oval Office.

Betrayed by a community of which I still basically consider myself a part, whose central defining characteristic I believed to be a desire to take the Bible seriously as revealed truth and to live lives in accordance with that.

Betrayed that the Church – my people – who are so earnest about establishing modesty and purity of lifestyle could stoop to elect a man who owns a strip club, brags about his adulteries against his multiple wives and talks about committing sexual assault as if it’s “just something men do”.

Betrayed that a community who say they believe that it’s what’s inside that counts, that “man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart”, could so perjure themselves by electing a man who treats women as numerical values based entirely on their outward physical attractiveness and has contempt for anyone he considers less than a “7”.

This is not something you can shrug off with your “Trump’s not a perfect candidate” whitewash. There’s a difference between “not perfect” and actually actively vile, and Trump is on the wrong side of that line. How can you claim to follow Christ and actively support someone who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” as some sort of godly choice?

This is not something you can paper over with your “don’t vote character, vote the platform” whitewash. We the Church have been the ones waving the flags about how important character is to leadership, and now we give the lie to all of that by voting for this arrogant sexual predator?

This is not something you can weasel out of with your “But Hillary” smokescreen. This is not about her. I don’t care that you didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton – goodness knows her stance on abortion is problematic for Bible-believing Christians – what troubles me is that you voted for, whitewashed and somehow sanctified Donald Trump as if he’s some Christlike leader who will save the nation. The Bible has a lot to say about the sanctity of life; we agree on that much. But the sanctity of life means ALL life, both sides of the birth canal. Donald Trump’s willingness to use nuclear weapons has to give us pause, particularly given his what’s the point of having them if we aren’t going to use them?” rhetoric. This is like “what’s the point of having a gun if you aren’t going to shoot someone?” and does not sit well with respect for the sanctity of life. Abortion is a big issue, but please stop making an idol of it to the exclusion of everything else.

Now, Donald Trump is the President-elect. He will be the President, whether we like the idea or not. And the evangelical church put him there, may God have mercy on us. We’re alienating our mission field, driving away those we should be seeking to win. That doesn’t mean we need to all become liberals. But it does mean that we ought to have a big problem supporting a vile individual who says evil inflammatory things, lies like a rug, changes his story to fit his audience, boasts about sexual assault, owns a strip club, sexualises his own daughter, etc, etc, like Donald Trump has shown himself to be.

I forgive you as an act of the will, evangelical church in America, but I’m seriously put out with you right now.

Kyrie Eleison

And now I have to somehow find a way to explain to my children that the Presidency-elect of the United States of America belongs to an arrogant sex predator who brags about sexually assaulting women, cheating on his multiple spouses and being completely uninvolved in raising his children, who mocks the disabled, cheats his employees out of their wages, apparently thinks that the reason we have nuclear weapons is so that we can use them, and doesn’t think he’s done anything that needs God’s forgiveness.

Worse, I have to somehow explain that self-proclaimed evangelical Christians voted for him in droves because apparently God doesn’t care about anything except abortion and the US Supreme Court.

May God have mercy on us all.

My dad texted the single comment from his home in the UK:  “Disaster for the world”.

I think for me the most hopeful thing of the election night coverage was Glenn Beck’s comments about listening to one another.  Normally I don’t have a lot of time for his brand of screaming conservative rants, but what this seems to amount to is “Dear God, what have we done?  What have I done?”

Glenn Beck, arch-Republican of arch-Republicans, said that.  There might be hope yet for sense to break out.

I have my doubts, though, when members of my church claim “he’s not saying anything we aren’t thinking”, when I know pastors who think Hillary Clinton is “worse than Jezebel” (what on earth has she done to deserve that dubious accolade?  She’s not exactly killing Christians left, right and centre the way Jezebel killed YHWH’s prophets).  Good grief, if you’re thinking what Trump is saying, all I can say is that you need to know Jesus.  Badly.

And yet, God is still good.  He’s still sovereign.  He is still in the business of redeeming lives from darkness and sending His Holy Spirit to convict the world with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.  He doesn’t need a righteous President in order to build His Kingdom; He built His Kingdom under Nero and Domitian and Stalin and Hitler and builds it today under Kim Jong Un and Hu Jintao and even Ayatollah Khomeini, in spite of the political powers-that-be in the various nation-states around the world that persecute His followers.  He is still able to build His Kingdom here in the United States despite us having elected ourselves a crude and unpleasant troll with anger management issues.

I will not fear.  I will trust in the Lord and continue to do good.  He is my shield and my strength and my song.

“The Sin of Asking for a King”

I’ve been in I Samuel in my personal devotional Bible reading lately.  It’s been a while since I read it, and I’m finding that just like the book of Judges, there are parts of it that bother me.

The whole book of Judges is laced with stuff that ought to challenge your preconceived notions, from Ehud’s apparently Divinely-inspired assassination of King Eglon of Moab (God’s ok with assassinations?) to Jephthah’s rash vow, to that whole business with the Levite and his concubine, but I’d sort of remembered I Samuel as pretty straightforward.  Hannah’s prayer for a son, Samuel’s dedication to God, his judgeship, the anointing of Saul, Saul going bad, the anointing of David, and the whole “Saul hunting David” thing.

But the other day I was reading in the earlier chapters of the book about the run-up to the anointing of Saul, and I’m becoming perturbed.  Specifically, the whole “asking for a king” thing is bothersome.

The way it’s written, we’re invited to believe that asking for a king was a grievous sin on the order of the golden calf or Dathan’s rebellion against Moses.  We’re invited to believe that God was inherently opposed to the monarchical form of government.

And yet, King David.

More, the tragic testimony of Judges that “in those days there was no king.  Everyone did as he saw fit” points to how bad things were before the monarchy was established and how much better it was now that there was a king.

In this passage (I Samuel 8, and also chapter 12) the whole tone is that the people would be better off under the existing system of Divinely-appointed judges, but the book of Judges says the opposite.  Its whole tone is “look at how bad it was without a king!”

Reconciling this chapter with the rest of the Bible is challenging.  Is God intrinsically opposed to the monarchy or not?

I’m sure Tom Paine and the rest of the American Founding Fathers must have loved this chapter.  Here’s the Bible itself telling you what a lousy and sinful idea monarchy is.  And I have to confess that this may be part of my problem with it.  In my heart and imagination, I’m a loyal Queen’s Man and I approve wholeheartedly of the stability and order that a properly-constituted monarchy engenders.  And here the Bible appears to be telling me I’m dead wrong on all counts, and worse, that my approval of monarchy may be actually sinful.

But then, what do you do with the book of Judges?  Here’s the Bible itself telling you what a lousy and sinful idea not having a king is.

One possibility for how we reconcile these divergent passages is that this reflects the differing perspectives of the different human authors God worked through to write the Bible.  The human writer of I Samuel was obviously some sort of Bronze Age republican who had a dim view of monarchy, while the writer of Judges was a staunch monarchist with a strong opposition to the anarchy of the Judicial period.  It’s as if Tom Paine wrote I Samuel and King Charles II wrote Judges.

It’s possible.  But even in the I Samuel account we get the impression that Samuel’s a lot more upset about it than God is.

Samuel is evidently grievously offended that the people have asked for a king.  He feels personally rejected.  You can see his mind going: “Yeah, I’m not as young as I was, but I’m not falling apart yet!  I can still do this!  And I know I’m not going to live forever, but I still have hope that my sons will turn their lives around and become the judges I’ve always hoped they would be!”

We might see God’s words to Samuel as His comfort to an old man being forced into what he sees as premature retirement.  “It’s not just you they’ve rejected, Samuel; they’ve rejected Me as their King” sounds on one level like God kind of humouring Samuel’s offendedness.

But God does not lie or change His mind.  He doesn’t act deceptively and say one thing to one person and another thing to someone else.  It doesn’t fit with God’s demonstrated nature and character to have Him fibbing to an old man that He also thinks the kingship is a bad idea.

But is that really what’s going on?

Not necessarily.

God may just be pointing out to Samuel that the nation continually rejected His authority over them right back to the days of wandering in the wilderness, so Samuel shouldn’t be shocked that they are rejecting him too.  Samuel is God’s appointed Judge; if they rejected Moses and they rejected Aaron and they rejected God Himself, why would they show loyalty to Samuel?  And God does even now (8:9 and 8:21) tell Samuel to listen to them and give them a king.

Warn them first, God says.  This is a major political change far more sweeping than the election of a different party.  This is a change on the order of Cromwell’s dissolution of the English crown and establishment of the Commonwealth, or the French Revolution (though it’s far less bloody), or the fall of the Soviet Union.  This is what George W. Bush meant by “regime change” – a change of the entire basis of governance.

But if the monarchy is beneficial (God does tell the offended Samuel to grant their request), or at least something God can work with, why do they need to be warned?

They need to be warned because every political system has downsides.  It’s not going to be like it was when we had judges.  You’ll get an end to the anarchy.  You’ll get the stability of knowing who the next ruler will be rather than having to wait around for God to raise up the next deliverer.  But you’ll also get armies and taxes and royal prerogatives and aristocracy.  Don’t expect that it’ll be just like you’ve always known it.

Even modern representative democracy has downsides compared to the monarchy that preceded it.  Representative democracy is worlds better than monarchical absolutism, but no fairytale begins “once upon a time there was a President and a First Lady…”.  The imagination remains monarchical.  Don’t expect all the glamour and pageantry of a monarchy; your President is one of you, no more exalted than your least-favourite neighbour.  It’s not going to look like it always did.

The “sin of asking for a king” (I Sam 12:17-19) may be not that getting a king was inherently wicked, but that the people put their hope in political change to solve all of their problems.

Having a king isn’t going to save you.  Having a revolution isn’t going to save you.  Getting a Labour government isn’t going to save you.  Getting a Republican President and a Republican Congress at the same time isn’t going to save you.  Passing any number of righteous laws is not going to make people obey them if their hearts are committed to doing something else.

If the hearts of the nation and their rulers are to follow YHWH, then any political system or party will work.  If the hearts of the nation and its authorities are not right towards God, no political system or party can fix it.

Don’t put your trust in political solutions for answers to a problem with a spiritual root.  People are sinful.  We’re proud, arrogant, greedy and selfish.  We’re untruthful and untrustworthy; we lie and obfuscate and doubletalk.  We lust and covet, we’re stingy and violent.

The only One who can fix that is the One who died to put an end to it all and who rose from the grave to demonstrate that it was, in fact, finished.