Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Danger of Following an Ideological Line


    It is hard not to say something about this latest activity by our President, and I speak of the comments President Trump made in Finland about Russia.   I recently heard a lecture by Professor Peter C. Mancall of the University of Southern California (Audible –The Teaching Company) in a lecture on the American Revolution.  In it he spoke about political ideology.  He described it as a road map, a bunch of street signs, which guide our thinking. It explains and seems to reflect a reality we desire. I picture it as one of those single line maps someone draws on a table napkin which seems to correspond to reality but it certainly is not an above the earth view like GPS.  Nor is it like a biblical world view which gives you godly principles.

    I am afraid way too many people are following line maps drawn on a napkin, and they get angry with anyone saying there might be other factors to consider before one continues in this direction. These political line maps seem to compromise virtues such as honesty and honor.  I love my country, and I think every country is important to God.  I believe God is sovereign and he rules the destinies of each nation.  He can use the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, and the Persians to accomplish his will for Israel.  He can use evil men to bring about his will, like Pharaoh in Egypt for Israel, and then destroy Egypt.  He can use good and great men in such a way that they bring their own nation into disaster, even though they were good.

    At the same time God’s revealed will is actually what we have to deal with; that’s the stuff that we can obey or disobey.  God’s revealed will of truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness is our business, not what he plans to do in a hidden way, except that we must learn to have faith when that hidden plan means our nation comes to an end, or disaster overtakes us.  I want our nation to do right, and be right.  I sincerely don’t want it to be destroyed, corrupted, or brought into shame.

   Conservative political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Liberal political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Following their ideology is still only a line drawing.  Yet, adherents seem willing to sacrifice other things to keep following that ideological line.  I am afraid this President may be one of the worst things to ever happen to the Republican Party and the Conservative movement.  In a desperate desire to finally have some conservative judges and conservative influence on law and legislation the Conservatives are selling their soul, and maybe the prestige and honor of the nation with it.

   The victory may be short lived, unless they are willing to use the muscle they presently have to be honorable.  Being a sycophant to this President means you only take your turn waiting to be thrown under the bus, it guarantees you nothing.  One never knows how a narcissist will interpret how sincerely you are kissing his posterior.  Will they hold their President, our President, accountable?   Or are they so afraid of losing what little they have that they condemn their (our) future? I am wondering if our citizens even realize what may be at stake.

   Political ideology is a map to nowhere if it is not a map to justice and goodness.  If it is only a map that prevents the opposite party from influence or participation then it is a map to delusion and confusion.  In their fear of undermining a powerful leader whose agenda they sometimes like they may choke when it comes to recognizing and denouncing a Quisling. We don’t just need men and women of courage in Washington, we need men and women of integrity with enough courage to tell the truth about their own party, and enough of them to finally get good things done.

Please Lord, help our nation, and confuse all tyrants!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

WHAT IS YOUR POLITICAL POSITION?



 
 Where do I stand?   I don’t think the middle is a proper understanding of my position.  I am trying to stand on the Rock, on the Word of God, from his “fixed” position.  This is opposed to partisans in America, whose positions shift, though they are often referred to as “being on the right,” or “being on the left.”  “Being in the middle” is often dismissed as a real position because people think that to oppose their point of view means you are siding with their opponents, so in an election you are declared to have hurt the vote if you don’t vote for their side, even if you can’t in good conscience vote for either side.  Most political partisans hate the people in the middle and seek either to radicalize them or to dismiss their legitimacy.  Ideology despises compromise.

   I don’t think my position is the “middle.”  Though at times, for political understanding, it might seem that way.  I want to be in the correct position, God’s position, and I want to know what he thinks and what he wants, and that’s where I hope you will find my opinion.  There is of course a danger to even saying such things, as some might find it outrageous that anyone could know God’s position on any particular thing concerning politics.  Actually, for those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word it is not outrageous at all.  It is certainly true that those claiming to believe the Bible have often come out on various sides of an issue, and so things can get a little tricky in deciding a political opinion.  Yet, I maintain there is a God side of things, and it is that side to which we must conform no matter what party to which we belong.

As I have tried to ascertain God’s position on things I have sometimes found myself agreeing with those on the right, and sometimes agreeing with those on the left.  People on either of those sides tend to assume, if I agree with them on one issue, that I will therefore accept all of their ideology and all of their venom for those on the other side.  Far too often I have found fellow believers selling their minds to an ideological drift and becoming fairly nasty in their partisanship.  These people will often tell you they are discerning, that they vote for the person or the particular issue, but their track records don’t reflect much independence (in my opinion) especially as I watch them spread “fake news.”

I am not always sure about things, not always educated about issues or personalities.  There is plenty of ambiguity in the political realm and therefore plenty of room for humility, though that seems hard to find these days.  If I am wrong in my understanding of Scripture or of what may be deduced by good and necessary inference from it when it comes to righteousness (moral and ethical), then I want very much to be corrected.   I don’t want to be stubborn, proud, or arrogant before the Scriptures and its truth, and neither do I want to be those things before people.  I need wisdom, knowledge, prudence, and discernment, continually and increasingly.

Let me be specific about some of my stands on things so the reader can understand the dilemma of position.   I am opposed to abortion, so I am declared therefore to be a conservative.  I am opposed to the practice of homosexuality and opposed to homosexual consensual relationships given the title of “marriage.”   So, now I am even more conservative, and called other names.   I am opposed to racism, I am for human and civil rights, I am for the protection of the poor and the weak, therefore I am called a liberal.

I think having a position on such things is important because when one fears God they are supposed to “hate” evil.  Some things in our culture are evil and should be opposed.  If I oppose an evil someone will remind me that America is not the Kingdom of God and my very opposition to certain behaviors and political opinions might lose me a hearing for my preaching.  I agree about America, it is not the Kingdom of God.  Yet, I believe that nations count, they are important to the life of the people who live there.

 The government of any nation is important as to whether or not the people who live under it are allowed to live in a context of moral and ethical righteousness, and evil will prevail when good people say and do nothing about it.  Though America is not a “Christian” nation many people live here.  They are all made in the image of God, each one is important and significant, their lives matter. 

As a Christian God’s love compels me to care for the well-being of all people, and that not just in an individualistic relational sense, but as a society. The Kingdom of God is active in any society when justice reigns, when love prevails, and there is peace or shalom.  Righteousness is indeed where wisdom walks. These are marks and aspects of the Kingdom.  Not only that but America is one place where the government takes it shape from the opinions, consensus, and vote of the people and so Believers are able to help shape it.  As an American Christian I am more responsible for the government of my nation than people from many other countries simply because I have more of a possibility to change it.

So we must pray.  I must pray for our President, even if I didn’t vote for him or if I don’t like the way he acts much of the time.  I am thankful for him when he does something right.  I must pray for the next Supreme Court Justice and I hope he is opposed to Roe vs. Wade, but I don’t want him to hurt the civil and human rights of people of color or to hurt the poor by allowing them to be exploited.  I support obedience to law and the rulers over us, but demand they be held to account when they break the very laws they are sworn to uphold, and I believe that some laws are in fact unjust and should be changed, and in some cases disobeyed for conscience sake until those laws are changed.  I am for love and against violence, and deeply thankful for the freedom I have to advocate, practice, and vote for these things.

END.

Monday, July 2, 2018

MISTER BIG STUFF, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

   Do you ever get bothered by pictures of young white people surrounded by little black children, whether American or African, as they send out stories and messages of their latest mission trip or urban experience? 

I’m all in favor of “best practices” when it comes to community development and ministry.  I am in favor of a discerning and growing “cultural intelligence” while working in cross cultural contexts and across economic strata.  This sounds a bit stupid but I,  in a very simple way, am in favor of justice.  That leads me to being against paternalism. Consequently, I am opposed to exploiting the poor for the purpose of fund raising, marketing, and publicity whether it be for the aggrandizement of my personal name or the enrichment of my organization.

    The bottom line in analyzing my behavior is of course love; to be continuously asking the question of myself and my organization, "are we, am I, showing love to the the very people I say I am trying to help."  The pertinent question is not simply how I feel about the people whom I serve but, “am I loving in the way I am trying to love?”   This question should become intuitive for those of in cross-cultural and trans-social ministry.

     Sound confusing?   Well, it can get confusing in the world of missions and ministry across ethnic and social lines, in the world of professional or semi-professional “helping” via faith-based non-profits, church mercy and ministry programs, and mission trips, etc.  The confusion comes from several different sources.

     It is confusing because I don’t think there is such a thing as “missions” worthy of the Biblical name that isn’t resisted by the Devil.  Part of that resistance is often false accusation, and resistance and anger from people with whom we are sharing the Gospel.  Do you realize that no matter how well we do things some people still hate the truth, they hate the Gospel message, and therefore they hate us?   Some of the resistance is internal, through inner self-doubt as to whether we are doing the right thing, in the right way, and for the right purpose.  What makes this complex is the fact that all of us make mistakes and sometimes with the best motives we screw things up.

    Another complication is the criticism we are liable to get from others who are doing similar work in community development and urban ministry based on certain principles.  Even if an organization or person might theoretically agree with the principles there is discrepancy and variation in their application across the ministry spectrum. Some people are what we might call ‘purists.”   Frankly there are some who have developed a new legalism and it comes across in a judgmental attitude when it comes to an evaluation of others, especially novice workers, in the field. 

     One of the principles of community development is learning how to listen to the people who live in the community, listening with understanding, and listening with empathy.  That principle doesn’t mean we always agree with the people of the community.  How could we if they say, “we don’t need your religion or works of mercy or good deeds (done in the name of Jesus) here?”  Missions is an invasive experience, an intrusion into the culture of a community so we have to try, and try very hard, to not insult or demean the dignity of the folks to whom we go.

    One of the sources of conflict or misunderstanding comes by way of publicity, prayer letters, and photographs.  I learned very early when I was beginning urban ministry in Chattanooga that I needed to be circumspect about having my name and picture in the newspaper.  I am a white man, and here I was working in an inner city African American neighborhood.   White churches, from whom I needed support, wanted me to tell the story of the good work we were doing, they wanted drama, they wanted testimony, they wanted pictures. 

     Black churches were trying to figure out if I was just one more “do-good” white boy who was having a transient savior complex, or worse, trying to build a reputation and earn a living on the plight of inner city folk.  I often had to check my own motives, and I had to live with the gossip and mean accusations of people who made assumptions about me and the work we were doing.  Longevity is sometimes the only defense one can make in ministry.

   Really, I sometimes wanted to ask?  I live and try to raise my family on inadequate income with few if any benefits, working at three jobs to do it, constantly being libeled and mocked, sometimes in physical danger, suspected by my professional peers as being inadequate to hold a “real church,” while living in a run down apartment in a run down neighborhood to accomplish or gain what? Fame, fortune, power and leverage?  Seriously?

     What is ironic is that living like I did does get you a reputation, it does cause people to think of you as a hero, and sometimes it brings about envy and resentment from people who wish they had that reputation.  I am no messiah, only the Lord Jesus is that, and anyone in ministry has to constantly take whatever hardships or trials they have been through and lay it at the cross of Jesus and not hold onto it as glory for themselves.  Anyone can have such a reputation if they are willing to earn it and live it.  What is silly is for any of us in ministry, white or black, is to covet a reputation we haven’t earned yet.  Our lives are supposed to make Jesus famous, not ourselves.

    What is also mean and harsh is to slam people who are well-meaning but sometimes ignorant about how they go about things.   There are lots of mistakes made on any battlefield, but if you are not or have not  been on it, I would be cautious about acting like you are an expert.  Even if you are on the battlefield, are you so arrogant as to despise those God is sending as reinforcements (maybe even your replacement) to help you, but are beginning at a very elementary stage?  They don’t know yet (or why) their sincere and sometimes sickly sweet story telling about how much they are loved by the poor people, with whom they are currently taking a selfie, drives you crazy.

 Too many people in the field of charity show little charity with folks who don’t get all the principles right.  These clumsy novices need correction, yes, but they also need our patience.  If all we have to give is criticism about all their wrong motives and their bad of way of doing things we should not be surprised when we call for help and no one comes.

   Won’t their stupid and clumsy acts of mercy and mission cause harm to the people to whom they are going?  I assume that this is true, they will sometimes cause harm.  As far as I have seen it isn’t usually the worst harm the kids and people with whom I have worked are going to face, especially if no one comes to tell them about Jesus.  We can do better, we must do better, in educating God’s people who sincerely want to serve, but I think we all need to remember how much we needed to learn, and have learned, over the years in doing this type of ministry.  Man, I mean, who do we think we are?