A Second Look at Mike Pence’s “Rule”

Back in March the Washington Post ran a profile of Mike Pence’s wife which mentioned his longstanding practice of not socializing alone with women other than his family. News of this practice was met with scorn, outrage, and derision by many critics. In their view, this was an affront to the equality of women in the workplace – or worse (this is the rape culture at work!).

At the time, I pointed out that while Pence’s scruples may seem highly unusual to some, this was a widely accepted safe-guard among those of us who are labeled “evangelicals” (it even has a name – the “Billy Graham Rule”). For those of us who believe that marriage is truly a sacred commitment before God, maintaining clear boundaries around marriage is just common sense. I recognized then (and now) that not everyone shares the same religious convictions about (what used to be commonly referred to as) “holy matrimony,” and that even among those who do, not everyone follows this cautious principle. But I argued that surely even those who disagree with how Pence and his wife approach this matter of judgment could at least see why they do so, and maybe even feel a certain sense of grudging admiration for such conviction.

Alas, that was not to be. Critics just double downed on the Pences, and on me. There was no empathy for differing religious convictions. No, this was simply a matter of brazen sexism, a denial of opportunities for women Pence would not socialize with in private. And I was not spared, either. One person on Facebook even insinuated directly charged that since I follow the same rule, I must not trust my wife very much (so much for tolerance and diversity!!).

Indeed, of all the exchanges I have had on Facebook, this one was by far the most depressing. It truly stunned me that some segments of our society are so antagonistic to conservative-minded Christians that it was not even possible for them to allow for any other motives for this practice other than sinister chauvinism. And it also revealed just how pervasive crassly political tribal thinking is, since the overwhelming percentage of critics were Trump bashers, and Pence’s role as his running mate clearly drew much of this fire (of course, I did as well, and I was an outspoken “NeverTrumper”).

It was also bizarre to me to see how the opinions of Christian women like my wife were brushed aside. Kristi was a hard-working professional woman for many years, and – like many other women I know – was completely in support of Pence’s approach. Many single, professional Christian women were adamant on social media about how uncomfortable it would make them if a male superior wanted to socialize alone with them. But since this did not fit the dominant narrative of the critics, these views were breezily dismissed.

Nor did it matter that – as the son of a single mother who worked two jobs most of her life to make ends meet – even though I wanted my mom to be treated with absolute fairness, that I also appreciated the way my mom’s bosses conducted themselves toward her by never putting her in a private social situation. No, unless one subscribed to the particular approach to equality that the critics espoused, this was discrimination, plain and simple. End of discussion.

And then, the dam broke.

Bill O’Reilly. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin SpaceyRoy Moore. Al Franken. Louis CK.

Just to name a few.

Not all of these cases are identical, of course. Some involved men who were married, others involved men who were single. Some involved children, and some cases involved same-sex abuses. But here is one thing they all have in common – they all took place in private. And in many instances, they occurred in social settings connected to work.

There is every reason to believe that many, many more cases will come to light. Inappropriate sexual conduct is epidemic on Capitol Hill, and my guess is that there are many Congressmen nervously checking the news every day to see if/when they are named. But what is especially revealing is this CNN story about the unwritten rules of female Congressional staffers:

Be extra careful of the male lawmakers who sleep in their offices — they can be trouble. Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing. And think twice before speaking out about sexual harassment from a boss — it could cost you your career.

These are a few of the unwritten rules that some female lawmakers, staff and interns say they follow on Capitol Hill, where they say harassment and coercion is pervasive on both sides of the rotunda.

Just in case you missed it, here it is again:
Avoid finding yourself alone with a congressman or senator in elevators, late-night meetings or events where alcohol is flowing.


That’s not the rule of the Ayatollah Mike Pence. It is the rule that women in the congressional workplace have devised to protect themselves.

What is very curious to me is that when Mike Pence follows this rule, it is benighted sexism, or worse. But when women themselves insist on the very same rule, there is nary a peep from anyone. It makes me wonder if the real motivation behind many of Pence’s critics was not concern about sexism, but thinly veiled prejudice against conservative-minded Christians. And the fact that I have never seen any of the same erstwhile champions of feminism criticize traditional Muslims or Orthodox Jews who practice the same scruple makes me even more cynical.

Look, I am sympathetic regarding the concern that women get fair treatment in the workplace. I understand why some people think the “Billy Graham Rule” is unfair, and could rob women of opportunities. I disagree with this – as do many professional women – but I get it. If I had a job in the business world, I may even choose not to socialize in private with anyone who worked for me, just to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

But it is astonishing to me how utterly incapable many of Pence’s critics (and mine) were to offer any kind of charitable regard for the convictions behind his practice. I wonder if the recent avalanche of stories about exploitation of women in private has caused some of those critics to take pause. Since most of these criticism were prompted by shill ideological dogmatism, I doubt it.

But just to restate the case, for some of us, marriage is a sacred and beautiful commitment to God to pledge lifelong devotion to one husband/wife. And like all sacred and beautiful things, it deserves careful protection. The issue here is not some kind of arrogant conceit that I possess such an aura of animal magnetism that any women caught in private with me would surely throw herself at me. To even write that sentence has me laughing out loud in my study! Nor is the issue here whether I trust my spouse  – I do, with my life. The issue is whether I trust myself. And while I hope and think I would always maintain my integrity, the simple truth is that the religious landscape is littered with the broken lives of men and women who thought they were impervious to temptation, only to learn that what Jesus said is true – “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Further, the approach that Pence, myself, and others take in these matters is also designed to avoid making women feel uncomfortable, given the general moral climate we live in. As the unwritten rules of these female congressional staffers reveal, many women prefer this approach for their own security. The fact that so many critics were incapable of seeing this reveals an enormous blindspot.

We have been studying the Book of Job in our Wednesday night adult class at church. This past Wednesday we looked at Job’s oath of innocence, his final protest that he is not guilty of sin and doesn’t deserve to be punished. As he lays out evidence of his integrity, the very first thing he mentions is his conduct toward young women:

I have made a covenant with my eyes;
    how then could I gaze at a virgin?
What would be my portion from God above
    and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
    and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
Does not he see my ways
    and number all my steps? (Job 31:1-4)

In the ancient world, men of status like Job often collected harems. And it was commonplace for landowners and field hands to take advantage of the young ladies who came to work in their fields. But Job did neither. He made a covenant – a solemn vow – not to even look at a young woman in this light. All because he knew he was accountable to God.

To my friends who are committed to Christ-honoring purity, do not be discouraged. Yes, we live in a collapsing culture – a time when even many who profess to be Christians are willing to excuse or rationalize just about anything. Taking up the cross of Jesus has never been easy. But as Job believed, our heritage is from the Almighty on high, and we can trust in Jesus’ promise that the pure in heart with someday see him (Matthew 5:8).






In Sickness and In Health

One night last week my wife was working late, so I grabbed a bite by myself at one of Plant City’s landmark restaurants, Fred’s. As I was getting back into the car to go home, I noticed a man helping a woman into a van. She did not appear to be old enough to be his mother, and the way they interacted almost certainly indicated that she was his wife.

And she was in poor health. She used a scooter to get around, and she was also on oxygen. In order for her to get into their van, she needed her husband’s help. I watched as he positioned the scooter in order for her to stand up and then navigated her into the passenger seat. This took a long time, and obviously took a lot out of her. Then, he moved the scooter to the back of the van, and (after some effort) mounted the scooter on the brackets that held it in place.

I was so moved by his obvious care for his wife that I almost got out of the car to ask if he wanted help. But he clearly was capable, and what seemed to me like a time-consuming and challenging task was no doubt quite routine for him. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help watching, and I regret not at least rolling down my window to let him know how touched I was by his patient care for his wife. Maybe I will see them again and have the chance to say as much (looks like I have to eat at Fred’s again!).

Why did this simple scene have such an impact on me? Maybe it  had to do with the fact that this was the night before my wife’s next cancer treatment, at which we were scheduled to receive her latest scan results (which happily showed no progression in the disease). Kristi is blessed with great health overall even with Stage 4 cancer, but that night I was confronted with the fact that many couples live a much more difficult story. To think that every time the anonymous husband and wife went anywhere to do anything that they had to go through this tedious process was indeed a bittersweet idea to contemplate. How sad that this is their cross to bear; how sweet that they are willing to bear it.

This chance encounter was even more poignant in light of the seemingly endless barrage of stories in the news right now about sexual harassment and abuse. Day after day we learn of another man who exploited and abused women (or children, or both) for perverse sexual gratification. These stories are so widespread – involving men from all social, political, and religious (or non-religious) backgrounds – that it almost seems like virtuous manhood is extinct.

But then I saw this man serving his wife. Of course, it is possible that this wasn’t a faithfully devoted couple at all. For all I know, they could turn out to be criminal masterminds! But at this one snapshot in time, what I believe I saw was a man who loved his wife “in sickness and his health.”

Love between a husband and wife as Scripture speaks of it is not ultimately a feeling to be experienced, but a promise to be kept. It is not just an emotion; it is a decision. In the traditional vows used for generations, it is a pledge to “have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t take vows to do things that are easy. I’ve never vowed to eat dessert! We make vows precisely because something isn’t going to be easy.

But this isn’t how lots of people look at marriage. They walk away when adversity strikes, or when the passion wanes, or just because they see someone else who is appealing. Rather than modeling the gracious and giving love of God, they subvert it and take God’s place, creating an idol out of self.

But if we could see ourselves as God sees us, we would know that he loved us in sickness – period. Grievous, terminal spiritual sickness.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

The love we share in any of our relationships is really just the overflow of God’s undeserved love that was poured into us through Christ, cascading through us and on to others. Such love makes marriage especially sweet in times of health and prosperity, but it makes marriage comforting and resilient in times of sickness and adversity. This is the joy that comes to husbands and wives “as those who share God’s life-giving kindness,” as God’s Word translation renders 1 Peter 3:7.

So, thank you, anonymous husband, for reminding me what commitment looks like. Thank you for modeling what a real man looks like. And thank you for giving me a glimmer of the love of God in this increasingly dark age.



Pure Actuality (or, Why the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” Isn’t God)

Note: this is the fourth post in a series on  the existence of God. Since it builds on the previous posts, please carefully read them before you read this one:

In this series of posts I am laying out the case for God’s existence. This case is taking shape in two phases. In the first phase, I began with the observation that whatever exists does so either because it depends on something else to exist or it doesn’t depend on something else to exist. We can see many things that do depend on other things to exist (like me, for instance!). But those things which depend on something else to exist cannot ultimately be accounted for by other things that also depend on something else to exist – that just shifts the question to another dependent reality. Therefore, there must be some ultimate reality that doesn’t depend on anything else to exist (a contingent being) but rather exists independently (a necessary being).

But what is it? That’s the second phase of this argument. And in the previous post I suggested that whatever it is that possesses existence independently, it must be eternal and immaterial. It is eternal since it doesn’t rely on anything else to come into existence and isn’t dependent on something else to keep from going out of existence. And it is immaterial because anything that is made up of particles of matter depends on those particles for its existence and also depends on something to put those pieces together.

Besides its eternity and immateriality, is there anything else we can deduce about this ultimate ground of all reality? I think so. But first, I want to take a little detour to ancient Greece, and listen in on the hot debate of the day. And that debate was about…

…whether things can change.


You heard me.

I know that this sounds incredibly strange, but one of the burning issues in ancient Greek philosophy was whether things can change. You are probably thinking, who could possibly deny that things can change? We can watch it happen! For instance, you can take a cup of ice out into the hot Florida sun and watch it melt. Of course change happens!

Well, not so fast. We all agree that sometimes our senses can deceive us, right? And we all agree that whatever we may think we see, if it defies the laws of logic, then our eyes must be playing tricks on us, right?

Then if that is the case, let’s think about a basic principle of logic: from nothing, nothing comes. We all know that you can’t get something from nothing. That is as foundational a principle of logic as there is.

Let’s reconsider that melting ice. Ice is a solid. It is not liquid. But you say that some liquid came from that which is not liquid. That sounds an awful lot like getting something (liquid) from nothing (no liquid)! This was the sort of argument an ancient philosopher named Parmenides made. And there is obviously something wrong with the argument – but what, exactly?

It was Aristotle who dissected the problem with the argument. Aristotle agreed that you can’t get something from nothing. But where Parmenides went wrong was in assuming that the liquid came from nothing. True, the ice cube is actually a solid. But Aristotle pointed out that there is another aspect to the ice cube – what it potentially is. Now, this potential isn’t unlimited. The ice cube doesn’t have the potential to become a cow or a tree. But it does possess the potential to become a liquid. All that is needed is something to make this potential become actual (like the heat of the sun). So, Parmenides was incorrect in thinking that change violated the logical premise that you can’t get something from nothing. Change occurs because a potential feature becomes an actual reality.

What we describe as “change” is – in the technical terminology of Aristotle – the actualization of a potential. (Side note: when I first explained these concepts to my congregation, I was afraid that the fancy sounding jargon would confuse people. But these fears were relieved when one of the older men complained to me after Bible study that “I’m in a hurry to get home, but I can’t actualize my wife’s potential to leave!”).

Just to make sure these concepts are clear, here are some more examples. What are the potentials of a steer? Here are a couple: a nice pair of boots or a ribeye steak. How about the potentials of a piece of lumber? Part of a desk or a house, to name two. All that is needed is something or someone to actualize these potentials, like a leatherworker or butcher in the case of the steer, or a woodworker or carpenter in the case of the lumber.

In general, we can say that change is the actualization of a potential. And since coming into existence is just a specific sort of change (the change from non-existence to existence), this means that the question of how things come to exist can also be defined in terms of potentials being actualized. Anything that depends on something else to exist (anything that is contingent, in other words) is something that requires the actualization of potentials.

An oak tree depends on the actualization of an acorn’s potential in order to exist. A butterfly depends on the actualization of a caterpillar’s potential in order to exist. A cup of coffee depends on the actualization of a coffee bean’s potential in order to exist. You get the idea, right?

The same is true for people, obviously. My existence depended on my mother and father. Each possessed the potential to create new life, but that potential had to be “actualized” (is that not the nerdiest euphemism for reproduction you’ve ever heard?!).

Let’s apply this new terminology to our previous argument. Remember, contingent beings depend on something else to exist. Using our new vocabulary, we can say that contingent beings rely on the actualization of potentials in order to exist. This gives us an additional reason to believe that contingent things cannot ultimately be accounted for by other contingent things. Since those things are also contingent, they also have potentials that must be actualized in order to exist, and so on….

That “and so on” is important. The only way to stop the “and so on…” is if there is something that doesn’t change from non-existence to existence, but simply is existence. Or, to use the fancier jargon, something that has no potentialities that need to be actualized, but just is fully and completely actual.

What can we say about something that is purely actual? Well, since it cannot – in principle – change, seeing that it has no potentialities to be actualized, we can say that this pure actuality is immutable. This word is easily misunderstood to mean something like “static, frozen, inert.” But that is not at all what immutability means in this line of reasoning. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means something so totally active that there is nothing that can be added to it to make it more dynamic. If you’ve ever seen This Is Spinal Tap, you probably remember Nigel’s amplifier, which doesn’t stop at 10 – it goes up to 11! Well, that which is purely actual doesn’t have another notch to go up – it is fully and maximally actual.

As one theologian puts it:

One should not be misled into thinking that God’s immutability is like the immutability of a rock only more so. What God and rocks appear to have in common is only the fact that they do not change.* The reason for their unchangeableness is for polar-opposite reasons…God is unchangeable not because he is inert or static like a rock, but for just the opposite reason. He is so dynamic, so active that no change can make him more active. (Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer? p. 124)

This concept of pure actuality (or immutability) rules out some of the candidates for that which is the necessary being behind all existence. For example, it eliminates any material proposal, like the Big Bang singularity or the theory of the multiverse. Whatever model of the Big Bang one accepts, it obviously pictures the actualization of a potential (the event was triggered). And if there is a multiverse, it would consist of a multitude of potentials being made actual. But behind either scenario there must be something that is Pure Actuality to cause that which is potential to become actual. Any proposal that puts forward particles of matter as the ultimate explanation of reality fails precisely because such particles still require something to actualize their potential to be more than mere particles. Whatever physics may ultimately reveal about the universe, it will not be able to sidestep Aristotle’s analysis of change – it will only illustrate the great philosopher’s insights.

The “Flying Spaghetti Monster”

And by now it should be clear why the clumsy attempt at humor known as the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” says far more about the ignorance of some atheists than it does the credulity of believers. If you’ve never heard of it, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody of God created by atheists to mock what they think is the arbitrary nature of theism. “If Christians can just make up a being with whatever attributes they desire, so can we,” seems to be the logic. Regardless of what you may think of the sort of arguments I have shared, surely it is clear that they are not arbitrary. They follow methodically from one point to the next. (And by the way, the Flying Spaghetti Monster cannot be the necessary being because it is made up of moving parts that are contingent. I would be happy to demonstrate this at an Olive Garden near you!)

In these posts we have covered a lot of ground, and there is more to come, but let’s pause a moment to take stock of the argument so far. It is overwhelming to reflect on what we have deduced about the ultimate source of all existence. We live in the world of the contingent, the temporal, the material, and the alterable. But that which grounds this experience must be necessary, eternal, immaterial, and immutable. Nothing in our immediate experience is like this. No wonder those who have contemplated this ultimate reality have been overcome with awe.

*When Dr. Weinandy says that rocks do not change, he doesn’t literally and absolutely mean that rocks are immutable. Since rocks are made up of particles, they do change – they just change very, very slowly under normal circumstances. In the broader passage I am quoting from he make this clear. He’s just using a simple illustration to contrast the (almost) unchanging nature of a rock with the vibrancy of that which is Pure Actuality.

In Defense of “Thoughts and Prayers”

In the aftermath of the recent church shooting in Texas, many people sent “thoughts and prayers” via social media to the families of the victims. This was met with a chorus of frustration, anger, and – in some instances – hatred, by many people on the Left. For instance, one of my favorite performers (until now) Michael McKean, tweeted this:

Another person on Twitter had this to say:

Comments like this reflect such a gross misunderstanding of what Christians believe about prayer that I wanted to set forth some basic points from Scripture about prayer.

First, prayer is fundamentally about aligning our will to God’s, not aligning God’s will to ours. Prayer does not function like Aladdin’s magic lamp. God is not like a genie who grants us three wishes, whatever they may be. Prayer is part of a broader relationship between us and God. In my relationship with my wife, I sometimes ask her to do things for me (#1 on the list: “Could you bring me a glass of water”!). But that isn’t the only reason I speak to her, or even the primary reason. The primary reason we talk is to deepen our relationship.

And the same is true with regard to prayer. Just moments before Jesus was arrested, he prayed:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Notice that this simple prayer is bracketed by reference to God’s will. “If you are willing…not my will, but yours be done.” Did Jesus make a request? Of course. But was that the primary focus of his prayer? No. Jesus was connecting with the Father to make sure God’s will and his will were in harmony.

This is precisely how Jesus taught his followers to pray:

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Are we to make requests to God? Absolutely! But is this the primary focus of prayer? No. This prayer begins with a triple emphasis on the will of God – God’s name is hallowed; God’s kingdom (rule) is to come; God’s will is to be done. This is the vital and primary purpose of prayer.

Second, it is absurd to think that the only options are either to pray and do nothing or not pray and do something. Nobody – NOBODY – is suggesting this ridiculous false choice. EVERYONE who prays also agrees that we need to do something in the face of these shootings. But just exactly WHAT that should be is a matter of debate. For some people, though, the only possible option is to accept their particular views of gun control legislation or else you really aren’t in favor of doing anything. I am hardly a Second Amendment absolutist (I think the original understanding of the language clearly has to do with state militias). But in cases like the Texas shooting, further legislation would not have helped, anyway. This was a failure to properly enforce and execute the laws that already exist. It is just so frustrating that the vast majority of political debates in our country consist of these sorts of juvenile “either/or” false dichotomies from both the Left and the Right.

The larger spiritual point to make here is that no one in Scripture ever suggested that the options are either pray for something OR do something. This is not an either/or choice; it is a both/and enterprise. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says that we should pray for our daily bread. But Scripture also says:

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Which is it – pray for bread or work for it? Obviously, the answer is both. And in fact, Scripture very pointedly says that just wishing for something without actually working for something is nothing more than empty faith:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

This is precisely why those who have been holding prayer vigils and other memorials have also been using these gatherings to donate blood and money for the victims and their families. It is the same reason that even as I diligently pray for my wife’s healing we still make use of every treatment our oncologist recommends. So just because those who pray don’t happen to support the same policy proposals you favor, don’t assume that means they believe in prayer alone. That is manifestly untrue.

Third, much of the criticism of “thoughts and prayers” assumes a worldview that is rejected by those who pray. Both of the tweets I cited earlier make a big point of this terrible shooting taking place in church while people were praying, as if to say that the suffering of Christians somehow undermines the efficacy of prayer. I don’t know any other way to put this – have these guys never read any history? The Bible itself is filled with examples of people who believed in God but who also suffered, like, you know, JESUS! And he was arrested while he was praying!

The underlying worldview of these critics denies that God exists, or that anything other than the material world exists. In this worldview, prayer does not connect the worshiper with spiritual realities; prayer is something that can be “shot right out of” someone. This is why prayer in the face of tragedy is so pointless to them.

But this is not how Christians look at reality. We believe that God exists, that Jesus died and rose again, that this life is not all that there is. And we believe that God hears our prayers. Sometimes this means that he rescues us from the storm. Other times, it means he bears us up to face the storm. But either way, the storm is not the end of the story, so long as we draw near to him. As he faced imminent death, Paul prayed:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)

And I believe God answered this prayer, not by keeping Paul from death, but by welcoming him into eternal life.

When someone says, “prayers didn’t do anything for the people who were shot,” I want to ask – HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY KNOW THAT?!?!?!?! If people pray like Jesus taught and exemplified, those prayers bring the worshiper into closer union with God. And those of us praying for the families are hoping the same for them. Such prayers are only meaningless to those who do not think a relationship with God is the most important thing any person could pursue.

But for those who do seek God above all else,  that is what thoughts and prayers are ultimately about.



What Is the Necessary Being?

Last week I began laying out the case for God’s existence. By way of review, here are the bullet points of that first phase of the argument:

  1. Anything that exists is either contingent (depends on something else for its existence) or necessary (does not depend on something else for its existence).
  2. Some contingent things exist (like plants, planets, animals, and people).
  3. The existence of these contingent things cannot ultimately be explained by other contingent things, since they also depend on something else for their existence.
  4. Therefore the existence of contingent things can only be ultimately explained by something that exists necessarily, something that does not depend on something else for its existence but rather inherently possesses existence.

A necessary being, in other words.

But just exactly what is this unusual being that exists necessarily? The universe? A vast collection of universes (a multiverse)? The laws of physics? In this post I want to advance the case for God’s existence by showing that none of these options will work.

But first, let’s think more carefully about the difference between something contingent and something necessary. Remember, contingent things depend on something else to exist. It isn’t necessary that they exist, or that they continue to exist. I am contingent – I began to exist because my mother and father conceived me, and I continue to exist because of functioning organs, oxygen, and nourishment (and coffee!). And some day, as nature takes its course, I will pass away.

So, contingent things depend on something else to begin to exist and to continue to exist. But what about a necessary being? Since that which is necessary doesn’t rely on something else for its own existence, it doesn’t come to be or pass away. It just is. You might say that it doesn’t simply possess existence; it is existence – it is that from which all contingent things ultimately derive their existence.

In other words, that which is necessary is eternal.

We can go a step further. Whatever this necessary and eternal being is, it cannot be made up of parts. Why not? Let me illustrate. It’s almost time for the holiday shopping season to begin. Maybe you have a child or a little brother/sister for whom you intend to buy a toy. If the box says, “Some assembly required,” what does that mean? It means that the toy has to be put together. In other words, the existence of the toy depends on two things: it depends on the parts in the box, and it depends on someone or something to assemble them. Or, if we described the toy with the jargon from the previous post, we would say that the toy is contingent on its parts and on its assembly.

But a necessary being by definition doesn’t rely on something else for its existence. There was never a time that someone found a box labeled: “Necessary Being (some assembly required)”! If a necessary being was made up of parts, it would depend on those parts to exist, and on someone or something to put them together. But then it wouldn’t really be a necessary being after all, just another contingent being. This means, therefore, that the necessary being can’t be composed of parts.

Consequently, that which is necessary must be immaterial.

Let’s pause and survey what we have deduced so far. The fact that contingent beings exist can only be explained by the existence of some necessary being. And whatever this necessary being is, it must be eternal and immaterial. With this line of reasoning we still haven’t fully made the case for God (as understood by the Abrahamic faiths), but we can start ruling out some of the options we listed earlier.

For instance, since this necessary being must be eternal and immaterial, it cannot be the universe, for the obvious reason that the universe is composed of parts – bits of matter. Since whatever is made up of parts is contingent rather than necessary, the material composition of the universe necessarily implies that the universe itself is contingent. We have arrived at this conclusion by deductive reasoning, but it also happens that the inductive methods of science agree with this logical analysis. Just two weeks ago a study released by a multinational collaboration of particle physicists reported that the peculiar nature of the material structures of our universe testify to the contingent nature of physical reality. As the lead author put it, “The universe should not actually exist.”

But of course, it does. And the question of why any contingent things exist at all has led us, step by step, to conclude that some necessary, eternal, and immaterial being exists. Something that the universe as a whole relies upon – is contingent upon – for its existence.

This also explains why the theory of a multitude of universes (the “multiverse”) doesn’t solve the problem of the existence of contingent things. Multiverse theory suggests that our universe is just one of many universes. But this hardly explains why any of these contingent universes exist. As one of the pioneers of the hypothesis (who is now a critic) acknowledges, multiverse theory doesn’t mean we have solved the problem of contingency; it means “we have just shifted the problem.” If anything, the multiverse hypothesis dramatically exacerbates the problem, since it posits many more material realities that – as such – are also contingent. (There are even more fundamental problems with identifying the universe or the multiverse as that which is necessary, which I will discuss next week.)

Nor does it help to appeal to the “laws of physics” as that which is necessary. Laws of physics are descriptions of how things normally operate given their nature. They are similar to the laws of mathematics (the language of physics). It is the nature of the number “two” and the nature of the operation of addition that 2+2=4. So, if I have $2, and you give me $2, I will have $4. The laws of mathematics can describe this transaction – but they do not cause it. The principles of arithmetic did not put $2 into my wallet, or cause you to give me $2 more. In the same way, the laws of physics can describe physical realities, but these laws do not cause them. The law of gravity, for example, describes the attraction between objects given their mass and the distance between them. But the law of gravity doesn’t explain why such objects exist in the first place. And this is true of physics in general. Physics provides powerful insights into why one contingent state of affairs can lead to another contingent state of affairs, but physics cannot answer the question of why it is that any contingent things exist at all. That is a question beyond the realm of physics.

Retracing our steps, we have demonstrated that the existence of contingent beings inescapably leads to the conclusion that some necessary being exists. And since it is necessary rather than contingent, it must be eternal and immaterial. Can reason and logic take us further? I believe so, but that will be the subject of the next post.

The Necessary Being

Last week I wrote a post in which I discussed whether it is possible to prove that God exists. To briefly review, I explained that since (according to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) God is the Creator of the universe rather than simply another object in the universe, God’s existence is not detectable by scientific means. But there is another avenue of evidence that it open to us. We can start with simple observations from our world, and using the principles of logic, put together a series of deductions that prove that God exists. I want to begin such a project with this post.

When my wife and I were selling our house in Tennessee, we signed a contract that stated that the purchase of the house was contingent on the buyers receiving final approval for a loan. What does “contingent” mean? It means that something depends on something else. In the case of our house, its sale depended on – was contingent on – the buyers’ loan approval. Something that is contingent doesn’t necessarily have to happen, a fact we painfully learned when our first contract fell through. So whether our house would sell was contingent and not necessary.

The argument that I am going to lay out begins with the obvious premise that for anything that exists, there are only two options. It is either contingent (and remember, that means it relies on something else for its existence) or it is necessary (meaning that it does not rely on something else for its existence). Those are the only two possibilities logically.

We can see many contingent things in our world, many things that depend on something else for their existence. You and I depend on parents for our existence, plants depend on seeds and sun for their existence, stars depend on dust and gas for their existence. All of these are examples of things that exist contingently.

But why does anything that is contingent exist at all?

Since they depend on something else for their existence, it is certainly possible that they would not have existed. That’s what makes them “contingent” in the first place, just as it was possible that our house would not be sold (and after eight months on the market it started to feel like it never would!). Many things that did not have to exist (people, plants, planets) nevertheless do exist.

So again, why does anything that is contingent exist at all?

It doesn’t answer the question to say that contingent things exist because of other things that also depend on something else for their existence, since that just leads to the same question – why do those things exist? If we explain the existence of one contingent thing by another contingent thing, we still haven’t answered the question of why it is that any contingent things exist. All we’ve done is shift the question from one contingent thing to another.

At this point, someone may suggest another answer: “Maybe there’s just an infinite number of contingent things!” Let’s grant for the sake of argument that this is the case. Does that suggestion really answer the question?

Think about the contract on our house again. Remember, it was contingent – it depended on our buyers getting approval for a loan. Let’s imagine that their bank (we’ll call it “Bank 1”) approves their loan application, but that the bank doesn’t have any money at all (which would be pretty weird in real life!). So, it will have to rely on another bank to provide it with money to loan out (in other words, whether it gets the money is contingent on another bank having it). So, Bank 1 contacts Bank 2 to borrow the money to give to the couple. But let’s imagine that Bank 2 has no money and must depend on another bank to obtain money for Bank 1. And so on…

If there are ten banks in town, one asking to borrow from another, but none of which has any money, will the couple receive a bank loan? Of course not. What about a hundred totally bankrupt banks trying to borrow from each other – will that solve the problem? Nope. What if there is an infinite number of banks that rely on another bank for money? Will that help matters? Of course not.

You see, the real issue is not whether the number of dependent banks is finite vs. infinite. The real issue is whether any bank actually has any money. The only way that the couple will receive a bank loan in my illustration is if there is a bank somewhere that doesn’t need to borrow the money, but simply has it. Or, to put it in the terminology we’ve been using, a bank that has money necessarily rather than contingently.

Here’s another simple illustration. I have a power strip on my desk that my computer relies on for power. But of course, that power strip does not inherently provide power – it has to be plugged in. Would plugging it in to another power strip do any good? No – because that power strip is also dependent on a source of electricity. What if I could string together ten power strips? Twenty? How about an endless line of power strips? Will I be able to turn my computer on? Obviously not. Power strips depend on a source of power in order to work, and without such a source, it would make no difference how many power strips I connected together.

And the same is true with regard to the question of why any contingent things exist. Contingent things must ultimately “borrow” existence from something that does not itself depend on anything for its existence, but simply has it. Something that exists necessarily rather than contingently. And that gives us our first building block in the case for the existence of God.

The only answer to the question of why any contingent things exist is that some necessary thing exists.

“But wait a minute – where did that necessary thing come from?” Hopefully by now you see the problem with this objection. By definition, something that is necessary doesn’t “come from” anything. It doesn’t rely on something else for existence – it inherently possesses existence. So to ask, “Where did the necessary being get its existence” is like asking, “What is the name of the bachelor’s wife?” By definition, a bachelor doesn’t have a wife. And by definition, a necessary being doesn’t get existence from something else – it necessarily has existence.

A more substantive objection to the kind of argument I have laid out is that modern science has demonstrated how it is possible for the universe to come from nothing, thus there is no need for God or any other sort of necessary being to explain its existence. One atheist physicist (Lawrence Krauss) has even written a book called A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. And yet, as you dive beneath the surface, it becomes clear that you cannot judge this book by its cover, since what Krauss describes as “nothing” is actually “a boiling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence in a time so short we cannot see them directly” (page 153). Many scientists and philosophers (and people who can read) have pointed out to Krauss that this hardly qualifies as nothing, which he seems to grudgingly concede in the preface (pages xiv-xv). Nevertheless, in an interview in The Atlantic about the claims of his book, Krauss rationalizes:

“But if you can show how a set of physical mechanisms can bring about our universe, that itself is an amazing thing and it’s worth celebrating. I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why.”

But you see the problem here, right? “A set of physical mechanisms” is not nothing. And Krauss doesn’t even purport to explain where such mechanisms come from. But it’s not really his fault. Science, by its very nature, can only show how one contingent thing leads to another contingent thing. It cannot explain why contingent things exist in the first place. Where Krauss should be faulted is in promising in the title (!) of his book that he will give such an answer when he knows he cannot. This reminds me of The Office episode in which Michael Scott has to admit that he cannot keep the promise he made to some elementary school children that he would pay for their college tuition when they graduated. As he prepares to face them now that they are seniors in high school, he eases his conscience with this rationalization: “I have made some empty promises in my life, but hands down that was the most generous.” I can imagine Krauss saying, “I’ve made some empty promises in my life, but hands down that title was the most audacious!”

The question of why any contingent things exist inevitably leads us to conclude that there must be some necessary thing that exists. But what is this necessary thing? Have we demonstrated that it must be God? No, not yet. It could be God, or it could be the universe, or maybe something else unknown to us. And we certainly haven’t demonstrated that it must be God as understood in Christianity. But this argument wasn’t designed to do any of those things. It was simply designed to show that some necessary thing exists, something that in principle does not rely on something else for its existence.

But that’s a good start, and in the next post, I promise (hopefully not in Michael Scott fashion!) to take us another step forward in showing why this necessary being must be God.


“I Know That My Redeemer Lives” – But Who Is it?

“Oh that my words were written!
    Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
    they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:23-26)

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

The most memorable phrase from the Book of Job is Job’s declaration, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It is one of the few hopeful statements found in Job’s speeches with his friends. And it is the inspiration for several great hymns still in use today.

But just exactly who did Job have in mind when he expressed this confidence? In the context, who is Job’s “redeemer”?


The term Job uses here is the Hebrew word גָּאַל (go’el), and it means “redeem, do the part of the next of kin.” It is used in several places in the Law of Moses to explain the various duties of the next of kin (as in Leviticus 25:25; Numbers 35:19). It is also featured in the Book of Ruth and the story of her go’el, Boaz (Ruth 3:9). This term is also used to describe God’s role as Israel’s redeemer (as in Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 41:14).

When Job declares that his go’el lives, he could have in mind one of his next of kin who will take up his case. Another view (the one adopted by the ESV) is that the go’el is God, and that Job believes God will ultimately redeem him. Which is it?

Nothing in the text itself definitely answers this question. Some commentators point to the language of 19:25 – “at last he will stand upon the earth” – and combine this with Job’s hope to see God in his flesh (19:26) to argue that Job has in mind God’s final redemption of him in the resurrection. However, the term translated “at last” (אַחֲרוֹן, ʾakharon) can mean “later, afterwards.” Indeed, the KJV translates the expression as “at the latter day.” So this is not decisive.

Surveying various commentaries, there are three positions.

First, some contend that Job believes God will be his go’el.

But he reaches beyond his experience of God’s wrath to state his trust in God, who will in time secure his acquittal and who will also accomplish his deliverance from suffering. In this passage Job is expressing genuine faith, for he makes an unconditional affirmation about God’s commitment to him against all circumstantial evidence to the contrary. (John Hartley, The Book of Job, NICOT series, p. 295)

Others suggest that Job is asking for a human go’el. Here is John Walton’s paraphrase of the passage:

“I firmly believe that there is someone, somewhere, who will come and testify on my behalf right here on my dung heap at the end of all this. Despite my peeling skin, I expect to have enough left to come before God in my own flesh. I will be restored to his favor and no longer be treated as a stranger. This is my deepest desire!” (The NIV Application Commentary: Job, p. 221).

And, some commentators allow for the possibility that Job intends both a human and divine go’el:

It is possible both were in his mind. Certainly he had wished for some fellow human being then and there to say a good word for him before God and his neighbors, but he also envisioned a divine Redeemer. (Robert L. Alden, Job. NAC series, p.  207).

So how do we decide which view is correct? It seems to me that if we look at Job’s statement in the larger context of the book, it is very difficult  to argue that Job believes God will be his go’el. The phrase in question is found in the midst of the the second round of speeches between Job and his friends. In his response to Eliphaz in that second round, Job says that God has made war against him:

God gives me up to the ungodly
    and casts me into the hands of the wicked.
I was at ease, and he broke me apart;
    he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
he set me up as his target;
 his archers surround me.
He slashes open my kidneys and does not spare;
    he pours out my gall on the ground.
He breaks me with breach upon breach;
    he runs upon me like a warrior. (16:11-14)

In Job’s mind, God is not his redeemer; God is his adversary, and what Job wants more than anything else is to argue his case before God (16:18-21).

Job 19 contains Job’s response to Bildad, also in the second round of speeches. And in this immediate context of the “redeemer” statement, Job again expresses his belief that God is his opponent:

He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
    and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.
He has kindled his wrath against me
    and counts me as his adversary. (19:10-11)

This sentiment persists into the third round of speeches. Job tells Eliphaz:

Today also my complaint is bitter;
    my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
    and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
    No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
    and I would be acquitted forever by my judge. (23:2-7)

So before, during, and after the speech in which Job mentions his go’el, he insists that God is against him, that he wants to take his case to God, that he desires acquittal from God. For this reason, it is very difficult for me to understand Job’s statement in 19:25 as a reference to God. As much as I love singing about God as my Redeemer, I don’t think that’s the tune Job was singing here.

Instead, it seems much more likely that Job has in mind someone else as his go’el. Perhaps someone in his family – maybe even someone in heaven, like an angel – but someone to come and speak up for him. There is a hopeful tone to what Job says here, but it is also a desperate statement. “Surely somebody will speak up for me and not let this injustice continue!”

Job’s anxious desire for a go’el is made even more poignant by the phrase at the end of verse 25: “at last he will stand upon the earth.” The ESV has a footnote on the word “earth” to alert the reader that the actual Hebrew word here  (עָפָר, ‘apar) means “dust.” This is the word Job uses throughout the book to describe his disintegrating condition that will finally lead to death:

  • “My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt” (7:5).
  • “For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be” (7:21).
  • “Remember that you have made my like clay; and will you return me to the dust?” (10:9).
  • “I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin and have laid my strength in the dust” (16:15).
  • “They lie down alike in the the dust, and the worms cover them” (21:26).
  • “God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes” (30:19).

Job doesn’t expect God to “stand on the dust” (Holman Christian Standard Bible) with him – in his view, God has put him in the dust of death.  What Job wants is someone who will join him on the ash heap, stand by him as he returns to dust, and defend his integrity in his lawsuit against God. And for this reason, I don’t think the position that Job is describing God as his go’el is sustainable.

BUT – this doesn’t mean that God isn’t Job’s redeemer. It is very important to remember that what Job says is not always correct. What Job believes to be the case versus what actually is the case is not the same thing. In my view, Job is asking for a redeemer because he believes God is his adversary – but Job is wrong about this. God is not Job’s adversary; in fact, God is Job’s biggest “fan.”

Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? (Job 1:8 and 2:9)

Job thinks he needs a go’el to help him in his case against God because he believes  God has unjustly punished him as an evildoer. But Job is totally wrong about this. God does not see him as a wicked person; God knows that Job fears him and turns away from evil. Job doesn’t need anyone to defend his name before God. At the end of the book, God defends Job’s name when he says to the friends:

My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (42:7, also in 42:8)

God vindicates Job, so it turns out that God is indeed the go’el Job sought! But that’s not what Job thought in 19:25. As is often the case in Job’s speeches, what he assumes to be the case is not in fact true.

So to summarize, when Job asks for a go’el to stand with him in the dust, he is not thinking of God. He has mind someone to defend him against God. And this is because he doesn’t understand that God is truly on his side in a way he cannot imagine.

And in a way that we cannot fathom. Centuries later, when God enters the human story in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, he also will cry out in desperation, quoting the opening words of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”). Later in that psalm the one who suffers says, “You lay me in the dust of death” (22:15). We indeed have a Redeemer who joined us “in the dust,” and now lives in heaven to take up our case.






“To Have and to Hold…Til Death Do We Part”

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The New York Times broke the story about Harvey Weinstein’s vile pattern of sexual abuse just after the Vegas shooting. In the days following the nightmare in Vegas, stories were beginning to emerge about the heroes in the midst of that horror, but thanks to the Weinstein bombshell, those stories were quickly lost in the shuffle. This only adds to the tragedy of the events in Vegas. So in this post, I want to draw attention to two heroes.

Those heroes are Jack Beaton and Sonny Melton.

Both men were at the concert in Vegas that fateful night along with their wives. Jack Beaton was a 54-year old roofer, in Vegas with his wife to celebrate their 23rd wedding  anniversary. Sonny Melton was a 29-year old nurse, in Vegas with his wife to enjoy the music festival that weekend.

When the shooting began, both men immediately sought to shield their wives from harm. Here’s how Beaton’s wife described what happened that night-

“He told me, ‘Get down, get down, get down!’” Laurie Beaton told The Associated Press ahead of the memorial service.

He put his body on top of hers for protection, she said.

“He told me, ‘I love you, Laurie,’ and his arms were around me and his body just went heavy on me,” she said.

Melton’s story is similar-

“He saved my life,” Heather Gulish Melton told USA Today. “He grabbed me from behind and started running when I felt him get shot in the back.”

Both husbands died protecting their wives.

The contrast between Jack Beaton & Sonny Melton and Harvey Weinstein could not be sharper. Weinstein preyed on women, viewing them as objects to serve his perverted fantasies, exploiting his power and status for selfish gratification. Weinstein expected women to give themselves to him. Beaton and Melton gave themselves for their wives.

When the apostle Paul described the sort of love husbands should have for their wives, he set the highest possible standard – the love of Christ for his people.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  (Ephesians 5:25-27)

The love of Christ is selfless. It gives, and gives deeply, all for the welfare of the “bride,” the church. Husbands are to follow this example, to give deeply for the wellbeing of their wives.

Many men today utter fail in the moment of testing. Some abandon their wives altogether, betraying the vows of marriage for the cheap thrill of sexual gratification with someone else. Others demean and degrade their wives rather than seeking their spiritual beauty. And others are simply oblivious to the needs of their wives, and do nothing to actively love, serve, and give to meet those needs.

I don’t know anything about the religious beliefs of Jack Beaton and Sonny Melton, but I do know this – when the shooting started, when it would have been easy to abandon their wives and save themselves, they instead wrapped themselves around their wives and died to save them. If their wedding vows were traditional, at some point those men pledged “to have and to hold…til death do we part.” They gave everything to keep that promise.

That is Christ-like love.


Proving God Exists

Is it possible to prove that God exists? That all depends on what is meant by the word prove.

If the question is whether it is possible to prove scientifically that God exists, then the answer is no. But that is not because belief in God is unreasonable or unsupported by evidence. It is because – by definition – God is not the sort of being whose existence is detectable by scientific investigation. The tools of science are well-suited to analyze those things that are part of the material world, things that can be put under a microscope or tested in a particle accelerator. Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) teaches that God is the creator of the universe, and as such, God exists outside of the material world. So in principle, God is not a fit subject for the empirical methods of science.

Since God’s existence cannot be proven scientifically, does that mean we are without any resources to establish his existence? This would be the case only if, as atheist author Dan Barker has asserted, “The scientific method is the only trustworthy means of obtaining knowledge” (Losing Faith in Faith, p. 133). Is science the only path to knowledge? There are two major problems with this assertion.

Here’s the first problem. If I asked Dan Barker how he came to know that “the scientific method is the only trustworthy means of obtaining knowledge,” what scientific evidence could he offer to support this contention? None. That’s because this assertion is not a scientific claim, but a philosophical claim. And since it is philosophical rather than scientific, the only way Barker could demonstrate that it is true is by using philosophical reasoning. But if he did this, then he would have to concede that the scientific method is not the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge, and that philosophical reasoning is also a valid path to truth. In other words, the only way Barker could defend his contention is by refuting it. So that’s the first problem with the view that the scientific method is the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge – it is a self-refuting claim.

But there is a second problem with this notion. The methods of science take for granted more fundamental truths about reality. Here are just a few of them:

  • There is a world outside of and independent of our minds. (Not everyone accepts this. Some people believe that, kind of like the movie The Matrix, there is no actual world beyond their mind, that what they think is a world filled with other people, places, and events is merely an illusion. We need to take special care of those people, because if they go, we all go with them!)
  • There are laws of mathematics and logic that we can use to study the natural world. (These cannot be proven by science – they are assumed by science in order to make scientific analysis possible.)
  • There is order in nature which we can rationally perceive. (This is why we think we can do science in the first place.)

All of these fundamental assumptions are necessary for the practice of science, yet none of them is established by the scientific method. So if it was really true that “the scientific method is the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge,” then the scientific enterprise could never get started, since it could never – on its own – establish the rationale for why science can get to work in the first place.

So if we are not limited by scientific proof, what other means is available to us to prove that God exists? The classical arguments for the existence of God combine simple observations of the natural world with basic logical deductions to arrive at the conclusion that God exists. The basic form of this reasoning is very similar to what we learned in high school geometry class. Do you remember how geometric proofs work? You begin with a “given,” and then you work step by step, employing the basic laws of logic and mathematics to derive a conclusion.

The arguments for God’s existence put forth through the centuries by great thinkers like Aristotle and Avicenna and Aquinas work just like this. They begin with a given, some simple and obvious observation about reality (like, “some things change,” or “some contingent things exist”). And then they methodically apply the laws of logic to these basic observations to deduce the existence of God.

Next week I want to begin a series of posts that will demonstrate such an argument for the existence of God.



Harvey Weinstein, Tim Murphy, and the Evil Fruit of Tribalism

On the surface Harvey Weinstein and Tim Murphy have nothing in common. Weinstein is a Hollywood mogul and an avid supporter of various liberal causes, such as Planned Parenthood. Murphy is a Republican Congressman and a staunch proponent of the pro-life movement. But last week both men were exposed as frauds. On October 5 The New York Times published a scathing expose of Weinstein and his long history of sexual harassment. The same day, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that Murphy intended to resign as a result of the fallout from the news that Murphy was having an affair and urged his pregnant mistress to get an abortion.

While Wenstein’s gross conduct was news to the general public, it was well known to those inside the Hollywood bubble. And while it is unclear to what extent Murphy’s affair was known, there is evidence that other sorts of workplace abuse and misconduct were widely known in GOP Congressional circles. So why weren’t these men exposed as charlatans before now?

Undoubtedly a major factor in both cases was fear. In their little worlds, Weinstein and Murphy wielded tremendous power, and anyone who  challenged them could face severe reprisals. It takes enormous courage to stand up for what you think is right when it might cost you your job. And given the stakes of the entertainment industry and the political enterprise, that kind of courage is exceedingly rare. In cultures where there is no mechanism for genuine accountability of those in power, the threat of intimidation is nearly overwhelming

But another factor at play here is tribalism. What I mean by tribalism is the commitment to support those who you think are on the same team or part of the same tribe, regardless of principle. Many liberals in the entertainment industry who eagerly pounce on President Trump’s (many) missteps have been strangely silent about Weinstein. Similarly, while various Republicans privately stated that Murphy should resign, no one publicly urged that he do so that I am aware of.

This tribal mentality is nothing new. Twenty years ago one female reporter responded to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal by professing her willingness to pleasure President Clinto so long as kept abortion legal. Nor is this mentality limited to politics and entertainment. It enabled the nightmarish scandal of child molestation by Catholic priests.

But it does seem to me that tribalism is gaining intensity. Fewer and fewer Americans have close friends who share different political beliefs. This makes it incredibly easy to demonize those with whom we disagree. Many of us are eager to think the worst about those in the other “tribe,” which explains why so many fake stories and Facebook memes gain traction.

The American ideal is rooted in the primacy of principle over personality, in the rule of law over the rule of man. But when we fail to hold people accountable to principles, we betray the American ideal and turn the privileged few into petty tyrants. So it comes as no great surprise when moguls, politicians, and clergy abuse their power like tyrants.

It is especially important for Christians not to be drawn into this tribal mentality. Jesus calls us to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We must not dilute the salt and dim the light of our influence by sacrificing our principles in indiscriminate support of personalities that appear to be “on our team” on certain issues but whose conduct and practice fall far short of the teaching of Christ. That there are people who talk a big game but do not practice what they preach is hardly a surprise to the followers of Christ, who warned his disciples to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).

When any politician – regardless of party – does something I judge to be right, I should be willing to say so. And when any politician – regardless of party – does something I believe to be wrong, I should be willing to say so. But I cannot ignore or excuse what is wrong simply because a politician is on “my side,” or merely because he happens to be really nasty to the people who disagree with me.

And it is especially important for Christians to hold preachers, elders, and other leaders accountable for their actions. Failure to do so not only compromises the testimony we present to the world, but  it also destroys the lives of those victimized by repeat offenders. The apostle Paul told Timothy-

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:19-21)

“Keep these rules…doing nothing from partiality.” That is principle over personality.

I am not optimistic about where our nation is headed. I think the prospects for the maintenance of civil society are very dim. But I am most anxious about the cause of Christ becoming hopelessly entangled in the quagmire of tribalism. Christians are called to be transformed people, not conformed to the world’s way of thinking (Romans 12:1-2). We must resist the allure of the world to sacrifice integrity on the altar of unprincipled partisanship.