The Grim Future of Private Religious Schools (and Some Ideas)

A few weeks ago the small private liberal arts school I attended and taught at began a project to build a new student center. This meant that the old student center had to come down. I have to admit that I was very sad as I stood at the demolition site and snapped this picture of the ruins of a building that held such special memories.

But what concerns me far more is the future of schools like the one I attended. Part of my worry has to do with the declining enrollment problem facing all colleges. The pool of high school graduates in America has been steadily declining for some time, and it is estimated that this trend will continue through 2030. Because of these deflated numbers, analysts predict that as many as half of the colleges and universities in the country could close their doors in the next 10-15 years.

But the general demographic trend is not the greatest source of my anxiety. I am especially concerned about the future of private religious colleges. Schools like the one I attended and taught at typically have codes of conduct that reflect the religious beliefs of the institution. Such codes often include specific language about moral issues like sexual conduct.

And therein lies the problem. There is a growing climate of hostility in America to the traditional Christian view of sexual ethics. There is no better way to illustrate this increasing anti-religious bigotry than the recent New Yorker column lamenting the “infiltration” of Chick-fil-A into New York because the owner has donated to pro-traditional marriage causes. (For some great satirical responses to this article, check out this Babylon Bee piece and this blog post).

And the assault on religious freedom is only going to grow stronger. Multiple polls demonstrate that the “Millennial” generation does not hold a robust view of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. A 2015 Pew Research survey revealed that “four-in-ten Millennials say the government should be able to prevent people publicly making statements that are offensive to minority groups.” A 2017  Brookings study found that 44% of college students do not believe that the First Amendment protects “hate speech.” And since the pro-LGBTQ movement believes that any statements defending traditional marriage or critiquing same-sex actions constitute “hate speech,” you can see where this mindset will lead. I’m no prophet, but I will make this prediction: within my lifetime there will be a serious movement to repeal the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And if you don’t believe me, check out this video.

At the moment, private religious schools are permitted to maintain these codes of conduct and still receive federal money because of our nation’s strong commitment to religious freedom. Such schools can apply for what’s called a “Title IX Exemption.” This is why private religious schools can maintain their status with government accreditation agencies, which is crucial in order for students to receive federal grant and loan money such as I relied upon to go to college.

But this exemption is under assault. Schools that have applied for this exemption are accused of perpetuating “the harms of religion-based bigotry.” And it is clear that the pro-LGBTQ lobby intends to strip this protection of religious freedom away from such schools, a prospect that the government’s solicitor general admitted during the Obergefell case. That leads me to another prediction: the next Democratic administration will strip the Title IX exemption of its power to protect the religious freedom of schools.

Let me pause to address the issue of “religion-based bigotry” before I go further. Some of you may think that codes against same-sex conduct are no different than codes against interracial dating and marriage that many schools of a previous generation enforced. But the two issues could not be more different. One has to do with conduct, the other has to do with race. A school that says that sex is reserved for the one man-one woman relationship of marriage is not bigoted against gay students. The code applies to all students, gay or straight. Whatever the person’s orientation, the same rule applies to everyone’s conduct. Such a rule that has to do with behavior is totally dissimilar with a rule that has to do with race. Sadly, many schools did have such racist rules, and the fact that those sinful and hateful rules are now being used to club all adherents of traditional morality over the head is reason #2,182 not to be a racist if you are a Christian.

All of this means that the “dark clouds of Mordor” are growing more ominous by the moment. If this exemption is taken away, then the federal government will be able to threaten schools with the loss of accreditation unless they change their codes of conduct. Those schools that refuse to bow the knee to Baal will lose accreditation, and with it all federal loan and grant money for students. Additionally, students who graduate with unaccredited degrees may find it hard to be hired, especially if the company is “woke” to progressive social causes. This will be the end of many private religious schools.

So, what to do? How can private religious schools navigate between the Scylla of falling enrollment and Charybdis of federal decertification?

It will be a mistake for schools to search for mere short-term solutions. Yes, you can temporarily inflate enrollment numbers by adding sports teams, with the incoming revenue stream of federal loan and grant money for which many athletes qualify. But when (not if) accreditation is lost, this money will vanish overnight. Nor will it help to look for cost-cutting measures with faculty salaries and benefits. The last thing a small school needs in these troubled times is a demoralized faculty and staff. Nor will it help to address the problem with cosmetic changes to the campus. This will not be sufficient to address the demographic shift of available high school students.

Instead, here are some things these schools can do:

  1. Schools should wean off all federal money, including student grant and loan money, as soon as possible. As Carl Trueman has written, “Given the financial significance that the federal student loan system has for most colleges, this process will be painful and difficult for many, where it is possible at all. Yet it is vital.” Schools should use the next two years as a reprieve and phase out all programs that are unsustainable without this money.
  2. Schools should look for students from non-traditional sources. While the number of high school graduates is falling, there are many other potential student populations. Instead of waiting for students to come to campus, the campus needs to go to the students, with on-line and hybrid course offerings, extension and satellite campuses, and other such options. The on-campus population may decline, but the overall student population and revenue stream can grow.
  3. Schools should create job placement networks for their students. Schools like the one I attended have a tight-knit network of alumni. This is the perfect situation for collecting databases of alumni and friends of the school that can post job openings for students. Imagine the power of recruiting a student who knows that when he or she is finished with classes, the school will actively seek to set them up with a prospective employer. This can ameliorate the stigma of a non-accredited diploma.

And even if it should be the case that private religious schools do not survive, there is still hope. And the fact is, families and churches should not totally delegate responsibility for rearing children to such institutions to begin with. If these schools, which are adjuncts to the home, no longer exist, our children can still flourish in the faith, so long as we do our job. But it would be a shame if future generations did not have the opportunity that my wife and I enjoyed to receive an education in a faith-affirming environment. There are challenges ahead, but they can be met with resolve, imagination, and love.


Our Emerging Two Party System – Authoritarians VS Totalitarians

Last week offered two news stories that reveal the political future of America.

Story 1: a middle school teacher here in Florida was revealed to be a white nationalist. As first reported by the Huffington Post, a Crystal River teacher named Dayanna Volitich hosted a podcast and Twitter account (under an alias) in which she routinely voiced the typical positions of the Alt-Right, targeting blacks, Jews, and Muslims. Once her secret identity was revealed, Ms. Volitich claimed that her opinions were merely a form of satire. That seems unlikely, given her previous comments, and really – it is beside the point. There are many people for whom such opinions are deadly serious.

Story 2: former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was forced to resign from the charitable foundation of the Country Music Association because of the policy positions he espoused regarding issues like same-sex marriage. Various LGBTQ activists expressed indignation that someone like Huckabee would serve on the board of this foundation that focuses on music education in schools, despite his proven track record in education reform as a governor (which one of the critics conceded). Even though he was clearly qualified to serve on such a board, his traditional Christian views regarding matters like same-sex marriage disqualified him from service in the eyes of some activists. And it is clear that for growing numbers of people on the Hard Left, no one who holds similar views (evangelical Protestants, confessing Catholics, orthodox Jews, mainstream Muslims) should have a voice in public life. In their mind, the moral tradition of the monotheistic religions is simple “hatred.”

This is where we are headed as a nation. On the Alt-Right we have authoritarians who are fixated on tribal loyalty and racial superiority. And on the Hard Left we have totalitarians who are determined to coerce everyone to accept their radical redefinitions of marriage, gender, and personhood. Both extremes reflect the worst kinds of bigotry that have plagued America (racial and religious). The only difference is that the Alt-Right proudly embraces its bigotry, while the Hard Left is self-righteously blind to its bigotry. And since neither extreme acknowledges any sort of transcendent truth, what drives both is the pursuit of and exercise of raw power. That explains the growing phenomenon of Neo-Nazi violence by the Alt Right, and violent campus protests by the Hard Left.

Ideally, fair-minded people on both sides of the political aisle would call out and confront the radicalism that is emerging from their end of the ideological spectrum. There are indeed many conservative commentators who have denounced the Alt-Right (such as Ben Shapiro, David French, Rod Dreher). There are far fewer liberal commentators who have challenged the Hard Left (Jonathan Haidt being the rare exception). This is because (as Pew data shows) the Left has lurched far more to its extreme than has the Right. But we don’t need polling to confirm this. In the mid 90’s, the Defense of Marriage Act passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support and was signed into law by a Democrat president who also declared that the “era of big government is over” and that abortion should be “rare.” That seems like ancient history. Today’s liberals aren’t calling out the Hard Left because they increasingly are the Hard Left. The net result is that both extremes are feeding each other.

And for those of us who are committed to following Christ, this increasingly polarized political environment is going to place us in the crosshairs of both extremes. The Alt-Right has made it clear that it detests the Christian commitment to brotherly love that knows no racial, ethnic, or national boundaries. And the Hard Left equally despises the Christian commitment to the Lordship of Christ rather than personal autonomy in matters of sexual ethics.

This is nothing new, though. Christianity is just as counter-cultural in the 21st century as it was in the first century when tribalism and relativism were also dominant. And as we declare and display the gospel with Jesus’ mix of conviction and compassion, we can call people to an identity that rises above race and tribe, and that transcends lust and gratification. Is this going to be easy? No. It requires tough-minded love. But tough-minded love is what the cross Jesus bore and we have chosen to bear is all about.





Violent Mobs of Victims

The Preaching of Saint Paul at Ephesus, Eustache Le Sueur, 1649

Not long ago this British TV interview of Canadian professor Jordan Peterson  went viral on YouTube. If you don’t know what I am talking about, click on this link – it takes less than 30 minutes to watch. I will warn you, though – it is the sort of video that you feel compelled to watch over and over (as of this morning it has over six million views).

For those of you unfamiliar with Peterson (as I was until I watched this video), his early work focused on how ideologies like Marxism and Naziism engulf entire societies. He recognized that at the heart of each system was a fixation on group identity, class in the case of Marxism and race in the case of Naziism. And so Peterson is a defiant opponent of modern versions of this sort of thinking at play in the identity politics of the far left and the far right.

Back to the aforementioned interview. It is a classic example of what happens when someone who is serious about discussing the truth tries to have a conversation with someone who is only serious about scoring points. Over and over again the interviewer distorted what Peterson actually said in order to caricature him as a voice of patriarchal oppression, transphobia, and all of the other humbugs of the radical left. The interviewer’s ideologically induced sloth prevented her from doing any meaningful background prep into Peterson’s career (such as his many years of work counseling women to further their careers), or critically evaluating what he said in real time (preferring to hilariously misinterpret him with a “so what you’re saying is…”). No, the interviewer had a cartoon villain in her sights, and some hastily cribbed quotes to (attempt to) exploit, and a game to win. It was like watching a modern theater version of Socrates versus the Sophists (without the hemlock!).

The interview itself is not what I want to focus on. It went just like you would expect a confrontation between a lazy ideologue and a formidable thinker would go. What interests me is how Peterson and the interviewer responded to the debate after the interview. In this video, Peterson explained (at the 27:24 mark) that while it was obvious that he “won” the showdown, it was not a healthy victory, because the exchange reflected the highly polarized nature of “discourse” in the west rather than a genuine conversation between truth-seekers. By contrast, the interviewer (as a true sophist) relished the game that they had just played.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my bout.”

That is, until the TV station decided to change the narrative from the anticipated “feminist heroine slays alt-right dragon” to “damsel in distress.” By January 20, the news was reporting that the station had consulted with the police over various threats made on social media against the interviewer. Based on subsequent analysis, it is not at all clear that substantive death threats were made against the interviewer, and some have suggested that far more threats were directed toward Peterson. The fact that any abuse was directed toward either participant is outrageous.

Whatever the true extent of those threats on social media may have been, there’s no question that Peterson has been the target of ugly mobs, as this link illustrates. Because he challenges certain cherished orthodoxies in radical academia, Peterson has gotten the treatment we’ve seen in so many places in America – the use of physical force to shut down debate. Yet I am sure that the mobs that interrupt his speaking events consider themselves “victims.” These are peculiar victims – over and over again we’ve seen them deny people – victimize people – of the rights of free assembly and free speech. These violent mobs of victims do not care to engage the ideas in question – that requires far too much work. It is much easier to choose the path of raw aggression and blast air horns or scream obscenities while someone is trying to talk.

When the apostle Paul came to Ephesus he confronted the pagan ideology of a city famous for its glorious temple to Artemis. So powerful was his message that many Ephesians turned from their idols to follow the Lord Jesus. The result:

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater.  (Acts 19:23-31)

God is the most fundamental issue of all. Does God exist, and what is God like? You can gather from Demetrius’s tirade what Paul’s basic argument was: if men have to make the gods, they aren’t really gods. Pagans in other places (like Athens) we willing to engage Paul’s arguments – even if they ultimately rejected them (see Acts 17:16-33). But not these Ephesians. After all, Paul’s words had victimized them! Too much power was at stake, and when power rather than truth is your highest value, reasoning gives way to riots.

Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:32-34).

It isn’t difficult to imagine how ugly this situation could have become, except for the intervention of the city magistrate:

And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:35-41)

Because this anonymous town clerk had respect for the rule of law and the standards of civil society, horrific violence was averted.

I am deeply concerned that the ranks of such fair-minded people are shrinking moment by moment in our culture. We are increasingly polarized, especially as the extremes on the political spectrum play the victimization game of racial resentment (whether attacking “white privilege” or promoting “white identity”). It is cynical, and it is lethal – as all power struggles are.

And it is a game that (as history testifies) Christians have been all too eager to play as well. We must not compromise the gospel and malign the name of Jesus by responding to hate with more hatred, or violence with more violence. As Jesus told Peter in the garden, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Instead, we must respond to threats with courage, to power with truth, to resentment with redemption, and to hate with love. Such courage, truth, redemption, and love will endure long after the mobs are gone and the shrines of pagan ideology (whether ancient or modern) are in ruins.




MLK and the Role of Religion in Public Life

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Many TV and radio programs traditionally mark the occasion by replaying King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Here are links to read and watch it if you’ve never done so.

It is interesting to think about King’s speech in light of the growing secularism of America. I have many friends who are atheists and agnostics, and they are quick to argue that religion should have no place in public life in America. In their mind, religious beliefs should not be permitted to influence what the law says – separation of church and state forbids this. The late atheist provocateur, Christopher Hitchens, summed up this secularist creed in a debate against Tony Blair:

Relatively simply, the United States has uniquely a constitution that forbids the government to take sides in any religious matter, or to sponsor a church, or to adopt any form of faith itself.

Hitches was arguing for the exclusion of all religious beliefs from any public policy question.

Contrast this attitude with King’s speech. When Martin Luther King Jr argued for civil rights for black Americans, he did so on explicitly (though not exclusively) religious grounds.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

King was not arguing for the federal government to officially recognize a “state church.” He was not claiming that the Congress codify specific religious practices like adult baptism or congregational church polity. Those actions would indeed violate what the First Amendment is about.

But he was arguing that government policy should reflect the view of human rights that flows from belief in God as Father and all humans as his children. Separation of church and state is one thing, but separation of faith from the state is a different matter entirely. Those who purport that religious faith should have no bearing on public policy are Constitutionally naive and historically illiterate.

King’s rousing conclusion to his speech sounds just like something a Baptist minister (which he was) might say:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

It is undeniable that religious faith played an enormous role in the civil rights movement. By the way, it is also inarguable that religion played a role in the effort to oppose civil rights – religious faith in and of itself is not a good or bad thing. My point here is that I’ve never seen any secularist impugn the religious motives of those who advocated for civil rights, like MLK.

And the fact is that when you get right down to it, what really bothers most secularists is not whether religion plays a role in government, but which religion it will be. Last year during Senate confirmation hearings, two different senators, Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein, explicitly attacked nominees to federal positions because they were professed believers from conservative faiths. This is a direct violation of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which expressly forbids a religious test for public office. That doesn’t matter to dogmatic secularists like Sanders and Feinstein.

Yet at the same time as these senators undermined nominees to public service because their religious beliefs may have an impact on their work, the Boston Globe wrote a glowing piece about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s faith.

But religious leaders who have known her since her first run for public office say her Christian faith is a constant, if quiet, presence in her life, that it is deep and authentic, and informs her work as a senator.

If you read the article, you will find that Warren is deeply convicted by Jesus’ teaching about taking care of the poor and needy, and that it motivates her commitment to social justice. I am sure Sanders and Feinstein (and my secularist friends) have no problem with THAT religious belief informing public policy. It’s only the religious beliefs that they dislike (like the sanctity of unborn life and traditional marriage) that should be barred from public life.

Human rights don’t just magically appear. They flow from the belief in something transcendent, something that lies beyond the natural order of race and ethnicity. Societies that deny this transcendence (the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Maoist China), have horrific human rights records precisely for this reason. I don’t think my secularist friends on the Left  understand the implications of their effort to scrub faith from public life.

And what is most alarming to me is the growing secularism of the Right. The alt-right movement is an example of what happens when so-called “conservatism” is cut loose from its moorings in the tradition of faith. And once the secularists on the Left and the Right realize how much they truly have in common in their abhorrence of faith-informed civic life, night will truly descend on our society.

People of good cheer, dedicated to civil society, have a lot of work to do to keep the dream alive to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

You Don’t Have to Agree with Your Neighbor to Love Him

Last week’s horrific shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise elicited calls for unity from people in both major parties. This was good to see in the midst of tragedy. But not everyone was so gracious. Consider this Tweet from MSNBC’s Joy Reid-

Or this Tweet from George Takei (which he later deleted): Continue reading

A Peek at the Future of Religious Freedom

Tim Farron

If you would like to see the future of religious freedom in America, take a peek at Great Britain. The UK was once a vibrantly religious country – now, faith is on the wane there. As America follows the same trend toward secularism, we can see what awaits our society by looking at what is happening to our cousins across the Atlantic. And that brings me to the story of Tim Farron. Continue reading

Bernie Sanders Jumps the Shark (or at Least, Article VI of the Constitution)

Source: The Atlantic

During the confirmation hearing yesterday for Russell Vought, a nominee for a deputy position in the Office of Management and Budget,  Senator Bernie Sanders flagrantly violated the intent of Article VI of the Constitution. That article says, in part- Continue reading

The Catastrophe of Identity Politics

Earlier this month “Black Lives Matter” protestors prevented a conservative speaker, Heather MacDonald, from delivering a lecture at Claremont McKenna College. She was forced to make her presentation via web streaming instead. Sadly, this was nothing new. The Radical Left has made it a habit of stopping free speech on college campuses.

To its credit, the administration vigorously defended the right of free speech and academic freedom in an email sent out to students and faculty. But the Radical Left was unmoved. In a letter sent to the administration in response, the protestors claimed:

Your statement contains unnuanced views surrounding the academy and a belief in searching for some venerated truth. Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny.

So the quest for the “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!) is merely a construct of white supremacist culture.

My immediate question for these students is, Is that claim the “Truth”? 

If this claim is the “Truth,” then aren’t these students propagating the legacy of oppression and injustice inextricably linked to such truth claims? And if so, shouldn’t someone shut them down for this exercise in Euro-West cultural hegemony? And if this statement is not the “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!), why should I care?

Many profound injustices have been done in the name of the “Truth.” And many of these injustices have been perpetrated by whites against people of color. But the problem here is not the “Truth” per se, but the perversion of the truth in the quest for power and exploitation. To attack the concept of “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!) with claims that you expect to be taken as the truth is the very definition of self-refutation.

But the inherent and obvious self-contradictions are lost on these students. Later in the letter they claim:

The idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining Heather Mac Donald’s hate speech is illogical.

“Illogical”? That sounds an awful lot like someone is interested in “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!)!

Nor is this the only example of incoherence in the statement. The letter further asserts:

Non-Black individuals do not have the right to prescribe how Black people respond to anti-Blackness.

To these students, the cultural experiences of non-blacks are so different from blacks that non-blacks have no place to tell black students how they should act. But if there is such a great gulf between the black and non-black experience, then why would these students believe those who are not black would even understand their objections? Why bother writing such a letter?

This letter perfectly captures the two-fold catastrophe of identity politics. In the first place, it represents a grave challenge to freedom. By labeling those who disagree as “fascists” or worse, groups like “Black Lives Matter” can simply declare any opponent as unworthy of freedom of speech by definition and preempt the free exchange of ideas. In civil society, people can understand one another, and even feel for each other, but still disagree. But in the worldview of identity politics, disagreement itself is a form of oppression, and must be stopped by any means necessary, including violence. This is what is happening on college campuses around the country, and only the most courageous administrations will stand up to it. Otherwise, the mob rules.

In the second place, identity politics strikes at the common grace of our shared humanity. It reduces human beings to interest groups, to “tribes” that are incapable of understanding one another, much less pursuing mutually beneficial solutions. And of course, this means that no one from one “tribe” has the right to say anything critical about someone from a different “tribe.” Last summer during a Facebook exchange I was pilloried by a friend for daring to suggest that I could deeply empathize with African-Americans while at the same time condemning certain forms of protest. “I doubt you are racist, but….”

Even if I had never personally known someone of another race, is it not possible by virtue of the universal human endowments of imagination and conscience to nevertheless understand and feel for someone else? In my own experience, I have black members in my family. I had many non-white students when I taught in college. For many years as a preacher of the gospel I have ministered to non-white members of the churches I have served. If it is not possible for a person with these experiences to know, to feel, and to empathize with the concerns of people other than those of his or her own race, then how would it ever be possible for any of us to deeply feel for one another?

Sadly, I think there are many people on the Radical Left and on the Alt-Right who don’t believe it is possible – or desirable. I believe we are entering a very ugly time in our culture when the fabric of the “more perfect union” will unravel into frayed threads of racial and ethnic division and hostility. I hope I am wrong.

The ancient Christian writer Tertullian said that the pagans of his time hated Christians because – paradoxically – Christians loved each other irrespective of social standing.

But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. They are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren… (The Apology, 39.7-8).

As we enter a period that resembles the pagan culture of Tertullian’s day, Christians must stand in defiant protest against all forms of tribal hatred. We cannot allow the racial or ethnic animosities of the world to seep into our thinking.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Christ is in all of His people, and Christ is the only identity that counts.



Mike Pence: Sexist, Islamist, or Rapist

Last week The Washington Post reported on Vice-President Mike Pence’s longstanding practice of avoiding one-on-one meals with women (other than his wife). This elicited a round of jeers and criticisms from many quarters. Since it is curious to me that many of these harsh judgments came from people who ordinarily espouse tolerance and inclusion, I made the following comment on Facebook –

It is amusing to see those “nonjudgmental” types who champion “tolerance” now bashing Mike Pence for his personal choices.

Continue reading

Rebuilding Amidst the Ruins – The Benedict Option

“In the world but not of the world” – that’s the calling of followers of Jesus (John 17:13-16). But finding the right balance in this equation has always been challenging for the people of God. In first century Judaism, many Jews opted for isolation from the world, such as the “separated ones” in the sect of the Pharisees, or to a more extreme degree, the ascetic Essene community in Qumran. Others embraced accommodation with the world, like the aristocratic Sadducees or the politically connected Herodians. But Jesus called His followers to chart a different path – insulation from the world and for the world. From the world in the sense that the values of His people would be shaped by God’s will and not by the standards of the world. And for the world in the sense that His holy people, firmly rooted and grounded in the faith, would then share the transforming life of Christ with others.

In his new book The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher argues that western civilization is in a period of stark decline, not unlike the fall of Rome in the days of the ancient monk for whom the book is named. And just as Benedict left the ruins of Rome to create a new community designed to keep the faith alive so that some day civilization could be rebuilt, Dreher argues that Christians need to strategically withdraw from our degraded culture to revitalize faith, family, and community. Continue reading