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):

In both instances, the assumption behind these Tweets is that it is ironic that a person would risk her life for someone whose beliefs are different from hers. And apparently thousand of people agree (based on the number of “likes” each Tweet received).

I feel very sorry for these people because their experience has been nothing like mine. Even though I believe that through His death and resurrection that Jesus is the only way to God, I have received many kindnesses in my life from all sorts of people: unbelievers, adherents of Judaism, followers of Muhammad (and probably some Hindus and Buddhists, but I can’t say for sure!). And it never seemed unusual to me that this would be the case.

On social media and through my blogs I have argued for the traditional Christian understanding of sexual ethics and against deviations from it like same-sex marriage, but I have been blessed with wonderful acts of friendship and love from people who believe very strongly that I am wrong. And some of the most touching words of encouragement my wife has received as she battles cancer are from those whose beliefs and lifestyles are radically different from ours. And again, this never shocked me in the least.

If someone tried to do harm to me, it would not seem ironic at all to me that one of my atheist or Muslim or gay friends would intervene to try to save my life. And I would hope the feeling is mutual. Maybe some people (like Joy Reid and George Takei) are so trapped in ideological incubators that they’ve never experienced such love, or given it. That is a shame.

Jesus told what is perhaps His most famous story, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The point of the story is that when the Law says “love your neighbor,” what it really means is to love anyone to whom you can be a neighbor, like the Samaritan cared for the total stranger in the story. Jesus made a Samaritan the “hero” of this parable even though elsewhere in the gospels Jesus criticized the Samaritans for some significantly mistaken ideas. He told a Samaritan woman “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). But at the same time, Jesus used a Samaritan in His parable to explain that love, compassion, and kindness should be extended to anyone who is in need – even those whose beliefs may be radically different from yours.

I fear that more and more people (on the right as well as the left) accept the truncated notion of love that Joy Reid and George Takei assume, a view that limits love to the narrow set of people who think just like you do. But for all of my friends who have been gracious to me even in the midst of profound differences, I want you to know that I thank God for you. And I’m going to try even harder to do what Jesus said:

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:46-48).


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.

Tim Farron was a member of Parliament, the leader of one of Britain’s political parties called the Liberal Democratic Party. Last week, his party suffered significant losses, and so he resigned. That is standard procedure in the UK and by itself not noteworthy. But the deeper reason behind his resignation is.

Farron is a professed Christian. As the member of a socially liberal party, Farron supported legal abortion and gay marriage. But that was not enough for many people in the UK. They needed to know what his personal beliefs were. And so, Farron repeatedly faced questioning about whether he believed abortion and gay sex were wrong. Notice – he was not questioned about his public policy positions. He was questioned regarding his personal moral beliefs.

As the questioning continued, it became clear to Farron that even though he held public policy positions that were tolerant of abortion and gay marriage, the persistent questioning about his personal religious beliefs would only continue. And so, he resigned. Here is part of his resignation announcement-

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The most tragic line from this speech is this lament: “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.”

In America, many of our political leaders have taken liberal public policy positions while holding traditional religious convictions. For instance, the former vice-president, Joe Biden, told one interviewer, “Abortion is always wrong…But I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of [the country].” If the climate in Britain is any indication of what’s to come, it won’t be long before someone like Joe Biden is deemed unfit to be in government. To secularists, a person’s private beliefs must also conform to leftist ideology, or they are not suitable for public office.

This mentality was on full display last week when Senator Bernie Sanders questioned a nominee for a budgetary position over his personal Christian beliefs regarding Islam (just re-read this sentence to capture the full absurdity of Sanders’s questioning). It would have been one matter if Sanders had attempted to show how this nominee’s religious beliefs would keep him from performing his job properly. But he made no such effort. It was clear from the line of questioning that it was the religious beliefs – in and of themselves – that Sanders found objectionable:

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

In the mind of Bernie Sanders, unless you subscribe to universalism (everyone is ok with God) or to secularism (there’s no such thing as God to begin with), you are unAmerican, and certainly not qualified to hold a position in the government.

If during a public hearing a senator can brazenly defy Article VI of the Constitution (“but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”), it doesn’t seem to me to be much of a stretch to think that believers in government will face the same sort of increasing scrutiny that hounded Tim Farron. What Mr. Farron said of his society is quickly becoming true of mine:

We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.



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-


but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Sanders was unhappy with something Vought had written regarding Islam. Vought is an evangelical Christian, and had written a piece for a website in which he stated that since Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God that they “stand condemned.” Here is how the inquisition unfolded:

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

It does not surprise me that a secular person like Bernie Sanders does not agree with Vought’s religious beliefs. I would imagine that if I sat down with Vought and had a thorough discussion about theology that I would find that I disagree with him about some significant matters. But to declare that a person is not merely unfit for public service, but unfit as an American, simply because you disagree with his religious beliefs, is in direct defiance of the Constitution. As Emma Green of The Atlantic observed:

It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget.

Let’s turn this situation around. Suppose a devout Muslim was the nominee. And suppose this Muslim had written in support of the traditional view of Islamic teaching that Christians are guilty of shirk – polytheism –  for believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore stand condemned. Should these beliefs be fodder for discussion in a Senate confirmation hearing? Of course not. “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The only reason any religious belief would be relevant in a confirmation hearing is if there were legitimate grounds for thinking that a person could not carry out the responsibilities of that position in light of those beliefs. This is clearly not the case here. As Vought was quick to point out, the same Christian teaching that says that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world also says to love every human being as an image-bearer of God.

But to someone like Senator Sanders, it isn’t enough to show love and respect in the midst of disagreement. No, in the doublespeak so endemic to the radical left, “tolerance and diversity” means “intolerance and uniformity.” And unless this nominee bows the knee to the idol of pluralism (the notion that all religions are the same), he is unfit for office, and unworthy of America.

Religious liberty is in grave peril in America. I never thought that in my lifetime I would see such direct assaults on this sacred right. But as the far left continues to target traditionally-minded Christians, and as the far-right continues to target all Muslims indiscriminately, the space for deeply held convictions is growing smaller and smaller. What a nightmare for freedom awaits believers once the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum realize how much they share in common.

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

The Intolerant Future of Post-Christian America

A good Facebook friend pointed me to an article by Peter Beinart in The Atlantic that I think is vital reading for Christians. Actually, for everyone. The article is called “Breaking Faith,” and the subtitle spells out its thesis: The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse.

The basic premise of the article is that Christianity is on the decline in the US. Sure, the vast majority of Americans identify as Christians, but those numbers are declining. More significantly, the level of regular church attendance is dropping across all demographics, even among self-professed “evangelicals.” I’ve heard the old excuse that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.” That’s like me saying, “I’m a member of the YMCA, but I don’t have to go regularly to stay fit.” You can see the results! Continue reading

Assimilate or Pay the Price

“Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” –The Borg in Star Trek

Last Thursday the Washington state supreme court issued a chilling ruling against religious freedom. The case in question involves a Baptist florist named Barronelle Stutzman. For years she provided service to two homosexuals, Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed. But when the men decided to marry and asked Stutzman to do the flowers for their wedding, she deferred, recommending several other florists in the area. The couple then sued, along with the ACLU and the state of Washington. Stutzman lost, and her last hope is that the US Supreme Court will hear her case and defend her rights. Continue reading

The Gorsuch Nomination – A Temporary Reprieve

Picture from The Denver Post online

Yesterday the President nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. By all accounts, Gorsuch is a highly qualified nominee, possessing the skills and temperament needed by a Supreme Court justice. His nomination will be fiercely contested in the poisonous atmosphere of Washington politics, of course, but that is to be expected.

From what I have read about Judge Gorsuch, his track record of decisions indicates he possesses a robust view of religious freedom. His opinions – ranging from the Hobby Lobby case to the Andrew Yellowbear case – reveal a firm commitment to defend the free exercise of religion from governmental intrusion. And as a Christian concerned about the growing threat to religious liberty in America, I am thrilled with this nominee. Continue reading

The Inevitable Self-Destruction of Identity Politics

The Women’s March (photo from CBS News website)

During a drive through New England last year, Kristi and I stopped at an old gas station to refuel and use the restroom. The bathrooms were unisex facilities. When we got back to the car, Kristi lamented how nasty her stall was. At that point we joked that the greatest opponents to the transgender push for “bathroom equality” will eventually be feminists. Women are not going to tolerate using the same public bathrooms as men for very long!

Feminism and transgenderism are two examples of “identity politics” – political activism that revolves around social/racial/sexual identity. And right now the liberal political landscape is dominated by the politics of identity: the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the LGBTQI movement, the feminist movement, and so on. To be fair, identity politics are not exclusively leftist – on the Right there are efforts like the white nationalist movement. But identity politics are primarily a liberal  phenomena. Continue reading