Navigating the Political Quagmire as a Christian

Recently, I had someone leave my small church plant—not because of heresy nor unrepentant sin—but because of politics. The person didn’t like the political opinions of some of the people in our church, so he put his political identity above his identity as our brother in Christ and disfellowshipped with us.

In the U.S., we have bought into a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is to believe there are only two possible options even though a broad range of possibilities are available. The overall faulty thinking is that you’re either conservative (and, thus, a Republican) or liberal (and, thus, a Democrat). 

Beyond the obvious issue with trying to lump everyone in existence into two exclusive tribes—as well as the issue of who gets to define specific views as either “liberal” or “conservative”—it’s clear that Christians need to defy the false political dichotomy of U.S. politics because it’s (1) damaging clear biblical thinking, (2) damaging church unity, and (3) damaging the witness of the church. And if it’s doing all that, it’s dishonoring the name of Jesus, our king, which is unacceptable.

Christianity is a third option. Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This means Christ-followers find their identity as citizens of God’s Kingdom first and foremost—before any identity as either Democrat, Republican, or even American. Christians need to defy this false dichotomy of our day because we aren’t to fall into the same patterns and habits of the world around us. Christianity is a third way.

After all, the apostle Paul tells us, 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2)

Paul also shows us that following Christ often means not being accepted according to the standards of humankind:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

In an earlier blog, I’ve already given some thoughts about this false political dichotomy everyone—including the church—is getting bamboozled into believing, but here are some additional thoughts about navigating this political minefield that we live in today:

  1. If you’re taking punches from both sides, you’re probably doing something right. 

If you find ardent liberals try to brand you as a conservative and ardent conservatives try to brand you as a liberal, this might show you’re actually trying to follow God’s Word, rather than the world’s wisdom.

  1. Criticize where due. Praise where due.

When loyalty is to Christ and his Word and not to a political identity, it gives you freedom to criticize and praise where appropriate. After all, a Christian should be concerned with God’s truth, not promoting some tribal worldview defined by worldly guidelines. For instance, there were things Christians could appreciate about both President Obama and President Trump, but there were also certainly things about both presidents Christians should have been critical about.

  1. Freedom For Clear Thinking

When your mind isn’t cloudy with trying to jam everything into a category of “liberal” or “conservative,” you’re free to focus on the actual topic or issue at hand to figure out how to correctly think about it and, if need be, how to best solve it. When you’re not busy trying to defend the view of your tribe, it gives a lot of freedom to actually think. You also don’t get caught up in the bickering and finger-pointing about the bad behavior of either side, which is a snare that hampers meaningful discussion.

  1. Freedom to be Critical of my Own Party

OK, maybe you’re well-informed on the issues and the political stances of each party and you have decided to align yourself with one party over the other. Fine, but this still doesn’t mean you have to accept every stance of that party wholesale. If you’re part of that party, work to make your party more godly.

  1. Save It For the Dinner Table

There’s an old saying about not talking about politics or religion in polite company. I’m going to update it: Don’t talk about politics or religion over social media. All the bickering online isn’t getting you anywhere with your friends who hold different views, and these complicated topics are nearly impossible to address sufficiently in a social media format. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but it’s much easier to come across as a jerk on social media—and many feel free to purposely act like jerks on social media. A good rule of thumb: If a person isn’t willing to find the time to sit down with you for a meal, then maybe it’s not a good use of your time to get into a political discussion with him or her.

  1. Seek out people who don’t fit into either tribe.

Having conversations with people who may be able to give a unique point of view will certainly help everyone open their minds to the possibilities beyond the narratives of either side. For example, I have a married couple as neighbors who both work in law enforcement and are African Americans. Having conversations with them about police brutality, racism, and gun control certainly provides me with plenty to think about. Also, I find talking to people who immigrated to the U.S. can give me a point of view that’s often outside of the box of typical American thinking. 

  1. There’s more moderates than you think.

Sadly, it was the same as when I taught high school as it is with politics: The people making the most noise get the most attention. But it has been my experience that when you have actual conversations (not arguments) with actual people (not the characters they play on social media), people are a lot more reasonable and, thus, a lot more moderate than you think. (And, so, the ignored, annoyed moderates of this country have to start making more noise!)

8. And a closing thought from God’s Word.

Finally, let me close with some wisdom from the Proverbs to remind us all to remain humble:

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)

Read related GFTM articles:

False Dichotomy, the Bane of Modern Debate

5 Common Logical Mistakes to Avoid

14 Quick Tips for Better Online Interactions

Me & My Wife VS. My Kid & St. Nick: Breaking It to a 5-Year-Old Santa Isn’t Real

My wife and I decided a while ago that we would not perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus in our family. Feel free to start judging us now as crazy Christians who yell about the “war-on-Christmas,” yet long before I was a Christian, back when I still considered myself an atheist, I found this cultural tradition of lying to our children about an old man who comes down our chimneys strange.

Forever vivid in my head, right down to the inflection in her voice and her angry little face, is the memory of when we broke the news to my younger sister that the big guy with the white beard was all make-believe: “You lied to me!” It was part incredulous question and part harsh condemnation.

St NicolasNow, to be perfectly transparent, it’s not just that my wife and I think that this culturally permissible fabrication is a bit weird, but that it could also be potentially damaging to our children’s faith in God. I remember wrestling with the idea of Santa Claus as an elementary school student. How did Santa deliver all those gifts in just one night – even taking into account time zones? Why did my mom lock herself in her bedroom to wrap gifts for so long and then in the morning only one gift under the tree was from her and my dad? Something odd was afoot.

One of the reasons I continued to believe was I couldn’t comprehend why my parents would lie about such a thing to me.

It’s not difficult to imagine the train-of-thought from there: If my parents would lie to me about some silly guy bringing me gifts (or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth-fairy or – the most diabolical! – the Elf-on-the-Shelf) maybe this whole God thing is a big, fake story too. I can’t say the Santa Claus myth had any direct connection to my skepticism about Christ, but sometime in middle school I found myself questioning the truth of the Bible like I did the truth of Santa years before. Having no one to answer my questions, my hard agnosticism lasted into my thirties.

This Christmas season is the first year our five-year-old son is talking a lot about Santa Claus. So, I did it. I said, “Well, you know, Santa isn’t real…” I said it’s okay to like Santa, the same way you like Batman, but it’s mommy and daddy who give you gifts on Christmas. He thought about it but didn’t have much to say at that moment, but he still talks about Santa daily. And perhaps my wife and I have been overdoing it a bit because one time when he brought up St. Nick and I reminded him he isn’t real, he responded with a tone I’ve only heard teenagers use: “I know, daddy.” I wasn’t looking at him because I was driving, but I think he might’ve even rolled his eyes.

But, the thing is, after the first time I told him that Santa is fiction, I suddenly realized I had totally overlooked something important: I, then, adamantly made clear that he wasn’t to tell other kids this. It was okay for them to believe in Santa. Five-year-olds aren’t known for keeping secrets, and I suddenly pictured my kid ruining Christmas for tons of his friends and their parents hating me forever.

Yet, I haven’t had to worry about this, not because my son is the model of Christ-like obedience to his father, but because my son doesn’t believe me. He sides with his friends. Apparently, they’re having fiery discussions about this. More often than not, after picking him up from daycare, my wife and I are told something like, “Martina says Santa is real” like we’re fools for doubting.

 

Santa

Next to nothing can be known historically about the real St. Nicolas. One popular story among theology nerds (ironically, despite Nicolas’ unchristian behavior) has him slapping the heretic Arius at the council of Nicea. Unlike the real St. Nicolas, we can be quite sure historically about Jesus.

With over 2,600 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, we can be confident the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life have been passed on to us without corruption. Within the New Testament, we find early confessions of faith that predate the writing of the New Testament. Immediately after the writing of the New Testament, we have the witness of the early church fathers. We even have first and early second century non-Christian writings about Jesus. The historical argument for the life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus is a surprisingly strong one. Perhaps I need to explain this all to my five-year-old instead of arguing about Santa Claus.

Maybe it’s too soon for him to grasp historical arguments, but where I have had success is by teaching him little truths about our Christian faith. He can paraphrase Jesus’ “golden rule” (Matt 7:12) and the “two greatest commandments” (Matt 22:36-40), and he can recite John 14:6. My five-year-old can even define the Trinity.  I may be losing the battle against Santa, but if nothing else, when I ask my son why we celebrate Christmas, he promptly answers, “Jesus’ birthday.”

 

Ashton Kutcher & Why Sex is Not Morally Neutral

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Recently, celebrity Ashton Kutcher appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to speak about child sex trafficking. First, among all the political and social nonsense spewing from every direction these days, it’s good to see someone putting his fame and wealth towards something worth fighting for. Give it a watch/listen; it’s worth the time, though not something easy to listen to due to the subject matter.

As I listened to Mr. Kutcher, I couldn’t help having a thought I’ve had before: Despite what popular culture tells us, sex is not morally neutral.

GROUNDING YOUR MORALITY

Before we talk about sex, let’s talk about morality in general.

As a Christian, I find myself often addressing two claims of secular people:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) People can be moral without God.

It is often not hard to refute #1, as all I have to do is bring up something like child sex slavery and people will agree that such a thing is objectively immoral – meaning that the wrongness of this is not a matter of opinion; child sex slavery is always morally wrong. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective.

I have no idea if Mr. Kutcher ever considered himself a moral relativist, but judging from his emotional statement about the things he has witnessed since becoming involved in the fight against human sex trafficking, I’m sure he believes there is objective good and objective evil in this world.

As far as #2 (People can be moral without God), I don’t have to refute it. I totally agree that people can be moral without believing in God. But they cannot justify their morals. In other words, morality is objective, but what can explain objective morality? Where does it come from? Yes, everyone has morals, but according to their view of the world, can they justify having those morals?

So, an atheist may say, “Child sex trafficking is wrong,” and I say, “I agree, but why is it wrong? According to what?” “According to human decency,” he says. “By what standard do you judge human decency?” I ask. “Everyone has the right to live his own life.” “And where did you get that idea? If we’re here, according to your view of the world, just by random chance; if we’re just a happy accident of a purposeless universe and there’s really no difference between us and star dust or star fish, where on earth do you get this idea of human rights?”

Often the response is some sort of pragmatism: it’s moral because it works. So, the atheist may say something like, “Whatever leads to the maximum amount of human happiness and flourishing is what’s morally good.”

But without an objective moral standard of good, this fails for two big reasons:

(1) Why do you assume human happiness and flourishing is the greatest moral good? That, within itself, is a moral claim. Why isn’t the flourishing of mosquitoes or oak trees the greatest moral good?

(2) If usefulness is all that defines morality, then what if something like, say, child sex slavery leads to the most people being happy and flourishing? Does that mean it’s morally good?  In fact, I’m sure there’s been plenty of cultures where common slavery was absolutely great for the majority of the people in the culture. Does that mean slavery was morally good?

Without an objective standard, it’s all just personal preference and opinion.

The immaterial, timeless God of the Bible is the objective standard of good, and the only explanation for the immaterial, timeless moral law. Yes, we often suppress the moral consciousness God put in us, his image-bearers, because we want to be independent of our Creator, but once one has abandoned God, they have abandoned any grounds to make any moral claims.

It’s interesting: in order for a moral claim not to be simply a personal preference, everyone – whether Christian or not – has to appeal to a greater authority outside themselves. Kutcher, appearing before the U.S. senate, appealed to the Declaration of Independence when he speaks of the right of all people to pursue happiness. Yet, the Declaration of Independence appeals to an authority higher than itself: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

(I’ve written about this moral argument before. Read more here.)

SO WHAT’S THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SEX?

The sexual revolution started about 50 years ago with my parents’ generation in the 1960’s, and sex has been progressively losing value in American culture ever since. Even in the 20-odd years since I’ve been in high school, attitudes about the value and importance of sex have continued to plummet. Millennials are 48% more likely to have sex before a first date than any other generation before them. To many millennials, a date is considered more intimate than sex. People often write off the Christian view of sex as old-fashioned and outdated, but once on that slippery slope, things move quickly.

When we step back and look, even Americans who claim morals are relative believe that certain things, like racism and slavery, are objectively wrong. But sex, they say, is surely subjective. No one has any grounds for making any sort of moral judgment on anyone else’s sexual practices or preferences. I do my thing; you do yours. It’s not much different than liking different ice cream flavors or styles of music. It’s just taste and preference. Sex is a morally neutral act.

But like other claims of moral relativism, this view can’t stand either. I’ll give you four reasons: rape, sexual abuse of children, sexual harassment, and sex trafficking.

What’s worse?

Someone getting attacked and beaten OR someone getting attacked and raped?

A child being abused OR a child being abused sexually?

Someone harassing you OR someone sexually harassing you?

Being sold as a slave OR being sold as a sex slave?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that all violent crimes are universally seen as more horrendous when some sort of sexual violation is involved. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and beaten so severely that she is put into the hospital, people will gasp and people will be angry. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and raped and beaten so severely that she’s put in the hospital, people are enraged and they’re also calling for the castration of the attacker. If sex is a meaningless act, then rape is no different than being attacked and beaten; the addition of sex into the situation should not matter. But people are rightfully enraged by any act of rape because sex is not meaningless.

Even hardened criminals know this. I’ve heard from a number of sources that people in prison for sexually abusing children are considered the worst of the worst. Even among the most violent criminals in prison, child molesters are seen as deplorable and are the targets of violence from other inmates.

As Mr. Kutcher spoke to the senate, he spoke of a girl being “sold into sex.” Again, if sex were a morally neutral act, why emphasize the sex aspect of the crime? Why not just say, she was sold into slavery?

My point? Even those who criticize Christians for taking moral stances on sex (and related issues) know that sex is not a morally neutral, meaningless act.

The hardest part to hear of Mr. Kutcher’s talk was about a video of an extremely young child being sold for sex in Cambodia to an American tourist. Mr. Kutcher spoke of the girl being so conditioned that she thought she was “engaging in play.” I pause to use such a horrifying evil to make a point, but if morality is relative, as well as if sex is morally neutral, then what is there to condemn here? Can we honestly say our revulsion and disgust is simply personal preference? If sex is a morally meaningless act, and the girl does not even seem aware of what she’s doing, do we have any grounds to say this is wrong? Yet we know this is evil.

In fact, even the common refrain that all sex is morally neutral – or even morally good – as long as it is consensual fails here. If this exploited girl thinks of what she is doing as play, is it not consensual? Someone may counter, “Sex must be consensual between adults.” But within a worldview with no grounding for morality and where sex is morally neutral, why include this arbitrary stipulation that sex is only for adults with other adults? If sex is a meaningless act, what’s the harm of sex between an adult and child? In fact,pedophilia has been brought to its logical conclusion due to sexual relatively and some have started arguing that it’s just another morally neutral sexual orientation. (Don’t believe me?  See: HereHereHere)

Where the biblical view of sex is often mocked, it’s clear sex is not a morally neutral act.

And just as we need the God of the Bible to make any moral claim, the same God created sex and defines the moral perimeter surrounding sex. Scripture tells us sex is intimate, valuable, and powerful. If fact, it’s so powerful, homicide detectives say there are three main motivations for murder: power, money, and sex. Therefore, God gave clear guidelines concerning sex to protect intimacy, to protect its value, and, yes, to protect us.

When I taught high school in a “rough” area of New Jersey, I once had a student in in-school suspension who had a reputation of being “sexually liberated.” She was the type that was always talking loudly and never listening. Another student had purposely pushed her buttons to get her ranting, and she was going on and on about how what she does with her body is her business and why should God care who she “loves.”

The bell was about to ring, so I had to move on to my next class, but in the final second I had in the classroom – when she finally took a breath – I said, “I can tell you this, if more people listened to God about sex, there would be a lot less problems in the world.” And the craziest thing happened: the girl was quiet. She had nothing to say.

You don’t have to explain to a kid from the inner city what problems uninhibited sex causes.

 

 

 

Fearing For the Lives of My Black Children: Thoughts From a White Foster Parent

As I held my four-month-old foster daughter in my arms during a 3am feeding this morning, I scanned the flow of postings on social media about more police killings of black men and now about police deaths due to retaliation.

I grew up in an area without much diversity, but for sixteen years I taught in a high school in Paterson, NJ where the majority of my students and many of my coworkers were black and hispanic, and though I, a white man, will never fully understand what it is to be a minority, I can also say I’ve come to better understand their culture and struggles after sixteen years. Yet, it was not until I took in my foster son and daughter (with plans to adopt) that I started understanding not just intellectually but emotionally. I say this because I’ve come to feel a real fear for my black children’s safety, especially my son’s.

When my foster son first came to live with us almost a year ago, my massage therapist, a Jamaican woman, was curious about why we took in a black child. I told her how parents can choose their preferences when fostering or adopting, such as the age range of the child and, yes, even the race, but we didn’t care what race the children were. But there was also something else, a sad truth, we learned while going through the process: black males were the children least likely to find homes. During the training process, we were also given “The Talk” about giving any minority children we may take into our home “The Talk” about safety. When I was a kid, my parents gave me safety talks about strangers and about not giving out information over the phone; kids today need to be taught about Internet safety. But minorities, especially male minorities, need to be given a safety talk about how not everyone is going to treat them the same way they treat others, including police officers. I’ve come to fear for my son’s life in another way; I’ve come to fear that he will grow into a bitter man who hates the police.

Many conversations with my good friend who I shared a classroom with for over ten years had given me insight into this long before I started the fostering process, as she is black and raising two sons. I also clearly remember her once sharing with me how whenever someone is rude to her, there’s always something in the back of her head wondering if this happened because of her race. Again, as a foster father to a black three-year-old, I’ve come to not just understand this intellectually, but to feel it. Just the other day my heart ached as I witnessed for the first time some children at a playground treating my foster son meanly, and I found my friend’s troubling question floating around my head: Was it because he’s black?

Historically, when we look at things such as mass murder and slavery, how these evils are justified is by diminishing the value of those murdered or enslaved. In other words, those committing the evil do not feel their actions are wrong because they have created in their minds the idea that the victims are not human. This is the essence of racism. This is what the Nazis did. This is what many armies do to the opposition during times of war. Not to open a can of worms, but this is what pro-abortion advocates do; they deny the humanity of the unborn by making them just “a lump of cells.”

Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer is known for saying, “Ideas have consequences,” and this is certainly true: make someone less than human, and suddenly the most inhumane crimes aren’t inhumane anymore. This is the great dilemma of our secular culture because most people believe that all we are is the outcome of a long process of time and chance. In the secular worldview, our brains are just advanced flesh computers in flesh machines — flesh machines no different than fish or apes. We see the consequences of this idea every time we read a news feed. This secular view of human life cannot hold; the center is collapsing, because in one breath secularists argue vehemently that all we are are advanced animals who have clawed our way to the top of the hill by living longer than our competition, and then in the next breath the secularist is outraged by a racist murder by a police officer abusing his power.

Yet, this outrage testifies against the secular storyline of humanity. What is this outrage grounded in? Why must even evil men diminish the humanness of their victims to justify their actions? If the secular storyline is true, how is “all men are created equal” a self-evident truth? Let me shed some light: You’re outraged by these crimes because you recognize humans have inherent worth, an idea the secular view of humanity cannot carry. You’re outraged by the deaths of these black men because you’re recognizing their inherent worth because they’re made in the image of God (Gen.1:27; 9:6). Not only that, you’re outraged by these murders because you — whether you believe you’re a descendant of Adam or a fish — are made in the image of God. Your outrage testifies to this.

I pray that God will protect my children from those who try to diminish the image of God in them. I pray that God will give them black mentors; though I can be their parent, I have never walked the path of a black person. I pray they will know the police officers that I have known, good men who care for their communities. And I pray that they will know and love the God who has revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ — a God of justice (Psalms 89:14; 103:6), a God who equates anger and hate with murder (Matt.5:21-22; James 3:8-10), a God who commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt.5:43-44), a God of forgiveness (Matt. 6:9-15; Eph.1:7), a God who forbids vengeance (Romans 12:19-21), and a God who weeps with us over death (John 11).

Annual Christmas Comic 2015! Merry Christmas from GFTM!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Merry Christmas!

–Steve & GFTM Blog

Click on the comic to enlarge it….

ChristmasComic_2015

Read past Christmas comics: 2014, 2013+, Early 2000’s

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A Short Message for Resurrection Sunday: Blind Faith or Trust?

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“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

God the Son has existed for eternity in perfect fellowship with God the Father. When God the Son became Jesus, though he was both God and man, he voluntarily gave up his rights as God and submitted wholly to the will of the Father.

Philippians 2:6-8 tells us Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

When Jesus took on himself the sins of the world and willingly endured the utter terror of crucifixion, he demonstrated perfect faith in God the Father.

As a former self-professed atheist, I can tell you, skeptics don’t like the word faith. They portray faith as “blind faith” — as belief without evidence. But a more accurate understanding of Christian faith is found in the word “trust.” As your time with Christ grows, so will your trust of him. As you pray, grow more familiar with His Scripture and live according to it, and partake in His church, your trust will strengthen. Nonbelievers can’t understand Christian faith because they have never walked with Christ.

When the Holy Spirit woke me out of the murkiness of atheism years ago, I did take a leap of faith. Now, after nine years of walking with Christ, when I don’t know what the future holds, I can say with confidence, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Faith is not belief without evidence, but belief because of prior evidence.

All praise to the God who was crucified, who rose from the tomb three days later, defeating death and sin. All praise to the God who completed the work for our salvation, and just as He freely offered his life for our sins, now offers us His free gift of salvation – a free gift we can accept or reject, but a free gift nonetheless – free for us but not for him.

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