Thursday, August 10, 2017

Robert Jeffress' Use of Romans 13 and God-given Authority

I had two reactions when I heard Pastor Robert Jeffress recently claim that President Trump had “God-given authority” to take out Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Dr. Jeffress appeals to Romans 13 to make his case: “That gives the government…authority to do whatever…to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un.” My first reaction was, yes, God has ordained rulers to maintain orderly societies. A sample of Rom. 13:1-7 states that, “The authorities that exist have been established by God…the one in authority is God’s servant for your good…They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”(Washington Post interview). So, in a way, Jeffress may have a case. But, my second reaction was that his language as a pastor and a spokesman for the Prince of Peace just didn’t sit well with me for some reason (and I believe he has read more into Romans 13 that is there and he misunderstands the idea of God-given government authority).

Jeffress has claimed that if you have a problem with what he has stated, it is because either you don’t read the Bible or you don’t believe the Bible (https://youtu.be/AyW-HreDKRc, see 2:32 to 2:46).

I do read the Bible, and I believe what it says, so I thought I would take another look at Romans 13 to see if Jeffress is correct in what he states about the president’s authority to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. Jeffress states, “When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil…In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.” I want to take a look at Romans 13 to see how clear the case is.

Paul is a Roman citizen who is writing to a collection of house churches in Rome. At this portion of his letter, he is giving them ethical instructions based on his presentation of the message of Jesus Christ. Paul calls that message his “gospel”. Keep in mind, in the Roman world a “gospel” message (euangelion) was an announcement about the emperor, celebrating his birthday, a military victory or the anniversary of his accession to power. In Paul’s mind, the true ruler is Jesus. But Paul also recognizes that God has given to the world governing authorities to maintain orderly societies. Paul’s words in this chapter are directed to Christians living within the power structure of the Roman Empire. Paul’s words are not directed to the emperor dictating the boundaries of his power. Paul is telling his fellow Christians in Rome to be good citizens. If a citizen should step out of line, the government has the God-given right to correct that citizen, even with force.

So really, this passage says nothing about the God-given authority that rulers may have to wage war against enemy nation-states. But the idea that political authority is from God is an idea within the Judeo-Christian worldview. In Daniel 1:2, the prophet states that the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. So it seems possible that God can put a godless ruler in power for God’s purposes. Later in Daniel, the prophet writes that, “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes…” (Daniel 4:17). One of the Deuterocanonical books, the Wisdom of Solomon has the same idea, that the kings of the earth had their power given to them by God: “For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High…” (Wis. Sol 6:3). Both of these passages are followed by serious consequences for rulers who do not rule well. Nebuchadnezzar’s story continues to show God humbling him and causing him to lose his power for a period of time (Dan. 4:28-33). The passage in Wisdom of Solomon contains a threat to those who do not rule rightly…or walk according to the purpose of God, God will come upon them terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places (Wis. Sol 6:4-5).

In the book of Romans, Paul is writing to people who are living in a state whose “powers were exercised by a few by right of birth, or connection, or wealth, or ruthless self-advancement” (Dunn, Romans 9-16, 770). That could very well describe Kim Jong Un’s leadership. Could the people of North Korea then appeal to Romans 13 as support for their leader’s positions against the U.S.? We have to be careful when we read letters like Romans. They were not written to give the president of the U.S. in the 21st century the authority to make a pre-emptive nuclear strike or assassinate another leader. This passage was written to help Christians be good citizens and help maintain order in the society.

And as far as the rhetoric of a pastor advocating the president to go to war with an evil world leader (and Kim Jong Un is evil), is this the kind of message we need from a representative of Jesus Christ? Jesus states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9). Jesus tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) and Jesus radically reinterprets who our neighbor is to include those we may hate (The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37). In a pluralistic nation like the U.S. I don’t expect the president to behave like a pastor, but I do expect the pastor of a Christian church to speak words of peace and love. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Does the Church Have a Say in National Security?

The Huffington Post recently ran an article on three prominent evangelical leaders who voiced some support for President Trump's ban on Muslim refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-evangelical-refugee_us_5888d058e4b0441a8f722f12?)

The common theme in their support is that the government’s job is not necessarily the Church’s job. The pastors agree that individual Christians and churches should show mercy to those in need, but that’s not the government’s job. Franklin Graham stated that our country “should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws.” Ronnie Floyd stated, “We don’t advise the government on questions of national security and they don’t advise us on who and how we serve people.” Robert Jeffress stated that, “the Bible never calls on government to act as a Good Samaritan.”

I want to give all three of these men credit because they all affirm that individual Christians and churches should be taking care of those in need, that we should be Good Samaritans. I would imagine that all three of their Christian organizations provide some sort of support to immigrants and refugees. My main concern is how they have put this dichotomy between the government’s role in society and the church’s role in society. If the church has no right to criticize the government when it comes to national security, doesn’t the church lose it’s right to criticize the government when it comes to issues like marriage equality or abortion? Couldn’t someone with a secular viewpoint respond to Christian leaders who denounce same sex marriage and abortion rights with the call to stay out of it? Couldn’t someone counter Mr. Graham and say, “Our country should have order and there are laws that relate to abortion and I think we should follow those laws”? Secular opponents of a Christian worldview could easily say to Christians, “Determining who is worthy to be married is the government’s job, not the church’s job. Determining when human life begins is the government’s job, not the church’s job.”

If the church has any voice in informing the government when life begins and how to define marriage, then it has every right to demand that the government be gracious and generous in its foreign policy, especially when it comes to serving and protecting those who are fleeing great danger.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Some Undercooked Thoughts on Voting Biblical Values

A few months ago I received this email from Franklin Graham stating: 
“I will be going to the capitals of all 50 states to proclaim the Gospel, rally prayer for our country, and encourage Christians to vote for candidates with biblical values.”

I began to think, what would it look like if Christians voted for candidates who espoused biblical values? What would that platform look like?

Deut. 10:18-19 - He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Who are the candidates who are advocating for care of orphans or for providing greater funds and resources for foster care? Which candidates are proposing more resources to take care of the elderly? And in light of the recent rhetoric about immigration reform and the need to place millions fleeing from war torn countries, which candidates propose providing food and clothing to the immigrants among us? Especially remembering that almost all of those currently living in the U.S. are descendants of foreigners?

Luke 4:18-19 - “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Let’s look at these biblical values to see where our candidates line up.
Which candidate’s agenda will be good news to the poor? Who are the candidates who seriously consider prison reform? Which candidate will make affordable health care a priority? Which candidate will tackle the issue of debt forgiveness?

Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I recognize that this verse is talking about the equality of Christians and not addressing society as a whole. But what if a candidate who espoused biblical values applied this verse to their platform? Wouldn’t their agenda be represented by a serious call at racial reconciliation? Wouldn’t their vision include a call for trying to break down people’s value that is based on their economic status? Wouldn’t there be a call for recognizing the inequality of women in their work place?

James 2:1, 6, 15, 16 - “…believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism (between rich and poor)…you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? …Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, “ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

If a candidate wants to uphold these biblical values, they will take special care of the poor, providing food and clothing while not showing favoritism to the rich.
As I scan just these few verses, I can come up with a few biblical values that I can evaluate any potential candidate. The “biblical values” candidate will stand for:
            -Taking care of the elderly, orphan, and immigrant
            -Taking care of the poor, prisoner, the sick and those bound by debt (and in                          light of the Bible’s overarching desire to see the vulnerable cared for, this should speak to care for the unborn as well.
            -Working for racial reconciliation and gender equality
            -Not basing their work on who can do the most for them (showing favoritism                         to those who may be able to fund their campaigns).

I recently looked at one “Biblical Voters’ Guide”. In spite of the words over and over again in Scripture of taking care of the poor, they did not think that that was something that should be undertaken by a government. “In short, for both biblical and statistical reasons, addressing poverty through the government should not be an election issue for Biblical voters. They should instead remain focused on keeping first things first – on keeping the four non-negotiables at the top of the list:
1.     Appointing originalist judges (preservers of the Constitution)
2.     Protecting unborn life
3.     Opposing the ennoblement of homosexuality
4.     Publicly acknowledging God and honoring Him in policy
http://www.wallbuilders.com/downloads/BibleVoters_lowres.pdf

I agree with number two above. I do find if interesting for some pro-choice candidates talk about standing with the vulnerable but not having more nuanced views on abortion. But I don’t know how 1, 3 and 4 can be seen as biblical values in a pluralistic society. Especially seeing that no writer of any of the books of the Bible would have any idea what an "originalist judge" was. 

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Trying to find a candidate that truly espouses biblical values? Good luck. Instead of placing your hope in any politician or party platform, get involved with a church that is doing the things that God truly values.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Didn't Make the Cut


In the late 90s, I put a lot of thought into ranking my favorite songs. I used to carry around a little notebook and as songs came to my mind, I would write them down. I probably gathered well over 200 songs. I decided to try to cut it down to 150 and then rank them from 1 to 150. I will have to admit, that it was not an exact ranking, but I’d say that numbers 11-150 fell into the category of  “second ten” for 11 to 20; “third ten” for 21 to 30 and so on. I tried to put the final ten in order as best as I could.

There were a few quirky rules. If this were really a list of my top 150 songs there would be a lot of Beatles, U2, Radiohead, Wilco, etc. So I made a rule, only one song per artist could make the list. Therefore, only one Beatles’ song, one U2…There was an exception for work done as a solo artist. Paul McCartney makes the list as a Beatle and as a solo artist (same with Sting). But McCartney does not get a Wings exception.

I began to put together this list with copying songs off of the cassettes and CDs I had (and recording the occasional song from a CD checked out from the library). But in the early 2000s, the advent of P2P sharing made copying these songs for carrying around much easier. I found the remaining songs I didn’t have and then burned about 10 CDs to carry around.

So much music has come along in the last 15 years or so. I have been thinking about doing this for a couple of years and I finally found some time to spend thinking about this and re-ranking the songs. This was much easier this time around; I had already done the hard work of slogging through my music memory files, weeding out 30 years of music memories. Now I had to account for the past 15 years.

This isn’t a perfect list. I basically went through my iTunes songs and pulled all of the songs aside that I thought could make the cut (and I looked through a couple of the Spotify playlists I had created). I came up with almost 200 songs. Then I eliminated the extras to get to 150. And I probably changed a few of the original songs from their original artists as well.
I’m going to post the songs that were originally chosen as potentially worthy but didn’t make the cut to 150. These will be in semi-alphabetical order.

The Alarm – Rain in the Summertime: reminds me of my waning days of living in St Louis, my old softball buddies, “The Fugitives” and Andy Crews, who I probably borrowed this CD for longer than I should have.
Blur – Parklife: I missed Blur during the Britpop explosion in the mid-90s. I saw a documentary on Britpop and this song kept coming in and out of the break. Stayed with me for a few days.
David Sanborn – Bum’s Cathedral: this is a throwback to my college disk jockey days at SLU. We played what we wanted. I went through a late 80s fusion period. Sanborn is a fellow St Louis native.
Dee-Lite – Groove Is in the Heart: I have always been a fan of a funk groove, and Bootsy Collins provided it here.
Erykah Badu – Time’s A-Wastin’: I’m a sucker for the electric piano, and this song has that intro.
Herb Alpert – Rise: Herb had a great run of instrumentals making the pop charts. This song is about seven minutes long. Reminds me of cold mornings getting a ride to school.
Hole – Doll Parts
The David Crowder Band – Open Skies
The Housemartins – Happy Hour: Mike Nash had a friend living with him for a while named Dave Gudermuth. Dave was a great source for finding new music. I remember Mike and Dave being captivated by the MTV “Hip Clip of the Week”. I was captivated soon after.
Nicola Conte – Bossa Per Due: I recently went through a bossa nova phase on Pandora. I still am in that phase. This song comes up from time to time. I bought it.
Robert Cray – These Things: another CD I borrowed from Andy. Was on the previous list. A few songs dropped out all together. This one just missed.
Robbie Robertson – Sweet Fire of Love: me and the softball buddies (mainly Pete Vogel and I) were fascinated by another song on this CD (Somewhere Down the Crazy River). But this song is better, features U2.
Rose Royce – Car Wash: if you grew up in the 70s, you still know the clapping in this song. I would clap it while playing the infield in Little League games.
The Rutles – Goosestep Mama: this came very close to making the Top 150. The Rutles are a fake band created by Eric Idle for a fake documentary spoofing The Beatles. I couldn’t put a fake group in the Top 150. (“You’ve got nothing to “ein, swei, drei fear…”)
Sammy Davis Jr. – The Candy Man: I have performed this song live…twice!
Shawn Colvin – Get Out of This House: another song that dropped off the Top 150. This song was big while 93.3 The Zone in DFW was my station of choice. Sunny Came Home was on this album but this song is better.
Stan Getz – Desafinado: I believe this song was written by Tom Jobim, who I can’t get enough of. I believe I have four of his songs in various forms on my lists.
The Staples Singers – Respect Yourself: Bruce Willis did a cover of this. This song is fun to sing along to.
Steven Curtis Chapman – I Will Not Go Quietly: maybe the biggest drop of all of the songs. I believe this was in the previous top 10. From “The Apostle” soundtrack.
Tears for Fears – Working Hour: this song was the hardest to drop. It may move into the Top 150 if I fell short of my original count. (It may take the place of number 150 as well).
Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time Is Here: I almost had another category for Christmas songs, but this brings back so many memories (and melancholia).
10,000 Maniacs – Like the Weather
Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love: great sax intro, reminds me of my radio alarm clock going off in 7th grade. It seemed like it played every morning.
Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love: shows the versatility of the band (and Freddie’s voice).
Foreigner – Urgent: during my freshman year of high school, Foreigner “4” was a huge album, with “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “Jukebox Hero”.
Simple Minds – Don’t You Forget about Me: from the Breakfast Club.
Kajagoogoo – Too Shy: it’s the opening bass line that grabs me and Limahl’s androgynous voice that make a great combination.

I'll try to have the Top 150 in various installments up within a week. I'm sure you can't wait.



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"Well..."

“Well…”

What is your favorite verbal crutch? We all seem to have at least one, a crutch that helps us gather our thoughts or prepares our conversation partners for what is to follow.

“Um…”, “uh…”, “like…”, “you know…” These are some of the most popular verbal pauses. “Um…” is the preferred crutch of NBA owner Mark Cuban (but it sounds much classier as it sets up Terry Gross’ next question on “Fresh Air). If you want to do a proper JFK impersonation, you have to employ the “Er…uh…” combo (or at least a decent Mayor Quimby).

“You know…” is semi-understandable. It is probably short for “Do you know what I mean?” It is almost like an insecure person wanting to know if you are following along with what they are saying…you know? I used to listen to a sports talk show in Dallas where they would take sound bites of athletes and count the “you knows…” then they would divide that number by the length of the sound bite. There would be extra points awarded for the double “you know…” and the elusive triple. However, I notice that “you know…” is rapidly being replaced in some circles with the one word “nowhatimsayin”.

“Like” may be my most frustrating crutch to listen to. “I was all like…and then she was like…” In most cases it becomes the replacement for “I said…and then she said…” A lot of the time it serves no purpose. “Then my dad went, like, crazy after I told him about the car.”

A few years ago, I noticed a verbal pause I never noticed before, even though I’m sure I’ve used it hundreds of thousands of times: “well…” I should probably capitalize it because it almost always comes at the beginning of a sentence or a train of thought. “Well, if you want to know how to make good tamales…” “Well, I think it is about time for me to head home…” “Well” is typically used as a noun to signify, among other things, a deep pit in the earth used to reach a supply of water (or other things like oil). “Well” is also an adverb that is used to define an action done in a good, proper or successful way. (It is often improperly replaced by the adjective “good” but that’s another lesson).

How did we begin using this as a verbal crutch that begins our train of thought? I’ve even seen it in writing. It first came to my attention while reading Tony LaRussa’s memoir, One Last Strike. This book was even co-written by Baseball Hall of Fame journalist, Rick Hummel. In several places, TLR begins to explain his reasoning behind a decision by starting with, “Well…” Why wouldn’t you edit that out? What purpose does it serve (other than perhaps to convey the sense that LaRussa is having a conversation with you). I read a blog post by an academic who started a thought with, “Well…” I’ve even received text messages that began with “Well…”

I have become self-conscious about my use of “well”. But I still catch myself starting a discussion with it. Where did this come from? What are we trying to convey? As someone who had to write a lot over my academic career, I try to eliminate unnecessary words.

Where did this come from? Is there a “well”, so to speak, from which this all sprang? It is my goal to help you think this through, to think “well” on this subject. Perhaps it could be the beginning of a movement to eliminate one unnecessary verbal crutch. If we could do that, it would be s’well.