Thursday, September 17, 2015

Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values? A Response to Russell Moore

As a Southern Baptist, I try to keep up with the happenings going on within our convention. I am especially interested when national media features an interview or article from one of our leaders. I was not surprised to see Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, publish an op-ed piece in the New York Times following the Republican presidential debate that took place last night.

Dr. Moore rightly takes Evangelicals and social conservatives to task for seemingly abandoning their stated values and supporting Donald Trump. Moore wisely says, “There’s no religious test for office, and there shouldn’t be. My Baptist ancestors were willing to make alliances with the heretical Thomas Jefferson because he believed in religious liberty. It didn’t matter that they never would have let him teach Sunday school.”[i]

I think maybe Dr. Moore misses the point. People, including some misguided evangelicals and social conservatives, are not supporting Trump because of his rhetoric. A few seem to be supporting him because they agree, that:

a) With huge amounts of money in national politics, a great many people believe politicians are corrupt. Trump does in fact have the resources to run a self-funded race without even the perception of being in the pocket of large donors. Average people care about that.

b) A great many people simply cannot understand why neither political party addresses illegal immigration. In the minds of many, laws have been broken and yet nothing is done. Average people care about that.

c) There is no disputing that American military veterans are poorly cared for once they leave active duty. This is yet another problem that has persisted under administrations of both political parties. Average people care about that.

d) Trump knows his life has unfolded in the public eye and is not trying to hide his past from prying eyes. Whether true or not, there is a sense of "what you see is what you get" with Trump that the other candidates have not yet replicated (perhaps with the exception of Carson and Fiorina). Average people care about that.

Evangelicals have thrown their support behind candidate after candidate who have disappointed once in office. The perception that career politicians say one thing on the campaign trail and govern differently once in office, true or not, has incited anger in the electorate and frankly folks are fed up. Though Moore is absolutely correct philosophically and biblically, chastising Evangelicals for their disgust with the current state of politics will not change hearts and minds.

Most Evangelicals I have spoken with do not consider Trump to be a serious candidate for president. However, those same folks are pleased that someone, even a man like Trump, has establishment politicians on their heels. Trump has forced this wide field of candidates to sharpen their message and address areas of policy that likely would not have been discussed without his presence in the race and to do so much earlier in this election cycle.

Like many others, I expect Trump’s campaign to fade as more and more voters begin to pay attention to this election cycle and the field of candidates inevitably narrows. I have found very few Evangelicals who consider Trump their first, second, or even third choice so I doubt strongly they will support him in the primaries next year when they actually step into the voting booth to cast their ballot. Could it be those so-called Evangelicals and social conservatives of which Dr. Moore speaks are anything but what those terms imply? Perhaps, but Dr. Moore is certainly in a better position than I am to make such a judgment. 

A word of warning: if Trump is polling at 25-30% support come February, look out. If America can elect Barak Obama twice to the highest office in the land, it can certainly elect Donald Trump, maybe twice.

[i]The New York Times. Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values? Accessed September 17, 2015.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders Visits Liberty University

Some of my newer friends may not know I am a graduate of Liberty University (MRE 2012 / Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) so when I comment on the happenings there, it is through the biased lens of a proud alumnus. So, having said that, there are a number of things that strike me about Sen. Sanders' visit, the first of which is how surprised nearly all of the media reports have been with the polite reception the Senator from Vermont received. To his point, he was treated like our students would want to be treated themselves. The fact that he was received in a positive way speaks volumes about the culture of LU. It also says a great deal about other schools who have treated conservatives in quite the opposite way in recent years, canceling appearances rather than actually provide an opposing view to better inform their student bodies.

The second thing that jumps out at me is the notion that such an appearance is rare. It is not as common as Falwell and other administrators would like but that is not the fault of the school. Many liberal politicians and thought leaders have been and continue to be invited to LU but few accept. That says a lot more about those who decline to speak than it does about LU.

The third thing that strikes me is a quote from Sanders after his speech. “That’s the main point I was trying to make, that morality is more than just your view on abortions or gay rights,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview after the event. [i] Morality is absolutely more than just the view on abortion or gay rights but is never less. Any discussion about morality will eventually bear this out as evidenced by Sanders' own comment that immediately followed. “Moral issues are also hungry children.”

The students themselves probably spoke best about the event though Falwell made a couple of good points too. “Calling on us to help the neediest, that resonates with me as a Christian,” said Quincy Thompson, the student body president, who had a chance to briefly meet Mr. Sanders after the event. “But as a Christian, I think the responsibility to help them falls to the church, not the government.”

Others could not look past differences on social issues. “How can he be for family values but also for abortion?” said Adam Ochs, a sophomore political science major from California.

“I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview after the event, making the case that he thought working toward a limited government and lowering taxes would “create the tide that rises all ships.” But he still found areas on which he agreed with Mr. Sanders.

“We have the same goals, helping people in need, we just have different philosophies on how to get there,” he said.

And there's the rub in our politics that seems to have been lost folks. More often than not, we do indeed have the same goals but very, very different ideas about how to get there.

[i] Quotes from Sanders, Falwell, and LU students are taken from the New York Times article discussing his visit to the campus.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Never Forget

Each year on the anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I am overtaken by a flood of emotions. Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, blah blah didn't matter.  So many people I know had some sort of connection to the attacks and a nation came together and mourned.  A number of things about that day come immediately to mind:

1) As I stood in the small cafe in the office park where I worked at the time and watched the second plane slammed into Tower 2, it became immediately clear that this was an intentional act and life as an American would never be the same. Fourteen years later, our nation has implemented controversial security measures that have prevented another attack yet I can't help but wonder at what cost. Our federal government now collects heretofore-unimaginable amounts of data about average citizens just living their lives. Police departments around the country more closely resemble the military unit I was in as a US Marine in the 1980s'. Closer to home, a couple of weeks ago when I attended a high school football game, an armed deputy sheriff stood at the gate with his hand resting all-too comfortably on the handle of his gun. It is sad that one of the results of these terror attacks is the perception of a police state in which we now seem to live. Did the terrorists win after all?

2) I wondered at the time what kind of world my son would inherit from our generation. He was only a few months old at the time and my daughter wasn't even born yet. I wondered what they would think about our handling of these attacks, later threats, and how the United States would present itself on the world stage.  With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, what might they do differently as the torch of leadership is passed to them in the coming years. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, none of the above: will they understand that collectively as a nation we elected the people we thought at the time would best represent us and that in spite of the deep differences in worldview, we genuinely did the best we could at the time?

3) America showed up for church in the weeks that followed in numbers not seen in over a generation. So many people turned to God and filled the pews of our churches. In some instances, they were comforted by messages intended to reflect patriotism telling them that our nation was strong and would endure this challenge. Many, too many, heard a lot more about nationalism and not nearly enough about the risen Christ.  America showed up for church and a lot of churches failed those people by pointing them towards Christ only in passing, as an afterthought.  Those lost souls deserved better. I am grateful that God placed me in this world, in this nation, at this point in history BUT that is secondary to my love of Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross at Calvary. We should have made much more of Jesus and not so much of the United States. America showed up at church; a lot of churches let her down. I wonder how different our nation might be if thousands of those people had accepted the gospel?

God has blessed my wife and I with two amazing kids who are growing up to be wonderful young adults who love the Lord. We live in a wonderful community with other families who, like us, just want to raise their kids, enjoy their grandkids, and live peaceful, quiet lives. I pray often for the families who lost loved one in the attacks. I pray often for the families who lost first responders who died trying to save others simply because that was their job. I pray often for the leaders of our nation that they might seek God Almighty as a key part of their decision-making process. I pray often for our churches that they may have a heart for our communities, our nation, and the world, even places where many would wish us harm. I pray often that God would help me to stay close to him and keep me clean.

I will never forget what happened fourteen years ago this morning. Honestly, I don’t think I can.