Decompressing from Politics, Storming the Capitol Building, and the Church in America

Does anyone think the “QAnon shaman” is really representative of Christians?

Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Creative Commons License

I think many Americans have been trying to decompress from the events that took place on January 6th. The long, tense build up to the electoral college vote count, the persistent claims of fraud and a stolen election, the rally and then the sudden alarm of people storming the Capitol Building are being replayed now in the impeachment hearing.

Legal retribution is grinding forward. The Biden/Harris duo were confirmed, took over the White House and issued a flurry of executive orders, but we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The ripple effect of the events that preceded the inauguration seethe and heave under the surface.

A majority of Americans condemn the outburst of misplaced patriotism that spilled into the Capitol Building and onto the congressional chamber floor. Most were horrified by it. It looks even worse in retrospect.

I recently heard someone emphasize that Trump lost by 7M votes. That seems like a hefty number, but consider that almost 75M people voted for him. Almost half the country voted for Donald Trump.

How do we move forward? How does the church move forward? (Divided as it, not much unlike the unchurched)

Our human penchant for sweeping generalization in times like these miss the nuance and complexity that fill out the truth. I think about these things as I listen to an interview of Sarah Posner on the podcast, Sacred & Profane, titled Render Unto Q.

Posner wrote the book, Unholy, WHY WHITE EVANGELICALS WORSHIP AT THE ALTAR OF DONALD TRUMP. She speaks in the interview about the New Right, Moral Majority and New Apostolic Reformation as precursors from the 1970’s and 80’s to what she calls “worship at the altar of Donald Trump” today.

I was involved in the New Apostolic Reformation during that time period, though we didn’t have a label for it. I remember the influence of politically minded religious leaders and religiously minded political leaders during those times.

I am now an outsider to the New Apostolic movement, but I was once an insider. I have friends who are still actively involved in current iterations. As I listen to the interview, many of the things Posner says ring true, but I can bring a little nuance into the dialogue from my own experience.

Sarah Posner has studied these things closely, and is somewhat a subject matter expert on the involvement of evangelicals in politics. She has a far more nuanced understanding than most people, so her comments bear some consideration. I will summarize some of Posner’s observations and add my own, especially where I can add some clarity from my own experience.

Part of the problem with critiques of what happened on January 6th is trying to understand the strange mixture of forces that came together in the event of storming the Capitol. They have long been stewing together in weird kettle of different fish.

As with any stew, the individual ingredients take on a singular flavor, given time, and this stew has been marinating for quite a while. To the extent the church is close enough to this stew to take on its flavor is concerning.

Continue reading “Decompressing from Politics, Storming the Capitol Building, and the Church in America”

Martyrs, Satan, Nuclear Bombs and Holding on for a New Normal

We need a new normal and new perspectives.

As I think about the events of this week (and of the past four plus years) and read through social media comments, I am thinking about things that have been percolating in my mind and heart for some time. I will try to lay them out in this blog article by borrowing some quotations from my social media feed with some hope I can tie them together and make some sense of it.

I write this thinking about neighbors and people I have spent time with, shared a drink or meal with, laughed with, worked with and done some aspect of life with who don’t think or vote exactly as I do. Some of them voted for Trump; some would never vote for Trump.

I may find it hard to synthesize all of these points as I let my social media feed direct my steps, but here goes.

Continue reading “Martyrs, Satan, Nuclear Bombs and Holding on for a New Normal”

A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle

The political and social atmosphere in America is playing into the hands of the radical fringe.

The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.

Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.

I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.

They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.

We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.

Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.

The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.

The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.

I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.

The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.

We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.

Continue reading “A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle”

How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?

If we have to ignore Scripture and the character God desires to work in us, we are moving in the wrong direction!

I come back to this with a heavy sigh. I started it yesterday as the news unfolded of people breaching the Capitol building as the Trump rally changed gears. I know there were people there peacefully gathering, but a good many of them crossed the line.

As I watched the events unfold, I struggled to find some solid ground to stand on as I see people who call themselves Christians continue to support Trump regardless of what he says and does. At best, he sent mixed messages that were ambiguous enough to encourage what happened. At worst he incited insurrection, and stood by watching it happen, saying nothing until it was too late. Even then, it was a poor excuse for what he should have said.

The thing that troubles me most as I think about these things is the way Christians who support Trump and this “resistance” at at all costs ignore Scripture that is inconvenient. Paul defined the way followers of Jesus Christ should act regarding authority:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Romans 13:1-2

Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build his church, said the same thing:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him….”

1 Peter 2:13-14

If anyone thinks insurrection is justified because Democrats are “bad” today, consider that Peter and Paul said these things at a time when their world was ruled by Nero.

Nero was a bad leader, even by pagan, Roman standards. He considered himself God. He persecuted Christians and had them publicly killed, setting them on fire at night to light the City. Peter and Paul were both martyred under the rule of Nero.

Democrats are not nearly as bad as Nero. Peter’s and Paul’s words were spoken at a time much worse than the political squabbling today. We can’t justify resisting authority because Democrats are bad – not when we consider the context in which Peter and Paul told believers to respect governing authorities!

At the same time, I am aware that people may justify their resistance on other grounds. Peter, himself, resisted the governing authority in the Book of Acts. Peter and John were arrested for preaching. (Acts 4:2-3) They were commanded not to preach about Jesus, but Peter and John refused to comply, saying,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

Acts 4:19

They were arrested again for refusing to remain quiet. (Acts 5:20) Again, they were commanded not to speak. Again, they responded, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:19) This time they were flogged and let go.

So which is it? Submit to authorities? Or boldly rebel?

It seems like a conundrum. Do we get to take our Pick?

Maybe those are not the right questions to ask. Maybe we need to be more careful to weigh the words of Peter and Paul together with their actions and divide the Word of God more accurately.

Continue reading “How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?”

Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything….

I wrote a piece on the Sons of Issachar recently. They are referenced in 1 Chronicles 12:32. The Sons of Issachar were 200 chiefs of the descendents of Issachar who joined David with a multitude from the other tribes of Israel when David was hiding from Saul who sought to kill David.

Saul had fallen from being Israel’s first king, which the people demanded, and God gave them, despite the fact that they were rejecting God as their king in the process. Saul got caught up in his own power and position. Saul was beginning to lose touch with reality, developing jealousy toward David and suspected David was out to get him. Thus, he sought to kill David.

God, in turn, was about to reject Saul as king because he ceased to listen and follow God’s instruction given through the prophet, Samuel. God, of course, favored David because he was a man after God’s own heart.

David, for his part, loved and honored Saul who God had made king. David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused to do it, leaving Saul’s fate (and his own fate) completely in God’s hands.

Still, men from every tribe of Israel began to gather where David was hiding, including men from Saul’s own tribe (Benjamin), who were some of the first men to join David. The 200 chiefs of the Sons of Issachar, too, joined David, and Scripture says of them, specifically, that they were man “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do”.

That phrase has been invoked by people who style themselves modern prophets who support the presidency of Donald Trump. They claim, of course, that they are men who understand the times. They claim to know what the United States should do, particularly in regard to Donald Trump.

I don’t dismiss what they say out of hand. God has spoken at various times through people who were considered prophets. One of the hallmarks of “the last days” is prophecy, visions and dreams. Peter announced the last days were starting when he stood up on the Day of Pentecost and quoted the prophet, Joel:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18 (quoting Joel 2:28-32)

Though some people believe that these displays of God’s power and authority were only for a dispensation in time, long enough for the Holy Spirit to lead the disciples into the truth and preserve it in what we now call the New Testament, I don’t see evidence of that in the New Testament Scripture itself. I think we should expect God to be able to work through people today through prophecy, visions and dreams, and I believe He does!

We, in the west, are not very open to God working that way. We have staked out our position on the embankment of reason, logic, theology and sound doctrine. We are quite uncomfortable with the “messiness” of experiential phenomena like prophecy, visions and dreams.

Yet, outside our western sanctuaries and cloistered halls of learning, these phenomena are regular experiences of Christian life. People who have done short term or long term missions often encounter these phenomena in places where people are not presumptively skeptical of what God can do.

Visions and dreams are ubiquitous in the stories of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. I once spoke with a Muslim woman who described for me a vision of Jesus coming to her in the midst of a near death experience she lived through and a subsequent “waking vision” of Jesus gaining her attention in the nick of time to save her son from being hit by a bus. She became a believer in Jesus because of these visions though no one preached a word to her.

Her supernatural visions, though didn’t lead her to a place of sound understanding of God and His word. They caused her to believe in God and Jesus, but she gravitated toward extremes in biblical understanding.

I think it is a mistake to dismiss out of hand the prophecies, visions and dreams that people claim to have today, but we also need to be careful. Paul admonished the Thessalonians, “Do not despise prophecies…!” (1 Thess. 5:20) But he added an important qualifier:

“…. but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

1 Thess. 5:20-21 (emphasis added)
Continue reading “Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times”