Don’t Just Read, Interpret! 

“Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up, he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: ‘Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to really live.’ For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, ‘They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole world.’ Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.’ For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, ‘If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that “he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t do much as stub your toe on a stone”?’ ‘Yes,’ said Jesus, ‘and it’s also written, “Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.”‘ That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.”                                           Luke 4:1-13 (The Message)

Familiarity is often one of the greatest enemies to faith. It has a habit of lulling folks into a spiritual innocuation that all but dismantles any need for faith, in the name of “I know that!” Like those folks who can ace a test, but have no actual grasp of the course content, faith-based familiarity can leave one with a tragically false sense of intimacy with the Divine.  I myself have been a Christian since 1999, and have a B.A. in Christian Studies, and an M.Div with a concentration in Apologetics, so that familiarity sticks to me like tar and feathers. And it’s usually not until life happens that I (once again) come to the realization that I lack the convictions of my courage. 

The wilderness temptation of Jesus is one of those things that suffers from that familiarity. The passage was one of the readings in my morning prayers recently. I almost didn’t even read it because I already knew what happened. “Yeah, yeah. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists. Got it!”

You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin just keeps walking around the house, “I made my family disappear,” and then he stops: “I made my family disappear!”?  I had that moment with this passage. “Satan tempted Jesus using Scripture…Satan tempted Jesus using Scripture!!!” 

This made me think: If Satan tempted Jesus himself with Scripture, why do we not think of this when listening to preachers, teachers, and politicians? It’s like certain Christians don’t even want to try to engage the Scriptures prayerfully. All that matters is that one merely quote the Bible. 

Jesus shows here that merely quoting the Bible does not mean that what is being proposed is godly. (Oddly enough, I had always been warned that “even Satan knows the Bible! So be on your guard!” But those same folks seem to fall for anything when it has been sprinkled with Christianisms.) Notice that Satan quoted Scripture, but Jesus interpreted it. Satan wanted Jesus to focus on a line or two taken out of context, like a bumper sticker. Jesus brought attention to other parts of Scripture that needed to be taken into account. And this begs the question, If Jesus interprets Scripture, shouldn’t we?

Now, I know that hearing that word brings much fear and trepidation to some. “You mean I have to become master of interpretation??? That’s hard!” But if I may counter that, we are masters of interpretation for matters far less important. We learn not to take things at face value for the silliest things. “That speed limit sign says 65, but I’m allowed to go up to four miles over.” “My friend said ________, but what they meant was _______.” “That’s his game face. He’s actually quite humble off the field.” We learn to interpret other things, why not the Scriptures? Why do we turn our interpretive skills off when it comes to someone quoting the Bible? Is it because we think it means more than it does? 

Jesus himself, in a dialogue with a lawyer (an expert in the Mosaic Law), asked, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you read it?” In other words, based on all you know of Scripture, how do you make sense of this part here? 

A good way to think about it is to consider book series. Think of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Outlander, or Game of Thrones. You can read any one book in those series, and follow along well enough. But unless you read the previous books, or the books that follow, you will be left in the dark. If you stopped reading Harry Potter at Half Blood Prince, for example, Snape is the worst kind of traitor. But if you read on, you know that he is a great hero. 

Certain literary characters are complicated, and are developed over time. And unless you consider the fully developed character, you will not see them as they are. The same is true with Scripture. 

Jesus showed Satan (and us) that merely quoting a passage did not make the temptation godly. In a world of competing ideologies, and swirling notions of what it means to be biblical, we need to do the same. 

Embracing Our Enemies

“You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”             Matthew 5:9 (The Message)

“As the morning casts off the darkness, Lord, help us to cast aside any feelings of ill will we might harbor against those who have hurt us. Soften our hearts to work toward their conversion and ours. Amen.”                                             (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Making Peace is Frickin Hard!

Peacemaking is not the easiest of tasks. It involves taking two sides (maybe more) who are estranged, and making it so reconciliation can take place. It is not, as Miroslov Volf points out in his book Exclusion and Embrace, merely moving the oppressed out from under their oppressor, and exacting justice on those oppressors. This, he warns, very often leads to the oppressed becoming oppressors themselves, which means that oppression has been allowed to continue, just in a different name. Such “peacemaking” is better understood as retaliation. “They did it to us, so we will do it to them.” This is also called warfare. 

Volf, being Croatian, does not write about reconciliation and peacemaking from inside a bubble, as I would. I can point to history books, and documentaries, all while living comfortably in my little rural town in North Carolina. Volf saw his country torn apart by civil war. He saw two sides gather in the name of God, and pillage, rape, and kill each other with genocidal viger. The things I saw on tv as a teenager, happened in his backyard, so to speak. So whenever he speaks about reconciling enemies, he doesn’t mean two sides that just don’t get along,  he means enemies. 

Enemies Are Relative

Of course, if we’re talking about peacemaking and embracing our enemies, it’s helpful to know who our enemies are. I’d also venture that it’s helpful to know if they are an actual enemy, or nothing more than a perceived enemy. For instance, in my younger, more brash days, any Christian who didn’t share my specific beliefs — within an undefined perameter, mind you — I considered a heretic! (Sorry, Rob Bell.) To borrow from On Distant Shores by Five Iron Frenzy, “And off of the blocks, I was headstrong and proud. At the front of the line of the card carrying high brows. With both eyes fastened tight, yet unscarred from the fight. Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt…Casting first stones, killing my own.” 

But  if experience is any kind of teacher, I’ve come to find that “enemy” is a relative term. (Once again, if that enemy is an actual enemy.) We don’t get to choose our enemies. Nor do we know if and when we’ve met one. But they are relative nonetheless. For some, an enemy is someone who simply makes life a little more challenging. These enemies don’t pose a threat to anyone; however, they are just harder to love than most. And frustratingly, folks who have these types of enemies, are the ones who just love to quote Jesus at people. “Well Brother, I hate that that’s happening, but Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies.” (Yeah, easy for you, buddy. The only thing you’re dealing with is hiding your frustration. Meanwhile, I was just abused by my pastor.) I remember posting a status about this once, and a missionary buddy of mine commented, “Yeah, while some people are dealing with bruised egos, I walk passed corrupt local police who are dressed like soldiers, complete with automatic weapons. Loving them is not simple.” 

Thankfully, there are people throughout history who have endured far more than said bruised egos. Volf, as I mentioned above, if not personally, saw it in his countrymen. Likewise, there is Corrie ten Boom, who was a Holocaust survivor. She once said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” And lest it be said that that was easy for her to say post concentration camp, she once told a story of meeting one of the officers responsible for her daily nightmares, years later, and with much internal struggle, still managed to forgive. 

Why Say All This?

What’s the point? Well isn’t it obvious?!? Particularly in the United States, we are living in a time of absolute lunacy. Forgiveness is a foreign language, and at this point, may even be banned as a threat to the country! But forgive we must! Especially if you claim the Name of the Divine Interupter, who forgave and gave his life for the very people who unjustly arrested and murdered him. On a Roman cross no less! 

We are living in a time when all one has to do is say one criticism of their opponent, and that opponent flies off the comment section handle, and projects every form of vitriol they can conjur. Conservatives are more guilty of this than liberals these days; but liberals, you’re guilty all the same. 

The Big Idea of Forgiveness

Whether we are conservative or liberal, climate deniers or protectors, Christian or Muslim, we are all human. We are interdependent of one another. Conservatives don’t have all the answers. Liberals don’t have all the answers. Christians (being one myself I can say with utmost certainty) don’t have all the answers. And Muslims are tired of being blamed for every little bump in the night. 

Conservatives, you don’t get to call every opponent a liberal snowflake just because they challenged your thinking. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work with liberals to make this world better. 

Liberals, you don’t get to write off all conservatives as brainless morons because they deny climate change. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work together. 

There really are bigger, badder, more wicked threats out there than bruised egos. And while we’re busy calling each other names on social media (yes, I do it too!), those threats are rolling on. People’s rights are being stolen for no other reason than their sexual orientation, or that their skin color is different than their lawmakers’ (here’s looking at you North Carolina General Assembly!) 

There is a scene in the Outlander Series where Jamie Fraser, who earlier on had been brutalized by his enemy Black Jack Randall, and as he (Jamie) is helping his own daughter forgive her enemy, he comes to his own realization, Black Jack is only a man. Yes, he did terrible, terrible things. But he was only a mortal man. Not only that, but forgiveness is not a one time event, but rather many events over time. 

Whoever your enemy is, no matter what they’ve done, they are only mortal. Life is worth far more than spending it hunkered down in bitter hatred because someone doesn’t agree with you. 

Forgive as if humanity depended on it. 

More to come on this very difficult subject later.

Engaging Without Becoming: A Christian Perspective on Politics

One thing that I’ve noticed in my recent posts is the amount of political content in them. Which is actually really funny to me, because I’ve never actually considered myself a political person. Sure, I would cast my vote, and would hope for my candidate to win. But after the election, I would do what I’m sure most do after an election, “Now that that is over with, let’s get back to regular life.” I would disengage until the next election. 

But one thing that I’ve noticed, looking back, is that I was either a single-issue voter, or I would blindly trust that my candidate of choice would do what they said, even if I was completely ignorant of what they said. So, for example, I wasn’t old enough to vote in the 2000 Election, but I wanted Ole Dubya to win because 1) he was a Christian and 2) he was a pro-life candidate. So when he took office, I paid attention long enough to see him take measures against abortion, and then I just thanked God for a Christian in the White House. Literally the only other things I can say Bush did during his Presidency were start the War on Terror, invade both Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11; fall woefully short in humanitarian aid in the aftermath of Katrina; and build several hundred miles of fence on the Mexican boarder. I can’t tell you a single policy plan, promised or accomplished. 

Due to the fact that so many of my pastors and Christian leaders taught me that the GOP is “God’s Party,” I took this same blind devotion into the ’08 election, despite thinking that John McCain was not really what I was looking for in a candidate. Obviously, Obama won that election. And once again, I paid attention long enough to see him take his own actions with abortion (I use that term very loosely, because I’ve started to learn that saying that being pro-choice means that you’re pro-abortion is to completely oversimplify what it means to be pro-choice), and then I waited for the next election, as usual. But by the time 2012 came around, I had completely disengaged with politics altogether. After all, both parties still take my money, and use it for things that I’ll never condone. 

And then, as I’ve said, the 2016 Election and Donald Trump happened. It still doesn’t seem real! Like at this point, with all that’s gone on, I keep expecting him to say, “This was all just one big prank, folks. Come on out Ashton Kutcher, and tell America they’ve been punked, so we can elect someone who is actually qualified for the job! Electing me is a DISASTER for this country. Very bad hombres voted for me. And they mean for bad things to happen. And they use the bad finger. And they use bad words. And that’s bigly bad. But before I go, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, you’re fired!”  And then our educational system would then set about teaching people logic and reason, and how to do research and fact check. And we would see a reawakening of what our system of government was designed for. And American Utopia would be achieved!

But my political engagement actually started a little before that, with the passing of HB 2 here in North Carolina. What got me engaged was not the politics of it, but the morality of it! Christians (both local and celebrity) came out and said that HB 2 was honorable before God, because God calls homosexuality a sin, and we don’t want men pretending to be transgender so they can sexually assault women and children in public restrooms. It was “common sense.” So I began to speak up, Facebook style! Because, like being pro-choice, being transgender is not “common sense.” Common sense is what you would call catching on fire next to a lake, and jumping in the lake instead of calling the fire department to put you out. To be transgender is a very complex thing. To be transgender does not mean that a man or woman is gay. It means that a man or woman identifies themselves as a woman or a man. (And even that is to oversimplify it!) And to say that this bill was good and right because God says homosexuality is a sin, is to refuse to understand what it means to be transgender. 

Sadly, many Christian friends only focused on the transgender language of the bill, and not its implications. Not only did this bill allow for businesses to descrimate against the transgender community, it also made the transgender community a scapegoat for sexual assault! What was particularly frustrating about this, is that it took me all of 3 minutes to look up the statistics and myths of sexual assault. Myth #1 is that sexual assault is a crime of opportunity, and that it happens in everyday settings “where the people are.” When in fact, according to the CDC, most victims knew their perpetrator (51% reporting that they had a close relationship with that person, 41% reporting that they were at least acquainted, and 12% were family), and the assault took place in a familiar location (the home of either the victim or the perpetrator). In other words, the scary thing about those who commit sexual assault is that they usually know their victim, and they want privacy while they commit their crime. What this means in the case against HB 2, is that a man dressing up as a woman brings uneccessary attention to a would be perp, and a public bathroom provides too much risk of being caught. So the argument that this bill protected women and children against would be rapists and molesters falls flat when compared to the actual data available. Adding to that, the legislators who spearheaded this bill did not provide any evidence to justify their claim, and Governor Pat McCrory always dodged questions pertaining to this lack. This would suggest that it’s a fair assumption that they knew they didn’t have the numbers, and were banking on blind evangelical allegiance to keep this bill in place. 

So what does all that have to do with engaging in politics? Quite a lot, actually! Because like I said before, I have friends and family who ask me with bewilderment, “Shouldn’t we stand with God? Shouldn’t we call sin a sin, as he does? And if our culture embraces sin, shouldn’t we go against the tide?” Yeah! Emphatically so. But here’s the catch: If your stance for Jesus causes you to break the second greatest commandment, then you are also breaking the first; therefore, you are not actually standing for Jesus, like you think you are. Lest we forget, Romans 2 points out that if our actions don’t match our words, we are actually driving people away from Jesus, not toward him. 

Like, I’ve never had someone tell me, “Dude, you know what really made me want to follow Jesus? Being berated by Christians about my vice. I knew what I was doing was wrong, and I was on the fence about Jesus, and the deciding factor was when Christians came in and treated me like a third class citizen.” But this seems to be the common habit amongst certain Christians. It’s like they get this idea that legislation is the greatest form of evangelism. “If we can prevent people from doing _____, they will honor Jesus.” Meanwhile, all I can think is, “So let me get this straight: God himself can’t make people obey his commands, but a hypocritical politician will? And by stripping people of civil rights, at that!” Can you imagine a police check point with that kind of mentality? “Lisence, registration, and proof of insurance and heterosexuality, please.” 

But to get back to my main point, how should Christians engage with politics? Because, as Gabe Lyons points out in his book unChristian, a popular perception of Christians is that we are overly political. We don’t just engage in politics, we demand that a whole nation abide by our rules, because they’re “God’s rules.” Which is why we see certain movements like The Moral Majority in the 80s and 90s. And one group that I’m most familiar with claims, “We must occupy until he comes.” This particular group is a fun one, because it takes a single phrase from the KJV translation of the parable of the talents, and applies it to political involvement. So they take a parable that already comes with its share of interpretive struggles, and then take a single phrase from an outdated translation, and make it mean that they must create a Christian Theocratic State. (Aren’t Scriptural Gymnastics fun?!?!)

But on the other hand, pastor and author Mark Driscoll points out in his book Death by Love, that one of the ways God  uses the crucifixion to redeem the world, is through the good works and service of Christians in the world. Jesus redeems the Christian, who in turn goes about making the world a better place. 

Pastor and author Tim Keller provides a great answer to this. Some religions, he points out, have a high view of politics, and use it to enforce their religious laws. One example of this can be seen in the Islamic States in the Middle East. Another one would be England in the years following the Reformation. But you can look to history to see that this does not work out too well for opposing parties. To use England as an example, when a catholic monarch ruled, things went really well for Catholics, but really bad for Protestants. Likewise, whenever a Protestant monarch ruled, things went really bad for Catholics, and in certain cases, for certain denominations as well. Political activity wreaked havoc. 

But then, as Keller points out, there are those religions that completely disengage from politics. But what ends up happening with these groups, is that the political machine grows more and more powerful, and runs amuck. Eventually, even these religions become victims of the state. 

But Christians have this very precarious balance between those two. We don’t completely disengage from politics, and leave room for wicked rulers to come in, and enforce oppressive laws. But we also don’t want to rule in the name of our faith, and thus oppress in the name of Jesus. Instead, Christians are to be engaged in politics, without becoming political. Because morality and social justice are non-partisan. It’s not a political strategy to do good for all people, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, or socioeconomic status. It’s common sense. 

Right now, in my experience, Christians are easy targets for politicians. Just say the right words, take the right position, and you’ve bought them hook, line, and sinker. This is what we saw with Donald Trump. The man is a moral nightmare, but James Dobson and Franklin Graham, because they have so limited their scope of faith, excused everything he said and did because he was “a baby Christian.” 

But imagine if Christians were the hardest to appease! I long for the day when I hear a politician say, “Ya know, we try to reach these Christians, but they always surprise us. They want to end abortion as birth control, but instead of just making it illegal, like we used to talk about, they want us to provide better healthcare for women, and other services for unplanned pregnancies. They want it so that pregnant women are so cared for, that abortion isn’t even an option. These guys fight crime, by making society a better place, so that people don’t want or need to turn to crime in the first place! Do you remember when all we would need to do is say, ‘I’m a Christian, I’m pro-life, and I’m pro-traditional marriage?’ Why can’t it be that easy again?”

Anybody else with me?

Protest

Protest:          

 (Noun) A statement or action expressing disapproval of or  objection to something.               

(Verb) Express an objection to what someone has said or done. 

If you’re like me, ever since November 9, 2016, your Facebook newsfeed has been filled with images and articles about protestors. Being that I’m friends with both sides of the aisle, I see posts that both praise and condemn these protests. The ones that make me laugh the most, are the videos of dudes with a certain shade of neck, sitting in the driver’s seat of their vehicle, screaming about how these pitiful little millennials are so sensitive that they can’t handle the outcome of the election.

( I’m not even kidding. They are literally the exact same video, just with a different “driver.” A white guy wearing sunglasses, says a few things nice and calm, then gets right up in the camera, and screams out his opinion. Then he says a few more things calmly, and then goes right back to screaming into the camera. Like seriously dude, I think you need a Xanax or 20!) 

Given that these anti-protest posts have become so commonplace, I wanted to share a few musings. 

1. For folks who are so displeased with protestors, you sure do protest just as much as the people you condemn. By the very definition of protest, you are a protestor. You are expressing an objection to what a group is doing and saying. But I would counter that the difference is that those protestors know what they are protesting, while you only appear to protest a perception. 

2. Make sure you know what you are objecting to! I hate to make a blanket statement, but without fail, every person who is telling these protestors to stop protesting, are calling them “whining liberal millenials who can’t handle the outcome of the election.” This is simply not true. In fact, I would counter that if that is what you think of the protestors, you have not done due diligence to actually learn the truth about their message, and why they are protesting. And until you do so, you are objecting the actions of a characture that you have drawn up, and not reality. 

(To be fair, all of us can learn to communicate better, so that our message is clear. As one of my college English professors said, communicate in such a way that it is impossible to be misunderstood.)

3. Do you even know your own country’s history? America is a country founded on protest!!! What was the Boston Tea Party? Protest accompanied by strategic acts of vandalism! What was the Declaration of Independence? A written notice of protest! What was the Revelutionary War? An act of treasonous protest! If we had lost, we would probably still be subjects of the Crown, reading about the colonial uprising of 1776. What was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? A presidential protest. What was the Suffrage Movement? Protest. What was the Civil Rights Movement? Protest. Whole cities were economically crippled due to sit-ins and boycotts. How did we get a minimum wage, a two day weekend, end child labor? By protest!  As you object to protestors, you are using rights afforded you by the act of protest!!!

Let me finish with this: Vandalism is not protest. The videos you see of people smashing windows and setting cars on fire are vandals, not protestors. As Trevor Noah said, “Be careful that you don’t become what you are protesting. Protest is like sex. You can be loud, you can go all night long, but the moment something starts to burn, you should probably stop.”

So let us march on!

Jesus Of Nazareth, PA

The older I get (I’m only 33), the more I’m amazed at how things keep coming full circle. Most of us, I’m fairly certain, can say that we see it most often with fashion. Once, when I was in college, a classmate was rocking his brand new penny loafers with utmost pride, as if he had just discovered the latest and greatest in men’s footwear. And then Dr. Murray, who, being from Texas, only knew one way to address an issue – bluntly – said,  “Hey! I remember when those became popular when I was in grade school…IN THE SIXTIES!!!” I don’t think I ever saw those penny loafers again. 

(Note: For those wanting to bring back the 80s, you do you, but please, for the love of all things kind, leave the hairstyles and rock music alone. We never need to see those come full circle.) 

I became a Christian in the late nineties. And what I remember about every youth related material for churches, is that they all centered around the mantra “Let your walk match your talk.” (Ironically, the one man in my life who pounded that drum the loudest at that time, is very often a complete jerk. But I digress.) But, despite hearing that phrase every week for years, for whatever reason, one day I stopped hearing it for the next 15 years. 

And then 2016 came along, with its polarizing election. 

After the numbers were fully tallied, it was found that 80% of white evangelicals voted for The Donald (give or take a percentage or two). Either word you choose to focus on (white or Evangelical), that number is way too much support for a man who openly ran his campaign on lies, fake news articles, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. In a recent article for Christianity Today, missiologist Ed Stetzer pointed out that such a large number has potentially damaged the witness of white Christians for years to come. Both Stetzer and philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins have each pointed out that, while this number is staggering and heartbreaking, it is important to remember that not every white evangelical voted for him because of his hateful rhetoric. Some voted because they thought they were choosing the lesser of two evils (better a man who says bad things, than a woman who does bad things). Others voted out of desperation, because they felt left behind by Democrats. Still others, because they were hoping he would make good on his promise to select pro-life judges for the Supreme Court. Both Stetzer and Rollins cautioned against treating every Trump supporter the same. (Rollins himself, living in Northern Ireland, had just experienced the fallout of Brexit.) This was also a similar message that Martin Luther King had in his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he warned people of color not to treat all white people as racist, because some of them were actually in the trenches with them. 

I do not want to paint all 80% with the brush of hate. But, Christians in general, and that 80% specifically must  do some genuine soul searching. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love all people. And yet, we elected a man who wants to discriminate against certain people groups. 

As Christians, we claim that God loves all people, regardless of whether they love him back. And yet, we elected a man who promised success only for Christians. 

As Christians, we claim to love the truth, and hate dishonesty. And yet, we elected a man who, according to Politifact, lied 75% of the time, from the moment he stepped off that escalator, to his victory speech. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love the least of these. And yet, we elected a man (and a congress) who wants to strip the least of these of the basic human right of healthcare, and dump them with the weight of the nation’s tax burden. 

As Christians, we claim Jesus’ words that leaders must be humble. That to be first, we must be last. And yet, we elected a man whose whole life is a living monument to himself. 

As Christians, we claim a savior who has broken down the walls of hostility. And yet, we elected a man who wants to erect them. 

As Christians, we remember the quiet witness of Mary, the mother of Jesus. And yet, we elected a man who has a long history of treating women as objects for his own sexual gratification. 

Christians, we have so much soul searching to do as it is, given our own history. But you 80% have a major uphill battle ahead of you. For you allowed a man’s words to speak louder than his actions. 

Christian leaders, especially Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James MacDonald, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, must answer for their clear partisan politics done in the name of non-profit status. Being a baby Christian does not excuse human indecency. And you must consider the implications of your choices. 

We must allow that old mantra to come full circle, especially if we are going to claim any faith in a God who wants to draw all people to himself. 

I conclude with the words of a new song. 

I met a man from Nazareth,       who called himself Jesus.             But since he was from PA,                  I knew they weren’t the same.  Just because you claim a name, don’t mean that’s who you are. There’s a Paris, Texas.                   And an Eden, Caroline.                 I’ve spent some time in Vegas,   But never crossed Nevada lines. Just because you claim a name, don’t mean you are that one. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                    a rose is still a rose.                    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart.            Call them anything you want,    they are just what they are.    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart. 

Preacher man opened The Book,  And screamed about his God.        He looked for some souls to save, But barred them at the gate.            Just because you claim a name,     Don’t mean you represent.              There’s Benedict Arnold,                 And Judas Iscariot.                             Brutus was Caesar’s friend,               But stabbed him in the back.            Just because you claim a name,         Don’t mean you will next time. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                             These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want,              They are just what they are.                These stems, thorns, and petals,         Still warm a lover’s heart. 

Actions speak louder than words,   Or have you never heard?              You can speak in angels’ tongues,    But beat your brother numb.          Just because you claim The Name,  Don’t mean you love his world.     There’s no shortage of evil,               And wickedness abounds.                 But the worst kind of sinners,          Were born and raised in church.     Just because you claim a name,      Don’t mean you really are. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                          These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want, they are just what they are.                    These stems, thorns, and petals,       Still warm a lover’s heart. 

I met a man from Nazareth,             Who called himself Jesus.                  But since he was from PA,                 I knew they weren’t the same. 

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Dear Mr. Graham, 

I’ve watched you over the years. 

As a kid, I was first introduced to you through an interview in which you shared your life story. You shared how you cursed your father’s name and faith, and ran from God, but God saved you nonetheless. I remember the funny story you told about that one time you chopped down a tree with a machine gun. 

I watched when you stepped into your father’s role, and took over his evangelistic mission to the world. From the outside looking in, you seemed like a genuinely tenderhearted, compassionate person.

I have commended you for your work with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child, by which you bring simple Christmas gifts to children throughout the world living in poverty and pain. 

A friend of mine, whose mother was tragically killed in a car accident when he was a teenager, once told me how you and your wife essentially adopted he and his brothers, so that his father would not have to raise them all on his own. 

I was impressed by how, in television interviews, you could take any question, and turn it back to the Gospel. I mean, it’s something you’re infamous for. “Mr. Graham, do you think children should have seat belts on school busses?” “That’s a great question. I’m not really sure what the answer is. But it reminds me of a day, 2000 years ago, when Jesus told his disciples to come to him like little children…”

Which is why I find your endorsement of Donald Trump, the message of your 2016 American tour, and your recent comments about the Election on Facebook, so frustratingly odd. It’s not surprising to me that you would endorse conservative politicians over liberal ones. Being that you lean right yourself, I would have been more shocked if you had endorsed a liberal. That is neither here nor there. 

But you toured this country, making a stop in all 50 states, and preached a warning to American Christians to beware of those “godless liberals, and their atheistic progressive agenda.” Once again, I wasn’t surprised by your message. It’s one that you have become known for in recent years. 

I was very shocked by your endorsement of Donald Trump, though. It’s one thing to endorse a conservative over a liberal. That’s just politics. It’s another matter altogether when the man that you’re endorsing openly ran his campaign on racism and xenophobia. 

Mr. Trump blamed undocumented Mexican immigrants for America’s economic woes, when in fact research done by The Pew Research Center shows that they only make up 52% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country, and that that percentage has decreased during the Obama administration. I realize that 52% is a high number, but by only focusing on Mexican immigrants (and calling them criminals, rapists, and drug dealers) Mr. Trump overlooks the data that a large portion of those 11 million people came to the US with a legal work visa, and overstayed their welcome. Moreover, this research shows that these folks are less likely to commit crime, and can’t participate in our social serives, because that would run the risk of being sent back home, wherever that is! 

Mr. Trump called for a registration of all Muslims living in the US because a certain radicalized few committed acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. Would you support a Christian Registry, if ISIL called themselves a Christian group, or if those acts of terror were committed in the name of Jesus? I doubt that you would. 

Mr. Trump’s history of misogyny and sexism has been well documented, even before his campaign and the leaked tape with Billy Bush. And time does not allow me to go into his history of litigation, numerous failed business ventures, constant lies, and overall human indecency. 

But you, together with James Dobson and other leading evangelical voices, brushed all that aside, and uncharacteristically excused it, claiming that Mr. Trump was a “baby Christian.” His words and actions, and peoples’ consciences – Christians’ consciences – didn’t matter to you nearly as much as his political platform. It is as if the prospect of conservative judges on the Supreme Court, and a President that said marriage is one man, one woman, blinded you! Or worse, made strength of character obsolete. 

This thought was only amplified by your recent comments in The Charlotte Observer. It wasn’t the Russians who intervened in this year’s election, it was God. At least you admitted that you can’t substantiate your claim, and that it’s just something you believe. 

But surely you understand that if God intervened in this election, and answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people praying for this country, it stands to reason that he did the same in 2008 and 2012 with President Obama. And surely you understand that when Paul told Timothy to pray for governing officials, and when he told the Romans that all government was set in place by God, that he was referring to Roman Emperors, who were actually violently persecuting the Church. Such is the mystery of a sovereign God acting in his providence. 

Or have you forgotten the message of the Gospel upon which you and your father built your legacy? The same Gospel that calls the unrighteous to repent of their unrighteousness, calls the righteous to repent of their damnable good works. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned the religious that merely obeying the Law was deceptive, because it gave the appearance of faith, when their hearts were far from him! “Depart from me, I never knew you!”? Being a prodigal son, I would hope that this concept is not lost on you, or that you have not now become the elder brother refusing to come to the celebration. 

Though I do enjoy making fun of you, I do not condemn you. Nor do I wish you ill will. But I do condemn your one-sided Gospel, which has allowed you to demonize liberals, and idolize conservatives. 

Do good in this world; if necessary, involve the government. And if you believe in a God in Heaven, well, can you think of a more qualified helper?!? The First Century Church didn’t have a political voice, and yet they made certain laws and social practices obsolete! I envision the same for the Church in America. 

Peace be with you!

Keith Holmes

Research and Journalism 

Warning: This post is going to seem political in nature, but it’s not. I will use politics as my backdrop to illustrate a bigger idea. So it’s kinda like Friday Night Lights. The central characters may be a football coach and his players, but  football actually has very little to do with the show. 

One of the things that pissed me off the most about the 2016 Election is the fact that I actually got involved in it. 

You see, you have to understand that most of my mentors for a broad span of my life (1999-2012) taught me that being a Christian meant that I had to vote for republicans. So, shortly after coming to faith in Christ, they told me that George W. Bush was a Christian, and Christians needed to support Christian leaders. It’s important to note that I was never told anything about policy, character, or record/experience, which is what we should be focusing on. Just whether or not a candidate was prolife and anti-gay rights (Yeah, “biblical values” were also always only summed up in these two single issues.)  

So, as tends to be my M.O., when I escaped from such hypocritical bullshit, I threw the baby out with the bath water. I didn’t just give up republican politics, I gave up on ALL politics. It’s also important to note that, while I did abandon the notion that Republican = God’s Party, I had also never relinquished the idea that Democrat = Satan’s Team (I once even told an old friend, “As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a little bit liberal, you’re a whole lot sinful.”). Now that I think about it, it should’ve been  much easier to transition out of such thinking. If what they taught me about “God’s Party” was wrong, then shouldn’t it stand to reason that they also misinformed me about “Satan’s Team”? 

I was enjoying my politics-free life. Really enjoying it. Really, really enjoying it. Really! I don’t think words can express just how much I enjoyed it. I mean, I got to chuckle at my republican brethren every time they’d freak out, and everything. 

“No, dude, Kim Davis isn’t being persecuted for her faith, she’s just enduring the natural consequences of refusing to do her job, and forbidding the people of her office from doing their’s.” 

“Calm it down, Franky G! President Obama isn’t mocking God by projecting the image of the rainbow flag on the White House. It’s just a symbol of solidarity and unity. And it’s just weird that you would judge people for using a symbol that God used to say he wouldn’t judge people.” 

“No, Starbucks has not declared war on Christmas with their red cups. And calling yourself ‘Merry Christmas’ so that they’ll be forced to say it, just means you paid them to say it, which is odd, since you yourself don’t want to be forced to say ‘Happy Hoidays!’And your capitalistic contribution to their store suggests that their offense wasn’t so offensive as to curb your craving for a burnt caffeine fix.” 

I was just happier than a pig in poop. Well, okay. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it that much. But I at least got to enjoy the smug warm glow of someone freshly detached from expectation. 

Enter Election 2016, and the Gas Lighting tactics of Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump ran a campaign based on lies, bigotry, lies, xenophobia, lies, misogyny, lies, and, when necessary, more lies. Two of his main arguments were that America was not great because of all the undocumented Mexican immigrants hopping our border and bringing crime and drugs into the country, and Muslims using our “unrestrictive” immigration laws to act as Trojan Horses, and commit violence in the country. Those who know their history were reminded all too well that Hitler promised to make Germany great again by removing the “Jewish threat” to its economy, and that during WWII, America imprisoned upwards of 120,000 Japanese Americans, 62% of which were actually born and raised American citizens. Coupled with how Mr. Trump treated women (something that has been well documented even before his campaign), these things made me see this election, not as a political issue (mere republicans vs democrats), but a moral one. I asked myself how I would feel if they created a Christian Registry because of the antics of Westboro Baptist (treating the whole for the sins of the few). I picked my candidate, and the battle was on. 

Now, one of the main counter tactics of the President-elect was to gas light the media. Meaning that he would say something, they would report on it, and he would counter that they were lying about him. People in general were already suspicious of the mainstream media, where “If it bleeds, it leads.” (Russell Brand even said once, “Its not the news, it’s a list of carefully selected stories to continue to [control you].”) But Trump’s supporters went beyond mere suspicion, to accusation. Unless their source said it, or because the information they received made him look bad, the news media “had to be lying.” I heard “liberal media bias” more times than I care to remember. 

And that brings me to my big point. How can we know if what we are reading or watching in the media is true or not? Because I saw a version of this play out on my friend’s status the other day. 

This friend posted: I wonder if Trump would believe that it’s not the DNC but US intelligence agencies reporting that Russia hacked into DNC, if say, he attended his daily briefings. 

One of the comments that rolled in said, “Obama didn’t attend 90% of his while he was sitting president. Didn’t hear no one bitching then. Just sayin.” 

And I was just too curious. It’s one thing to say that President Obama didn’t attend some of his briefings, that’s just understandable. But 90%? So I asked, “Got some evidence to back such a bold claim?” 

But this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew he wouldn’t answer. In the least, due to my other experiences, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect to be told to “just google it” or “look for it on Facebook” or that “it’s common knowledge.” So I looked it up myself. And this honestly pisses me off. Because in the world of reason and debate, when you make a claim, the burden of proof is on you, not your opponent. It’s your responsibility to back up your claim with evidence, not get your opponent to do it for you. When you make a claim, you need to show that you’re not just pulling that information out of your ass, or basing it on false information. For instance, if everyone I work with says that my blanket is blue, but I say it’s brown, it’s up to me to prove it, not them. “I used to have a blue blanket, but I replaced it with a brown one.”

Nevertheless, I looked it up on my own anyway. So I commented again, “Never Mind. I found what you were talking about. President-elect Trump tweeted that Obama only attended 42% of his security briefings. This was based on a false report spread by Steve Bannon and Breitbart…Fact Checkers at The Washington Post gave this claim 3 Pinocchios. In other words, the claim is one big liar, liar, pants on fire.”

To which another commenter stated, “Oh yes, and The Washington Post is such a wonderful source of unbiased truth!” (And note, once again, this person did not give any kind of evidence for this claim. It was just supposed to be taken at face value.) 

My answer to this person is the big idea that I want to share. And it is another point of contention for me. Because I’m really not that smart. Now I don’t mean that in a self degrading way, as in “I’m an idiot.” But rather that these are not ideas that I came up with all on my own. I didn’t wake up one day, and say, “You know what? I’m going to come up with certain rules for how to argue with someone…” These are just basics. Like Isaac Newton, I’m standing on the shoulders of Giants. Because, truth be told, when it comes to the more refined rules of logic and reason – the logical cube for instance –  I get lost. In fact, I find it easier to understand the fallacies than the actual rules. But the way in which people respond to certain arguments, suggests mental laziness. I ask, “Where did you get that information?” or “Can you give me some examples of what you mean?” And the answer is “Just google it, or look for it on Facebook.” In other words, “That’ll take too much of my time, why don’t you use your time to prove my claim? Or worse, it suggests that they don’t really have concrete evidence, and everything they’ve claimed is based on hearsay. Maybe even hoping that I’ll settle for a stalemate. 

And also, this goes beyond politics. You can use the following for any kind of information seeking. I just happen to be using it in a debate about politics. 

“You bring up a great question that’s worth considering. And I mean that. Because even though we live in the Information Age, where we have all the world’s information at our fingertips (literally), the internet is still full of misinformation. (The Internet said that Russell Brand died in a snowboarding accident, which really surprised him when he read it!!!) So how do we determine if a source is acting on bias or fact? 

1. Journalism 101: Report the facts, as they are, and allow the facts to make the case. It is fact that the  president-elect tweeted that President Obama only attended 42% of his security briefings. It is fact that this number was based on the story spread by Steve Bannon’s publication. It is a fact that multiple fact checking sources have proven this allegation to be false. 

So even if you disregard the Washington Post, there are still numerous credible sources that disapprove the claim. And literally all I did was google “Did Obama miss 90% of his security briefings?”. And what came up were Breitbart articles, New York Times articles, Boston Globe articles, NBC news articles, and the Washington Post article that I quoted directly in my original answer. 

2. Research 101: Use multiple, trusted, unbiased, and when necessary, opposing sources that provide evidence for or against your case. Evidence determines the verdict, not the other way around. 

In high school, I once wrote a paper advocating for prayer in the classroom. I looked high and low, but couldn’t find any evidence to support my claim. But instead of allowing that lack of evidence to change my argument, I forced the solution into my paper, because that’s the solution I wanted. So my research paper ended up being a 4-page Op-Ed with bible references to prayer. I was lucky I only got a C.

The president-elect’s tweet was based on a single source known for its alt-right bias, and fake or misleading stories. Just recently the Weather Channel debunked Breitbart’s claim that TWC disproved climate change, stating that Breitbart “cherry picked the information they wanted to hear.” (It’s always fun when the person you quoted tells you what they really said, and how you misrepresented their findings.) 

3. Just because a person leans a particular way, does not mean that they are biased toward that way. All of us lean a certain way. We all have beliefs that determine our values, ideologies, politics, etc. I daresay that it would be impossible to make even the simplest decision without them. But our leanings do not excuse us from truth

So for instance, I am a Democrat, and I value democratic values. However that does not mean that I get to deny how shady the DNC acted toward Bernie during the primaries. Or to put it in a different way, I don’t like Donald Trump. I lean away from him. But if he gets up tomorrow and states, “The sky is blue!”, I can’t say, “Well that’s a totally biased statement!”, because he would be stating the truth. 

4. I fear that certain Trump supporters claim bias, simply because the source is a liberal, and not because they’ve actually observed bias in that source. Or worse, that bias has been redefined to mean “they report more bad stuff about my guy, than their’s.” For instance, Politico fact checked every claim made by Trump and Clinton from the moment they each began their campaign up until a week before the election. Certain folks cried foul, because Trump had something like 230 fact-checked statements, while Clinton only had 150. “Why the disproportionate number of checks?” They demanded. Simple answer: Trump made more claims. It’s hard to fact check a claim that doesn’t exist. What matters in the end is not the number of claims checked, but whether they were true or not. 

The Washington Post may have a staff full of liberals. But they are under journalistic obligstion – an ethical obligation – to report the facts as they are. Just because they write a story that points out the skeletons in Trump’s closet, does not mean they are biased against him, or lying. It just means you’ve gotta do some more research.”