The Epitome of Speechlessness: Why Christians Are Willing to Vote for Roy Moore and Those Like Him.

If you’re like me, you’ve been seeing the recent news about Roy Moore down in Alabama and wondering if you’re living in the Upside Down from Stranger Things. Seeing how evangelicals specifically are responding to this has been the epitome of speechlessness. Like seriously? “Look at Joseph and Mary”??? And then the kicker: “At least he’s not a Democrat”?!? What the what?!? As if sexual misconduct is strictly a liberal problem.

How it is that a whole group of Christians can condemn in the strongest sense the sexual misconduct of the left, but seemingly embrace it from the right? How are the actions of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, or Al Franken completely inexcusable, but those of Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ails forgivable? If you don’t know evangelicalism in the Bible Belt South, you don’t know the crisis of belief that is happening. To be sure, they don’t know they are having a crisis of belief, but they are having one nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I do not hold much hope for this group to change. But at least I can recognize the reasons for such blatant hypocrisy, because I used to be one of them. So if you are one who is on the outside looking in, wondering how these evangelicals can be so combatively unChristian, I hope these can help. Perhaps you can use these as talking points if you happen to engage in a dialogue with such folks. But, if nothing more, these points can give you a reason to have pity on them, instead of reacting with hate and vitriol or dismissiveness. You may never be able to change their mind or attitude, but you can change yours. And sometimes the most helpful way to love your enemy is to recognize how they think.

So the following points are ones that I was personally taught by my church leaders and teachers, or their favorite authors or media personalities. I am in no way saying that this is the definitive list on conservative Evangelical hypocrisy. I’m not George Barna. But they are the recurring points that I hear most often.

Christians Vote Republican

I first became a Christian in 1999, right before the 2000 Election season. I was taught by my Youth Pastor, my Sunday School teachers, and just about every Christian in my life that if I was going to call myself a Christian that I must vote Republican. (It might be worth mentioning that I was only 16 at the time!) Or in the least, I had to vote for the Christian candidate to ensure that our laws and policies would be based on the Bible. But, as the circular reasoning goes, Christians could only be Republican, so….yeah. (I remember my Youth Pastor preaching about how he believed that George W. Bush would usher in the Second Coming of Christ! “First, George W. Bush will become President. Then the Antichrist will come to power–most likely from Russia. Then Jesus will come back.” I wish I could say that I did not heartily “Amen” that.)

I literally didn’t hear any other perspective on the matter until the 2008 Election. But even then, I was able to dismiss what I heard because the source was progressive, and progressives “will compromise where they feel they must, if it means attracting more people.”

And what made the Republican Party more godly than Democrats? 1. They believe in the traditional definition of marriage. 2. They are pro-life.

That’s it.

At least with the folks I ran with, these two points were the only points worth considering when it came to determining whether a candidate was godly or not. Nothing else mattered. Not much has changed either.

There’s this story in the Gospels, where Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. And he responds by saying that all of the Law and the Prophets (a phrase that meant all of Scripture) could be summed up with just two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Basically, whatever command you were reading, it was based on the foundation of loving God, or loving people. Every command in Scripture is based on these two principles. It’s inescapable.

That was so profound, that the guy who asked the question in the first place walked away from the conversation completely dumbfounded. He didn’t like Jesus very much, but that answer sure did warrant some mad props for him.

Now, imagine if Jesus instead replied with, “All the Law and the Prophets can be summed up in these: Are you pro-life? And, do you believe in the traditional definition of marriage?” Doesn’t that miss a whole lot of things about Christianity? Ironically, the only tradition that Jesus presents for marriage is that it is a lifetime commitment, and that you couldn’t just divorce your wife because she burned dinner. Moreover, there are countless examples of heroes of the faith who do not meet the modern evangelical definition of marriage. David, for example, was polygamous, and had multiple mistresses. And yet God called him a man after his own heart. So perhaps one’s marital status or sexuality is not the best gage for what godliness looks like. And perhaps a person can be good and moral, but have a really wonky idea of marriage.

But to say that all of a person’s relationship to God is contingent on how he thinks about abortion or sexuality misses a very key detail of the Christian Faith: Jesus himself. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He didn’t say, “…you will be with your marriage” or “…your theological construct.” Just ME! The most missed point in the Christian faith is Jesus Christ himself! The Christian faith teaches that if you miss everything else, you still get Jesus, and all that that means. You still get a relationship with the God of the universe, and all that that means. Jesus is point number 1.

But that doesn’t happen when this faith gets reduced to where we stand on abortion or LGBTQ+ Rights (i.e. a political platform). Instead it takes secondary and tertiary things and makes them primary. And when that happens, you can realistically take Jesus completely out of the equation, and still get the answer you are looking for. And that is not godly in the least. Jesus repeatedly made the point during the Sermon on the Mount that even those without any faith can do that, so “what makes you any different than them”?

Liberals Hate the Truth

If the democratic position on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights is not reason enough to vote Republican, then you really have to vote Republican because liberals don’t believe in the truth. I was always taught that liberals thought the truth is what you wanted it to be. “They don’t care what is right or wrong, just what feels right.”

This is actually an attack on how one assimilates information. Because if you can discredit the source of an argument, you can discredit the argument itself. Ergo, if liberals hate the truth, and only care about what feels right, then liberal sources can’t be trusted to tell the truth. I remember the day I bought the line that only Fox News reported honestly. “You can know that what they report is the truth. Unlike CNN or The New York Times or The Washington Post.”

And I remember the day I was walking through my house, thinking about this, and thinking to myself, “But that makes no sense! I don’t know how a whole group of people (in this case journalists from liberal media sources) can collectively refuse to tell the truth, and yet not contradict each other on one point. And didn’t I just see the same exact story reported exactly the same way by everyone, including Fox?!?”

And that’s where it gets freakishly maniacal. Because then the amount of mental gymnastics needed to hold this position requires…you guessed it…denying truth.

“Well, of course they didn’t lie then, they couldn’t cover it up.”

“Hey! Even a blind hog finds a truffle every now and then.”

“Some things just can’t be denied.”

And if a story by Fox News was found to be wrong: “Hey! They’re only human. But at least they try to tell the truth, unlike MSNBC.”

And how do you know that Fox isn’t lying? “Because they’re conservatives! And conservatives tell the truth.”

Who told you that conservatives tell the truth, while liberals lie? “Conservatives! Hello! Because they don’t lie!”

I don’t know where this idea came from that liberals hate the truth, or think that it’s whatever feels right. I don’t know a single one who would say that. In fact, the liberals I know are deeply concerned about authenticity. If they even sense that you aren’t being honest, they’ll dismiss you. So where did this idea come from that they hate the truth? I have a sneaky suspicion that it stems from the first point. If all of the Christian faith can be boiled down to one’s stance on abortion or LGBTQ+ rights, and that that stance has to be conservative, then any other position is denying the truth. Never mind that the whole premise is faulty.

Liberals Are Atheists With a Godless Agenda

So if the democratic position on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights is not enough, and if it’s not enough that liberals hate the truth, then you must absolutely be turned off by their war against Jesus and all things Christian. This one is a personal favorite of Franklin Graham. This was the message he traveled to all 50 states with during the 2016 Election. If Democrats get the power, he argued, then it’s only a matter of time before we can’t call homosexuality a sin anymore, our pulpits will be controlled by hate speech laws, and sharia law will be imposed because the Muslims will take over. Remember Starbucks’ war on Christmas because their seasonal cups said nothing about Jesus or Christmas? “I told them my name was Merry Christmas, because then they’d be forced to say Merry Christmas!”

(Funny how it’s ok to force others to say Merry Christmas, but it’s a violation of your religious liberties for people who do not share your faith to say Happy Holidays.)

Once again, you can take Jesus completely out of the equation here, and still get the answer you’re looking for. And if that’s the case, you’ve completely missed Jesus. And if you’ve completely missed Jesus, then it’s not really him you’re concerned about. Someone does not have to have any faith in Jesus Christ whatsoever to wish somebody a merry Christmas. You’re not being persecuted if someone says to you happy holidays. Christmas is not the only holiday in winter. It’s not being politically correct to wish somebody happy holidays, it’s just common courtesy. They may not share your faith! So why make them be dishonest?

There’s a Mediterranean restaurant that I like to eat at, and it’s owned by a lovely Muslim couple. It changes nothing about my faith to wish them well during ramadan. The only thing it affects is what time I can go the restaurant during that holiday, because they close early. That’s it! Jesus is still Jesus. I’m still a Christian. They’re still Muslim. I still get to eat great food!

Going back to what Jesus said about the Law and the Prophets. With the way certain Christians act during the holiday season, you’d think Jesus said, “All of the Law and the Prophets come down to this: You must say Merry Christmas.” You’d think Jesus’ last words before ascending into Heaven were, “Go throughout the world, and make disciples of all people. AND FOR MY SAKE, THEY BETTER SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS, OR ELSE THIS WHOLE DYING AND RISING AGAIN THING WAS FOR NOTHING.”

C’MON Y’ALL!!!!

You mean to tell me that the God of the universe, who made everything out of nothing just by speaking it, who knows even the tiniest atom, and holds all this together, wants to have a relationship with you, but you’re concerned with what a cashier, someone you probably don’t even care about, says to you during Christmas?

Ultimately, when you make Christianity into something it is not, you lose Jesus. And when you lose Jesus, your lord and savior can be anything. Who needs Jesus if the Republican Party is the godly Party because of their platforms on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, if they’re the only ones who believe the truth, if they have a godly agenda? As long as my godly representatives have the power, and are calling the shots, and there are laws limiting these two abominable sins, what need have I of God?

The Crisis

The crisis facing these evangelicals is that they are quickly becoming the very thing they hate. Godliness is a matter of partisanship for them. And if the only two things I value with my faith are antiabortion and anti-LGBTQ+ rights, then morality is only confined to being a heterosexual. And when that happens, the only thing that qualifies as sexual misconduct is what “those perverts and baby killers do.”

So a presidential candidate can claim to be a Christian for the first time in his 70 years, get caught saying that because he’s famous he can do anything to women he wants, including grabbing them by the pussy, can be forgiven because “he’s a baby Christian,” and “at least he’s not Bill Clinton, right?”.

And a man can have a 10 point lead in the polls despite growing allegations that he dated teenagers while in his thirties–because he had their parents permission–and it is brushed aside because “at least he’s not a democrat,” “the Washington Post broke the story because they want a democrat to win,” and “remember that Bill Clinton was a sexual predator in the White House.” And let’s not overlook that it was a liberal judge who dismissed Judge Moore because he wouldn’t take down the 10 Commandments, and that’s proof that Roy Moore is a godly man. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what does it matter as long as a Republican wins?

There’s Really No Fighting It.

So what are sensible people supposed to do when confronted with this? The hope is that the person opposite you is a kind, caring person, who is at least willing to hear you out. But the most likely scenario is that they won’t. There’s no debating them. Trust me, I’ve tried. I just ended up on the prayer list.

You’re dealing with people who have so married their politics to their faith, that they cannot separate the two. So if you’re trying to draw them away from the absurdities of the current Republican Party, you might as well be trying to lure them away from Jesus. I still have moments when I accidentally catch a clip of Fox News, and realize, “Wow! That is a complete misperception and oversimplification of liberals.”

The only thing to do is just be the bigger person. Think about it: At the end of it all, which of you will be walking away from the conversation still supporting a man alleged to have dated 14-year olds? So you can at least know that much. But then you’ll need to go home and cry, because at the end it all, that person supports a man who is alleged to have dated 14-year olds.

I work in mental health. I have worked with people who have delusions. And it’s so tricky how to navigate a conversation with a person speaking from that delusion. Because to those folks, that delusion is absolutely real. But to deny them outright or to directly confront it (“I’m looking at the roof, there’s no one on the roof, you don’t have to worry about people being on the roof.”) will often cause the person to hold onto it tighter. Because to admit that that’s a delusion is also to admit there’s a problem. The movie A Beautiful Mind captures the struggle perfectly. Russell Crowe’s character experiences visual hallucinations, and must come to terms with that. There’s even a scene at the end, where he does reality checking, just to make sure that the person he is speaking to is actually there. So he turns to someone he knows is there, to ask if she can see the same thing. But for a good portion of the movie, he thinks his doctors are all just trying to lock him up for no reason. Because in his mind, he was an undercover agent breaking Russian codes for his country.

Likewise, these Christians believe they are doing the right thing. They have been taught their whole Christian life that this is what Christians do. Politics is a way to bring godly change to the country, and make us a Christian nation that honors God, and you don’t want to dishonor God, do you? This is why they’ll say things like, “If you can’t trust the man, trust the party.” To them, having a bad representative of the party is better then the alternative, because they have been taught that the alternative is a godless pagan, who only wants to lie to them, and force them to deny Christ. One bad representative can be held accountable by the rest. It certainly can’t be that the party itself is just as bad as the one, or that to ask us to trust the party is to ask us to trust a party that is endorsing the man. But to ask them to deny all this, is to ask them to admit that not only are they wrong, but their beloved preachers and teachers are wrong as well. It calls their whole basic grasp on reality into question. It’s not just asking them to put aside the notion that Santa is a real person, you’re asking them to put aside their understanding of God. That is terrifying.

So put yourself in their shoes. How could someone challenge your thinking, without challenging what you believe to be the core of your faith? How would you say, “your God is not the problem, your politics are,” knowing that these two are inseparable to you? How much patience, kindness, and care would you require from others as you unlearn all this? As you so love yourself, love your Christian Republican neighbor.

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An Open Letter to My Republican Representives

You are, no doubt, aware of the shooting that happened in Texas yesterday. Why I am writing, is that last week a brown man drove a truck into a crowd, killing eight, and there was absolutely no hesitation to call it a terrorist attack, to demand immigration reform, and to rescind an immigration program that was passed with bipartisan effort in the 90s. A month ago, as well as yesterday, white men used their second amendment right to kill a combined 84 people, and injure hundreds more, and the narrative is, “This is what people with mental illness do.” (For now, I’m simply going to overlook the insult that is to people with mental health challenges.) 

Our president has spent the last year trying to enforce a ban on immigrants coming from certain Muslim countries, wanting to enforce this ban for a minimum of 90 days. The idea being that Islamic terrorists would pose as legal immigrants, and eventually wreak havoc. In the same timeline as this proposed travel ban, however, we have seen a white man kill three people in Oregon in the name of white supremacy; we have seen a white man kill one, and injure dozens in Charlottesville in the name of white supremacy (and it took a literal act of Congress to get the president to condemn this tragedy); we have seen a white man kill 58 and injure hundreds of others; and we have seen another white man kill 26 yesterday. In other words, all the violence that has been done, with the exception of the attack in New York, has been done by white citizens of the US.

 Terrorists are terrorists, no matter what their country of origin, or their skin color. The narrative needs to be the same for white Americans, as it is for Muslim immigrants. The events of yesterday and in Vegas are acts of domestic terrorism , and they need to be labeled as such. We cannot keep calling acts by people of color “terrorism,” but acts by white people “mental illness.”

 Your job is to make society better. You are not doing that job if you continue to skirt the issue of white domestic terrorism, and gun violence. I realize that the NRA pays you quite a lot of money, and to go against them would mean losing millions in donations; and I realize that calling these acts terrorism means going against your party and the president, but eventually you have to grow a conscience. Because eventually, you’ll run out of Obama Era policies to overturn, and you won’t be able to use him for your fall guy,  and then you’ll have to actually write laws. Why not start now? Call these acts terrorism, and enact changes to gun policy (overturning the Dickey Amendment–feel free to google it–would be a huge start.) Surely, we can all do better. But since you are the ones with the ability to enact changes, you need to be the first people in line to become better. 

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.

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.”

  

Are You Not Entertained?

The more I read the Gospels, the historical accounts about Jesus in the New Testament, the more I see just how masterful he was at teaching people. Very often Jesus’ points were constructed in such a way that his listeners, no matter who they were, left without a question as to what he was talking about. Well, except for those pesky parables that were designed to stump his listeners. Those who got him, got his message. Those who did not get him, continued to see a mere rabble-rouser.

At one point, he actually pokes fun at his opponents, and compares them to spoil sport kids playing games in the street. “We played a dancing game, but it was the wrong tune. We played a funeral game, but it wasn’t quite gloomy enough.” His point was that his opponents were never satisfied, unless they got to call the shots.

To put his words in a more modern context, here’s how I would say it: “To what shall I compare the American Church? You’re like kids playing Street Preacher. When we emphasized grace, you said we needed more truth. But when we did emphasize truth, you said it we had no right, since we had previously put such an emphasis on grace.”

The 2016 election exposed a line of hypocrisy in the Evangelical Right. They don’t desire people to believe the truth – that which describes reality correctly, such as the sky is blue, and the grass is green. Instead, they want people to believe the truth that they have deemed important.

There was public outrage against “Pussy Gate” (The leaked tape of Mr. Trump and Billy Bush on the bus). I don’t know about you, but the response I heard most often from evangelicals was, “You didn’t have this reaction when it came to Fifty Shades, or Beyoncé or whatever fill-in-the-blank sexy thing you can think of, so you have no right to complain now.” The very same people who lament that “this world” doesn’t care for truth, the very same who threaten people’s salvation because of a perceived lack of absolute/objective truth, became whole hearted relativists in 2016. (More like they brought their relativism into the light, for all to see.)

Sexual assault (“I just grab ’em, I don’t even ask, I just do it.”) became “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys.” “Baby Christian” became a license to dismiss the conscience and morality,  and embrace irreverency and outright immorality and indecency.

When Jesus compared the religious elite of his day to mere children playing a game, the point was that they always had to change the rules to make their game fit, and ensure that they would win. It’s no different with the American Evangelical Right. They accuse the culture of embracing relative truth – that which is true for me, but not for you – and not having a moral compass. But then a whole wave of people wakes up, and starts to show a moral compass and that truth does actually matter, and the accusation became, “you embraced it too late.”

Always needing to up the stakes.

It makes me think of the scene in Gladiator, where maximus looks around the arena after killing his opponent, and balks, “Are you not entertained? Is this not what you came here for? Are you not entertained?” Maximus was booed for killing his competition too quickly. Evangelical leaders booed the culture for not standing up against their version of wrong. It wasn’t enough! They had to change the rules.

So it’s not just a general sense of right and wrong, it’s gotta be biblical truth that people must embrace. (Which I’m always curious about: what exactly makes biblical truth different, or more truthful than non-biblical/extra biblical truth? Is it more truthful than regular truth?) You can’t get mad at a presidential candidate for advocating a sex crime (and so much more), you have to be mad about every example in which sex was used in a non-procreative way. It has to be their idea, not the culture’s. They had to be the ones to call out sexual immorality, not the culture. Because what? that might give people the impression that truth really is universal, and wrong means wrong, even when a non-Christian states that it is? (I wonder what modern evangelicals would’ve thought about the Nuremberg trials – where other countries put German officers and leaders on trial for war crimes.)

It became increasingly clear: for evangelicals, it wasn’t enough for people to say Trump was lying, or that he was a moral disaster. Since they didn’t stand up for truth that one time, whatever that one time is, this time doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter that this may have been the circumstances that “woke people up,” and showed them that there are things that absolutely should be labeled as wrong or evil, “You are speaking ill of God’s candidate!” If we couldn’t embrace the man, we needed to at least embrace the Party. (Never mind the fact that the Party embraced and endorsed the man!)

So to those evangelicals – the ones who aren’t satisfied – I ask this: when will it be enough? How much truth do we have to embrace, before you believe that we embrace the truth? How much needs to labeled wrong by those outside the faith, before you start to heed the warning, and calling it wrong yourselves?

Are you not entertained? Is this not what you desired? Are you still not yet entertained?