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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Remembering, Yet Not Holding Against: Why Forgiveness is Not Forgetting (But Sorta Kinda Is)

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) 

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

Before I say anything, let me just confess that everything I am about to say, I suck at. So, I say it from within the belly of the beast, so to say. 

You’re, no doubt, familiar with the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” It’s used by wellmeaning people to simply say, “Let’s not hold our grievances against each other, and move on.” It’s also one of those phrases that gets used by certain Christians as a misinterpretation of Psalm 103. “As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far the Lord has forgiven our sins! What that means, dear friend, is that if you’ve been forgiven, God no longer remembers the sin you committed.” I’m not denying the Lord’s grace here, but the same book that contains Psalm 103, also contains the scene in John where Jesus shows Thomas the scars in His hands, feet, and side. In other words, it’s a safe bet that Jesus does not have divine amnesia when he looks at his wrists, so that when he sees the scars that bare the evidence of what he did to redeem the world, he asks, “Where did those come from?!?!” It’s a much safer bet that Jesus, being all knowing, remembers even the most insignificant sins that he has forgiven. Instead of forgetting them, he is not holding them against us. 

WHAT’S THAT MEAN FOR US? 

Since I dare say that it is impossible for an all knowing God to forget, it’s equally impossible for us mere mortals to forget whatever was done (or not done) to us. Trying to forget is like asking your brain not to function as it was intended. Asking a wounded person to forget what was done is like asking a quadriplegic to forget their paralysis. But in a sense, it is easier to understand the physically wounded more than the emotionally or mentally wounded; however, all three are wounds nonetheless. And some wounds cannot be forgotten. In fact, I’ll go a step further, and say, some wounds need to remembered!!! 

And that can throw some people for a loop. Whatta ya mean remember? That’s not forgiveness! And that’s when it’s wise to remind such commentators that forgetting is not forgiving. And if forgetting is forgiving, then what does that say about the slogan “9/11…Never Forget!”? 

The hardest thing to grasp about forgiveness, is that it does not distinguish between the easy to forgive and the difficult. Regardless of the wound, forgiveness asks the same thing: Don’t hold the wound over the person’s head. To be sure, it does not deny the severity of the wound, it doesn’t make the wound suddenly moral or ethical, and it certainly doesn’t change what has happened. It is admitting that justice is not necessarily what we think it should be. From experience, I can tell you with certainty, if you are looking for a specific kind of justice, in a specific time frame, you will be looking for a very long time for something that may never come. And you may actually risk becoming the very person who wounded you. 

Hence why we must never forget. 

THE PARADOX OF REMEMBERING 

To give credit where it is due, everything I’m about to say comes from Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace. I’ve written about this before. Volf saw his country torn apart by a civil war rooted in religious superiority (My God is better than yours, so you deserve to die!) Words cannot describe the atrocities done during that time — in the name of God, no less. And he warns: Be careful that we do not make the oppressed into oppressers themselves, in the name of getting justice against their oppressors. 

Volf describes the paradox of forgiveness. It is both forgetting and remembering. We “forget” so that we no longer hold a person’s sins against them. But we also remember so that such sins do not happen again. For example, it can be said that a sex offender registry is actually an act of mercy for both the offender and the neighborhood. The ultimate goal is to say to both the neighborhood and the offender, “Remember what this person is capable of. Neighbors, be mindful. Offender, keep yourself in check.” Because forgiveness is also not a guarantee that the forgiven will not then do exactly what they’ve been forgiven of, again. Keeping one’s guard up until trust is earned is not being unforgiving, it’s merciful protection. 

Volf does not use the term “forget” in the same sense as those who would say, “Forgive and forget.” Instead, he is saying, “No, no. What they did actually happened, and is reprehensible. But you may not be the best person to pursue a justice that is also just. Hence why Christians, of all people, can only defer to God for perfect justice. It’s an act of divine mercy, and a trust in that divine mercy to say, “Vengence is thine!”

 (Just for the sake of argument, think about the last thing for which you demanded justice. What was the “crime” committed? And what was your desired solution? For me, the crime was a person driving too slow. And my desired solution was to see the car and its occupants blow up in a raging inferno. So I think it’s safe to say that I am not the best person to decide the fate of the one who has wronged me. And how many times have we seen that even the criminal justice system is incapable of a just justice?) 

It takes much more than a simple blog to get into the nitty gritty of this. Someone will always have a worse wound. There will always be the mystery of how to get there. (This is why I’m thankful for God’s mercy, and that his acceptance is not based on our record. Because, as I said before, I don’t do so well with this. And if he accepted me based on my ability to forgive, he wouldn’t!) 

I honestly cannot tell you how to get from Point A to Point Whatever when it comes to forgiveness. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a step by step process for forgiveness. It’s more like the concept of time in Doctor Who (it’s not linear, but squiggly!) But I can tell you that setting your sights on a specific justice, at a specific time is an absolutely fruitless endeavor. It won’t be enough justice. And it won’t be fast enough. To that end, forgiveness is all up to you, while trusting in God’s mercy. I’ve experienced this first hand. 

A few year ago, a pastor and his elders spiritually and mentally abused me. They attacked my wife and marriage, my reputation, and by the end of it all, my sanity and sense of reality. (Check out the term Gas Lighting.) To this day, they don’t think they did anything wrong, so they have not made any attempt at an apology. To this day, they think I am bitter and angry, and am holding a grudge. (One of them even asked a year later why I was having such a bad year — face, meet palm.) What I want to happen has not happened, and probably never will. So what am I supposed to do? I can sit around, and hope that today will be the day, and shake my fists at the heavens its delay (something I have done). Or I can release myself from the responsibility of getting justice. So I have forgiven them. But I will not forget, because I do not want to be their victim (nobody likes using that term, btw) again. “Forgetting”, yet remembering. 

LAST WORDS

I know how hard forgiveness is. I know the tedious redundancy of having to forgive the same person again, because the scars are all too eager to remind you of the damage done. And as I said way back at the beginning, I suck at it. 

But I have also seen way too many people seeking vengeance this year. I have seen way too much tit for tat retaliation. I have seen way too many people berate a person’s character simply because that person called a leader a “disrespectful” name. I have seen way too many people justify their retaliatory actions, because the offender is “stupid.” It’s not easy. But it is well worth the effort. If for no other reason than the health of your soul. Let’s be peacemakers, instead of retaliators. 

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.

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

Exposed

“So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” Malachi 3:18

How this passage comforts you depends largely on what “team” you’re on.

If you see this world as full of sinners who hate Yahweh, this passage gives you hope that he will fry those evil people like sausages. No longer will you have to endure the heartache and frustration of people who mock Jesus with their words or actions or even inactions. God will show ’em. And sinners will be exposed for what they truly are. 

If you’re like me, if you’ve seen so much hypocrisy in the church that you want to scream, this verse gives you hope that the fakery will come to an end. Liars and posers will be exposed for what they really are. 

And ironically, even this team has two sides.

One side believing that those who called themselves Christians, but who never obeyed God – antinomian posers – will be exposed. 

And the side I’m on: Those who believe Christian talking heads (celebrities, if you will) will be exposed for their deception. This election season, I officially had to move James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell Jr to this list. Coincidently, they each belong to the first group above (those comforted by the thought that sinners will be exposed). They each teach their followers that they must be conservative Republicans. And this past election they unwittingly (though the jury is still out on that) told Christians that they don’t need to trust that gut feeling called their conscience, or that common human decency doesn’t matter, so long as that person runs on a Republican ticket, or is a baby Christian who promises to put conservative judges on the Supreme Court. (Because apparently that is the full extent of “biblical values.”) 

Bringing it back…

The truth is, all  these things will be exposed! 

Real sinners will be seen as they truly are. 

Nominal Christians (people who are Christian by name only) will be exposed. 

Hypocritical leadership will be exposed. 

But also, thankfully, so will genuine believers. So will the peacemakers and mercy seekers. So will the radically gracious. So will the ones who put so much trust in Christ’s righteousness, that they were willing to be branded as heretics. 

We will all be exposed as the people we truly are – good, bad, ugly, or beautiful. 

Obedience: A New Perspective

I started a new semester today. And the language I often hear from classmates, teachers, and textbooks often freaks me out. I cringe at the sound of people, who seem to forget the Gospel as they prepare to lead the people of God.

More often than not, I am wanting to throw my textbooks at a wall, because like most textbooks, they formulate God and the Christian life. But one paragraph from one of my books really took me by surprise today. (We’ll have to wait and see about the rest of the book.)

“What does it take to know God more clearly? The two essential ingredients are time and obedience. It takes time to cultivate a relationship, and unless we set aside consistent time for disciplines such as solitude, silence, prayer, and reading of Scripture, we will never become intimate with our Lord. Obedience is the proper response to this communication, since it is our personal expression of trust in the promises of the person we are coming to know.”

That last sentence in particular really jumped out at me. Given that I’m all about grace, any talk of obedience makes me tense up. Normally when I hear talk of obedience, it’s usually in the context of wanting God to be pleased. In such talk, there is always an inherent misunderstanding of God’s acceptance and pleasure based on Christ’s finished work. So person X wants to obey out of a fear of displeasing God, which, honestly is rather terrifying.

But this guy defined obedience in a way the I’ve never heard before. Obedience is an expression of our trust in the promises of the person we are coming to know. There’s no expression of God’s pleasure toward us. No deep seeded fear tactics. It turns the focus on us. Why should I obey these commands? Because the God behind those commands loves me. So obedience to those commands is less about pleasing God, than it is about believing that God is who he said he is.

So the next time temptation comes knocking, and the Commandment stands up in response, could it be that instead of having a moral dilemma about a proper gospel response (Am I obeying because I WANT to, or because I should? If I’m obeying because I should, then I’m not loving God, and if I’m not loving God, the Gospel is t taking root like I want it to.) that we instead focus on the God behind that commandment? Could it be that maybe God really does understand the difficulty inherent in combatting a desire with something that may not be quite as evident? After all, feelings are much louder than a loving God at times, but a loving God far outlasts even the loudest feeling. And through the Gospel we understand that trusting that loving God is our ultimate goal, but as that trust builds, we are accepted even when we call God a liar.