Monday, December 15, 2008

When I was Young We Sang Our Faith

[This is a duplicate. It also appears in "Family Johns." I put it here because it is more sermonic.]

When I was young singing was a lively part of our worship at the Springfield Church of God. The songs we sang were about the things we loved, our hopes and dreams. Everybody sang; everybody sang loudly; it was part of our witness. We sang our faith.

Mostly we sang about Jesus. He was our friend.


What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.


We could touch him.

Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.
You will find He's not too busy to hear your heart's cry.
He's passing by this moment, your needs He'll supply,
Just reach out and touch the Lord as He walks by.


And Talk with Him.

I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in
And then a little light from heaven filled my soul
It bathed my heart in love and wrote my name above
And just a little talk with Jesus made me whole

Now let us have a little talk with Jesus
Let us tell Him all about our troubles
He will hear our faintest cry
He will answer by and by
Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turning
And you know a little fire is burning
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right

Sometimes my path seems drear,without a ray of cheer,
And then a cloud of doubt may hide the light of day;
The mists of sin may rise and hide the starry skies,
But Just a little talk with Jesus clears the way.

I may have doubts and fears, my eyes be filled with tears,
But Jesus is a friend who watches day and night;
I go to him in prayer, He knows my every care,
And Just a little talk with Jesus makes it right.


We sang a lot about going to heaven to be with him.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus;
sing his mercy and his grace.
In the mansions bright and blessed
he'll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory!


***
I have good new to bring and that is why I sing
All my joys with you I will share
I'm gonna take a trip on that old gospel ship
And go sailing through the air

I'm gonna take a trip on that old gospel ship
I'm going far beyond the sky
I'm gonna shout and sing, until the heavens ring
When I'm sailing through the sky


We also sang about how happy we were to be Christians.

Oh happy day, Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
He washed my sins away/He taught me how
to watch, fight and pray
fight and pray
Oh happy day, Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
He washed my sins away/We´ll live rejoicing
ev´ry day, ev´ry day
Oh happy day, Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
Oh when he washed
He washed my sins away


And we sang about the Holy Ghost, but those songs were mostly about the ongoing work of Jesus.

They were in an upper chamber,
They were all with one accord,
When the Holy Ghost descended
As was promised by the Lord.

O Lord, send the power just now,
O Lord, send the power just now;
O Lord, send the power just now
And baptize every one.

Yes, the power from Heav’n descended
With the sound of rushing wind;
Tongues of fire came down upon them,
As the Lord said He would send.

Yes, this “old time” power was given
To our fathers who were true;
This is promised to believers,
And we all may have it too.

***

O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found,
Wherever human hearts and human woes abound;
Let ev’ry Christian tongue proclaim the joyful sound:
The Comforter has come!

The Comforter has come, the Comforter has come!
The Holy Ghost from Heav’n, the Father’s promise giv’n;
O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found—
The Comforter has come!
Comforter has come!

Lo, the great King of kings, with healing in His wings,
To ev’ry captive soul a full deliverance brings;
And through the vacant cells the song of triumph rings;
The Comforter has come!

O boundless love divine! How shall this tongue of mine
To wond’ring mortals tell the matchless grace divine—
That I, a child of hell, should in His image shine!
The Comforter has come!




Thinking about then and now, when I was young we mostly sang to each other about Jesus and what He meant to us. Today we seem to sing more to God and less about God. Our current songs are beautiful expressions of adoration and exaltation. I love them and never want to lose them. But I miss the old songs and I wonder how the change is affecting us.

Worship now seems more rich and personal; it comes from deep within us. However, it almost seems private, as if we come to church to sing because it helps us get alone with the Lord. Within the crowd we enter our own private bubbles of glory.

When I was young our songs were about our shared testimony. They told the story of how we found Jesus, or He found us, and what He means to us. When we sang we were witnesses to the reality of life in Christ. Singing was a way of remembering what God had done for us, what He had promised to us, and why we are here. I fear our singing today is too much aimed at our personal benefit in the here and now. It reminds me of a popular Southern Gospel Song circa 1970, “Me and Jesus got a good thing going, me and Jesus got it all worked out, don’t need nobody to tell me what it’s all about.”

My other concerns with today’s worship music are that the songs are too hard to sing and too hard to remember. Gone is the simple cycle of refrain followed by chorus; we now have bridges and transitions to contend with. Today’s songs sound great with a synthesizer and a talented praise team, but they are hard for most of us to sing in the shower. This is a problem for our culture as a whole; we are a people who have no national songs, even our commercials are missing familiar ditties (“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” “You Deserve a Break today, so get up and get away.”). We have stars who sing to us. The rest of us listen and at best hum along. It dawned on me a few years ago this is a very troubling trend. A nation without a song is a nation without a soul. Our songs, the ones we sing to our children and to each other, convey the truths we hold dear. In this age of extreme tolerance and uncertainty, there is little room for public singing that conveys a message.

As for me, I love to occasionally sing the old songs with people who know how to worship through them. But I know we can’t go back. Those songs, words and melodies, were birthed in a different time and represent a different culture. However, they did communicate something of the Gospel that seems missing today. Is it possible for someone to write us some songs that we can all sing, songs that we can sing to each other and to the world, songs that proclaim the Gospel? We’ll keep our Hill Songs, I promise.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Women in COG Administrative Offices - A Response

[Note: This piece continues the previous two posts but grew out of a discussion I am having on Facebook. I am posting the articles on women in ministry on both sites.]

Our movement was born in a male dominated social setting. We had early unctions to resist those patterns but we gave into the pressures to conform to the dominant conservative religious practices. Thus our administrative offices (General and state levels, including schools) got caught up in the twentieth-century, business-driven, success orientation and obsessed on the "great-man" who would lead us to the Promised Land. The results are that our various administrative offices have developed an ethos of male dominance. The sub-systems that participate in this system are dependent on maintaining the status quo, male leadership. The closer one gets to the center, the stronger the impulse to maintain the norm.

This system requires that the women who work at these offices function well within male dominated settings. Women with strong leadership traits who enter these settings are viewed as abnormal and a threat to the stability of the system (at best). I am not suggesting the female employees who work there are not self-aware and critically reflective on their situation. I am merely suggesting they have developed the skills necessary to make the persons in authority (who happen to be males) look good and feel good about themselves. Many no doubt believe this is the way things should be, others I suspect quietly critique it. In no way do I wish to be critical of these women. They have difficult jobs and apparently do them well. From all I hear they deserve much of the credit for keeping the COG working. My point is that the women who work in our administrative offices are there because they are effective within a system of male dominance.

Neither am I being critical of the men who serve in leadership positions. They are also products of a male dominated church system and no doubt have varying views on women in leadership. I am merely arguing the ethos of our administrative offices is more restrictive on who fits well into the system and they are therefore the most challenging environments in which to effectuate change.

However, the Executive Committee of the Church of God could initiate change immediately (effective at the next Assembly) if they wished. While there are some positions that the General Assembly has required be filled with Ordained Bishops, there are more top-level, even department head positions that could be filled by any person the Committee deems qualified. They could begin to fill all of those positions with women (and/or minorities). Let us pray they get the vision and the courage to do so. This would effectuate change throughout our denomination.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Women Opposing Women in Ministry

It is very clear there are men who oppose women serving in ministry leadership roles in the church. Some have given serious consideration to the issue and have sincerely concluded it is contrary to the will of God. Others come across as simply being opposed to change of any kind. Others seem to speak out of a visceral fear of upturning a supposed “natural order.” Unfortunately, it is the later group that rises most often to speak at the biennial General Council of Ordained Bishops. We are bombarded with irrational fears of tainted baptismal pools (General Assembly, 1886), fears of the disintegration of the family (every Assembly), and horrible exegesis (especially 2008 and by a long term friend of mine). However, the reality that troubles me more than men wanting to hold on to illegitimate power is the opposition I get from women.

In 1986 the Church of God commemorated its centennial at the General Assembly in Atlanta Georgia. The General Council approved an item granting women full voting rights at the General Assembly. All that was needed was for it to be ratified at the conjoined General Assembly. Between sessions I went to my hotel room. In the elevator was a family of three with whom I was not acquainted: father, mother, and adolescent son. They had clearly met in the lobby as the mother and son were laden with shopping bags. We road upward and I listened.

“They want to let women vote at the General Assembly. Betty Sue, you don’t want to vote at the Assembly, do you?”

“Why no; that’s silly. I wouldn’t want to vote any more than I think Joe Junior should be able to vote.”

Marveling at the precise timing, I stepped off the elevator on my floor, turned, looked at Betty Sue and as the doors began to close stated, “That is the problem, Joe Junior can vote and you can’t.” [In 1986 all male members without reference to age were allowed to vote at the Assembly. That has been amended to include men or women 16 years of age or older. I don't recall the actual names; the wording is pretty accurate.]

In the fall of that year I was appointed interim pastor at the Westmore Church of God where I was serving as Minister of Christian Education. At the time of intercessory prayer during each service I would always conclude the requests with “And let us pray for our next pastor whoever he or she may be.”

During the few months of this ritual not one man challenged me on my inclusive request. On the other hand at least six or eight women registered complaints. One, who continues to be a friend, stopped by my office and gave me a royal tongue lashing.

“I want you to know I don’t appreciate you trying to force a woman pastor on us. I don’t mind women preaching, but I don’t want one for a pastor. They just don’t represent God to me.”

I of course let her know (1) I knew there was no possibility the Overseer would appoint a woman to such a prominent church, (2) I was fully aware I had no influence on who would be appointed, and (3) my objective was to simply remind the congregation, especially the younger women, that in the Church of God pastoral ministry was theoretically open to women. It was the future I was trying to affect.

In my ministry I have had significantly more opposition to this cause from women than from men. I have many theories as to why women would oppose women in ministry: the influence of Evangelicalism, the influence of their culture, internalization of oppression, fear of having to change, etc.

I believe this group of women should be our first target group for change. Yes, we will need a majority vote of the men comprising the General Council but I believe the true battle is with the opposing women of the church. The question for me is how can we convince them it would be good, and pleasing to God to liberate all women to serve in the ministry offices of the church?

I suspect there exists a huge emotional and psychological barrier between them and those of us who desire change. We need to find common ground on which to discuss our fears, hopes and dreams. We must then come together around the Scriptures to discern the voice of God in this matter. I am open to suggestions on how to start the conversation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Reasons for Starting “Free Our Church of God Women to Serve”

Last week I formed a group on Facebook named Free Our Church of God Women to Serve. My plans had been to create a web site dedicated to the purpose of promoting equality for women in the Church of God. I developed those plans at the Church of God General Assembly last August shortly after the General Council voted down a proposal to allow women to serve on the Church and Pastor’s Council of the local congregation. My goals were (1) to provide a site for members of the Church of God to publically declare their considered opinion there should be no restrictions on women in ministry within the COG and (2) to provide a site for the distribution of resources to promote this cause.

My hopes were to create a list of people, including prominent leaders, who would declare their belief that women should be free to serve in any office of the church according to their gifts and callings and to use that list to motivate others to honestly consider the Biblical grounds for the view.

Creating the web site required more time and resources than I have had, but last week it dawned on me I could start the process as a Facebook group and develop the web site later. A website would allow for greater distribution of resources and better interaction, but it seemed urgent to get the process started. The current group can exchange ideas by posting comments on the “wall” or following a threaded discussion.

Members of the group are asked to affirm the following statement: "I have studied the role of women in the church as presented in the Scriptures and I have concluded there is no Biblical justification for restricting women from full participation in any office or rank of ministry within the Church of God."

I am committed to this cause for three reasons (1) my experience as a Pentecostal has taught me women are equally capable of serving in ministry offices but are often unjustly excluded from having a voice in the decisions, (2) my commitment to Christ compels me to encourage everyone to give their all in Christian service, and (3) it is Scripturally required of the church.

I grew up attending the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) during the 1950’s and 60’s. Although all of my pastors were men, we frequently had guest preachers and often they were women. As I experienced them, men preachers were more dynamic (translation: they ran, jumped and yelled a lot), but the women were more instructive and relational. At the risk of gross over simplification, men were more excited about serving God; women were more excited about knowing God. Men convinced me I needed to know God; Women convinced me I could know God.

In my church, women were often up front. They sang in the choir and they sang specials. They led programs like Vacation Bible School and when I was young they were my Sunday school teachers. Perhaps most impressive on my young mind was that women testified with a fervent passion for God. Testimonies were most often given on Sunday and Wednesday evenings and women gave the majority of these witnesses for Christ. It was clear to me at a very early age that the anointing that came on the fiery preachers also came on most of these women as they gave thanks for God’s miracle working power in their lives. The emphasis here is not on what they said, but how they said it. They spake with a holy unction. Other than living with my mother, no other voice convinced me more that God was real, present wherever I went, and concerned about the conditions of my life. Every quarter we had a Church Conference where everyone heard a financial report and participated in the business of the church.

Growing up in Florida, I didn’t see a lot of restrictions on women in the church. I know the restrictions existed; I just didn’t see them. When I entered high school we moved to Birmingham, Alabama where things were different. My mother quickly became a spiritual leader in the church; she taught adult Bible classes and became the Family Training Hour Director. But in Alabama the business of the church was conducted in Men’s Meetings. I had also become active in ministry, first teaching the Junior High class in Family Training Hour and then being given the High school class in Sunday school.

One day my mother asked me, “Jack, will you do something for me?” I asked her what and she continued, “Will you attend the Men’s Meetings at church? I don’t know anything that is going on and we don’t have Church Conferences here like we had in Jacksonville.” That request changed my life. Immediately I became aware of the injustice of a system that shut out of the business of the church one of its most trusted and faithful members, not to mention one of the largest tithe-payers.

At sixteen as a male member who taught Sunday school, I, a sincere but un-Spirit-filled Christian, had more authority than my Spirit-filled mother who held one of the highest ministry offices in the congregation, FTH Director. I had voice; I could vote on the business decisions of the church. I was proud to take my place as a “man” of the church, but I grieved the inequity of the system. That situation set me on a long quest to understand the role of women in the church. There were no easy answers. There were abundant examples of women in ministry in the Scriptures, but there were also those troubling texts about submission, obedience, and silence in the church. I concluded the answers were beyond my abilities and must lie ahead of me.

As a Pentecostal everything must be measured by the Scriptures, but the Scriptures were just not clear to me on this issue. My first answer to the question came not from Bible study but from encounter with the Holy Spirit. In February of my senior year of High School, when I was 17, I was filled with the Holy Spirit “with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance.” When I was twelve I had an experience of a “fluttering tongue” and was told by the evangelist and others I had received my Spirit baptism. It wasn’t long before I realized I was not walking in the fullness of the Spirit. How could I admit to that, especially after I started to teach in church? Spirit-baptism was a prerequisite for teaching.

Upon being truly filled with the Spirit I was consumed with the awareness that every child of God needed to be an evangelist and fulfill God’s purposes in their lives. My passion was for the lost and the question about women in the church was a question of the Spirit’s anointing to win the lost. For a season the question was answered; women must be encouraged to pursue the callings God placed on their lives. To resist the work of God in anyone’s life was to resist God. At 18 I became a Christian feminist. Ironically, the greatest obstacle for my going public was the then current attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. I was uncertain of all of the implications of such a move. After all, I was the product of the Western culture – deep fried in Southern tradition. My mantra became, “I am not so concerned about women’s rights as I am about responsibilities. We need every child of God using all of their gifts and talents for the work of the Kingdom. That’s why I believe in ordaining women and letting them serve in any office they are gifted to serve in. The Scriptures are hard to understand on this issue and if we must ere, let us ere on the side of trusting the Spirit. He’ll show us if we are wrong.”

Two points need to be highlighted. First, I am the product of strong women, my mother and grandmothers (and a strong man). I married a strong woman, a fellow minister. Some have assumed she influenced me to become concerned with this issue. The truth is I gave her her first feminist book, “All We Are Meant to Be” by Scanzoni and Hardesty. I held these views, at least in incipient form, before I met her.

Second, I must confess that the theory of feminism is easier to profess than to practice especially in marriage. I have not been a perfect model of egalitarian practice. I have undergone a couple of conversions and need a few more.

As noted above, Pentecostals are driven to live their lives out of the Scriptures. The Spirit and the Word are one. Ministry demands we wrestle not only with our own questions, but also with the questions of others. And we must seek our answers from the Scriptures in a way that is consistent with the nature of the Scriptures. Only then will we nurture faith. Clarifying the role of women in the church became a perennial quest; or more accurately, explaining those “texts of terror” as they came to be known became a recurring theme of my ministry.

One trigger point for me was 1983 when I wrote a paper in my doctoral program titled “Authority and Power in the Administration of the Local Church.” That project focused what I already knew and made it annoyingly clear how hypocritical my church was when it came to women in the ministry. For example, a woman could serve as pastor and in that role was required to serve as chairperson of the Church and Pastor’s Council, but if she resigned as pastor she could not be elected to serve on that same council. Women could serve on and chair other boards and committees, but not that one special one. In that year I resolved I would not pastor a church that had a Church and Pastor’s Council, we would conduct all of our business in regular church conferences. With this renewed impetus and with Cheryl as a dialog partner I finally found a Scriptural approach to the issue. (In the near future I will begin a series on my views on a Scriptural response to the role of women in the church.)
About ten years ago I began to be increasingly and deeply troubled about the church’s confusing stance on women in the church. Pryor to that time it would be more accurate to say I was annoyed, embarrassed, or even frustrated. I would speak my views when the subject arose but I did little to initiate change other than to attempt to model my views as a pastor. I gained a reputation as one who encouraged women in ministry and I structured our local polity so that it empowers women to serve in any of the offices of the congregation.

At the Assembly of 2004 I saw an opportunity to act. I was a parliamentarian and so I was aware the agenda would probably be covered in time for items to be presented from the motions committee. I went to the Assembly with a motion to submit. In essence, my motion called for all offices and ranks of ministry to be opened to women. It was referred to committee for study with a report to be presented at the 2006 Assembly. That report was given but without opportunity for response. In 2008 the agenda included an item removing the restriction on women serving on the Church and Pastor’s council. It failed.

Following the 2004 Assembly I returned home with a sense of call to work for these needed changes. I led our congregation in a series of conferences on the subject. We passed a motion committing ourselves and our resources to promote the full inclusion of women in the offices and ministries of the Church of God. I confess; I dropped the ball. Time passed without our taking any action. I left the 08 Assembly deeply convicted for my past failure to act. The text that frequently reverberates in my mind is “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” Acts 17:30.

It is time for us to address this issue. The Scriptures must be our guide. The question is what does the Word of God reveal about God’s desire for women in His Kingdom?

Stay Tuned.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Visit To Juvenile Court

It is a church-like setting with rows of pews on each side of a carpeted isle. The front is finished with beautiful hardwood. Families and friends squeeze into empty spaces. There is a pseudo hush in the air as everyone keeps whispering private conversations. A strangely serious-but-jovial, older gentleman dressed in a robe presides over the gathering. But there the similarities end. The older man is a judge. Over his head is mounted the seal of the state of Tennessee. Around him scurries a bevy of officers of the court: a court recorder sits on his right, a couple of assistants are on his left, a policeman stands stage right but often moves around to whisper instructions to those standing before the bench (hats off, hands out of your pockets, etc.), representatives of the local school systems, officers of the Department of Human Services and some representatives of private family agencies shuffle around moving in and out of the room.

Every few minutes another name is called and a uniformed officer escorts another prisoner before the judge. Each, dressed in a prisoner orange jump suit, is shackled hands and feet with the hands linked to a large leather belt around the waist. A few come forward from the audience having been summonsed but not arrested. Each is a youth between the ages of twelve and seventeen. They are charged with a host of minor crimes: temper tantrums mostly, fighting at school, one actually hit a teacher who tried to break up a fight, one cursed out and threatened to beat up a teacher for insisting he turn off a video game, one pounded his fist into the wall and kicked a water fountain, a first-timer had broke into the school concession stand and stole a soft drink, one (a petite fifteen-year-old girl) broke into a neighborhood home and stole a few things, and several failed drug tests – one young woman pleaded guilty of actually going drunk to a court-ordered substance abuse program. Most of the accused were “frequent flyers” as the judge called them. One angelic looking thirteen year old was there for the seventh time.

I have been through this scene multiple times with families associated with our church. Typically, the immediate family I’m there to support does not attend church anywhere. It’s a grandparent or aunt or uncle, or neighbor who attends New Covenant. On this occassion it was a beautiful fifteen year old who’s crime was that she got into an argument that got physical with her single father. She use to attend our church and one of our young couples has offered to let her live with them. Her mother was present, but due to past problems she is not considered an acceptable guardian. The biggest crime in all of this is that the young woman has spent nine days in jail for something no one present except her father believes she should have been arrested. I grieve the injustice of our justice system. I grieve the power of sin to destroy lives and families. I grieve for the children victimized by the broken covenants of their parents.

I left with a couple of lingering observations. First, of the dozen or so youth appearing before the judge on that day, not one of them had both parents standing with them. In the case for which I had gone both were present, but one stood as accuser (I am not here judging his desires for his daughter, just stating the facts of the situation) and the other sat in the audience, afraid of creating a disturbance I suspect. Mostly, it was mothers who stood with their children. One father was there with a daughter, but it was the absent mother who had legal custody. All of them seemed lost, uncertain of where they had failed.

Second, the public systems created to educate and guide these young people are overwhelmed with troubled, smart looking, publically polite, kids who are failing their classes and wrecking havoc with the systems. The educators and social workers present appeared professional and compassionate; they were ready to go the second mile to help these kids. It seems to me the problem is a breakdown in our basic social structures more than a failure of those systems (schools, human resources, etc.) we created as backups for the family. Our problem is the disintegration of the family and the dissolution of natural social systems needed to support families, the church being the most important. Each of the teens I observed lacked a stable home environment which in turn lacked stable and extended support systems.

Error Message

For those who follow this blog you have been notified of an article "Sunday at New Covenant." I accidently posted it here when it belonged on my other blog. Sorry. Now you have a message about this error message. A vicious cycle isn't it when we fail to pay attention and "miss the mark." There's a story here, but I don't have time to tell it today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Daughter Taught Me - "Thank You"

“Thank you,” she said with quivering voice and lips.

It was 1983 and Alethea was about to enter the first grade. For some unknown reason the state of Kentucky required all children to have a blood test before entering the first grade, not a prick-your-finger blood test, a sure enough needle in the arm, draw out a vile full of blood test.

Before we left the apartment I had taken great care to prepare Alethea as best as I could for the realities that were coming. Quietly, I was pleading with God to let me be wrong about the test. When we entered the exam room, the nurse was kind enough to find out Alethea was left handed before she began. So I sat on her left side holding that hand while the nurse worked on her right arm.

Alethea was so brave, sitting erect with her head held high. Her lower lip quivered a little but she kept her cool. I on the other hand was a wreck. My stomach was tied in knots; my mouth was dry; and I had that car-sick feeling just trying to hold it together and be brave for her. My tension increased as I could see the nurse was unable to find the vein.

Finally, she shook her head and released the rubber hose with a snap. That’s when Alethea looked up at her tormentor and said, “Thank you.” She then looked at me and asked, “Is it over?” As I replied “no honey,” explaining they had to try the other arm, she burst into tears. She pulled herself together and sat perfectly still as the nurse proceeded. I wanted to grab her and run out the door, but I restrained myself and by the goodness of God the needle went straight into the vein.

I suspect Alethea has long forgotten that traumatic experience. I never will. Upon ever remembrance I relive that sickness and moral tension of contributing to my daughter’s anguish. It does not ease my discomfort to remind myself I was constrained by the law and my desire to be a good father. It doesn’t help me to argue it was for her good, nor that it had no lasting effect. What I know is that I continue to suffer discomfort for causing her a little pain twenty five years ago.

I suspect my ongoing discomfort has as much to do with my own sense of inadequacy to prevent the event as it has to do with her pain. Memories can remind us of who we really are while dreams on the other hand too often serve to delude us into fantasies of being who we wish we were.

This account of paternal suffering also reminds me of our heavenly Father. He too knows the anguish of participating in the suffering of his child. He chose to do the right thing rather than opting for the easy way out. However, His suffering is infinitely greater than my own. He was not inadequate. He could have prevented his son’s pain. Instead, He chose with His Son to enter into all of our sufferings and suffer with us. Beyond that He invites us to enter into the suffering of His Son by entering into the suffering of others.

Theologically, I am an Armenian; I am not a Calvinist. We have free will to choose and God responds to our choices. But I do believe God is sovereign and all powerful. Having committed my life fully to Him I must trust He leads me wherever I go. The path He chooses for me is littered with suffering, yet I believe it all works together for my good (Romans 8:28).

All of us know what it is to suffer. Followers of Christ should especially know this. The question is how will we respond to God and others when we suffer? Will we have the grace in the presence of our tormentors to look upward and say “thank you?’

[By the way, Alethea is now a pediatrician.]

****************

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:16-22 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

1 Corinthians 12:18-27 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.

Philippians 1:27-30 27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents-- which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

2 Timothy 1:8-12 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

1 Peter 3:14-17 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hillary for Secretary of State?

Apparently Hillary Clinton is at the top of the list to serve as Secretary of State under President Obama. For Obama this is a wise move. Clinton has proven herself adept at diplomacy having some of the skills of her husband at disarming opponents while at the same time maintaining a commitment to the party line. She would be an excellent Secretary of State for a liberal, Democratic administration, helping to nudge things toward a more centrist position. [I know most conservatives see her as extremely liberal, but I see her as much more toward the center when compared to Obama.]

Personally, I think this appointment would be wrong for her and for the country. I would like to see the esteemed Senator remain in Congress. She has the potential of becoming a dominant statesperson for the people, a replacement for Ted Kennedy if you will. While I disagree with her political philosophy, I consider her a more moderate player in practice than on the stump. I also, think the issues that concern her are issues the nation needs to address (only from a conservative point of view). In short, I think Hillary Clinton is a person who would at least listen to the conservatives in the Senate and allow them to help map out reasonable solutions to our country’s growing social and economic problems. [Granted, the conservatives remaining in Congress might not be very cooperative themselves.]
It is in the Senate that I think she could do the most good for our country. In this season of liberal dominance, I shutter to think who her replacement might be.

I suspect this post will generate strong reactions from the few who read it. If so, one of my objectives will have been achieved.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Glory of God and The Beauty of Work

Drip….Drip….Drip. My Dad was rebuilding the back steps of our house in the heat of the summer and I was watching the sweat drop from his nose. He was leaning over a 2 X 12 board, eyes fixed on the cutting line, left hand grasping the wood, and right hand pushing and pulling a hand-saw. With every down stroke the metal teeth were chewing through the wood in a steady rhythm. The sweet aroma of fresh sawdust filled the air and sweat dripped from the pores on his face and arms as his shirt darkened with the moisture. Hard work, always marked by sweat often mixed with blood, helped define the father of my childhood and youth.

[”By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:19]

“Hard work never hurt nobody; that’s what your Grand-pa always says.” Dad often quoted my mother’s father on that point. I had plenty of opportunity to watch and compare them both at work. For my father work was an honorable challenge, a job worth doing. One might even say that for him work was the purpose of life. He attacked every task with focused effort. “A job worth doing is worth doing right.” “Do it right the first time and you won’t have to come back to it so soon.” Every swing of a hoe was an assault on weeds and the construction of a protective mound around the cherished plants requiring three motions: advancing and raising the blade four to six inches above the ground, chopping back and down to destroy the weeds and jerking upward to redistribute the soil. He never stopped until the job was done, and he sweated.

Grand-pa, always dressed in coveralls and a cotton, long-sleeved shirt, never sweated but neither did he often pause for rest. For him work was the rhythm of life. As he glided down a row of beans with a hoe carefully balanced in his hands he made the weeding task seem effortless. The wide, narrow blade moving forward and back like a pendulum, advancing six to eight inches with every cycle, steadily reaching forward grasping a fresh swath of weeds: forward, upward not more than a couple of inches, down, and back, over and over and over until we reached the end of the row. He, the hoe, and the field were one, or so it seemed in my child’s eye.

[”And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” Genesis 3:17-18]

I wanted to be big and strong like my dad. I modeled my chopping after his. With underdeveloped sweat glands I longed for the day of my manhood. My back ached; my arms became lead; but I kept going, oh so happy when my dad would move over without complaint to my row to help me catch up. As I grew I developed my own understanding of work; it is good; it is hard; it is a way of proving myself a man. Some would say I became a workaholic, ever striving to establish my worth through productivity. (Who doesn’t teach full-time, pastor a church, garden, raise cattle and blog?) As much as I admire the courage, strength, and dedication of my father, I now wish I would have learned more of the beauty and rhythm of work from my grandfather.

Almost always overlooked, work is a major theme of creation. In chapters one and two of Genesis humans alone are create by God with the unique trait that they were formed in His image. Theologians have long debated exactly what that means, i.e., reason, moral judgment, regal authority, etc. My own conclusion is that it includes these and other dimensions of human life but at the heart of the matter is the plural but singular nature of God and humanity; God said, “let us make man...” P. K. Jewett, the late New Testament scholar, expressed it this way, “to be human is to be male or female: male and female.” Adam and Eve were each fully human, but neither fulfilled what it meant to be human. Their nature and purpose could only be fulfilled together. Of all creatures, only humans are equipped (in the image of the eternal Trinity) to know as they are known, to see themselves truly in the eyes of another. Thus, to be human is (1) to be created by God, (2) in the image of God, (3) as relational beings, (4) to share in the glory and purposes of God. To be fully human is to glorify God in our existence, our relationships, and in the work we do.

As God intended human existence, work is a beautiful thing. We were created for work. Well before the fall into sin Adam (and later, Eve) was placed in the garden to tend to it. [“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15 ] Indeed, God Himself is described as working in the six days of creation. [“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” Genesis 2:2] Let me suggest that work is an essential characteristic of God’s design for human existence. Work was to be an extension of an honored position; it was to be an act of stewardship; it was to be an expression of worship. It reflects the image and glory of God.

It is sin that destroys our ability to know and be known, to live and work together in unity. Grace instills a longing to return to the garden, to find ourselves restored in wholeness of personhood and of relationships, to fulfill our purpose for being. Judgment marks the journey back to the divine order with thorns and the sweat of our brow; judgment leads to mercy. For the followers of Christ, work affords the opportunity to share now in our future and intended state. Work done in fellowship with Christ and others renews the soul by giving expression to our truest nature. It is a down payment of our future state; it is the field of our service, the chalice of our fellowship, the promise of our hope, the opportunity to bask in the glory of God. Through Christ our worship through work reflects back to God the beauty of his image and the glory of his creation.

However, we live in an age when for many, if not most people, work is a four-lettered word. Detached from our “real” lives, we “go to work” to earn money for the necessities and desires of life. Ironically, home is also a place from which to escape; there’s just too much work to be done there. We live in our recreation: sports, entertainment, vacations, etc., or so we think. When stuck at home we vicariously escape to exotic worlds through the marvel of television, the internet, or video games.

Labor has long been an instrument of oppression wielded against the powerless – think Egypt’s bondage or southern plantations or modern sweat shops. Such abuse dehumanizes by reducing the worker to an object, a resource, a tool for someone else’s purposes. This perversion of socio-economic systems inhibits meaningful relationships and the development of personal interests and abilities. It is the product of sin and robs God of the glory of His creation.

In modern times these systems have perverted our self-consciousness. Never before have we so thoroughly defined our worth not by what we contribute but by what we collect, not what we do but what we avoid doing. One day, in a graduate course on the Gospel of Luke, a student raised his hand to ask, “Dr. Tenney could you help me understand which day is the Sabbath, Saturday or Sunday. On which of those days are we supposed to rest?” The quintessential gentleman, Dr. Merrill C. Tenney responded, “It is interesting how you asked that question. In my nearly fifty years of teaching it is always asked that way – on what day should we rest? No one has ever asked me the opposite; on what days should we work? Let me remind you, the commandment begins with the words ‘on six days thou shalt work.’ Now that is the better question.”

May God give us the grace to find His presence in the people, the places, and the tasks of our work.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Prayer Isn’t Everything

[Preface: I have been open with my concerns about an Obama Presidency. I hope I have done this with respect for the man. I am concerned some may have read more into my comments than I intended. I will always speak against our culture of death, especially the use of abortion as a means of birth control. However, I do not want to ever contribute to an atmosphere of disrespect and animosity for persons. I am greatly troubled by the hateful personal comments I read on the web, especially by persons purporting to speak as Christians.]

We are all aware it is our duty to pray for our President, but praying for him is not enough. As followers of Christ we are commanded to honor and to love him (hopefully I can one day refer to “her”).

During the past sixteen years I have been troubled as our nation has become more and more polarized around our Presidents. In the midst of our culture wars we have blamed the current President (Clinton or Bush) for the decline of Western civilization or adored him as savior. Clinton was reviled by conservatives as though he was the antichrist. Bush has been disdained by the liberals (and not a few moderates) as if he was the devil himself.

As we move toward an Obama Presidency we have an opportunity to monitor our own spiritual wellbeing. Can we disagree with him on policy and still love and honor him? If it is our desire to please God, we don’t have a choice. We must hate the things God hates, love the things God loves, and obey His Word. We must love, honor and pray for our President. [By the way, for those who have despised Bush you have a couple of months to examine your hearts and pursue a more perfect way yourselves.]

Consider the Scriptures
Matthew 5:43-48 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NRSV)

1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (NRSV)


1 Peter 2:13-17 13 For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Promises of Unity

If “change” was the central theme of Barak Obama’s campaign for the Presidency, “unity” was the ubiquitous corollary. He promised to unite us in solving the pressing problems of our time and to not allow ideology to divide us. This is a noble objective, but one that is doomed to failure. It is the same promise George Bush made (“I’m a uniter, not a divider”), and look how that turned out.

The promise will fail for various reasons. First, when Obama made it he seemed to always imply it was the political right that is bound by ideology and obstructing progress. He is a liberal on the far left of the spectrum and we are a nation where the majority define themselves as conservative and between the blue dog Democrats and the Republicans conservatives comprise the majority of Congress. He will have to move far toward the middle on social and economic issues if he hopes to be a lasting unifying force in America (I perceive him to already be in the middle on national security).

Second, while the process of shared problem solving is unifying, it works as a tool for unity only when (1) there is a shared agreement about the reality and nature of the problem, (2) there is a shared agreement on the priority of the problem, and (3) all parties believe their voice will be heard and respected. Ideology is a direct mitigating force in the first two factors and an indirect one in the third.

The reality is that people are united when they are conscious of shared values. They are most easily united when those values are tied to a pressing sense of need, survival for instance. Thus, we unite when we feel threatened, i.e., a terrorist attack or an economic meltdown, etc.. Our core values frame the essence of our self perception; they define who we are. They also determine our perception of what threatens our survival and what should be a priority in our lives. It is our values that shape the ideology we profess. This is not to say that everyone is consistent and congruous with their selection of an ideology. On the contrary, it is to say people are guided by core values that might not be easily expressed in an ideology; hence, some conservatives can vote for a liberal (or vice versa) if he or she taps into those deep values.

In short, ideology is nothing more than a systematized expression of values. We can set aside our ideology (i.e., liberalism vs. conservatism) only to the extent that we unite around a greater shared ideology, values that are threatened (i.e., liberty, justice, democracy). In situations other than grave crises it is our ideological differences that clarify our desires and the values that guide civilization. In a democracy we need healthy disagreement (disunity) in order to move forward with the best policies for all. These differences often serve not only to help us choose a direction, but to first recognize the need to move in any direction. They provide the energy for change and sometimes they save us from great error.

It is incredibly difficult to come to agreement on what the real problems are and what priority they should have, not to mention how to solve them without violating someone’s core values. It does not serve us well to view the minority voice as obstructionist and yet democracy is prewired to view them exactly that way. We can come together only to the extent we agree to honor each other by respecting our opposing views at least enough to give them serious consideration. When victory overshadows understanding we are destined to run ruff shod over the minority. It is not our differences nor their intensity, but what we do with them that divide us. This then becomes the Achilles’ heel for any President; time and passion stand in the way of considered listening and shared problem solving.

Let us choose to hope that Barak Obama is that rarest of politicians, one who will value everyone (specifically in Congress) enough to give them voice not only in how to solve our problems, but in the identification and prioritization of the problems. He seems to have the disposition for such listening.

Finally, he will fail because it will be out of his hands. The major problems of this country require Congressional action. It is the leaders and members of Congress who must learn to listen intently and with respect to each other. They must come to agree on the existence, nature and priority of our problems. And they must learn to do this with many of them having already established extreme dislike for each other. No matter how well intentioned and capable, this task is beyond any President’s ability. They all promise it; they all fail; so why do we fall for it? Perhaps it is reflective of the image of God that we continue to hope for unity. Surely it is the fruit of sin that we fight over our disagreements. Let us hope this will be that season of politicians learning to work together. Let us hope I am wrong in my pessimism.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election 2008 -- Observations and Predictions

Change is coming. The question is what kind of change. I have a few predictions, but first a few observations. If you follow this blog, you will recognize most of what follows.

Observation #1: This is a truly historic election (and it should be celebrated both that an African American and a woman – for the second time - were on major party tickets). It is phenomenal that we have elected an ethnic minority, a Black, as President one hundred and sixty years after the Civil War, forty years after Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech.

Observation #2: The Obama campaign is truly historical in funds raised and spent. It might be argued his supporters bought the election. His opponents can complain about his broken word about Federal matching funds, but his funds were apparently raised in a most democratic fashion.

Observation #3: Obama was as negative as McCain, i.e., he spent as much or more money on negative ads. On top of that he was effective in attacking McCain for being negative because most people already perceived McCain as being more negative. As I have sometimes said, “if you have to back-bite against somebody, make it a back-biter; you can always get away with that.” His portrait of McCain as being negative typically transitioned to a self portrait as a uniter (bridge builder) which was immediately followed by a blasting of conservatives as those who divide.

Observation #4: Gender prejudice is stronger than racism in this country. This was seen in the Democratic primaries and the race that followed. Regardless of what you think about Governor Palin, the media was biased against her and much of that was gender based. To some degree this was to be expected because she came from nowhere and had not been vetted on a national level, but the feeding frenzy highlighted the bias. Her words were often twisted while Joe Biden was given a free ride on his open gaffs. Consider the level of coverage of the one investigator’s conclusion she violated ethics standards in the trooper gate events with the level of coverage on the commission that recently concluded to the contrary. (I suspect most people did not even know a report was just released to that effect.)

Observation #5: McCain ran a poor campaign until the final days. He seemed lost when the focus shifted from Iraq to the economy. Obama had clearly prepared for that shift. History (a favorite subject of McCain’s) reveals McCain should have anticipated the shift and had a strategy in his back pocket. During a term limitation transition, no incumbent party has retained the White House during an economic downturn in the last century.

Observation #6: Obama could not have won without the support of a sizable number of Evangelical Christians. I applaud the shift away from being single issue voters. It is well past time they became concerned about war, social needs and the environment. However, I despair in their failure to take a stand on the single issue that will determine the fate of the weakest members of our society, late-term abortions. In light of his openly stated positions on abortion, the homosexual agenda, and judicial appointments, all who voted for him must share in the responsibility for the change both good and bad that is coming.

Observation #7: Obama won this election through an appeal to classism. In a time of economic uncertainty he pitted the middle class against the upper class. His and Biden’s appeal to fairness in taxation failed to present the case for why it is fair for the more affluent to pay a significantly higher tax rate. Instead they relied on the emotions of difficult times to argue for them.

Observation #8: Both parties ignored the needs of the poor and marginalized. Even their arguments for improved healthcare, centered on the needs of the working middle class.

Observation #9: McCain did considerably better than the polls indicated.

Observation #10: In spite of my philosophical pessimism, this election is good for democracy. The inclusion of masses of a new generation and record numbers of minorities offers the hope of greater inclusion in all aspects of our society.

Prediction #1: The transition will be nearly flawless. The fly in the ointment might be if Obama is perceived as acting as if he is already President especially in international economic affairs. Obama’s appointments will be diverse representatives of the sectors that elected him with more than one moderate Republicans in high positions. He will get off to a good start.

Prediction #2: Obama will keep many of his promises. With the support of a Democratically controlled congress, he will claim a mandate to push through his agenda. There will be a flurry of passed legislation. At the front will be commitments to energy and the environment. He will push through the Freedom of Choice Act overturning any states ability to restrict abortions and thereby increasing the number of abortions, including partial-birth and other late-term abortions. The number of late term abortions will go up significantly. However, Republicans in Congress will become more vocal and articulate in their conservative philosophy.

Prediction #3: Obama will get his tax proposals and related programs approved. In some cases he will get more than he promised. In terms of healthcare, he will get most of what he wants but the debates will heat up. All of this will prolong the economic downturn, although there will probably be a short-lived upturn from now through the first six months of his Presidency. Unemployment will increase. Before his Presidency ends, the middle class tax cuts will be more than lost through increases in indirect taxes. Many of our trade treaties will be rewritten; we will become much more protectionist and trade will never-the-less become more unbalanced. In the end, the economy will improve because “the fundamentals are sound.”

Prediction #4: Obama will attempt to keep his promise and push for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. It will be close but the reversal will fail. Congress will bow to the will of their constituents. – This may be wishful thinking.

Prediction #5: Obama will appoint at least one activist judge to the Supreme Court, more if given a chance.

Prediction #6: Obama’s honeymoon with Congress will end in a couple of years with battles over fiscal restraint (balancing the budget) and that centering on a coalition of Republicans and the “Blue Dog” Democrats in Congress. Like Bill Clinton before him, he will shift (but less noticably than Clinton) toward the middle.

Prediction #7: Joe Biden was correct; Obama will be tested by an international threat early in his Presidency. Actually, there will be more than one crisis. Israel will bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities during his first two years and the world will deem his response his response to be too little, too slow, and too complicit.

Prediction #8: President Obama will excel in international relations except Islamic nations, Russia, and Latin America (which will be put off by his protectionism). In short, he will be phenomenal with our Western Allies and most of Africa; he will be less than stellar with our enemies, especially Islamic nations. This will seem strange to many given his unique connection with Islam. I truly hope I am wrong on this. He has the best personal gifts for diplomacy that I have seen in a political leader. (My problem is not his ability, but his direction.)

Prediction #9: Our troops will leave Iraq during the first two years of Obama’s term; things will go poorly for that country as they will not be ready for full self-governance and internal security. America’s standing in the region will continue to decline.

Prediction #10: Obama, as promised, will increase our presence in Afghanistan. He will act unilaterally to attack Al-Qaeda sites in other countries. Our relationship with Pakistan and Syria will especially continue to deteriorate.

Prediction #11: During this term President Obama will engage American military might in some other country, ostensibly for humanitarian purposes.

Prediction #12: The roll of minorities in American politics has been forever changed for the good. The days of the Caucasian, good-old-boys-club-in-power is over. Minorities will rise in leadership in both parties but especially conservatives in the Republican Party. – Perhaps some delusional wishful thinking here. The Parties will become more ideologically defined and stress ethnic coalitions with a greater social purpose.

Prediction #13: The world will not come to an end on January 20, 2009. Conservatism is not dead. Obama will in many ways be an outstanding President effectively motivating Americans to consider the future in ways we never have.

Prediction #14: Sarah Palin will not vanish into the polar night; she will soon be a Senator from Alaska. John McCain will become more of a statesman in the Congress reaching out to help Obama cross the isle.

Well, I’m out on a limb on a lot of things. Most of these predictions are well considered. Some are more off the cuff. Somebody hold me accountable for their accuracy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let Us Pray

I am preparing a list of observations on the election and predictions for an Obama Presidency. But for tonight, let us celebrate the election of an African American to the highest office in the land. I remember “whites only” signs and I am truly thankful to have lived to see this day, regardless of political opinions.

Let us pray for President Elect Obama. Let us pray for him and his sister as they grieve the loss of their grandmother. Let us pray for his safety and for the safety of his family and those who protect them. Let us pray for him as one appointed by God to lead this country in this season. Pray that he will be open to the voice of God, that he will have a heart for peace, a passion for righteousness and justice, and a desire for truth and wisdom.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Presidential Prediction

It’s Monday evening before Election Day and I thought I would offer a couple of predictions/guesses. First, I think the popular vote will be much closer than the polls have indicated with a less than three percentage point difference. Second, I think the Electoral College will be a blowout in Obama’s favor.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm Back - On the economy

How long is “a while?” Three days sounds about right to me. I decided to write down my thoughts on the economy after all with hopes all the undecided voters will read this blog and choose well. OK, I know there are only two or three people who ever read this blog and one undergraduate course in economics doesn't make me an economist. A little self-delusion seems appropriate for a political season. The election will be over in a few days, we will all return to our normal idiosyncrasies, and watch the results unfold over the next four years.

Obama is riding to victory on the red horse of the economy (nice, subtle apocalyptic imagery don’t you think?). I am baffled by the appeal of his shallow case. His principle argument is that McCain will continue the “failed economic policies of George Bush.” What I have not heard is what those terrible policies have been. I have heard frequent reference to “trickle-down” theories, but no reference to specific policies. What is promised is higher taxes on the wealthy and businesses and big tax cuts for the middle class. The argument seems to be that putting more money in the hands of the masses (95% of the population) will be good for the economy. To me that sounds a lot like an extension of Bush’s big tax cut program. Only, the money will be taken from the wealthy and businesses, sort of a Robin Hood or “reach-up-and-pull-it-down” theory. Oh, those new taxes are also going to pay for a trillion dollars in new programs.

Obama’s math is a little confusing. He insists the middle class, or 95% of Americans, will get a tax cut. He has stated it will not go to people who don’t work. But close to 40% of American households don’t pay any taxes and many of those do not work. Although he denies it, logic suggests he is grossly overstating the number who will get a break or much of the reach-up-and-pull-it-down money will go to them. I am not arguing against support for the poor; I am merely suggesting that in his speeches, Obama is not candid in what he is proposing.

My issues with the Obama plan are simple. First, he misrepresents the truth about our current economic situation. We are clearly in a crisis. But it was not George Bush who created the situation. The economy goes through cycles and globalization has increased the complexities and patterns of those cycles. But the two greatest contributors to the current situation are (1) the war on terror and (2) the mortgage crises which was caused by Democratic failures to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack. From all I can gather, it is the mortgage meltdown that triggered the crisis and it began with Fannie and Freddie. Congress is charged with overseeing these government backed agencies and it failed. It has been the Democrats who have most protected Freddie and Fannie against oversight.

Here are a few facts. In 1997, it was Bill Clinton who pushed through a relaxation of home loan requirements in order to increase home ownership by lower income households (a noble goal). Clinton appointed as executives at Fannie Mae persons from his administration. These actions set up a system that allowed people to purchase homes they could not afford. The number of loans increased significantly and the Clinton appointees began to get multimillion dollar bonuses. Among them was Franklin Raines who would receive 100 million dollars in bonuses through 2004. In 2003 President Bush proposed a new oversight committee but the Democrats derailed the plan. In 2004 an OMB investigation revealed massive fraud but Congress did nothing. From 1999 to 2005 Fannie Mae gave millions to politicians: the top five were all Democrats – Obama was the second highest recipient. Barney Frank was #4.

In 2005 John McCain sponsored The Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act stating, “If Congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole.” The Reform Act was blocked by Democrats and never got out of committee. The scandal forced Franklin Raines to resign; he is now an advisor to the Obama Campaign.

Second, the underlying issue between McCain’s and Obama’s tax proposals is the role of the upper class and businesses in the economy. The conservative philosophy holds that they have an important role to play in stimulating the economy. They represent a creative economic energy that fuels the whole system. If over taxed they will lose incentive to build their personal wealth and that will hurt the economy as a whole.

Obama’s liberal tax plan is built on the underlying ideology that government has a responsibility to distribute wealth; take from the rich, give to the poor. We have long had a progressive tax system built on this philosophy. It requires people to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes as their income increases. Few conservatives want to completely dismantle that model; they merely want to find the optimal lowest tax rates for all.

Third, taxing businesses is a two-edged sword. It is an easy tax because it is a hidden tax on people. Companies follow one or more of a set of options. They may absorb the tax by reducing the dividends they pay their stock holders (most of whom are middle class mutual fund investments for retirement) or they reduce investments into the future of the company, or they cut their labor costs (number of employees or pay scale). They may choose to pass part or all of the tax on to the public through higher prices. The irony is that this form of hidden tax favored by the Democrats is most often a regressive tax; the lower one’s income the higher the rate one pays. That is, lower income people who pay higher prices for everyday items are actually paying a much higher percentage of their income in indirect taxes through these purchases. For example, if the oil companies pass on higher taxes through higher prices at the pump the poor will feel the difference immediately and it will impact their standard of living. The wealthy will not even notice the change. Businesses, not politicians, get blamed for the increase.

In summary and conclusion, it will be a mistake to reverse the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 and to increase taxes on businesses. Higher tax rates will slow economic recovery. It is going to be an even bigger mistake to elect Obama and a liberal congress. Congress needs to be held accountable for not overseeing Freddie and Fannie. Our nation as a whole needs to accept responsibility for excessive greed and getting into war in Iraq which has drained our economy of sustainable growth.

Well, I’ve revealed my economic ignorance. Feel free to join me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Withdrawing From Political Commentary for a While

I cast my early ballot today and I am withdrawing from political commentary for a while.

I never intended to spend this much time writing about politics. It started as a simple exercise in articulating the political views I have held for decades. I have never been shy in stating my views, but neither have I been pushy with them. Most who know me are aware I consider myself a conservative Republican, but very few have bothered to ask me why? Some have even been surprised by the positions I have stated. I suspect they had heard me address social justice as a Christian concern, but they had not heard me address politics as an instrument for social justice. My intent in writing was to simply say I have given serious consideration to how my faith speaks to my political views. Hear me out and make your own decision.

My desire was not to persuade anyone to vote for my candidate. I don't really have a candidate, just a political philosophy. I have always tried to encourage others to prayerfully consider for whom they should vote and vote. Politics should never divide Christians; we should agree to disagree, learn from each other, and get on with living out the Kingdom of God as best as we know how. However, the further I got into this election the more I became concerned about the outcome. My concerns emerged from Obama's strong support of items I find unconscionable. I came to believe this was the most significant spiritual struggle of this generation, a battle for the soul of America and the future of the Christian witness here. While there are many gray areas in the intersection of faith and public policy, there are some lines that must not be crossed.

I have said what I needed to say except for this. I disagree with Obama's economic philosophy and while I had planned to write about it, it is not a major source of grief for me. In brief, my view is that the current economic woes are the product of the uncertainties of the new global economy, the war on terrorism (especially Iraq), a couple of decades of unbridled greed and the failure of our system of federal regulations. Obama will carry us toward a European style of socialism that will result in higher taxes and if unchecked economic ruin sometime after his stay in the Whitehouse.

I was also going to write on the positive aspects of Obama’s platform. I appreciate his commitment to expand support for faith based social service programs. I hope his promise of increased volunteerism/community service is fulfilled. Of course these were conservative issues first; on the latter see programs developed by both of the Bush Presidents. The expansion of healthcare especially for children is desperately needed. I could name others.

However, I am deeply grieving the probability of an Obama presidency, not because of Obama the man, but because of a few of his positions that I find terrifying, especially the extent of his commitment to those ideas. My grief is deep and centers on the two issues I have already addressed, judicial activism and abortion. Based on his public statements on these topics I have no doubt we are headed to an open war on conservative Christianity through the courts and an expansion of the murder of late term babies. The first (war on conservative Christianity) is secondary (not stated and not intentional) but I believe a certain outcome of a liberal activist judiciary. Time will tell if my assessments are valid. The second (abortion) is certain; he has made it a central (but muted) point in his platform.

My concern is that he has made a stronger committment than other candidates; he is a strong proponent of abortion in general and a defender of late term abortions in particular. I grieve over all abortions, but I am shocked and sickened that any human being can participate in the violent dismemberment of a late term baby (I have not described partial birth abortions; you can google it) whether (1) by direct participation, or (2) by exercising legal authority to sanction the murders. At this point my grief overflows, the fate of countless children appears sealed. I fear "Ichabod" is already written over our door.

How long should I grieve? How long should I lament my own relative silence in this holocaust?

“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” Matthew 2:18

Related Links

I just ran across a link to an article by Thomas Sowell, author of the book Conflict of Visions. I read the book probably ten to fifteen years ago; It is a powerful articulation of the conservative political philosophy and its origins in America. In the article he addresses his concerns about judicial appointments by a president Obama. Check it out.

http://townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2008/10/28/obama_and_the_law?page=full&comments=true

You might also be interested in taking a survey to compare your values with Obama's stated positions. http://www.barackobamatest.com/?fuseaction=home.options

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why I Oppose the Democratic Platform/Agenda – Part II

Second, I am greatly concerned about an Obama/Biden presidency because of their judicial philosophy. The next president will appoint many federal judges, no doubt including one or more members of the Supreme Court. With a Democratic majority in the Senate he is certain to make his appointments without serious opposition. The Constitution requires that Federal Judges be appointed by the President “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate" (Article III of the Constitution). Throughout our great nation’s history the Senate has limited its role in the appointment of judges to examining the nominee’s moral and judicial qualifications (education and experience) without consideration for his or her judicial philosophy. In 1987 Joe Biden helped lead the Senate in blocking the appointment of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court not on the grounds of qualifications but on the grounds of his judicial philosophy.

Bork was a legal scholar, constitutional expert, and distinguished member of the Federal Court of Appeals. His objectionable trait, he was a strict originalist, believing judges should limit their decisions to the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. What a novel idea, judges should limit their opinions to the clear intent of the writers of the governing document of our country and not create laws by judicial fiat (i.e., legislate from the bench). Think about it; our president and other military and political leaders swear to defend the constitution. Under the liberal judicial philosophy of Obama and Biden, what they are actually swearing to defend is not a historical set of commitments but rather the fluxuating opinions of the majority of the members of the Supreme Court about how to best apply flexible precepts contained in the Constitution. For them the Constitution is a “living document” requiring jurists to insert their beliefs of how it should be applied in the place of the values clearly expressed in the document.

This liberal judicial philosophy is currently best seen in the state courts where the supreme courts of three states have used the same argumentation to legislate that homosexuals have the right to get married. This “progressive step” violates the values of the Western world going back to ancient Greece and Rome, not to mention Judaism. The Greeks were especially open to homosexual relationships, but understood the survival of their society required the preservation of marriage as heterosexual in fundamental nature. These liberal judges have used their distorted view of progress to undo three millennia of western social standards. The founders of this country certainly never envisioned their work being perverted to promote this redefinition of marriage. [I am not a homophobe. I am incensed by persecution of homosexuals; I oppose prosecutions based on private sexual behavior among consenting adults. However, I am deeply concerned about the disintegration of the family. I am also deeply concerned about the impact of the normalization of homosexual behavior on the development of our youth.] I am horrified at the prospects of a few liberal jurists setting the moral standards for our country.

Mark my predictions; if Barack Obama is elected President and he gets a chance to appoint a member(s) of the Supreme Court, he will appoint an activist judge(s) who will swing the court further away from traditional values and toward radical, liberal social transformation. The liberal courts will move to alter the fundamental patterns of our lives with rulings on ethical issues such as euthanasia. One issue that will be at the forefront will be the so-called homosexual agenda. There will be a case brought before the courts to make it a hate crime to preach what the Bible says about homosexuality. This agenda will further aim at the complete marginalization of Christianity and the extrication of Christian symbols from all public property and venues. The trajectory will be set for churches to lose their tax exempt status and thereafter to have to pay taxes on their receipts; the power to tax is the power to control. If Barack Obama is elected, the federal judicial system will become an active force for social change. I believe the founders of the USA were correct in creating a system that prefers change to arise from the grass roots and be legislated only when necessary and then only by elected legislators who answer to the citizens who elected them.

A Parable

The following is a parable I wrote years ago as the introduction to a chapter I contributed to a text on children in the church. The editors chose to not include it with the chapter. I have posted it before on my other blog. I post it here as a contribution to the current political debate.


THE STRANGER FROM WITHIN

Jackie David Johns


The stranger stumbled into the camp of pilgrims only half alive. Her journey had been long and perilous. Crossing through the great barrier, she had survived but had lost everything in the process. Only the shadow of a memory of being cuddled in a blanket of love remained, and all she knew was that she wanted to live. Every ounce of her energy was focused on this one thing, nourishment, and she didn't care from whence it came. She had nothing and now she was in this land of traveling giants who spoke a foreign tongue. She was helpless, unable to protect or provide for herself.

The giants rejoiced at her arrival. For them it was a marvelous event. They had hopefully awaited her presence, having watched her journey from afar. A celebration was planned. She would be cared for as an honored guest. But these giants were different than most. Some tribes seemed to fear these little people, often sending warriors with sharpened spears to destroy them on their journey. Other's simply abandoned them to the wolves, while others made pets or slaves out of them.

This stranger was a chosen one. It was not her will, nor chance, that had swept her through the wilderness to this tribe of God-fearers. These so-journers saw every new arrival as a gift from God, a promise of their own destiny. Serving the strangers was at once a sacred privilege and honored duty, an opportunity to share in what their God was doing in the world. This helpless individual was a gateway into their own future. She would keep their hope alive. It was their joy and responsibility to nurture her to strength and to pass on to her the sacred promise.

She was also a reminder of their past. Each of them had made the journey. One by one they had traveled from nothingness to existence, from despair to hope. They had been strangers themselves but now they shared an identity and a purpose. Now, they belonged. They were one people with a common future, a family traveling to the city of God. The stranger was no stranger at all. She was their daughter, an heir of the promise. She belonged with them just as they belonged with God.
JDJ

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I Oppose the Democratic Platform/Agenda -- Part I

[A Personal Request: If you are planning to vote for Obama, please make a personal committment you will still love me after reading this post.]

I do not remember ever publically stating that I oppose a candidate. My preference is to state who I support and why. I am not opposed to Barack Obama; I wish him well. May God place him in a position of public service suitable to his considerable talents. I oppose the political philosophy to which he is committed and therefore the policies and platform on which he is running. I am greatly concerned about the future of the United States and by extension the world should Obama be elected. If he is elected and the Democrats have strong majorities in the Congress, our country will make huge steps in the direction of social liberalism that will not be easily reversed. I have earlier stated why I am a conservative. I will now state why I am strongly opposed to the election of a liberal democrat as president with some overlap.

First, murder is evil and late term abortions are murder. It is not necessary to argue the point at which life begins to recognize the full humanity of an infant whether still in the uterus or immediately after birth. If there is a possibility a child can survive outside the mother’s womb without extraordinary intervention (i.e., mechanical life support) there should absolutely be no question about that child’s “inalienable rights” as a human being. A mother and her doctor have no rights of privacy that supersede that child’s right to life. Late term abortions replicate the ancient practice of “exposing” unwanted babies by taking them to the local garbage dump for the animals to destroy. To argue for late term abortions on the grounds of privacy is logically the same as to say a child born at home could be killed by the parents with impunity provided the child has never been out in public.

To require a clause insuring the safety of the mother is to predispose the system toward murder of the infant. In any medical procedure there are levels of risk. Those levels must be factored into a decision to take extreme action. One situation might include relatively minor risk to the mother and extreme risk to the infant. Another might be the opposite. Most would fall in between. Why not presuppose the obvious, medical professionals have an obligation to protect the life of both the mother and the child to the extent possible? If a qualifying clause is necessary, why not one that insures the doctor will act to preserve the life of the individual (mother or child) with the greatest chance for survival? Or perhaps a clause ensuring the doctor will act in behalf of the individual with the greatest medical need but without jeopardizing the survival of the other. Or, if there must be a clause to protect the mother and doctor, why not outlaw late term abortions except when deemed necessary to save the life (a more clear and higher standard than “safety”) of the mother? However, I don’t understand why any clause is needed; if any human being takes action to save a life while acting reasonably to not endanger others there is no culpability. Doctors would merely need to inform the mother prior to delivery of their priorities in extreme situations, i.e., if I must choose I will save your life or vice versa.

As implied above, a late term abortion should not even be called an abortion. When an unborn child is close to full term, the termination of a pregnancy in a manner that terminates the life of the child does not just terminate (abort) a pregnancy, it murders a human being. As stated in a previous post, I am not a physician, but it is beyond my comprehension how the murder of an unborn or partially born, nearly full term baby can in any way contribute to the safety of the mother. It seems to me it could only jeopardize the mother’s safety. The only reason for killing a nearly full term baby is the convenience of the mother and society.

Barack Obama has consistently refused to support efforts to end late term abortions. He has stated he would support a ban on late term abortions if it included exemptions for the safety of the mother. (He has also repeatedly asserted his support for Roe v. Wade, but I am not addressing here that generalized commitment.) I cannot vote for a candidate who refuses to act to end the legalized murder of innocent children. I cannot fathom how any God fearing person can vote for such a candidate. I choose to not condemn my brothers and sisters in Christ who support Obama. I do not know their hearts; I trust they are guided by godly desires for a just society. I challenge them that there can never be a just society that fails to defend the life and liberty of its weaker members. We can never achieve equal opportunity much less equal access to the necessities of life if we refuse to defend the fundamental right to life. Thus, I fear we will all suffer the consequences of not taking a united stance on this fundamental issue. Late term abortions are grievous sin that defiles the image of God and defies his life giving presence.

My Evangelical friends who support Obama frequently respond, “I am pro-life in all of its forms; I oppose war and abortion; that is why I support Obama.” Give me a break; try some logic. The legitimacy of war is not an issue between McCain and Obama. Both have made it clear they favor war to fight terrorism. Neither is pro-life in the sense of opposing war. Their difference is in the execution of war. Obama said we should not invade Iraq; but he also said we should send more troops to Afghanistan and fight more aggressively there. I have often said I cannot be a Democrat because their party seems to always get us into war (Jimmy Carter being the sole exception in the last 100 years -- see my series in September on “Why I am a Republican”).

In summary, the foremost reason I cannot vote for Obama is his consistent refusal to act within his positions of authority to help end the practice of murdering late term babies. Some will consider this language too strong and offensive. They have not begun to consider the offense of late term abortions to ourselves, our futures, our nation, our world, and our God.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Follow-up & links

In the previous post I reported on a coversation with others in which I had suggested that during the last Presidential debate McCain had admitted to negative ads while my associates argued McCain never did this; they said it was Obama who confessed to negative ads. Well, I found a couple of links to the last Presidential debate. The transcript may be found at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/10/debate-transcri.html and a video may be found at http://www.hulu.com/watch/39468/presidential-debate-08-presidential-debate-october-15-2008 The transcript reveals McCain did admit to negative ads ("And the fact is, it's gotten pretty tough. And I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns. But the fact is that it has taken many turns which I think are unacceptable.") It also reveals Obama never answered the question and never admited to negative ads.

Check it out for yourself.

The question remains, why do we hear what we want to hear once we have chosen a candidate?

At any rate, don't confuse me with the facts; I've already got my mind made up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Negative Political Advertising

I recently had a brief conversation with three people very dear to me on the topic of negative political advertising. When I jumped into the discussion it was already a lamentation on the negative ads. It was stated that McCain was the more negative. Someone else referred to some report they had seen that pointed out that Obama was negative in about one third of his ads. It was further noted that he was spending about three times as much as McCain on ads. I raised the question that if those reports are accurate does that mean they are both airing the same amount of negative ads.

It was interesting to me that each of us had seen the last debate, but we remembered the candidate’s responses to the question of negative ads differently. My impression was that McCain was more open than Obama about the fact that their ads were negative. The other three felt the opposite was true. I want to see that part of the debate again. My recollection is that McCain admitted both sides had been negative and proceeded to blame the negativity on Obama’s refusal to participate in town meetings with McCain. (Who knows how that relates?) Obama stated McCain’s ads were 100% negative and his were not.

This led to a question of what constitutes a negative political advertisement. The three of us each seemed to have a different definition. One position (if I understood correctly) was that any critical reference to the opponent was negative and political ads should be limited to stating the individual candidate’s political positions without reference to the other candidate. The discussion ended abruptly as I was called away. It did leave me with an inner drive to determine for myself what ads I consider to be negative.

I have concluded that negative ads lie in the ear of the listener and/or eye of the beholder. Logic suggests that any statement of disagreement is seeded with a negative assessment of one’s opponent. A hint of superiority is implied in every request for a vote; it is very hard to separate “I have a better idea” from “my opponent is not as smart as me.” This could be avoided, or at least lessened, if every election was a referendum on competing concepts rather than competing persons; but we don’t vote on the grounds of who has the best ideas. We vote on the bases of sound bites and how they intersect with our personal concerns.

On another level, political ads can be negative in tone. Emotional tones are of course highly subjective. They can appeal to innate fears and base prejudices. It is hard to avoid hints of age discrimination in the current election, not to mention abiding racism in some sectors of American society. I will let the reader interpret which candidates have knowingly or simply irresponsibly fell into this form of negativity.

As for me, I have come to realize I think of negative political advertisements in terms of truthfulness and intent. This is the threshold of negativity I find unacceptable. Thus, I consider a political advertisement to be negative if (1) its apparent intent is to slander the character or abilities of the opponent, and/or (2) it is intentionally or recklessly misleading. Conversely, I consider an ad acceptable if (1) it merely states the political position(s) of the candidate, i.e., “this is what I believe and will do,” and/or (2) it makes valid comparisons between the candidates and/or provides accurate reports on the positions and/or record of the opponent.

For example, I view the McCain ads pointing out that Obama chose to not vote for laws in Illinois that would have banned partial-birth abortions a valid and appropriate advertisement. Obama has not denied the accuracy of the report. He has instead defended his “present” vote on the grounds (1) the laws did not include exceptions to protect the life of the mother and (2) there were already laws in Illinois opposing the procedure. He is further on record as being committed to protecting Roe v. Wade. From my perspective Obama’s record is clear on this issue and it is legitimate for McCain to point this out. I cannot understand how any reasonable person can defend partial-birth abortions as ever being necessary to protect the life of the mother. Logic says to me the procedure threatens the life of the mother by delaying the completion of the birth, if only for a few moments. While I have not read the pieces of legislation nor compared them to existing laws, Obama’s defense still leaves me with the understanding he has refused to attach his name to a bill that would protect the lives of late-term babies. I have a right to know this. McCain has a responsibility to inform me of this.

On the other hand, I find the McCain ads stating Obama supported legislation to teach sex education to Kindergarten children inappropriate because they appear misleading to me. I suspect Obama is telling the truth when he states the law simply requires kindergarten age children to be taught about appropriate touch. As a pastor I do a children’s sermon every year in the sanctuary worship service addressing the same topic. Again, I have not read the law and should I be wrong and it does include lessons on birth control, I would want to know that and it would be a legitimate advertisement.

Likewise, the McCain ads stating Obama voted X number of times to not fund support for the troops is troubling. It is misleading in that those bills were knotted with conflicting provisions about ending the war. Political games were being played so that a vote against a specific bill did not indicate support for or against the troops. Should there be ads that simply state Obama opposed the war and repeatedly proposed a plan to bring the troops home on a fixed time table they would be valid. Obama’s ads state this, only as a positive. However, Obama now says his timetable is flexible. I wish McCain would play the video tape of the Democratic debates where Obama stated repeatedly the time-table should be firmly set and chastised Hillary Clinton for proposing a flexible time table. My point is that McCain has a right to reveal where Obama has been inconsistent. [By the way, I opposed the war in Iraq on religious grounds long before the first bombs were dropped. War is evil and it should be avoided if at all possible. This war could have been avoided. Unlike Obama, I also opposed the invasion of Afghanistan. The Church of God rightly teaches “nations can and should resolve their differences without going to war.”]

On Ayers, I think McCain like Hillary before him has a right to ask for full disclosure. [While it was in stump speeches and not ads, Palin’s “palling around with terrorists” was way over the line because it clearly implied Obama has some level of approval of terrorism.] On Rev. Wright, I think it was appropriate for Hillary and others to ask questions about Obama’s views on race relations and to press on how he could remain a member of that congregation. [I personally have not heard anything overly offensive from the pastor. America is accountable to God for her unjust and oppressive actions and we as a nation need frequent reminders of God’s sovereignty over us. However, I have only heard the sound bites played on TV news shows and suspect he erred in equating his political views with the Word of God.]

Having illustrated using McCain’s transgressions, as I see them, let me point out a couple of Obama’s. I personally, find his advertisements more offensive, perhaps because I now qualify for some senior-citizen discounts. Obama has skillfully slandered McCain as unfit for the Presidency by repeated use of terms like “erratic” and the ubiquitous “John McCain just doesn’t get it” and ads like those that stress McCain doesn’t use a computer or email. These ads are deceptive caricatures that present a picture of someone who is incompetent to function in modern society. These are subtle, personal attacks. If there was any verifiable evidence McCain is unstable it would be appropriate to present it. Disagreement over policy is not grounds for slander.

Finally, Obama is equally guilty with McCain in giving sound bite quotes taken out of context and thereby distorting the truth. Candidates should be held accountable for the truthfulness of their ads. It is not enough to get the facts right. The real issue is whether the content of the ads accurately reflects the positions and record of the opposing candidate.

In summation, I consider a political advertisement negative not on the bases of tone but on the bases of truthfulness and relevance. John and Barack is it too much to ask that you give us truthful statements that are relevant to the questions of national interest? I can endure a little negative emotion if it helps us get to truth. I have a strong distaste for slander even if it is salted with misleading facts.