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.

You might also be interested in taking a survey to compare your values with Obama's stated positions.

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.


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.

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 and a video may be found at 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.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Great Emergence?

I don’t recall ever being so enthralled and irritated reading a book as last week when I read The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why by Phyllis Tickle [(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008) ISBN 978-0-8010-1313-3]. Once I started I couldn't put it down. This book offers an explanation of the current great transformation taking place in Christianity, what Tickle calls the Great Emergence. Her thesis is that Christianity (probably all religions and civilizations) undergoes massive reorientation every five hundred years or so. Those transformations are preceded by a period of unrest; they result in new forms of the faith, a revitalization of the older dominant form, and a rapid expansion of the faith. The Christian transformations are labeled as the ones identified with Gregory the Great, the Great Schism, the Great Reformation, and the current Great Emergence.

The beauty and power of this book is Tickle’s ability to weave a majestic tapestry of the diverse cords that flow through Christian history, multiply in the twentieth century and converge into what is most often called postmodernity. Tickle virtually ignores this slightly older term (postmodern) and opts for the more narrowly focused term emergence. Her great gift is the ability to use real life metaphors to encapsulate complex scientific/cultural/religious developments so that the average reader can grasp the big picture. She is a gifted writer, using prose that is clear and enticing.

Tickle traces the influences on twenty-first century Christianity along the same lines I have traced them for the past twenty-plus years teaching on the historical foundations for Christian formation. She and I factor in the importance of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Marx, Darwin, Einstein, liberalism, fundamentalism, the Great Depression, the twentieth century wars, the explosion of technology, etc. She does it all with much greater skill than I ever will.

She paints an enticing portrait, first of the factors influencing North American Christianity, and second of a speculative future with emergents forming the integrative center of Christianity. But she fails to effectively defend her broad generalizations about the role of the emergent movement in the future of Christianity. The text is full of assertions without evidence of fact (i.e., 85% of Christianity will be emergent). Documentation (if available) would have been helpful. In all of this she truncates the future of Christianity into the United States as if Christianity will be defined by what is happening in an increasingly irrelevant sector of the church. In short, she has a good grasp of the great influences on our present situation but grossly overstates the influence of the emergents and misdiagnoses the current condition because she chooses to ignore the greater influences on the present. Her work is less than convincing on several fronts.

First, she is overly committed to a paradigm of periodic transformations of Christianity. She fails to recognize that that very paradigm is a product of a progressive view of history birthed in the nineteenth century. It is the paradigm that gave us Marx’s view of inevitable social evolution, Dewey’s pragmatism and progressive education, and Whitehead’s process theology. A closer look at her model (see page 17) reveals it just doesn’t fit the facts associated with either the period of Gregory the Great or the Great Schism.

Second, she fails to explore the underlying philosophic shifts associated with periodic changes in Western worldviews. The major shifts in church history are the results of changing appropriations of ancient Greek philosophies: Plato’s Idealism and Aristotle’s realism in particular. The Dark Ages were inaugurated by Augustine’s introduction of Platonic thought into the mainstream of Christian theology. The Renaissance flows out of Aquinas’s introduction of Aristotle into mainstream theology. Modernity is the product of the ongoing struggle between Christian Platonism and Christian Realism. Postmodernity is the product of the secularization of the guiding beliefs of the Western world resulting in the marginalization of Christianity. Tickle seems to assume Christianity is still at the center of Western societies and thereby fails to recognize the issue is no longer can the church be reformed; the question is will it survive.

Third, as stated above, while she is careful to state in the text that she is only addressing Christianity in North America, she writes as if what is happening here will determine what happens in the rest of the world. The emergent movement that she focuses on is a fringe (if well publicized) expression of Christianity with limited presence outside of England, New Zealand, Australia, and North America. Perhaps it should be called the emerging Anglo Christianity (dare I say “Anglican”), but that would over state the evidence as well. Christianity has been rapidly expanding in Latin America, Africa, and Asia throughout the past fifty years, where the expansion is predominantly a Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. (Here her paradigm breaks down; the rapid expansion of the church is preceding the rise of the emergent movement.) Recent scholarship makes it clear the current transformation of Christianity began a century ago and is now centered in the so-called two-thirds world. [See especially, Pentecostalism and the Future of the Christian Churches: Promises, Limitations, Challenges by Richard Shaull and Waldo A. Cesar (2000), but also look at Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century by Harvey Cox (2001) and The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins.]

Fourth, Tickle’s “cable of meaning” metaphor for explaining the processes of periodic transformations of the church, while enticing, is fraught with difficulties. For example, the tri-partition of meaning into spirituality, morality, and corporality (pages 36-37) fails to recognize the essential unity of truth. She defines spirituality and morality as internal and externalized values. Corporality refers to the “evidences” that something (religion) exists. Thus, the three strands are actually two: values (internal and external) are one strand and evidences are a second. The metaphor builds off of a philosophic dualism. This allows her to address homosexuality as being a corporal rather than a moral issue (see footnote 1, page 39, page 101), and thereby imply it is inevitable the church will eventually recognize the acceptability of homosexuality.

Fifth, her generalizations of sola scriptura are misleading. Protestants never placed all authority in Scripture and seldom excluded some form of a magisterium beyond the individual. Certainly the authority of Scripture is being challenged and adjusted in this era, but the Bible will remain the authoritative voice of God in authentic Christianity.

Finally, speaking as a Pentecostal, it would be helpful if Tickle did not misrepresent the character of the movement. Pentecostals have not replaced Scripture as authority with experience of the Spirit as authority (page 85). Pentecostals are people of the Book. They understand their experience of the Spirit and their experience of the Bible as a unified whole. For them the Bible is not a dead book, it is Word of God, always breathed and carried by the Spirit. The authority of Scripture is never in doubt; the issue is the authority to interpret Scripture. Pentecostals are transrational; the hermeneutic endeavor requires humans to bring the best of their reason to the interpretive task but to reject reason as the sole arbiter of truth. Bible study is turned on its head; the objective is not to properly interpret the Bible, but to allow the Bible to interpret us. All authority resides in the Word and the Spirit.

In conclusion, near the end of the text (p. 161) she makes a most significant observation about the transformation of Christianity during the time of Constantine, “More consequential even than doctrine per se was Christianity’s shift, under Constantine’s protective aegis, from Judaism’s holistic theology and holistic conceptualization of human life and structure to the dualism of Greek philosophy and of Greco-Roman culture.” Here she raises the question of whether the emergents with their emphasis on church tradition will appropriate the pre-Constantinian, Judaic worldview. In this she stops just short of what is for me the central question facing Christianity as we move further into postmodernity: should the church seek not just to learn from but to see restored the essential realities of primitive Christianity and if so what would that look like? [This was in truth the question raised by the pre-reformers, the reformers, John Wesley, the nineteenth century restorationists, and the early Pentecostals.] My own suspicion is that the emerging Christianity of the South and East has already begun to resolve that question and that the Euro/American emergents have not yet fully faced it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Video Link

One of my students sent me this link. You might find it funny, or enlightening, or politically offensive.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Surprising(?) Conversation with Pastors

Last evening I attended an ecumenical meeting of about thirty pastors from Cleveland and Bradley County. There were Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Pentecostals and others. The gathering was sponsored by the Bradley Initiative for Church and Community (BICC). I have been highly involved in BICC from its beginning ten years ago. The Executive Director, Brenda Hughes, is a member of our church. BICC functions out of a community listening process. We listen to people as they identify strengths and challenges of our community. We collate the responses, identify the major areas of concern, research the underlying causes, and develop and implement programs to address the concerns. In ten years we have (1) created a credit union to help overcome predatory lending, (2) sponsored multiple inter-cultural festivals attended by thousands, (3) created an individual development account program to match savings for people saving for education, first time home ownership, etc. (4) created an adult high school within the county school system, (5) initiated a preschool program, (6) implemented a mentoring program for elementary school age children, (7) implemented a leadership development program for at risk youth, (8) created a home-based early childhood development program, (9) created Council on Inter-racial relationships, (10) created a community foundation for sustained “entrepreneurial philanthropy” for community development, and (11) sponsored multiple community forums for open discussion of the issues. I probably left out a few programs, but you get the idea.

I moderated the listening process for pastors last night. The pastors responded pretty much the way the community at large responds: appreciation for the values of the community, commitment for education, role of the churches in community life, ethnic diversity. These were countered by concerns for limited educational funding, the disintegration of families, the rise in gangs and drug use, challenges associated with population growth, etc.

I concluded the discussion with a set of questions on what is unique about ministry in Bradley County, culminating in a discussion of personal needs as ministers. The central response might surprise many people, including pastors. These pastors said their greatest need was for a friend, someone to talk with. But a few years ago the Pew Foundation did a multi-denominational survey of pastors and found pastors within all faiths have a strong desire for friendship. They feel isolated from mutual human contact, relationships of shared concern and open and honest dialog. The Church of God Theological Seminary duplicated the extensive Pew pastor’s survey with the same results. Our pastors feel they need a friend, someone with whom they can be real and just talk.

My own suspicion is that American pastors are carrying the burden of the declining influence of Christianity on American society. Congregations are stressed to their limits to maintain buildings and programs and project an image of relevance and success. An unhealthy professionalism has infected ministers. Pastors have voluntarily been molded into the role of CEO’s and are finding it lonely at the top. The gulf between the clergy and the congregant is widening, and competition between churches further isolates the pastor. How can we nurture healthy congregations if pastors feel isolated from church members and from each other? Jesus prayed “that they may be one.” Let us pray that our pastors and congregations find their way back into authentic Christian fellowship.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Break from Politics -- Pitiful Poetry

All I have written so far on this blog is about politics. I offer here a poetic identification with Elijah in the Wilderness. I wrote this out of my own experience in the early nineties.


Oh, God, where?
Where do I go from here?
I sought to know your will;
Want to know it still.
All you have said is “waite, be patient.”
I’ve tried to sit and be content.
How long am I to linger under this tree
Looking for a messenger of majesty?

Where must I go to hear you speak?
A still, small voice is all I seek.

I am an unworthy instrument,
Not certain of your intent.
I keep myself at your feet,
Unwilling to consider retreat,
Knowing I have nothing to give,
Not even the life I live.
What I do not possess, I can not tender.
All I can hope is to fully surrender.
Place in your hands
All your will demands
You are Creator God
I but a vessel of sod.

Where must I go to hear you speak?
A still, small voice is all I seek.

Early 90’s

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who Won the Debate?

It all depends on where you set the bar. Biden went in with the huge advantages of a Washington insider. For thirty years his life has centered on national politics. He has lived the ongoing policy debates of our government for three decades. Further, he has multiple presidential debates under his belt. Palin entered national politics less than two months ago and has only debated on a state level.

If we are measuring clarity of response to the specific questions asked and cogency of argument, I think Biden gave the better performance. He showed uncharacteristic restraint in his responses. He addressed the issues as presented and responded to Palin’s charges. Palin had a tendency to divert questions back to her key issues in ways that ignored important aspects of the topics. While it is strength to be able to logically tie issues together, if the connections are not clear it appears the speaker is trying to skirt the issue. She did an good job of presenting her core arguments, but at times seemed off topic.

If we are measuring the more ambiguous specter of personal presence, I think Biden also won. He did a better job of presenting himself as Presidential. In the face of national fear over the economy, he looked and spoke like a competent CEO. Palin, while looking competent, professional, and relaxed, came across as too folksy to demand the same level of respect as a leader in a time of crises.

If we are measuring validity and veracity, I think Palin won the evening. She was true to her message and that of McCain, making points that she knew are highly unpopular (for example, defending aspects of the war in Iraq). She came with clear set of criticisms of Obama. As for Biden, he got a lot of facts wrong, facts that he should as an insider have gotten right (for example, an erroneous correction of Palin about the Obama/McCain voting record). But he presented them with such confidence they appeared accurate. He had the burden of living with his own sharp criticisms of Obama during the debate and the best he could do was ignore those about faces each time Palin brought them up. She was not free from error or political spin but her statements were consistently grounded in conviction.

If we are measuring political strategy for the event, I think it was a tie leaning in Palin’s direction. She came in the underdog and did an outstanding job renewing her convention persona and thereby reconnecting with the conservative public (especially the Republican base which was desperate for a sign). She was cogent, articulate, personable, and consistently conservative. She threaded the gay rights issue well enough while stressing her personal convictions and renewing her commitment to traditional marriage. In short, she reversed the negative slide projecting herself as a positive force (not a drag) on the ticket. Biden was constrained, articulate and on message. He did not create problems for his ticket. Neither bloodied the nose of the opposing ticket much less deliver a knockout blow.

Although I don’t think I have written it before today, I have always said this race is the Democrats to lose. We have an unpopular Republican President, an unpopular war, and a struggling economy. So far they have not fumbled the ball.

Consider and