Lying In Public

I’ve tended to avoid politics recently on this site, especially after Trump’s take over of the Republican Party and a huge portion of American Protestantism. The posts tend to be some of the least read, but take the most time from me. What feedback I do receive is typically negative, people sending me stupid emails like ‘let me rebuke you in love’ then go on to not mention a single thing about what I wrote, or the challenge I received to list one part of the Democratic party’s platform that fits a Christian worldview (despite this person refusing to do the same for the Republican platform). I’m sure I will hear some of those this time (though all feedback is welcome), but I feel compelled to say something about the recent words of a very prominent theologian.

Al Mohler’s recent statement about his decision to vote for Trump in the coming election caught a lot of people by surprise. I was certainly shocked. You can read/watch Mohler’s own thoughts on Trump from 2016, in a piece called Evangelical Support of Trump Destroys Moral Credibility.  In it, he states that Trump is far worse a person than Bill Clinton and that character matters, going as far as saying he would have to pen an apology to Clinton for supporting his impeachment in the 90’s. Well, apparently now something has changed. Many have pointed his son in law now being part of the Trump administration, that would be disheartening, but ‘reasonable’ in some senses, at least. Jonathan Merritt says this is just what Mohler does, follow trends to stay in power. I remain a little skeptical of this, because it doesn’t sound like much that I’ve heard about him. Again, that would at least make a little sense. Mohler goes through a typical list of political items that he says come from his Biblical Worldview, I want to go through each of these, but again the question, has his worldview changed in four years? He says no, it is the Democratic Party platform that changed.  John Fea has some quick thoughts and David French probably has the best articles out there (read it over the rest of this, if you only have time for one).

I’ll give him credit for admitting that Trump is still a terrible person, he hasn’t changed. I do appreciate that honesty. I do find it somewhat ironic that he says he had no problem, no thought given to voting for Reagan in 1980. So, the guy that signed California’s no-fault divorce and legalized abortion. That guy, the first divorced president in U.S. history (Trump is only the second) was the ‘no-thought’ choice over a Sunday School teacher and member of Mohler’s own Southern Baptist Convention, so maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, but I digress. It is only surprising in so far as he was so staunchly against Trump four years ago and his stunning about face, with no real explanation. Except, again, vague notions against the DNC platform and then the infuriating statement that he doesn’t see how anyone with a Christian worldview wouldn’t vote for Trump. So, what are some of the issues.

Abortion 
I’ve written about this multiple times, so I won’t go much into it now, but for 40 years we’ve supposedly tried to overturn Roe, with no success, meanwhile abortions have fallen every year since the 80’s. While I do find it troubling when presidential candidates say that there is no place for pro-life in their party, or when a governor make a bizarre and painfully ironic declaration that elective abortions are ‘life-sustaining‘, I still do not believe Roe is going anywhere, nor do I believe overturning Roe is the most effective way to reduce abortions.

Transgender Revolution
This perhaps includes a few other LGBT issues, perhaps even a reference to gay marriage. I think the gay marriage issue is even more gone than abortion. Much like overturning Roe won’t end abortions, ending gay marriage won’t end, what, homosexual activity, I guess. As it is, less and less people are getting married and the divorce rate remains higher than other countries. I’d rather see us explain the importance and value of marriage than argue about who can or can’t. Lowering the cohabitation and divorce rates seem far more important. I haven’t written much about the Transgender issues, mostly because I struggle to understand them. Mohler talks about them somewhat frequently on his Podcast. I do think there are problems there, but I do not think this is as common or as supported as people seem to believe. I also think some of the ‘movement’ will collapse under the weight of their own logical inconsistency and/or fracture into other identity issues. Maybe, I’m too naive.

Religious Liberty
Granted, this one I do have some concern about, but I don’t actually believe it is split as nicely as ‘R’ for and ‘D’ against. Warren showed her ignorance of church membership make up and Beto took a last ditch effort as his campaign by supporting the end of tax benefits for Biblical based churches. Warren was quickly reminded that minorities, a huge constituency for Democrats, have higher church attendance or more Biblically based (conservative) views than whites. Even Buttigieg said Beto’s idea was dumb, and his campaign was over. It is essentially required that Democrats go to pander at black churches (just as Republicans are required to pander to white celebrity pastors). This alone makes me feel safe against any attacks on religious liberty (of actual religious institutions, I don’t care about bakeries).

Here’s the thing, even if I was scarred, is tying myself to Trump the answer? I don’t remember Paul or Peter ever giving money or using the pulpit to support the Roman emperor in hopes of ending persecution. To be clear, when you go all Karen on the kid at Target because he is required to say ‘Happy Holidays’ and no one supports you, it is because you are a dick, not because you are persecuted. Maybe I’ll write more on this later, but the Bible is filled verses about standing strong in the face of persecution, or rejoicing, or growing, but as far as I know, there is nothing about seeking political power through moral corruption to end your suffering. So, even if we end up with actual issues in my lifetime (which I do not believe will happen), our first call is to persevere, not worship the emperor.

Similarly to our focus on the importance of marriage, maybe if we were known for things like care for the sick, widowed, orphan, and those in prison, or maybe if we did a better job of loving our neighbor, our standing would be higher in society and we’d have the moral esteem to speak on issues. I’m not saying we should abandon the whole gospel for the truncated social gospel as the ‘mainline’ churches did 100 years ago, but it is important to remember that Roman emperors used to be annoyed because they wanted to get rid of us, but the people supported us due to our care for ‘even those not among them’.

Constitutional Interpretation 
He uses the seminary word, hermeneutics, but if you listen to his Podcast, you know he means ‘strict constructionist’ and is/was a big fan of Scalia. I would say this is an idiotic statement, but I believe Molher is quite intelligent, so he must just be disingenuous here. Strict interpretation is fine, tearing it up and starting again is fine, a more reasonable approach (say…amendments) is also fine. What none of them has is a singular Biblical basis. If anything, I’d say his view is the worst as it is dangerous for the president of the flagship seminary of America’s largest denomination to equate the Constitution with something that is perfect and immutable. It is almost blasphemous to me.

 

I think that is generally a summary of his main problems. I don’t really agree with him, as the past thousand words should show. I do think the DNC has a lot of problems, perhaps foremost is their staunch abortion support. It is unfortunate that this has become a litmus tests for their candidates and the main reason I’ll never be a Democrat. However, let’s not pretend the Republican platform is perfect.

I believe in fiscal discipline, something that has far more Biblical support than any of Mohler’s concerns for ‘liberty’ or constitutional issues. St. Ronnie gave us the first peacetime deficit, all so he could give the rich tax breaks (this also required new taxes on social security). Bush tried to tighten things and lost support because of it. Clinton gave us the only surplus in my lifetime. Bush pissed it away. Obama shrunk the deficit for seven years. Trump added a Trillion to it in just two years. (This was all before the very necessary spending to fight Covid that has added to the deficit). I’m alright with minor deficits, maybe 1% of GDP max, but that is outside the scope of this post. I think the reason for them matters as well. The reason for Trump’s Trillions was a tax cut for the rich, during a time of economic expansion, partly paid for through increases on families with children (don’t tell me you gave me a tax break by increasing the standard deduction, which I don’t use, by $12,000 and then removing $25,000 in personal exemptions). Unfortunately, most people struggle with math or are unaware of how taxes work. I tried not to be happy when lower middle and middle income Trump supporters ended up with a huge tax bill after the ‘cut’.

Likewise, the Republican platform just does not care about people or families. They oppose things like sick leave or maternity leave (we are one of about five countries depending on how you count it that does not have this), they have no interest in fixing the fact that we have the most expensive childcare, medical care, and education in the world. That is not a platform I support either. Senate leader McConnell recently fought for no oversight for 7/8 figure bonuses for CEOs of companies getting taxpayer money, but he is opposed to supporting states/cities getting money because some of that money may go to help retired firefighter, teachers, and nurses who worked their whole lives for it.

Finally, as a government employee, I am sick of the years and years I’ve seen Republicans attack, defund, undermine, and destroy public infrastructure, then turn around and say it doesn’t work. They are the proverbial kid on a bike that puts a stick through the spokes of the front wheel while riding, then complains the bike doesn’t work. That is also not a platform I support. I’m not even going to get started on Trump, the man who disbanded the Pandemic Response team, decided not to open enrollment in the ACA so that people who have lost their jobs can get healthcare, and who suggested maybe we could inject bleach (with our doctors) to fight Covid-19. Neither parties have platforms I can support, so I focus on people and if you were trying to make up someone, I’m not sure you could some up with someone as bad as Trump (who has also stated that he has never done anything wrong, so he’s never needed to ask God for forgiveness, and received 81% of the white Evangelical vote).

I could go on with his issues, but I won’t. I just want a competent president, one that understands basic math, science, history, or politics. I’d like one that was at least somewhat moral, a ‘decent’ person by society standards (as a Christian, I don’t believe anybody is ‘good’). We just could not be further than this with Trump. Mohler disagrees, I still don’t buy what he is saying. None of the issues have changed much recently. He is a smart man, so I do not believe he has been tricked, nor do I believe his views have changed. I fear he is more concerned with political power and to state that his view is the only Biblical worldview is him just lying in public.

Edit – I spent the majority of my Christian life in SBC churches, taking classes at SBC seminaries, and even had hopes of one day attending Mohler’s own Southern Seminary for PhD work. I do not currently attend an SBC church, but when the topic of our church joining a denomination comes up, I push for SBC. I am subscribed to Mohler’s podcast and have read many of his articles. However, this is just too much, and if he somehow becomes president of the SBC next year, I think it will permanently damage them. I certainly could not support them the same way.

 

Book Review: Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Moderate, you’ll need some basic familiarity with economics, politics, and history; Long (462 pages before acknowledgements, notes, etc.) overly repetitious and a bit tedious.

Summary 
As I start to write the review, it dawns on me that perhaps the title is a bit misleading. It isn’t so much about why they fail, as to why the never even get off the ground. Some nations seem doomed from the start, however, other become wildly successful. Ultimately, I think, the point of the book is who are the ones that are successful and how does that happen? Acemoglu and Robinson pin it two factors, which taken with their opposites form something like a matrix or quadrant, and you need to overlap with the positive of both. These are whether or not you nation is politically inclusive and, and perhaps more importantly, the whether or not you have extractive institutions.

The politic aspect is fairly straight forward, are you in a dictatorship (or other controlling, top down government) or in a democracy (or other form of responsive government)? If you have no say in politics, and government is controlled by a few or just one person, it is fairly easy to see why that wouldn’t work. The more complicated and impactful side is the extractive institutions. These can take many forms, such as contract law or heavy taxation, but a good example is property rights. If you know you have solid and secure property rights, you are more likely to invest and build up your business. If you fear that an institution may step in at any moment and take your land or business from you, why bother?

The book itself is broken into 15 chapters, with an interesting preface about Mubarak and Egypt. The first chapter compares Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora; the two cities have similar culture and geography, so why is one rich and the other poor? The chapter serves as the intro to the book and leads into the second chapter where the debunk the reasons for poverty being related to genetics or weather, among others. Chapters 3 through 12 are basically case studies where the authors look a different political situation throughout history through the lenses of responsiveness and extractiveness. In 13 and 14, the authors discuss nations that fail today those that have become successful. The final chapter looks at our attempts to help impoverished nations and how understanding the causes, as the have proposed, will help us to better understand why those attempts have failed and how we can do better going forward.

My Thoughts
First, about the book itself – the authors are both academics, and the book certainly reads that way to an extent. The book could have been much more concise, dropping at least 100 pages without missing any case studies are points. I think part of the issue may come from the publisher/editor, in that instead of setting up most of the chapters as case studies that then looked at their points each time, it might have been better to make their points, and then touch on case studies as proof. Instead, each chapter could almost be read independently, meaning there is too much repetition of their point.

To the content of the book – it was fascinating, anyone with interest in economics, history, or politics, this book is a must read. One of the the more interesting points of history to me, was the impact of the Plague on serfdom in Europe. Eastern Europe reacted one way, England another, which would then impact America (as it was founded with this change as part of history), which ultimately effects me today. Had the reaction in England been the same as the Austria-Hungary reaction, who knows how different the Western World would look, perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this review right now.

Another point the spend some time on that is worth considering is looking beyond just economics. The point to growth of the economy under Stalin, but that the nation still failed. It is also helpful to see and understand how the impacts of colonialism, which was not inclusive but very extractive, still effects those countries and peoples today. The point was driven home a little more for me because I live in the South, which they actually spend some time on. The impacts of slavery on the economics of white people is still being felt today, though less so than a few decades ago. The discussion centers on the fact that obviously slavery is extractive and was horrible for black people, but it also never would have worked politically because it included so few people in the institutions. Most white people were shut out of the economy and wages and this impact lasted a long time. They point out the that median income in the South was about 40% of the median income through the rest of the nation as recently as 1950.

All of this works back to a reminder that part of why life is good for me today is pure luck. From serfdom in England, to the Civil War, on through today. If Lincoln had let the South succeed and be it’s own country, it clearly would have failed, based on the theories of the authors. Meaning, I could be living in a failed state right now, instead of America. They call it ‘small differences and critical juncture’ in history, but it is basically an accident of history; it is somewhat sobering to consider.

Overall, and interesting and challenging book. It could certainly be a bit shorter and cleaner, which is why I didn’t rate it higher, but a book that is well worth the read and one to put on your list.

Hannity and Jeffress

I’ve rewritten the first sentence to this post about 10 times already, I’m just not sure where to start. I agree with all of John Fea’s points here, but I want to say a little more about the problem. Jeffress speech, and it was a speech not a sermon, was fine. It was a political speech to be sure, one that most Christians would get behind. Though, you really shouldn’t with point number 1, about the Ten Commandments. See my review of One Nation Under God for more, I don’t feel like go through it all again. Also, from the Wikipedia page on the Ten Commandments:

In the 1950s and 1960s the Fraternal Order of Eagles placed possibly thousands of Ten Commandments displays in courthouses and school rooms, including many stone monuments on courthouse property.[133] Because displaying the commandments can reflect a sectarian position if they are numbered (see above), the Eagles developed an ecumenical version that omitted the numbers, as on the monument at the Texas capitol (shown here). Hundreds of monuments were also placed by director Cecil B. DeMille as a publicity stunt to promote his 1956 film The Ten Commandments.[134] Placing the plaques and monuments to the Ten Commandments in and around government buildings was another expression of mid-twentieth century U.S. civil religion, along with adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.[132]

His second point on abortion is good, though I don’t think Christian’s should be single issue voters. His final point on gay marriage and the Obergefell decision is also pretty standard, though I guess here, too, we could debate the merits of government trying to legislate morality.

Everything was fine, for his speech. Nothing too dramatic or out of the ordinary for political pundits or Court Evangelicals. He gives his speech, then turns the stage over to Sean Hannity to promote his upcoming movie. All this is fine, if it had occurred on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, really any time other than Sunday morning. His church is large, and holds an enormous audience, so it is fine to hold a big publicity event there, logistically. However, this was the regular worship service. His speech was a political message, not the Gospel of Jesus. Sunday morning and the worship service of any given church is for proclaiming Christ. It is a time for the ordinary means of grace, the preaching of the Word, taking of communion, and baptism (if you have one).

Jeffress welcomed everyone to hear the Gospel, but I didn’t hear it preached in his message. There was no call to repentance, no need for Christ explained. There was no redemptive narrative. There was only the call to vote not repent, to focus on politics no the cross, to regain power instead of humble yourself, and to make America great again not proclaim the greatness of God.

The American church, for the most part, has sold itself to political power. Events like this one on Sunday at First Baptist Dallas show where are focus is. A cable news hosting received a standing ovation for, well, being a cable news host. There was a roar of the crowd when he, the political conservative, was pitted against another cable news host, a liberal.

I don’t have much else to say about this. I just find it extremely disconcerting. Again, it is not necessarily his message, what he is saying and doing, but when and where he is doing it. This entanglement and church and politics. The movement away form the Gospel to power and control. We can easily look back now at the 1920’s-50’s and see how the ‘mainline’ churches lost focus. Inspired by the Enlightenment, there focus became humanities goodness. The focus on the Social Gospel took time and energy away from the actual Gospel, and they’ve never regained it.

I wonder if in another 50 years, we will look back and say to the 1908’s through now and say, inspired by the Moral Majority and Reagan, the ‘evangelical’ church lost their focus. We looked to political power and away from the cross. Christ tells us you can not serve two masters, and events like these make me wonder which one we are really serving.

 

One other note, Jeffress said government is ‘designed and instituted by God’, described it as ‘ordained and holy’ as the church. I wonder what he thought/thinks of Reagan and his message of ‘government is the problem.’ This could be a whole post to itself, so I won’t get too much into it now, but this is why I stopped being a Republican. The picking and choosing of when government is good and when it should be involved in regulating things.

 

Finally, I’ll also steal the idea from Dr. Fea’s other post, comparing Jeffress’ message to the one of my church. The sermon doesn’t seem to be up yet (edit – sermon), but I’ll post it when it is. My pastor gave a message on Political Power. How it is not our goal in life, and that we are called to be Christians first (not America first). I believe his sermon is in complete opposition to what Jeffress is doing. Whether explicitly or subconsciously, he is more concerned with preserving the political power of Christians than he is morality or the Gospel message.