President Trump, Your Words Matter

What we honor matters a great deal. And what our leaders honor by their speech sets the tone for what we honor as a nation.

“The wicked freely┬ástrut about when what is vile is honored among men.”

Psalm 12:8

What we honor matters a great deal. And what our leaders honor by their speech sets the tone for what we honor as a nation. In the wake of Charlottesville and the ongoing conversation about the realities of racism and hatred in our nation it is incredibly important that we clearly name what is taking place.

The wicked strutted about freely in Charlottesville this week. In the 1950’s and 60’s, the racism was much more violent as young black men and women were lynched and raped. And yet the angry white men disguised themselves in pointy hoods. What was honored openly by our leaders and our society did not include vindictive, sharp and divisive rhetoric. It was a virtue to be polite and respectful. To be sure, the hypocrisy was deep and the hate and ugliness real. But we did not openly honor these things and even the racist leaders spoke in measured tones.

And yet this week we saw wicked white supremacists marching openly, brazenly and full of vile. No hoods. No shame. Why? How is this possible? There is no doubt that this is a deeply complex issue. But as a white man who loves Jesus and loves my neighbors I will not stand by silently as a deeply flawed man leads our nation and honors what is vile.

President Trump, you have spent your life honoring what is vile. You have degraded women with your words and your actions. You have called an entire group of people “rapists” and claimed a man was unfit to lead because of his ethnic heritage. You have openly called for violence against protestors and against your rivals. You elevate every petty dispute and take it personally, childishly calling out opponents on Twitter. It doesn’t matter if you were “joking.” You honor and promote what you speak out. All our words matter, but as the President of the United States your words matter probably more than any other human on the planet. President Trump, you have honored what is vile and because of it, the wicked strut about freely today. They are emboldened in ways we have not seen for decades. And there is direct correlation.

So what are we to do? We must call the vile by its name and declare that it has no place in our nation. We cannot honor it and we cannot let leaders who do so get away with it. Instead we must call on our leaders to honor what is good and right and true. What is kind and strong and pure. We must call them to account every time they honor and elevate any vile thing. And it must start with our President.

Do not tell me, “what more do you want? He condemned it in the strongest terms!” If he is serious about his condemnation he will change his tone. He will stop tweeting. He will apologize for his many vile comments and repent of his wicked acts. Just as I must first acknowledge the darkness and sin in my own heart if I hope to find redemption, so must he. And just as we would not say someone is a changed man if they were baptized and yet actively continue in sin for years with no attempt to change, we cannot say that one strong statement constitutes a sufficient response to this time in our nation.

I have opposed Donald Trump from the very beginning of his campaign not because of a single policy position he held but because of his character. That’s it. So many conservatives scoffed at me and gave me all the reasons why opposing him was foolish. I never wavered. Why? Because “when the righteous thrive, the people rejoice.” But “when what is vile is honored by men, the wicked freely strut about.” Leadership matters. Character matters. Words matter. Just ask Heather Heyer.

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“When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice.”

Proverbs 29:2

Don’t be pointless, be salty

The daily barrage of culture wars has me thinking recently about the proper role of a Christian family in America in 2017. One common theme I’m seeing in social media really concerns me: threatening to further disengage and entrench.

We live in a socially fractured time. Digital life has inflamed centuries old tribalism driven by economics, geography and human nature to new and uncharted levels. Technology is actively and strategically segregating us based on our “likes,” preferences and internet habits. Many Americans are quite happy living in their bubbles – their news feeds mostly full of people who agree with them. Christians may be the worst offenders. Now people are threatening to take even more steps, in the real, physical world, to detach from organizations and communities of people because they disagree – even when they have far more agreement than disagreement.

By and large, Christians in America in the last 30 years have been inclined to stay in our bubbles. We may have engaged in limited ways, taking culture wars public on abortion and sexuality, for example. And of course there are notable exceptions. But socially we retreat and seek comfort. I can’t help but see the irony in this for those of us whose namesake, Jesus, literally left all comfort and holy security to enter a broken and uncomfortable world, dying a brutal and painful death to give us freedom and life.

I’ve lived the struggle on this. I get it. Let me give you a few examples that may sound familiar.

When our kids were coming to school age my wife and I prayed and talked a lot about the best approach for our family. Should we homeschool? Put them in private school? If so, Christian or not? Put them in public school?

Or how about trying to decide what movies and youtube channels to let our kids watch? Or whether or not to expose them to the news of the day, and when? Conversations about sexuality? Should we have close family friends whose values don’t align with ours and how much time should we spend with them? The list goes on and on when you’re trying to figure out how to live as a Christian family in America.

As we’ve wrestled with these decisions there has been one word that has guided me: salt.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Matthew 5:13

Salt did a lot of things around the time Jesus made this statement. Primarily it flavored and preserved food. One thing about salt really strikes me: it cannot do its work unless it is touching the thing it is supposed to flavor or preserve. In fact, it is most effective when it is worked in really well. As someone who believes the words of Jesus were careful, intentional and divine, I put a lot of weight not only on what He said but how He said it and in what context.

“Losing your saltiness” is a curious phrase for Jesus to use as salt is a very stable chemical and it is very difficult for it to “lose its saltiness.” Instead, it seems what Jesus is saying when you see the full context of his sermon here, is, “don’t be pointless.” Don’t be a lamp hidden under a bowl. Don’t be innocent of murder but guilty of slander. Don’t be innocent of extramarital sex but guilty of unbridled lust. So for this salty business, said another way it might be, “don’t stop being salt and doing what salt does. If so, you might as well be sand, thrown in with the other sand and trampled. You’re no different than ordinary sand.”

Our family has sought to be the salt of the earth in all we do. We have failed on many fronts, no doubt. But we have taken seriously our call to be the salt of the earth and the warning not to lose our saltiness. Being salty for our family has meant staying engaged, mixing in, being fully present in our culture. We must always be aware of the risks. We must be thoughtful and wise about how we engage. Most importantly, we must abide in the Vine every day and be full of the Spirit if we want to bear good fruit – to stay salty.

On school, we decided to put our kids in public school and there were several reasons. We thought to ourselves, “if every Christian family pulls out of public schools, what will that leave? How will that serve the lost in those schools?” And closely behind that was the fact that we wanted to disciple our kids in a way that equipped them to engage the world and make disciples. After all – the very definition of a disciple of Jesus includes being one who makes more disciples (Matthew 28.) If our kids didn’t even know how to interact with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, we thought, how will they be the most effective disciples possible? I have a lot of respect and love for families who choose differently. But this was our thought process.

It didn’t take long for this to be confirmed when, in the first few months of school while driving with a friend of my kids from school in the car with us we were talking about Jesus and he asked, “who is jeebus?” The chance right then and there to not only tell this precious kid about Jesus for the very first time but also to have my kids be a part of it was something I will never forget and am very thankful for. Not more than a few weeks later a weeping mother came out of my daughter’s kindergarten classroom during drop-off and I got a chance to pray with her. The stories go on.

My son is in Cub Scouts. In recent years lots of Christians have pulled out of Scouting because of its relaxation on gay leaders serving. That happened before my son started, so we went in knowing that policy was in place. You know what I’ve found? Many of the families in Scouts are there looking for values and experiences for their boys that reflect about 90% of what Christians believe and yet many, at least in our area, are not Christians. I’m glad they’re there. I love spending time with them. I consider them friends. Our pack is a crazy, fun mix of different types of people from different backgrounds and it’s great.

Within our Christian circles we segregate too. Perhaps even worse. They say, after all, that Sunday is the most segregated day in America. It’s not just race though. Increasingly, Christians are seeking churches that match their political and cultural values instead of trying to find a church that is faithful to the gospel where they can grow as disciples. I’m so thankful to be a part of church that allows room for a lot of complexity and diversity. The small group that meets at our house every week includes not only racial diversity but perhaps even more importantly, political diversity. We have staunch Trump supporters and people who knocked doors for Obama. We have independents, Republicans and Democrats. We have homeschoolers, private schoolers, and public schoolers. We have plumbers and teachers and doctors and consultants. It’s not always neat and tidy. But I wouldn’t want it any other way and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them, united as we are by a larger calling, a bigger purpose, a divine love – united in Christ.

So as you’re wrestling with how to navigate the American cultural waters in 2017 as a Christian family I’d like to make one plea: be salty. Don’t be a pointless pile of religious sand. I’m not sure what this will look like for you and your family, but get out there and get into the mess and brokenness that so badly needs the flavoring, preserving love of Jesus.

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4 Things Bonhoeffer Would Say To Us Today

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young, vibrant, brilliant man imprisoned and killed by the Nazi’s. He was arrested for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and later hanged, just as the Nazi regime was collapsing. He wrote faithfully to his family and friends while imprisoned. He reflected passionately and with great insight on the prevailing culture and the importance of standing up for Truth in the face of confusing, chaotic and difficult times.

I found his “Reckoning made at New Year 1943” haunting and at the same time comforting for the tumultuous days we are in. For now, we face nowhere near the threat Bonhoeffer and his fellow Germans faced. I pray the horrors of the Holocaust never again revisit this Earth. But we are indeed in a time of national crisis. We have a crisis of conscience. A lack of moral and ethical clarity from our political leaders. And cultural upheaval and unease where many are taking sides, few are building bridges and, I daresay, battle lines are being drawn.

Against this backdrop I wanted to share several passages from Bonhoeffer that I think offer needed clarity. Reflect on them, find comfort in them and above all, let them inspire you to grounded, steadfast action for the common good.

1 – On Failing to Speak Against Injustice and Immorality

This passage so concisely critiques the failure of so many Christians and others of moral leadership today that you would think it was written this week. May we not “step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party” but instead stand firm in the Truth – unafraid, not bitter, humble.

The “reasonable” people’s failure is obvious. With the best of intentions and a naive lack of realism, they think that with a little reason they can bend back into position the framework that has got out of joint. In their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved. Disappointed by the world’s unreasonableness, they see themselves condemned to ineffectiveness; they step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party.

Here and there people flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But anyone who does this must shut his mouth and his eyes to the injustice around him. Only at the cost of self-deception can he keep himself pure from the contamination arising from responsible action.

2 – On the Folly of Blind Acceptance

This passage so closely mirrors the reality I see with both Trump supporters and #TheResistance. So many have “given up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves,” instead relying on their chosen media (or social media) outlets to tell them what reality is. In so doing, we become fools. Yet my disposition to those who behave this way should be the same that I would ask from them – loving grace for the ways I fail without compromising truth.

If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted or destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and – more or less unconsciously – give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves. The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him.

The only profitable relationship to others – and especially to our weaker brethren – is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humans but become man for men’s sake.

3 – On the Proper Response to Trump

We will not and must not be either outraged critics or opportunists, but must take our share of responsibility for the moulding of history in every situation and at every moment, whether we are the victors or the vanquished.

How deeply this convicts me! How easy it is to become the outraged critic and how prevalent this is among so many in the United States right now. I confess that I am quick to criticize when I should be quick to listen, slow to speak and abounding in love. I should take my share of the responsibility for what has come to pass and for what lies ahead.

And yet how easy, too, to become the opportunist and rationalize it. ┬áSo many Christians in particular have rationalized their way to support for President Trump in ways that shirk their moral responsibility to the most fundamental of commandments, “love your neighbor as yourself,” as they see the President display every manner of sentiment toward others except love.

We must reject both unthinking, shrill criticism and compromising opportunism.

4 – On the Way Forward

Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values. When we forget what is due to ourselves and to others, when the feeling for human quality and the power to exercise reserve cease to exist, chaos is at the door.

What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.

Here Bonhoeffer offers a path forward. Not in “clever tactics” or grand strategy, though they may be necessary in turn. No, we need “plain, honest, straightforward” men and women who will step up and lead. We need a “revival of wholesome reserve” – looking not only to our own interests and agenda but also to the interests and needs of those with whom we share this great nation.

My dear Dietrich, thank you. We honor your sacrifice and pray for the grace and courage to heed your wise counsel in these tumultuous times.

 

 

NOTE: All quotes come from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers from Prison, The Enlarged Edition, Copyright 1971 by SCM Press, LTD.