What do you Know! Negative Rights are Cool!

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This morning I was sharing with friends, Denny Hartford and Pat Osborne, a revelation I had last night while taking an on-line course with our church small group. Negative Rights are a good thing and something that is well founded in the history of western culture.

 

Maybe you are already asking, why are you studying the history of negative rights (what are the anyway) in western culture in a church small group? They are very good questions, but instead of answering them here, I will leave them hang – at least for now.

 

What I would rather talk about is the woeful lack of understanding that I have of our western culture (what does that even mean?) and how we got to where we are today. I would rather talk about what we can see in history and what we can learn from it. I would rather talk about what I have learned about Moses and his impact on culture, on Plato and Aristotle, Rome and the Roman Empire, Jesus and His influence on society (His mission to seek and save the lost is well understood), the church and it’s interaction with governance in the Middle Ages and on and on. I would rather confess that as a Christian I do not have a good context to process the claims of Christ and that I don’t have a good context to argue for one form of government over another.

 

I believe that the Bible is completely true, but I have also known that it is not all that is true. The trick is to sift through all the ideas floating around and to “buy truth, and do not sell it” Proverbs 23:23, and to hold it tight and to know it is true with the same assurance that I know the Bible is true. That gets me back to my discussion this morning with Denny and Pat. As I was sharing my “revelation” which clicked while watching Hillsdale College’s on-line class on the History of Western Culture, Denny challenged me to write a blog post to encourage others to take some of the Hillsdale courses. You see, the lessons I have been learning from these courses have often been part of our Thursday morning conversations and they challenge each of us to see and understand our world, our history and our responsibility as Christians in a more clear way. The lessons have sharpened each of us as we have discussed and digested the ideas presented. We have often thought that the ideas presented would be of great benefit to all of us as we wrestle with how we should react and think about some of the very difficult issues of our day, whether they be political or social, domestic or international. These are the days we are born into and it is incumbent upon us to understand the times and to know how to speak and act with wisdom and truth.

 

How do we do that? Well I would heartily endorse the Hillsdale College on-line courses as one source of truth that can inform and challenge us and help us to be the men and women that God is calling us to be in these times. I would challenge church small groups to go through the courses together and see if God does not visit your group and instruct you through stimulating conversation. You may get push back from some who say it is not appropriate for a church small group, don’t let that deter you – it is not true.  We can and should act from our heart to reach out to the hurting all around us, but it is equally important that we act in truth and wisdom so as to not be sidelined as we run our race.

 

Oh I almost forgot that revelation on negative rights. I have known what negative rights are, restrictions on the powers of government and that they are what our Bill of Rights are. What was a revelation to me was that the idea of negative rights has been around a long time prior to the founding of our country. They go back at least as far as 1215 AD with the signing of the Magna Carta a document designed to restrict the powers of King John of England who was becoming increasingly tyrannical in his reign. Negative rights have been part of western culture for centuries, so when certain leaders disparage the idea of negative rights, their opinion flies in the face of centuries of the understanding that negative rights are what protect the citizens from over reaching government. They disqualify themselves to lead in this republic. Any Constitutional law professor would know that. So if you hear them tell you that negative rights are a problem, run, they mean you no good and probably harm.

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One in Three say Capitalism Compatible with Christianity

I was interested to read a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service that indicated that more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible. This pattern also holds among Christians. A commentary on the Biblical illiteracy of the Western Church can be found in more likely places than a poll about the relative compatibility of Capitalism and Christianity, but it does say quite a bit about how we have been conformed to the world’s way of thinking rather than being transformed by having our minds renewed.

Part of the evidence of our being conformed to the world is our acceptance of the redefined concept of capitalism that has been sold to us. Popular culture tends to view capitalism in the virulent forms, such as crony capitalism (collusion between powerful market forces or collusion between government and private industry) or capitalism driven by greed rather than self-interest. Capitalism is also often thought of as a means for the rich to exploit the poor, as if there is a finite amount of wealth in the world and the rich are hoarding it from the poor, but that is not capitalism, it is Plutocracy.

Capitalism on the other hand, at the core, as Merriam Webster defines it, it is “a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government” or more simply, individuals or private parties producing goods and distributing them according to their own self-interest. Capitalism, properly functioning allows for wealth to be created by individuals and therefore allows the poor to rise from poverty based on their own skills, talents, abilities and possessions. No other system, properly functioning or not, allows for this income mobility to occur.

Capitalism as it developed in the American form was supported by the rule of law that tended to diffuse the potential of Plutocracy developing while enabling the poor to develop skills, talents and abilities so that they could “pursue happiness”. Of course some of the ways individuals have produced or distributed according to their own self- interest has been less than exemplary, but that does not mean that the idea of individuals having control of their own production and distribution is at odds with biblical principles. As I have pointed out on this blog in the past, part of the reason that we have been created is to be stewards of possessions, skills, abilities and talents that God has given us.

I think a fair case could be made that the concept of stewardship is really quite similar to the concept of capitalism. Being a steward is to take what we have been given by someone else (God) and make something of ourselves and all we have been given and to share that with others according to the interest of the Steward on behalf of the owner (God).  The only real difference is that Capitalism does not specifically recognize that the talents and abilities we bring to the market are ours from God it just assumes they are ours. That difference is significant, but along with the development of Capitalism in America under the rule of law, it also developed under a world view that understood that we were endowed by our creator. Based on that I think it is hard to conclude that American Capitalism is not consistent with biblical views, albeit practiced by imperfect people.

So in my mind, the real problem is not that capitalism is not compatible with Christianity, it is that our culture is no longer compatible with Christianity. It is dodging the truth to blame capitalism for our woes. A healthy capitalist economy will emerge from a healthy moral culture that recognizes its dependence on the creator. Our real problem is that our culture has wandered far from the milieu from which this country and the economic system that emerged from it was formed. We started by ignoring God in our public schools, but it has continued apace by the adoption of all kinds of unbiblical values and it is manifesting itself by so much whining about what we don’t have and how much the ‘rich’ do have.  Envy is not a biblical value.

Could we use some good old fashioned Hate?

I read a quote the other day, “Justice without love is anger” and ironically it made me a bit angry. The quote was from a Christian who was sincerely attempting to dispense good advice or wisdom to Christians about the way they ought to think. The problem with the quote is, it is not accurate and it is not good advice nor is it wisdom.

Justice, love and anger are valid traits without qualification. If you take out the qualifier from the quote – love – then justice and anger are the same. Justice is not anger. Does justice need help in order to be an acceptable trait? Of course not, God is just, so I don’t think that needs a qualifier. Likewise anger can be a good trait since anger directed at evil is to be admired. Justice and anger do not need to apologize. These are different traits than love, but they are good things in and of themselves and need no qualifiers.

It is not just that the quote is not accurate or that it gives bad advice, but the real problem that I have with the quote is the focus there is on love at the expense of some good old fashioned hate. We are to love God, but that means that we must hate that which is opposite of God. Amos 5:8 – Hate evil, love good and establish justice in the gate. The admonition is to make sure there is love and hate – towards the correct objects “evil & good” with justice being established the expected result.

Since the Bible does admonish us to hate evil (Psalm 97:10 – Hate evil, you who love the Lord!), maybe it would be a good idea if we stopped focusing so much on love (we seem to love everything and not just good as the scripture says) and figured out what is the evil that we are supposed to hate and begin to hate it, while remembering to love only that which is good.

I believe as a culture we have become too tolerant of many different kinds of behavior, profanity, divorce, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, abortion, trans-sexuality, crime, drunkenness, business and political corruption and the list could go on – add your pet peeve, and too often the church has little to say. It seems we want to be known for what we are for and not what we are against for fear of appearing legalistic.

To be fair, I don’t think our reticence is because we do not believe that certain behaviors are wrong or that there are certain things to be opposed and I don’t think my friend who coined the phrase that drew my ire is in any way soft on sin, in fact I hold him in high esteem. I think we say things like “Justice without Love is Anger” because we do not know how to hate evil publicly and we worry about alienating people that we want to see come to the knowledge of the truth.

None-the-less to my way of thinking we soft pedal truth at our peril. We risk being reduced to cute but inaccurate sayings and losing our saltiness and impact on our culture. With the recent court rulings about same sex unions, I will be curious to see if the church “loves” the homosexual or hates the sin, because to do the latter may cost a lot more than the church might be willing to pay. In fact based on early indications we may have already ceded this ground to the secularists.

A Grateful Country and a Grateful Church on Memorial Day

Korean War MemorialI like to remember a hero of mine on Memorial Day. He is a man that I am both proud of and impressed with. He is my father. He has been gone for 22 years this July, but I often think of him, and more often on days like today that are set aside to remember our soldiers. My father served in Korea in 1950. He served during some of the most difficult engagements of the Korean War, earning a Purple Heart. He was with the 1st Marine Infantry Regiment of the 1st Marine Division in theater from the landing at Inchon on September 15th until the march in and out the Chosin Reservoir and final evacuation on December 15th.

When I think of his time in the service, I can’t help but think of what his and his fellow soldiers sacrifice wrought for South Korea. Although that three month slot of time was not a long time it was a significant time for Korea as the communist invasion was halted and pushed back to north of the 38th parallel. It is not a stretch to imagine the North Korean communists and their communist Chinese allies bringing havoc on the people of South Korea as they have for the last 60 years on the North Koreans. In addition, they likely would have stifled and persecuted the church in South Korea just as the church in North Korea is persecuted today had these military campaigns failed to expel the communists.

The web site for Korea4expats says that “Christianity…. has continued to grow in South Korea and in the 1990’s surpassed Buddhism in terms of the number of adherents. Korea has the distinction of being the second highest exporter of missionaries in the world, after the United States. Evangelizing their brothers and sisters in the North is an important goal for many South Korean Christians, as is spreading Christian doctrine through good works in other parts of the world, as well as the other half of the peninsula.” (Korea4expats.com)

There are many reasons that I am proud of my father, he is my father after all, but his service in the Korean War brings me particular pride. What he and other Korean War Veterans did for the liberty of South Koreans and the South Korean church has provided benefits and blessings that have reverberated through the years both for the worldwide church and by extension for the world in general.

To me, this example of the efficacy of proper military intervention is only one of the more obvious examples, because with all of our faults, our country has generally been a force for good in the world. We have been liberators and not conquerors. We have been supporters of democracy and enemies to tyrants. We have enabled liberty and defeated oppressors. These are good things and you could legitimately call them God things since all good things come from the Father above. We owe a debt of gratitude because in all of these efforts our military has been a friend to the church. The friends of democracy and liberty and the enemies of tyrants and oppressors are friends to the church, which is usually the first casualty of tyrants.

From Europe and Japan after WWII to the South Koreans and to Iraqi and Afghanistan, many owe their freedom and their ability to worship to the work that you have done and are doing. So, I honor my father and I honor our military and as a Christian and a member of the church, I want to express gratitude for the work our veterans have done. You may not have had the church in mind but your willingness to sacrifice your lives has been a boon to the church in this country and around the world.

It is not the military for militaristic purposes that I am grateful but for the principals that they defend. This is not the Russian military or the Chinese military or even the French or English military. No disparagement to any individual soldier, but they do not specifically protect or defend the same principals our military does. Our military is the enforcement arm or the protection arm of the brilliance and the uniqueness of our founder’s idea of forming a country around the principals of personal liberty and religious freedom. For Veterans and active duty men and women alike, whom I personally know and know of, and for many I will forget to list, thank you:

John Malek – father

Len Spenler – father-in-law

Jack Campbell – uncle

Jon Samolinski – nephew

Robin Arp Samolinski

Joe Michigan – cousin

Chris Rumin – cousin (in-law)

Dick Wilson

Chet Thomas

Quint Coppi

Kyle Kronberg

Ben Clough

Adam Herold – (KIA)

Ken Smith

Vanessa Hunter

Konstantin Gazaryan

For the many times you might be taken for granted or be disrespected because we think all war is evil, I want to add my voice in telling you, our country and the church owe you a great debt of gratitude. Thank you again.

American Exceptionalism. America The Last Best Hope!

When Mitt Romney ended the foreign policy debate with the statement “this nation is the hope of the earth” he stated both an obvious geo-political truth while simultaneously uttering a theological error and causing consternation for everyone who realizes the fundamental truth that God is the true hope of all the earth.

Although Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon, a religious denomination considered a cult by mainstream Protestant and Catholic Christians, there is no doubt he understands that basic theological truth and believes in a God who is the spiritual hope of the world. What then, did he mean by this statement?

I think in order for us to fully understand the comment and for those who believe in God to fully embrace the statement, we need to first understand the context of the statements and then to understand what is truly meant by American Exceptionalism.

The context that Mr. Romney is speaking in is that of geo-political nation states. It is not intended to be a spiritual or theological viewpoint per se’. Using that phrasing in any kind of spiritual or eschatological sense would be a foolish as the psalmist David wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 & Psalm 53:1.

Our country was founded upon the recognition that there is a God and He is interested in the nations. His blessing and intervention was often requested as we were forming the nation. We are a nation that recognizes our dependence upon God in our founding documents. We have not seen ourselves as a nation that is superior to God. In my opinion the comment can only be seen as a temporal political statement having to do with international relations. There is no heresy and we are not being disloyal to God if we agree with the statement.

Neither is it arrogance to make this or similar statements. It speaks of a confidence and assurance that American values are the best values for governance the best values for individuals, for communities and for nations. In addition it is a recognition that a strong America is the best hope that much of the earth has for lifting people out of poverty and for allowing people to fulfill their dreams.

Dennis Prager talks about this in his new book “Still The Best Hope: Why The World Needs American Values to Triumph”. He argues that there are basically three competing ideologies in the world today, all seeking to spread influence. The first is Leftism, which is seen in the western European Welfare model, which generally rejects God and believes that the state is the provider of benefits and rights to its citizens. This ideology exists in a continuum of minimal state control (the modern Democrat Party in the US) to significant state control (Marxist Russia or Castro’s Cuba), but in each case the state is seen as a provider.

The second primary ideology is radical Islam or as Prager says Islamism which refers to those in the Muslim world who would like to see Sharia law used to govern as much of the world as possible.

The last value system is Americanism which he defines as three basic values of “Liberty”, “Trust In God” and “E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One”. Americanism, in contrast to the other ideologies, believes in human liberty and that rights come from God and that each person is given these rights from God and they cannot be taken away by any human institution. We do not see ourselves as subservient or dependent upon governments. We trust in God not government as our source. Government serves us not the other way around.  Americanism is also an idea, so that many diverse peoples can come together to make one unified group. (strikingly similar to Paul’s view of the church: Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female…..)

The ascendancy of either of the other ideologies spells disaster to the life and liberty of every person.  It is only the ascendancy of American values that gives any real hope for freedom and for elevation from poverty, for peace and tranquility.

America is exceptional in this regard and in many others. The idea of American exceptionalism is that we are the exception to the rule of how other nations are formed, how they operate and how they view the role of government.

In our formation: We were created for specific purpose. At the time of our founding, there was no nation that was ruled by the people, they were all ruled by a ruling class. The ruling class in America is “We The People”. We understood that human beings received rights from God and not the countries rulers and therefore the only legitimate purpose of government was to protect those rights. This is the exception to the rule of nations.

In our Operation: We are a nation that allows people freedom to speak freely, to worship God freely all without interference from government.  We are a nation that expects people to protect themselves and thus the right to keep and bear arms. We are a nation where people can pursue their dreams and see them come true. This is in stark contrast to class societies, where you can never rise above your rank regardless of your ability. In America you achieve based on your merits, not your family or class. This is the exception to the rule of nations.

In our view of Government: We see our leaders as governing, not ruling. Those who govern in our country, serve the people, not the other way around. We are a nation whose governing authorities are seen as public servants. As Clint Eastwood said, “You work for us”. This is the exception to the rule of nations.

None of this is grounds for arrogance or pride as it is really a blessing from God. We should recognize this blessing and not try to hide it under a bushel. America or more specifically, American Values are the last best hope of earth, geo-politically speaking or course.

2016 Obama’s America – The Quintessential Biography of President Obama

It has been a few days since I saw this movie with some friends and since that time, I have given this movie some thought (I usually hate movie’s that make me think – I want to be entertained). I have also read other reviews and or comments about this movie and have not felt any that I have read actually captured what I felt.

If you have read any of my prior blogs, you will know that I am not a fan of this administration and I am highly concerned with the direction at which we are being lead, so when I went to the movie I was not expecting to become a supporter of the President. I did not, but I did come away with an appreciation for him that I did not have previously.

I have seen this movie tagged or described as an Anti-Obama movie, but I think that is a mischaracterization. This is not an anti-Obama or a pro-Obama movie, it is simply a movie that explores the family history of Barak Obama and his personal mentors.

In the exploration of the family history of Barak Obama there is a lot of information that explains the worldview of the President. As I was watching it I realized that his background, his formative years were startling and starkly different from the backgrounds of most political figures. Is that good or bad? I suppose that depends on your worldview. I think there are many Christians who might find this positive as many of his mentors and his family history is steeped in an anti-Western powers attitude and that could appeal to many Christians who have a concern over the exploitation of third world countries.

I, however, do not think the worldview that the President grew up in is a healthy or helpful worldview and is a curious worldview for the President of the United States. Regardless of what you think of Barak Obama though, this film is important for all of us to see. We ought to at least know who the man is that we are asking to take the reigns of the most powerful nation in the world. It does not matter just to us as U.S. citizens, but to the people all over the world.

Can A Christian Vote For A Mormon?

I have entered into this discussion numerous times recently and it is actually why I wrote my prior piece on Religion and Politics. Unless we know the correct place of Religion in the political sphere we will have a difficult time coming to grips with voting for someone of a different faith than our own.

Before I get into my reasons for why a Christian could vote for a Mormon, I think it is instructive to mention that the United States of America is a unique country, formed among the backdrop of European powers that were controlled by state religions and were continually at war with each other and with their own people. Religious persecution was regular and unwelcome. The first settlers to the eastern part of the North American continent came to escape religious persecution and our founders were strongly influenced by the concerns of those who had been fleeing religious persecution.

This gets us to the First amendment to our constitution which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The point of this was to make sure that our government could not establish a religion, to not be able to establish a state religion with status above any other religion, and it could not prohibit our free exercise of religion. This spoke in direct opposition to what the history was for so many settlers. This means that we are not a Theocracy, we do not have a King, our President is very specifically not a King and we do not look to him as God’s agent of governance on the earth as was common in Europe. (Now God does establish authority and we are to pray for those authorities, because they are instruments of God at work – but that is a significant difference than what the monarch’s of Europe were considered and I do not really have the time in this paper to get into)

If our President is not a King, nor the head of the church (and our government is not either) than what is the role? In our secular society, without going into all the details of the job duties of the different branches of government, it is to preserve the rights that have been given to us by God. We do not look to the government to give us rights or to give us material provision. We established the government to protect the inalienable rights given to us by God. Our founding documents recognized that God has given us rights and that governments are established among men in order to secure those rights. No more and no less. Our governing authorities are therefore agents of God, not to lord over, but to serve so that our God-given rights are not infringed.

So then, if our government is only supposed to secure our God-given rights, is it necessary that they be of the same religion as I am before I vote for him or her? I don’t think so. In fact, on a personal note, I doubt that any of the Presidents that we have had in our history would have agreed with me in my religious faith. The fact of the matter is that none of us have a complete corner on spiritual truth (which by the way is another great reason that the government should not establish a religion) and there is no perfect candidate.

Can I then vote for a Mormon? I think that is really the wrong question. We should be asking, who understands that our rights come from God? Who understands that governments are established to secure our God-given rights? Who believes that individuals practicing and living out their faith are better instruments of good in the world than government programs? Who understands that they should not use their religious faith to justify government policies that all of us must follow? (that is actually a form of the establishment of religion) If we truly understand the form of government that we have, that I believe is a gift from God, we won’t be looking at a person’s religious faith to determine if we should vote for them or not, we will be examining their fealty to the founding principle’s of our government.

So in addition to Denny Hartford and James Jordan (excellent articles that I recommend), here are my reasons that I think we should vote for Mitt Romney as opposed to Barack Obama for President of the United States.:

Life – Mitt Romney and more importantly, the Republican Party (as frustrating and aggravating as they can sometimes be) are ardently pro-life and their party platform reflects that. There really is no more important right to safeguard than the right to life. Our founders recognized this listing it as the first inalienable right from God and the bible validates it by requiring, as the price of taking someone’s life, your life. Gen 9:6

Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For  in the image of God
He made man

There is really no stronger statement about the value of life. Since we are made in the image of God, if we are slain, the slayer forfeits his right to life. This is a principal that is not affirmed by the Democrat party, which is why I will never vote for a Democrat regardless of an individuals protestations in favor of life (Ben Nelson – Ne or Bart Stupak – MI). The party does not stand for life and they do not buck the party line. This is not applied for the unborn nor for the elderly and not for the pre-meditated, caught in the act, murderer. This is an unacceptable position and Mitt Romney’s defense of life (albeit late in life, and possibly as a political pander) is much to be preferred and reason enough to vote for him.

Marriage – Mitt Romney and his Vice Presidential choice, Paul Ryan are both supporters of traditional marriage between one man and one woman (insert your own Mormon joke here if it satisfies your cynical itch). While I have no animus towards affectionate couples of the same gender, marriage is a well established institution that is already defined. In addition it is the law of the land and supporting that law leads me to the next reason for supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket.

Lawlessness – The Obama administration is well-known for their ignoring of and violation of established law, including the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While it is the law of the land the administration swears to uphold the law, but they have specifically have refused to defend DOMA.  DOMA is not the only issue. They have not enforced immigration laws, issuing edicts to over rule the laws on immigration.  They have not enforced gun laws – see Fast & Furious. They have ignored court rulings regarding drilling for oil and the list could go on and on. I know many felt the Bush administration overstepped their bounds, but this administration makes them look like Boy Scouts. Will Romney/Ryan be any better than Mr. Obama? Could they be worse? I do not think so.

Radical Islam – Appeasement has been our foreign policy in the face of the rise in Radical Islam. This is dangerous as the lessons of history show us that appeasement in the face of evil reaps a whirlwind of death and destruction. We can and must do better.

Tyranny vs. Liberty – The Obama Administration has pursued a course of consolidating power in the executive branch, increasingly ignoring  the checks and balances of the different branches of government. He negotiates with Congress  with a take it or leave it attitude and alienates friends and foes alike. He increasingly governs by executive order.

Vice-President – Biden vs. Ryan. Enough said.

Religious Freedom – Romney/Ryan stand for religious freedom as opposed the Obama administrations attack on religious liberty, most egregiously through the health care bill.

There are many other reasons that a Christian can and should vote for this ticket and probably others that could make a better case, but the bottom line is that we need to remember that we are not a theocracy. If the main reason that we pray for those in authority over us is so that so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” than it stands to reason that our prayer would take legs and have us vote so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” I Timothy 2:2.

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