Category Archives: abortion

Life and Death

Life and Death.
In my posts, I aim for love, kindness and thoughtfulness. I have convictions, but I value hearing all sides and discovering some common good convergences. I will work hard to avoid personal attacks while affirming the right to dissent on ideas. 
But.

Recent abortion laws enacted or proposed represent a clear and present danger to vulnerable life. The occasional tragic moral choice is one thing but discussing the fate of a viable person being born is inhumane and morally repugnant. 

I oppose abortion in principle; however, the New York and Virginia laws move from President Clinton’s, “safe, legal and rare (and he opposed partial-birth infanticide)” to celebrating the destruction of a human life. 

Some progressives celebrate science when speaking of climate change or evolution but ignore it completely when abortion or infanticide are mentioned. Becoming the defenders of the weak and vulnerable in and out of the womb will help validate other compassionate concerns.
When exceptions become the rule, finding common first principles becomes challenging and the loudest voices win over sanity and truth. We can do better than this.

Friends of conscience of all political persuasions, please pray, reflect and humbly love every person from conception to coronation.

Pastors and Politics, Part 1: Courage and Wisdom

This two-part series encourages local church pastors with wise discipleship and effective engagement on issues of political concern. In this first essay, the focus is on the boundaries of wise communication. The second essay looks at some of the hidden issues and groups overlooked in our polarized era. The author has been a pastor and public intellectual for over thirty years, speaking at business, educational centers, public forums and in churches.

Dr. Jim Baucom, senior pastor of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, VA (in the heart of Metro Washington, D.C.), shared about his growing and vibrant community: “People speak of America divided between Blue and Red, Democrat and Republican. Well, our church is very Purple! We have women and men worshiping and serving together that differ deeply on some policies and principles but agree that Christ unites us in our faith and service.”

Pastor A.J. Swoboda leads Theophilus Church: “We are a church in SE Portland. We are here to help people Find Jesus, Build Community and Pursue Justice.” A.J. is a leading voice in ecological theology and helps churches, seminaries and businesses steward the environment as part of worshiping and serving the Lord. He recently published an important book, The Subversive Sabbath, calling believers to recover the divine principle of rest as part of a healthy life in Christ. One of his happiest moments as a pastor came during the 2016 election. Two members of his church are local political leaders from each party. One Sunday just before the November election they served communion together.

These stories of communities finding a deeper unity in Christ and welcoming women and men from diverse persuasions are heartening and offer insights for pastors in our angry, polarized American public square.  How do pastors unite compassion and conviction and wisely disciple women and men for participation in public life?

The fear of “being political” keeps many pastors from addressing critical issues. Pastors are rightly concerned about ideology and partisanship eclipsing gospel focus. At the same time, addressing vital moral and social issues is an essential part of effective discipleship and mission. What are some boundaries and insights needed in navigating these rapids?

Three Insights

There are three initial thoughts which help displace fear with courage and reactions with wisdom. The first principle is respecting clear boundaries of biblical truth and civil law. The Bible clearly leads Christians toward good citizenship, prayerful concern for authority and reasonable adherence to the laws in place (Romans 13; I Timothy 2). At the same time, obeying divine mandates above the civil ones and understanding that kingdom citizenship takes priority over current power structures is vital (Matthew 5; Acts 5; Hebrews 11). According to current American law (The 1954 Johnson Amendment to the IRS tax code), churches and other nonprofit organizations that are exempt from taxation, “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” So, there are only two restrictions on political discourse that threaten the religious, non-profit status of a local church. The first is endorsement of a specific political candidate. The second is endorsement of one political party over another. In other words, blatant partisanship.

Pastors and churches CAN

  • Speak on any political issues
  • Lead voter registration drives (non-partisan)
  • Host events inviting all candidates

The issue for most is not the letter of IRS regulation but the fear of alienating members and seekers. This leads us to the second insight: Pastors must choose their issues wisely and frame their arguments biblically. The late theologian Donald Bloesch once said that, “Ideology is the enemy of theology.” Pastors must help congregants discover biblical conviction and discernment on particular policies, not just a particular party’s talking points. In many cases, biblically wise framing will help believers engender new ways of seeing (and even solving) contentious issues. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted for obedience in the kingdom, not obnoxious political agitation.

For example, being biblically pro-life is more than being against abortion. Concern for all people from conception to coronation – especially the broken, poor and vulnerable – is foundational for biblical obedience. Respect for those in the military must be joined with a passion for peacemaking, a hallmark of wise Christian leadership. Libertarian and socialist answers for poverty alleviation fall short compared to a Christian vision for human flourishing that incudes spiritual, relational, social and economic help and private/public integration of resources (See Corbett and Fikkert’s seminal work here: When Helping Hurts, a recommended MTF resource).

Boundaries and wise discernment of the deeper issues must be integrated with the third attribute of wise leadership: courage. Courage is the virtue that avoids the extremes of fear and foolishness. In Joshua 1, the Lord tells the new leader of Israel four times to be “strong and courageous.” In Ephesians 6, Paul asks his readers to pray for boldness in proclamation, even under persecution. Some issues are morally clear, and it is the pastor’s task to unveil the rich biblical insights underneath stated convictions. Some issues require more discernment and here humility joins courage as leaders declare their understanding.

Pastors, speaking courageously is needed. When undergirded by deep prayer and tears for our beautiful and broken world, such speech cannot be confused with the agitation propaganda and polarizing insults permeating our public discourse.

History and hope can frame our communication. It took courage for pastors to speak against slavery and it takes courage to foster racial reconciliation. It took courage for pastors and missionaries to oppose rapacious colonialism and it takes courage to promote justice for all. It took courage for pastors to help bring justice to the workplace, reducing child labor, and encouraging fair conditions and wages. It takes courage for pastors to take on entrenched powers in cities and states keeping many from thriving. And it takes courage for pastors to avoid ideological captivity and empower their congregants for leadership in all spheres of society.

Wise boundaries, Biblical foundations for discernment and courage will help pastors shepherd wisely.

Happy Birthday to the USA

July 4 is our nation’s birthday. We are an experiment in virtue-based freedom that is now 236 years old, one of the longest eras of national stability in global history.

We are a self-correcting nation, with the Civil War of 1865 and the Civil Rights of 1965 correcting the birth defect of chattel slavery. Women finally voted in 1920 and 18-21 year old soldiers that could bleed were able to fill out ballots by 1972. We are still wrestling with our broken covenants with the First Nation/Native American tribes and our war with Mexico in 1848. In the midst of all the deserved criticism for Manifest Destiny and continental imperialism, people forget that no one north of the Rio Grande wanted (or really wants today) to be ruled by Mexico City and that thousands of leaders of conscience opposed the policies of rapapcious settlement.

We are the freest land in the world for people of all faiths or none to practice and preach their ideas without fear. Apart from tax issues and proper public permits, we are free to gather and express our ideas without prior permission. This was and is a unique reality of the USA.

We have amazing foundations of faith, freedom and sacrificial service. We have fractures of hedonism and enthnocentrism to repair and redeem. We still have too many unborn that are unwelcome and too many aged that are in oblivion. We have too many unemployed urban adults and too few political leaders with the courage to call for moral responsibnility. We are still a generous people, responding to crises with affection and alacrity. We are also spoiled, forgetting that even the (too) many that live in poverty in the USA are wealthy compared with half the world.

As we move into our 237th year, we aagain face “times that try men’s (and women’s) souls.” Our future rests on recovering the humility, reverence and tenacity that built the land we enjoy. If we will choose life in all its dimensions, including caring for all from conception to coronation, there is hope. If we commit to empowering suceess through free markets under the rule of law, there is hope. If we can learn civil debate and roll up our sleeves and become an answer to the prayers and problems, there is hope.

In 2008 we were sold a slogan, “Hope and Change.” In 2012, we need to become these words by doing and speaking the truth in love. If we will fear God, live within our means, stand up to intolerance and fear, affirm the central values of a virtuous society, and keep our marital and material covenants, there is hope.

Happy birthday, America. You are not a melting pot or a salad bowl. Your are a beautiful mosaic from every corner of world. Sometimes you are a crazy quilt with loose threads. But you remain a land worth praying for and serving well.