Category Archives: America’s Founders

Observations on 1517

During this 500th anniversary of The Reformation, we ought to be grateful for all 5 Reformations: Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Anabaptist and Roman Catholic.

All imperfect, yet the best of each has strengthened the global church and spread virtue-based liberty around the world. Even CNN agrees that free inquiry, democracy and limited government are legacies of this tumultuous era. Charles Carroll, Roman Catholic signer of the American Declaration of Independence, fought for religious and political liberty for six decades. Separation of church and state and voluntary religious adherence we owe to Anabaptist and later Baptist friends.

Luther inspired grace-filled humility and love. Reformed (and always reforming) streams inspire God-honoring service in all spheres. Our Anglican friends help us see unity in great diversity and bequeathed the blessings of the Wesleys and early Methodism. All 4 of the Protestant streams contributed to the multi-denominational Evangelical ethos that arose in the early 1700s and continues to develop today. And Christians of all traditions admire and learn from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

I am a Pentecostal – and we freely appropriate insights from all the evangelical streams, while aspiring to model NT faith.

And friends, we must not forget that this is a Western Christian moment. Our Eastern Orthodox friends and adherents of the ancient Churches of the East number millions of devotees and have felt the impact of these movements as well.

May God help us appreciate our shared creeds and values while respecting our diverse expressions and fostering mutual love and respect. Too often in the past our differences meant intolerance and violence…we have mostly left this behind, thanks be to God.
My celebration is mingled with cries for humility and healing.

2012 Insights

This week a student texted a question to me, “Dr. Self, is the world going to end in 2012?” The inquirer was a sincere, thoughtful Christian and concerned about the dire predictions of friends, media moguls and spin doctors on the left and right.
I answered that all Christians believe in the hope of Christ’s Return; however, we are to fulfill our callings well until that Day. As we live in hope we can plant trees, invest for our posterity, establish new products, develop new forms of compassion and give more than we take from the world.

The question reflects more than pop-cult interest in the Mayan calendar or the latest televangelist interpretations of the Book of Revelation. There is an unsteadiness in the USA that reflects the erosion of public cohesion that has been accelerating since the late 1960s and is taking nasty turns in this election year.

There are no “good old days” in US history – just better or worse actions of a few or many persons that create conditions for progress or regress. The 1950s were an amazing moment of economic and social growth; however, millions of African-Americans could not vote and had no access to many fields of work. The 1960s brought Civil Rights – and Vietnam. Technology has expanded exponentially since the 1950s, but social mores have fragmented and public virtue is scoffed at by the chattering elites.

The dis-integration of our land is evident when we exonerate a standing President for lying about his moral life in the 1990s, give any consideration to a current candidate that is a two-time adulterer and outright lie to ourselves about current economic conditions.

We have a regime in power with deep distrust of the Founders’ vision and the U.S. Constitution. Obama’s declaration that his administration is the “fourth most influential” after Johnson, FDR and Lincoln unveils the hubris, narcissism and self-deception that are foundational to his leadership. His declaration that Israel has no greater friend that his administration and “don’t let anyone tell you otherwise” reveals a totalitarian streak that is dangerous for the future of the USA and democracy around the world. His latest appointments without Congressional approval verify his utter disdain for dissent and his moral and political laziness. Forging lasting change through effective compromise is hard work and thus far Obama is unwilling to tackle issues in real dialogue with his opponents.

Conservatives are not exempt from critique. Where is a compelling vision of prosperity that includes compassion and resources for retooling and vocational change? When are Republicans going to realize that some defense cuts are needed as part of an overall budget-balancing goal? Conservatives talk about less government, but are they willing to lay aside thousands of earmarks, subsidies and pork barrel projects, including unwise ones that may bring a few jobs to their district or state?
Will conservatives join with progressives to secure our borders while making legal immigration less onerous? Will conservatives stop calling all environmentally-concerned folks crazy and pick up the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt and affirm that free enterprise includes holding companies accountable and managing resources well?

We can unite compassion and wealth creation.

Personal and social responsibility are inseparable.

We can have an effective military response to terror without being an occupying force.

We must stand for Israel’s existence and be real peacemakers, negotiating Middle East peace.

We can simplify the tax system and grow revenue by stimulating investment.

Sound ecological practice is good for the economy as we leave the world better for our children.

We must stand against any ideology that despises human rights and reject our democratic principles.

We must want for others the rights we claim for ourselves. Government does not bestow freedoms and rights; it exists to protect God-give/Natural rights that are inherent in the human condition.

We must resist moral relativism and reaffirm that there are “first principles” that are the root and fruit of a free and noble society.

We need to aspire to maturity and honor milestones that celebrate transitions to adulthood. Let’s stop rushing kids into sexual adulthood and extending adolescence into our 30s.

Life and politics need to be local again, without a retreat into obscurantism or xenophobia. More money needs to be spent locally and less money managed by the elites inside the DC Beltway.

Will the world end in 2012? God alone knows the moment when current history is transformed into the kingdom of God and all swords become plowshares, lambs and lions lie down together, we cease making war, tears are wiped away and the dwelling place of the Almighty is with humankind forever. Until that moment we have daily opportunities to be signposts of this future shalom, emissaries of peace and reconciliation, ennobling work and being stewards of a bountiful world. We cannot bring instant perfection, but we can partner with God and each other to ensure that no one is hungry. We can encourage creativity, initiative and liberty to grow. Let’s shape our lives so that the deepest wellsprings of reverence and mutual respect are nurtured in homes and communities of hope.

America’s Founders and Today’s Celebrities

On this Independence Day weekend we celebrate our freedom, remember a bit of history and eat wonderful food. All of this is good. Even the rather dour founder John Adams called for feasting and fireworks to mark the day the Declaration was ratified and signed by John Hancock (others would sign on August 2). As I consider the history, the contrasts between our founders and today’s celebrity candidates are startling. Today’s leaders have access to the finest information, excellent living conditions and communication organs undreamed of in the 18th century. Yet even a cursory comparison unveils the unparalleled genius of the founder’s generation and the dearth of depth in our own. I am not deifying the founders – they were flawed and failed to confront the issue of slavery. They also struggled with hubris, image and vanity, warring constituents and competing agendas. But their breadth of learning – even among the unlettered – depth of thoughtfulness, humility before the Almighty and moral reflection stand in stark contrast to the narcissism and paucity of values characterizing much of our public discourse. Consider these contrasts:

James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution, examining 3000 years of sacred and secular history and adept in ancient and modern languages. Compare his irenic intellect with the sound bites of Carville or Gingrich.

Thomas Jefferson is the darling of the Left at times (excepting his ambiguities on slavery of course). But his most important work – our Declaration of Independence – reflects deep reverence for God, concern for natural rights, including personal and property rights, and economic liberty against the mercantile system. Compare this to the central planning economists and bureauocrats like Thomas Friedman who live in mansions while they dictate lifestyle to the American masses.

Many of the founders were clergy, but they defended the rights of others to dissent. Thomas Paine had little regard for traditional religion; however, he affirmed the important of personal responsibility and public virtue. Compare his Common Sense of 1776 with any writing of current Presidential candidates. Here is a freethinker unafraid of the world of ideas while today’s Left cowers before Sharia-driven Islam and tries to remove all traces of the Judeo-Christian ethos from public life.

I am forever a hope-filled person. But I am finding it difficult to be hopeful about America’s future with the current crop of candidates from both parties and the unreasonable posturing of our federal legislators. May I suggest that all in public life pause this weekend, read the Constitution, allowing the context of our founding to inspire courageous and creative action?