Category Archives: Morality

From Disappointment to Determination: Christian Mission Liberated from Political Ideology

As the Biden presidency and a Democratic-led Congress assumes power, it is right that we reflect on not only the new policies, but the deeper issues affecting Christian believers in the USA. The awfulness and immorality of the violent protests of January 6, 2021 forever stained what little legacy the Trump Administration may have had. There was some progress on important issues in the past four years, especially economic policies, pro-life initiatives, diplomatic successes in the Middle East, and some first steps in ending mass incarceration. At present, these forward steps are lost in the political and public reactions.

In the next six to twelve months, thoughtful Christians that voted for a Biden Presidency will be encouraged by the new tone and a few of the policy changes, especially climate change, immigration, and perhaps pandemic policies. But many of these voters will discover that voting against the previous administration or taking a “Never Trump” posture will backfire as more radical policies and continued polarization afflict our nation. The hostility of the new administration toward traditional morality, abortion, affordable energy, and people of religious faith will take its toll on many.

Here is the good news: these deep disappointments with political leaders, parties, and ideologies are a divine opportunity for Christians to engage the public square in wiser, more effective ways. For almost fifty years, there has been a split between conservative and progressive factions of Christianity, with both groups believing that the Gospel and Scripture support their perspectives. The divides have grown greater over time and the anger between the two groups is palpable: “You cannot be a Christian and vote for _____ [fill in Democrat or Republican; Biden or Trump, etc.]!” Conservatives focus on abortion, marriage, individual responsibility, and respect for America’s heritage of freedom. Progressives advocate systemic changes for gender and racial equity, compassion for the poor, and expose the serious injustices of our history. How can these groups do more than tolerate each other? Where is the common ground?  (I am speaking of serious followers of Christianity that believe in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, the inspiration of the Bible, and importance of the local church, not folks that deny cardinal doctrines or want to “remake” Christianity.)

There are four keys that can unlock a new unity among believers, with enormous impact for the common good of society:

  • First, all Christians must recognize that “ideology is the enemy of theology” (Donald Bloesch) and carefully examine whether they are cherry-picking their favorite Bible passages to fit their political beliefs.
  • Second, all Christians and church communities must stay engaged in the political arena with prophetic distance (encouraging and critiquing both friends and opponents) without capitulating to the lust for power. 
  • Third, churches and Christians from all traditions can unite for the common good, affirming the integration of spiritual and social vitality, compassion for the vulnerable, ethical free enterprise, support for families, and peacemaking, one zip code at a time.
  • Fourth, Christians want for all neighbors the liberties they desire for themselves. Living peaceably with those that have a different view of the universe is the genius of a free and virtuous society.  One can desire the conversion of a friend while working together for the community. Our faith was born in the midst of pluralistic empires, and it thrives when its institutions are not coercive, but persuasive.

We can begin a new chapter of unity without uniformity, of community with a conscience, and a Table where very different people are welcome. Our nation needs voices free of rancor and filled with wisdom.

Pastors and Politics, Part 2: Hidden Issues of Love and Justice

Our divided American political world offers peacemaking opportunities for local churches. As leaders and congregations committed to Biblical authority and the timeless moral and spiritual convictions of historic Christianity, we will never please everyone or always win over our opponents. This is why compassionate, intercession-infused courage and wisdom are vital for leading God’s people in to maturity and kingdom influence.

The obvious “hot-button” economic, moral and social issues must be confronted: divisions of class, gender and race, abortion and infanticide, marriage and sexual ethics, peace and war and many more. These require deep study, discernment and humility.

There are, however, hidden issues of love and justice that the local church is uniquely equipped to address. Convening partners and confronting particular barriers to flourishing will enhance peace among diverse groups and offer a shining witness of Christ in a world darkened by moral inversion and spiritual confusion.

One day in Nashville, TN, a group of pastors met to learn more about connecting Sunday faith and Monday work and infusing integration into their worship service, discipleship plans and outreach efforts. In the midst of a lively conversation of church and community flourishing, an African American pastor stood up and spoke, his voice trembling and full of pathos: “I am not an angry man. I have been a pastor in my church and neighborhood for over thirty years. Your church [here he pointed to a young church-planting leader] just set up your franchise two blocks away. No one called me. No one thought to talk to the people of the neighborhood. What you call gentrification and opportunity we call exile. Aren’t we supposed to work together? Where will my people go when they can’t afford to live in their neighborhood?”

There was a holy silence. The church planter humbly apologized and with tears, both leaders agreed to work together. The hidden issue? Gentrification. What some see as a positive transformation of blight is often displacement of generations of residents. What can the local church do?

Pastors and church have unique convening ability. Creating space for shared vision, dialogue and forging alliances among business, cultural, educational, social service, religious, and political leaders for the common good is a prophetic opportunity. Asking the question, “What does a flourishing neighborhood look like…and how can everyone be a part of the future?” and hosting people with the influence, skills and wisdom to forge a just answer is part of our calling as a church. One of the great critics of the early church in the 2nd and 3rd century was a man named Celsus. He was particularly indignant that the communion table welcomed all classes, cultures, races and both genders. Pastors can bring wise believers and people of conscience in all domains so that a community can improve without scattering generations of residents.

The second hidden issue is deeply connected to the first: How can we help foster true equity and create opportunities for sustainable work so that all classes and cultures flourish in a rapidly-changing world? Put another way, how do we empower folks that are left behind in the name of “progress” or the “gig economy”?

The local church, in cooperation with other churches and agencies, can shine brightly as she empowers congregants and the community with the spiritual, emotional, relational, vocational and occupational support and wisdom people need. Immediate emergency aid is good, but long-term, relational investment in people will yield much better results. The 21st century global economy demand workers with clarity and stability in their vocations and great flexibility and nimbleness in their daily occupations. Pastors can help create disciples able to understand and respond to the local and global changes. Local churches can convene forums for community growth that is inclusive and just.

One growing local church recently sold some property. Instead of either building a bigger church building or sitting on the funds, the congregation fostered ten new initiatives that help the community flourish, including new business incubation, life skills training and compassionate outreach programs offering hope for many.

Jeff Greer, senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Mason, OH (in the Cincinnati metro area) has articulated a vision he calls, “Biznistry.”  The local church can be an incubator of economic, social, and spiritual transformation as she empowers and equips men and women in creating sustainable enterprises that in turn contribute resources for future entrepreneurs.

The third hidden arena of love and justice concerns the unseen populations often overlooked in our conversations on flourishing. These include ex-prisoners and their families, and people with disabilities. Our neighborhoods and our nation are missing out on these divine image bearers that have much to offer as opportunities for meaningful work and service are made available.

People coming out of incarceration need the social capital of the local church so that they can grow in self-worth, learn needed skills and find open doors for sustainable work. Women and men with disabilities can be productive workers, not just objects of charity. These hidden groups can be participants in the more that 600 churches with some form of “job club.” Helping people find sustainable work in a rapidly changing economy is integral to the local church’s mission.

Whether it is the Career Actions Ministry of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (now helping older people find and keep work in a “gig economy” that favors the young), Jeff Greer’s Biznistry for entrepreneurs or the efforts of restauranteur Tom Landis in Texas who employs men and women with autism and Down Syndrome, local churches can foster a creative and innovative vision offering hope and wisdom.

Navigating political issues will never be easy. Pastors need love, courage and wisdom as they equip God’s people for engagement – not just in voting – but in being part of the solution. Pastors can also help church and community look past the obvious issues and create fresh pathways forward so all can thrive, without capitulating to ideological extremes and the paralysis of partisan politics.

Hour of Decision for the USA: Will the Experiment Continue? Part Three: The Moral Economy

In this special series, we are focusing on foundational principles essential for sustaining the American Experiment in virtue-based liberty. Part One articulated the essential moral principles necessary for flourishing. Part Two offered a clarion call for human dignity, cherishing life from conception to coronation and championing care for all persons, especially the vulnerable.

In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for President with the famous tag line, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He recognized that most people spend most of their waking hours working. America’s future depends upon a robust economy with opportunities for all.

Economics is a moral science. Until the 20th century it was a subset of moral philosophy in most schools. Then the “scientific” and “technological” folks took over and separated markets from morality, trade from truth. Today we are left with polarized positions, with some advocating unrestrained free trade and others desiring even more federal control, taxes and programs.

For any economy to run well – local or global – there must be certain moral and practical principles in place. Our world is a beautiful one with opportunities for all to flourish and resources for value and wealth creation. We do not have too many people on the planet. Our economic woes are not for lack of resources. We struggle because of unjust people and systems; in other words, breakdowns in the moral economy.

Economies are moral and social systems of exchange. Here are some of the ingredients necessary for a flourishing economy:

  • Personal responsibility and virtue that leads to mutual trust
  • An entrepreneurial ethos
  • Fidelity to verbal and written covenants and contracts
  • Personal property opportunities and rights protected by law
  • Access to markets
  • The rule of law and a legal system marked by integrity
  • Focus on value creation, not just profit

When all or most of these principles are in place, there is greater prosperity. The perversions of these are found in Marxist-influenced systems of central control or the related crony capitalism where the powerful and wealthy control markets and stifle creativity and competition.

The USA is at a socioeconomic tipping point, with a lower percentage of adults working to sustain a higher percentage not working. A flourishing future demands that this ration change as quickly as possible. Tax and welfare policies, regulatory agencies and local and state governments must partner with business and community leaders to re-empower entrepreneurship, offer incentives for welfare recipients to work and develop public/private partnerships to repair and rebuild the infrastructure needed for that 21st century global/local economy.

It is time for solutions, not soundbites, for accountability and wise management of public resources. Balanced federal, state and local budgets will help. Fair tax policies, ending favors to elites and pathways from welfare to work will forge a preferred future.

The economy is a moral system. Let’s put “moral” back into “economics” and watch our nation and world enjoy unprecedented prosperity.

Vision 2016 Part 2: First Principles

As we continue this important series, it is vital that we agree on and understand the principles that support and shape our nation’s flourishing. Policies and programs, including necessary political compromises are built on particular conscious and unconscious values. Here are some of the key ideas for our nations future.

We the People unite in creating an America where…

  • Freedom of conscience and religion is protected as the first freedom and the deepest values of our citizens inform civil debate.
  • Life is cherished from conception to its natural end and no active measures are adopted to prematurely end it.
  • The freedoms of peaceable assembly, the redress of government and speech must be protected not restricted and the marketplace of ideas unhindered by bureaucratic notions of “fairness.”
  • Moral persuasion is as influential as public legislation.
  • Our natural rights are protected – not bestowed – by the government.
  • Government is subsidiary to the person, family, community, religious group and other voluntary agencies. In other words, sovereignty and support structures first rest with the people, not the federal government.
  • The Constitutional balance of power matters and all legislation gets to the floor for public debate by elected leaders and citizens.
  • Access to education, business markets and other opportunities are not stifled by corrupt business and political powers.
  • Equality of opportunity is not necessarily of equality of outcome.
  • Cultural, gender and racial diversity are celebrated along with unity on the guiding first principles of liberty, virtue and the common good.
  • Marriage is defined as one man and one woman, with legal allowance (state-by-state) for other approved adult relationships such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. Marriage so defined is one of the empirical cornerstones of future success for the next generation.
  • Citizens must show an official ID from their state and prove their residential status in order to cast a ballot. ID cards should be offered to qualified persons without charge. No votes cast by non-citizens count in any elections.
  • Disagreements do not devolve into personal attacks and caricatures and stereotypes do not obscure issues worthy of serious reflection.
  • History and hope meet and Americans can cherish their heritage and humbly resolve not to repeat her egregious errors. We live in a land of saints and sinners, humble servants and rapacious overlords, amazing sacrifice and regrettable indulgence.

With these first principles in mind, the coming posts will consider domestic and foreign policies that will bless both our nation’s residents and liberty-loving people around the world.

Vision 2016 Part I: Foundations for Our Future

A Time for Reflection
For half a century, America has been at a civil crossroads. Will the founders’ experiment in virtue-based liberty continue or will it be replaced by disempowering ideologies? Will American “first principles” of freedom of conscience/religion, assembly, redress and speech remain robust, or will political correctness stifle the full exchange of ideas? Will government return to its subsidiary role of protecting natural rights or continue the one hundred year trajectory of bestowing rights as largess from a Leviathan?

Will a civil center be recaptured so people of all faiths and philosophies argue peaceably, allowing their deepest convictions to guide them, or will elite secularists force free discourse underground? Will citizenship and the rule of law mean something or will pseudo-compassionate amnesty programs overwhelm labor markets and foster a one-party state?

Thinking further, will historic guilt lead to unwise capitulation to neo-racist supremacists or will Martin Luther King’s dream of “all God’s children” living together with equality and justice reassert itself? Will Americans shed their racial bias and welcome as friends all cultures and races? Will life from conception to coronation find protection or will social engineers dehumanize “unneeded” persons under the guise of economics, science or social good?

Globally, will the USA support its ally and the only democracy in the Middle East or capitulate to jihadists bent on Israel’s destruction? Will America stand with all people of conscience facing persecution or continue the present trajectory of submission to Islamicist supremacy?

The compelling issue for America’s future is a vision of the common good that will catalyze citizens to create a better future.

Forging a flourishing future requires devotion and discipline, inspiration and integrity, passion and principle as well as policies that work. I offer the following as a way of inspiring all people of conscience to contribute to their communities, our nation and world.

What is Vision?

Vision = a picture of a preferred and achievable future.

Vision = a pathway toward flourishing for all.

Vision = life between fantasy and fatalism, requiring faith and work.

Vision = offers hope that empowers present sacrifice for future generations.

What follows in the coming weeks are principled and practical aims designed to appeal to people committed to the common good; people that understand that liberty is rooted in virtue and self-regulation is essential for maximal freedom. I look forward to a great conversation.