Tag Archives: democracy

The Way Forward, Part Six: A Public Ethics Primer: What Do We Prohibit, Promote, and Permit?

Common sense and genuine consensus are in short supply in a world on edge and poised for a fight. Objectionable ideas are labeled, ‘triggers” and “violence” when they do not conform to the sensitivities of ever-changing groupthink. Free speech is under assault and critical words about cultural, political, and religious ideas are now “phobias.” Denouncing historical Jewish and Christian beliefs are fair game, however, because they symbolize oppression for the chattering classes untethered to religion.

How do we forge a principled middle ground in the wake of the onslaughts from ideologues more in tune with totalitarianism that pluralistic democracy?  How do we ensure that freedom of conscience and religion, speech and government redress, and peaceable assembly remain foundations for our future?

One way forward is robust debate on ethics that affect public policy. We are not speaking about religious diets, dress, or deportment or the beliefs of peaceful communities. We must have civil discussion toward consensus on the values that will guide our experiment in virtue-based liberty. All societies have explicit and implicit values that help them cohere. For example, keeping promises is not only important for personal relationships. The entire (global and local) economy rests on trust: invoices paid, deliveries made, and the diligent efforts all engaged in the choreography of work. So, there is at least implicit agreement that trust matters.

There are three categories that can help order our thinking. First, what actions must be prohibited, without qualification? Most people will stand against all forms of assault or violence, dishonesty, endangerment of others, and theft, among many more. But before we move on, we must debate some areas that were previously obvious. Will we continue to penalize sexual practices between adults and minors? Will we prosecute crimes that we think are non-violent, but hurt the community, such as shoplifting? Several pharmacies serving the elderly in San Francisco closed because the DA would not prosecute thieves. On the other side, are we going to impose Orwellian limits on speech because some folks take offence? Will we continue to intimidate and silence speakers?

Second, what ideals, values, and actions will we positively promote as a society? Most folks would argue that personal responsibility, hard work, educational advancement, professional excellence, family cohesion, and care for others should be part of a consensus values system. But wait. Many of these values are now considered legacies and memes of oppression. If a father wants to support the mother and child of their union that is noble…unless it gets in the way of an abortion. Some Marxist theories remove almost all agency from the individual, making everyone part of the oppressed or oppressing classes. We should debate what virtues are essential and we will not always agree. The challenge is finding shared ideals in a world that thrives on anger and polarization.

The third category gets at the heart of liberty: what will we permit in a pluralistic society? Will we live peaceably with deep differences and debate with civility? We often confuse permission with promotion, and disagreement with intolerance. Here is an example: a deeply religious person believes that sexual intimacy is reserved for heterosexual, monogamous marriage (Most Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as a start). This same person is a good neighbor to gay couples or common-law couples next door. Desiring others change their practices is not intolerance – it is fidelity to one’s code or faith. Our religious friend is not depriving anyone of love – she or he has their particular standards. We do affirm freedom of conscience and religion and thankfully have no coercive state religion (unlike the majority of Islamic nations that prohibit or severely restrict other faiths). Will we allow the free exchange of moral and spiritual ideas, or marginalize groups that disagree with whatever trendy ideas are capturing the public imagination? Conservatives must affirm full liberty and progressives must not assume certain moral stances are intolerant.

May we care enough about others and pursue such dialogues on our pathways toward liberty and justice for all.

July 14, 1789: Bastille Day and The French Revolution: So Much Promise; So Much Failure

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité!” This cry of the revolutionaries in Paris, started a process of change that began idealistically and ended in anarchy, totalitarian rule, and complete change in the map of Europe. Bastille Day is the moment that two handfuls of political prisoners were liberated from prison. It symbolizes the end of the old hierarchies of church and state and the dawn of a new era of secular citizenship and equality. Many Americans were excited about another nation (and their ally in the War for Independence) throwing off a corrupt monarchy and becoming democratic. But the joy was short-lived as France went to war with most of Europe, secularized every institution, and, after a decade of turmoil, found herself ruled by Napoleon. What happened? Why is this Revolution so different from the American one just a decade earlier?

There are three reasons these two revolutions are NOT the same and why the one in France turned out so poorly. First is the historical context. The American colonies were quite diverse culturally and religiously, though British and Protestant sensibilities were dominant. Jews, Quakers, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and even free thinkers could flourish to some extent. This diversity led to the phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” – Out of Many, One.” France’s cultural and religious history was much different. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes offered limited toleration for Protestants; however, it was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685 and France lost hundreds of thousands of Protestant and Jewish citizens, leaving a polarization between a reactionary Roman Catholic church and a secularizing Enlightened elite.

The second difference is the vision of the revolutionaries. The 1789-1792 era has many similarities with the USA, but after the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, secular radicalism took over and imposed a new kind of intolerance. Soon there were all kinds of ideological and verbal litmus tests of how truly “revolutionary” one was…and over 40,000 died by the guillotine, most of them original supporters of the 1789 uprising!

Thirdly, anarchy and polarization left a vacuum for a totalitarian regime to fill…hence, the rise of Napoleon. At first his rule brought order and peace, new laws, and even religious toleration. Soon, however, he set about conquering much the European continent and battling Great Britain for dominance. Within a decade of coming to power, Napoleon was one more despot and military leader full of his own self-importance.

The legacy of 1776 and the birth of the USA is one of gradual toleration and democracy. The legacy of 1789 is more akin to the 1917-1922 Communist Revolution in Russia – another land without a history of religious diversity and representative governance. Though France is a strong republic today, she is still radically secular in her corridors of power. The USA remains a haven of religious freedom and diversity, enriching its communities and offering hope to a world.

Letters to Leaders, Part 1

Dear 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates,
I understand your frustrations with current political leaders. What I am awaiting are policies that are pro-life (from conception to coronation, caring for the vulnerable at all stages) consensus-building, doable and fiscally responsible. Rage against Trump will not balance a budget, confront our global adversaries, repair our broken cities and increase opportunity.

A candidate willing to meet in the middle and stop hating people of traditional faiths will have a shot. Imagine a courageous Democratic candidate stopped pandering to the Radical Left wing of the party and stated the following:

  • We balance our checkbooks at home; therefore, the federal budget should be balanced as well. A few government workers may lose a job, but the poor can be helped, infrastructure rebuilt, and solid military defense provided within our revenues.
  • There is a real person inside a mother’s womb. Allowing for exceptional circumstances, we should foster support structures that prevent most abortions and welcome children as gifts to our world.
  • Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the United Nation’s continual condemnation is a travesty of historical knowledge and justice. It is time to broker a real peace agreement with the burden placed upon Palestinian leaders to acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy and security needs.
  • Immigration can be reformed to welcome the qualified, secure our borders, show compassion to true victims and offer millions a chance at citizenship.
  • Ecological stewardship is good for the world, our economies and future generations. We can care for our planet without global power structures forcibly transferring trillions in wealth.

I will cross parties and vote for this candidate.

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.