Tag Archives: liberty

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.

The Way Forward, Part Three: An Ancient-Future Posture: Holiness and Hospitality

“You are invalidating and rejecting people with your narrow-minded intolerance.” “The Bible is full of ideas that are outdated.” “You preach about loving everyone, but where is your call for justice?” “Yes, abortion is bad, but it is not the only issue.” “You keep wrapping the cross in the American flag.”

Biblical Christians and their communities are attacked daily with the above accusations, and much more. On one hand, rejection and even persecution are expected for Christians. On the other hand, Jesus said we were blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake, not our self-righteousness or religiosity. Recent events have uncovered the church’s deep need to reckon with and repent of many historical and contemporary hypocrisies and injustices. No one and no institution are immune to the trappings of false idols and ideologies, the lure of power, and the temptations of narcissism and pleasure-seeking.

From a posture of humility and fidelity to the gospel, what is a way forward for Christian witness and the Church in our era of accusation, cancellation, and rebellion?

Mining the riches of Scripture and history, there is an “ancient-future” (thank you, to the late Robert Webber and Pastor Dan Kimball for this term) posture that can transform the life of church, improve the credibility of her witness, and open doors to spiritual seekers. The criticisms above are sometimes the words of rebellious enemies of the gospel. More often, they reflect the heart-cries and confusion of those that desire to know Jesus and be in community, but cannot reconcile the chasm between declaration and demonstration, preaching and practice.

The private and public posture for the path forward is uniting holiness with hospitality. There is no need for doctrinal and moral compromise and the doors of relationship and grace are wide open for all. Sounds great in theory, but what do these terms mean in practice?

Holiness begins with reverence for the Almighty, surrender to his will, and finding our identity in Christ before any other loyalties of blood or soil. Holiness is not a “holier-than-thou” attitude – just the opposite. It is fidelity to the covenant and community through the Cross and Resurrection and a continual conversion of life away from self and sin toward service rooted in love for God and neighbor. Holiness means the ways of God are not optional, yet life is not reduced to rules. Holiness is more than particular deportment and discipline regarding sex or lifestyle choices. Holiness touches all dimensions of life. We worship the Lord God, not our idols. We are becoming whole, not living for self. We have healthy relationships, and do not see people in merely utilitarian ways. We have a sense of calling that is more than our current work, and our work is offered to God as worship. We desire all come to Christ, and that people of all faiths or none share in the common good we help create. A holy life is one of integration, where joy and justice, generosity and liberty, truth and toleration, and open-handed leaning and service are brought together.

With holiness as both passion and practice, hospitality is the natural companion. Jesus ate and conversed with both religious leaders and the marginal, exposing hypocrisy and delivering from destructive patterns. Hospitality has been a hallmark of the church from here earliest moments of fellowship in Jerusalem (Acts 2-6) to learning to live in community with diverse people (I Corinthians 10-14; Galatians 3; Colossians 3), and inviting seekers to hear the gospel and join the Church (Acts 13-28).

Christian hospitality helped create the first hospitals and hospices, hotels and homes for orphans. I am not claiming a Christian exclusive on compassion, just noting the goodness of persecuted believers who cared for plague victims in the 3rd century and have pioneered the private and public institutions we take for granted today.

On a more personal and practical level, hospitality means welcoming seekers struggling with sin into the community, and walking with them as they consider the claims of Christ. Unconditional love and uncompromising holiness unite as we call everyone to submit to Christ and befriend and care for others. If our friends desire baptism and membership in the church, they are agreeing to learn to walk in the ways of the Lord and conform their lives to Scripture. This does not mean instant perfection nor should standards be changed. Business leaders must bring their daily ethics to the Cross. Addictions need counsel and healing. Lifestyles contrary to Christ are gradually abandoned in favor of pleasing God. Greed, classism, racism, sexism all yield to the Cross. And when we fail, there are friends and leaders ready as agents of forgiveness and restoration.

Keeping holiness and hospitality in divine balance will restore credibility and community. Loving God will open our hearts to repentance and loving our neighbors will create a receptive atmosphere for healing and hope. Knowing we are loved by God will help us confront personal iniquity and systemic injustice. Relativism yield to true righteousness and intolerance becomes inquiry. May we have the courage to take this pathway forward.

“Science is Real” Separating Facts from Ideology

As Kathy and I walk our neighborhood, we occasionally see signs that include a variety of slogans, including, “Science is Real.” This phrase is part of a campaign by climate activists to demonize any “deniers” that question human-caused climate change and support radical proposals to “save the planet because we have only 9, 12, 20, or 50 years left.”

Science is a wonderful part of humankind’s creativity and curiosity. It yields amazing breakthroughs for human flourishing, from healthy foods to medical care, technology for the workplace, and so much more. The founder of the modern state of Singapore was asked about the most important invention of the 20th century. His response? “Air conditioning.” Without it, computers cannot function and billions living in tropical climates cannot be productive. Science is an ever-evolving series of experiments and findings, discussions and discoveries, and the source of much debate! For people of faith, science is a gift from God, part of common grace or natural revelation. Science is not a deity, but the amalgamation of human inquiry. It can be used for good or manipulated for evil.

Human-influenced climate change is tracked using a combination of historical temperature readings, computer modeling, and current observations. Leaving aside exaggerated terms like, “97% all agree that…” or “there is no problem” – how do we sort our facts from ideology? And, just as important, how should consensual science inform economic and social policies affecting billions of people?

Let’s assume that “the science is real” and humankind is having a deleterious impact on the climate. Current solutions emanating from the UN and the West are radical and have little actual impact on global temperatures. Adding to this reality is the fact that we have seen a shift in language from “global warming” to “climate change” because the trends are not conforming to early computer models. Science is being used as a cover to destroy the fossil fuel, natural gas, and nuclear power industries, with inadequate replacements.

The way forward is neither denial nor apocalyptic measures. Good ecological stewardship is good economics. Science is already reducing emissions enormously in the developed world. Alternative energy solutions are emerging, but are not yet cost-effective as complete replacements. And here is the key: Global elites and politicians love greater control over people’s lives and arranging massive transfers of wealth – none of which affect them (unless they benefit)! The losers are middle- and working-class folks around the world that need affordable energy. We can improve the environment and ensure all can flourish without impoverishing billions for the wallets and power grabbing of a few. We need a concomitant strategy of improving the emissions of current sources while developing low-cost alternatives. As the science catches up to our dreams, we can see a better world without chaos and the loss of liberty.

Remembering the Promise of Liberty: A Tribute to the WWII Generation

This week we remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the formal entry of the USA into World War II. While we were already defacto allies with Great Britain and the Soviet Union against Germany, the events of December 7-11 turned a European conflict into a World War and awakened the “sleeping giant” of our industrial and military capacities. Though we directly responded to the attack in the Pacific, Hitler and Mussolini’s declarations of war made the conflict global.

The events of 1941-1945 are well-known. In this essay I want to highlight the sacrifices of a generation and the consequences of the conflict for increasing the love for liberty in the USA and around the world. The soldiers in all theaters knew they were fighting for freedom against totalitarian regimes that regarded other races as inferior. Japanese treatment of conquered nations and prisoners of war was inhuman, for they regarded Chinese, Korean, and other Asian populations as created to serve them. POWs were starved and tortured, seen as cowards for surrendering rather than committing Hari Kari (suicide). The Nazi genocides and oppressions stagger the imagination as six million Jews and six million other non-combatants are destroyed in the demonic labor and extermination universe crafted by this evil regime. This is why millions of American men and women enlisted and gave their all.

A special note here: I am generalizing about the German and Japanese governments and people in power at the time, not declaring every Japanese or German person guilty.

One story coming out of World War II that deserves more attention is the millions of African American women and men that signed on for civilian and military service. In spite of the oppressions of Jim Crow and the segregation in the military, these brave folks fought and worked for their country, believing in the promises of liberty and justice in the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one of courage against great odds. Black civilian workers and soldiers were paid less, given less prominent positions, and, in general, relegated to the lowest rungs in the institutions. Yet, they shined in their bravery and sacrifice.

Another triumph out of tragedy narrative is the story of Japanese Americans serving in the military in spite of the oppression of the internment camps. The story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldiers in the Italian campaigns of 1944-45 is one of courage and sacrifice. Soldiers in the 442nd RCT and their partners in the 100th IB earned seven presidential unit citations, two meritorious service plaques, 36 Army Commendation medals and 87 division commendations between them. Individual soldiers from both units earned 21 Medals of Honor, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 15 Soldier’s Medals and 9,500 Purple Hearts, among many other honors. In 2011, 450 Japanese American soldiers from the 442nd RCT and 100th were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the United States’ highest civilian award for service.

These are wonderful stories, and their impact was felt far beyond the battlefield. After the war, the Civil Rights Movement found new life, with a simple question, “If someone is willing to die for America, why are they kept from voting, education, housing and jobs?” President Truman integrated the military and by the mid-1950s, with the Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling making segregation in schools unconstitutional, momentum for justice increased. By 1965, Civil Rights and Voting Rights were the law of the land. By the 1970s and 1980s, the injustice of the internment camps came to light and reparations started.

America mobilized for liberty in a global war. As a result, she was able to mobilize for liberty for her own citizens, especially African Americans and immigrants. It is fitting that we honor this “greatest generation” by expanding its members to include the marginalized and oppressed, who, through sacrifice, paved the way for opportunities for their children. Though there is much work to be done, we have come a long way due to the work of these humble women and men

Thankful: The Complex Tapestry of American History

The United States of America is – like every person we meet and any nation we study – beautiful and broken. Her history is filled with saints and sinners, imperial oppression and unprecedented liberty. As we gather around tables and express our gratitude to God and each other, here are some paradoxical facts that are part of our historical tapestry:

  • The First Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth with genuinely cordial relations with the local tribes. The Pilgrims owed their survival to Squanto and others that helped them gather, harvest, and hunt well.
  • Just before the Pilgrims came ashore (1620), the colony of Virginia began importing African slaves for work in the tobacco fields (1619), inaugurating a history that only a Civil War and later Civil Rights Movement would change.
  • Maryland and Pennsylvania were colonial havens for Roman Catholics and Quakers respectively, and both colonies promoted freedom of religion.
  • Meanwhile in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, religious dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were exiled or punished severely into the 1690s.
  • The Methodists prohibited members from owning slaves as of 1757; alas, a century later this dynamic tradition was divided in to Northern and Southern branches…as were almost all denominations.
  • Ellis Island processed millions of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though many faced prejudices and obstacles assimilating into a very White and Protestant America, within a few generations, most of their descendants were celebrating the opportunities the New World had to offer.
  • At the same time immigrants were gazing happily at the Statue of Liberty upon their arrival in the USA, millions of Native Americans and African Americans faced continued oppression, prejudice, and legal barriers to full inclusion into American society.

The USA continues as an experiment in virtue-based liberty, with a history of hospitality and generosity as well as nativism and xenophobia. As we rightly give thanks, let’s rededicate ourselves to building a land of access, equity, and opportunity for all.