Back before the nominations, I wrote a post about how I found a lot of Christian support of Donald Trump to be curious, and one name I mentioned was Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas. I’ve heard him preach a few times and I do not doubt his commitment to the gospel, but he’s also known to create controversy with his comments on politics. Recently, he made the news again when he stated in an interview with The Washington Post that he supported Trump’s strong remarks against North Korea because God has given Trump the authority to “take out” Kim Jong Un. He cited Romans 13 as his basis and said that the president, as part of the government, should not seek to follow the Sermon on the Mount in his role. His comments were met with widespread criticism from the media as well as other Christians who accused of him of warmongering and for using the Bible to justify violence.
I’ll mostly leave aside the question about what to do about North Korea. As a Korean, I know full well that North Korea has an evil government that might be the most backward on the planet, but what to do with them is not a question I’ll seek to answer here. Instead, I’ll narrow my focus to Jeffress’ use of Romans 13. He actually has a point, but the application of Romans 13 to this situation is a bit murky, and he could have worded what he said more carefully.
I had a post on limited atonement lined up for today, but a controversy hit my school recently and I wanted to address it.
Social Media Fail
Yesterday, I bought Dr. David Allen’s The Extent of the Atonement for Kindle and scanned through some of it. I wholeheartedly encourage the reader to buy it also for a measly $10 (though the physical version is like $40). Little did I know that later that night, Dr. Allen would be apologizing for something outside the scholarly world. He and some professors posted this picture on Twitter:
Lol, wow. Predictably, cries of racism flew around the internet, both from within and without Southern Baptists, and the pictures were taken down. Everyone involved apologized. Dr. Patterson, the school’s president, also wrote a lengthy apology. Dr. Allen in particular gave an apology without qualification and said that “context is immaterial” for their joke picture.
And here is where I would disagree with Dr. Allen, though I understand his wish to give an unconditional apology. Context is not immaterial. We should always, always, look at context and also give charitable interpretations, even if we do still end up disagreeing with someone’s words or actions.
This picture was apparently given to a preaching professor here who recently got a job at a church and was therefore moving on. Dr. Vern Charette evidently raps as a hobby and even had a section where he rapped in a chapel sermon, so some professors thought they would give him a silly picture as a going-away gift. With this context in mind, does it make it wise to post a joke photo like that, knowing that the entire internet is not going to immediately know the context? No, it doesn’t. I’m actually very surprised none of those men thought, “Hey, this can easily get misinterpreted, so let’s either not do this in the first place or at least just keep it as a private joke among friends who know our intent and the context.” Given our hyper-sensitive culture these days, where even stating bare facts like “There’s a very high rate of single-motherhood in the black community” can draw accusations of racism, it was foolish to post that online. That’s not to excuse our hyper-sensitive culture, but surely a joke like that is not worth the controversy and potential damage to the witness of the professors as well as that of the seminary. It also does not help that the Southern Baptist Convention started on the wrong side of American slavery back in the 19th century and had to repent of that many years ago.
HOUSTON, TX – Land of Silk and Money (LSM), a local church pastored by Jerry B. Pound, has added a new spiritual gift shop to their already existing store full of self-help books, motivational audio, prayer cloths, the pastor’s prayers in tongues, and pamphlets about seed-planting (no Bibles were reportedly seen). The church boasts 25,000 members and 269,000 square feet of land, but Pound says that many of those members have asked what spiritual gift they have. In order to help them out, he decided to add this spiritual gift shop that allowed anyone to purchase the spiritual gift of their choice, either for themselves or someone else.
“I got asked so many times about spiritual gifts, and I thought, ‘Hey, Jerry, isn’t this another example of planting seeds?'” said Pound, who flies back to his Florida beach house every week on his private jet. “If you can plant seeds and get the car of your choice, I don’t see why you can’t also get the spiritual gift that you want.”
Though spiritual gifts aren’t tangible, they are represented in the store by cards with text on them and envelopes for future giving that increases those gifts. The initial price of a spiritual gift varied based upon its importance, a level deemed by Pound and his staff. Here is a list of some of the gifts and their price tag:
Though I’ve written several articles criticizing Calvinism, one may notice that there is one thing I have not done: I have never called Calvinism a heresy or any particular Calvinist a heretic. In fact, I’ve made clear that even if I disagree with Calvinists, I still respect many of them as preachers of the Gospel and consider them brothers in Christ. The use of the word “heresy” is very serious, and because of that, I tend to have little patience for those who use it quickly and carelessly.
For example, several years ago I was listening to a Mark Driscoll podcast as a passenger in a car (back in his heyday of popularity), and he mentioned the story of Noah. Unfortunately, the clip is no longer up on Youtube, though you can still find many references to his message online. You can also still download the original sermon (date: April 5, 2009), though the relevant quote is this:
What do we do with Noah? Hi Noah! Genesis 6. Let me tell you the story of Noah. Here’s the deal. If you grew up in church you probably don’t know the story because it gets butchered! It freaks me out; there is this long of things that freak me out and this is way up on the list. Every children’s Bible I get, I get white-out and I fix this part and I get a sharpy, and my kids all know that dad freaks out on the Noah story. Dad does freak out on the Noah story, because every kids Bible I’ve ever seen preaches a false gospel in the story of Noah. I don’t want my kids to be heretics, so I white it out and fix it. (emphasis added)
And the story in every kids Bible is told like this: Noah was a righteous man, he was a good guy. Everybody else was bad, Noah was good, Noah got a boat, everybody else swam for a little while. Moral of the story is be a good guy, you get a boat named Jesus, don’t be a bad guy, you’re going to have to swim for it. It’s ridiculous! Alright Genesis 6, Noah, verse 5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We call that total depravity. Who was bad? Everyone. How bad? Totally. When? All the time. That’s pretty all inclusive. Now this is a heart-breaking statement, “And the Lord was sorry that he made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man from the face of the land. Man and animals and creeping things and birds of heaven for I’m sorry that I made them.’ But, here’s the big idea. Noah found what? Favor; it’s the Hebrew word for grace. Noah found grace or favor in the eyes of the Lord. God looked at the earth, everyone’s only bad all the time, including Noah. And God looked a Noah and said, “I’m going to love that guy.”
Recently, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against the Christian florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay wedding. I skimmed over their decision, and it contained many of the same tired assertions that have yet to receive any sort of extended logical argument: The conflation of desire and behavior, of race and sexual orientation, and of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and now. These are all dubious presumptions and there are good arguments against them, but I won’t rehash them here. Instead, I will address a common argument which states that Christians who are fighting for religious liberty in these cases are being hypocritical because they should be nice, “nondiscriminatory,” “loving,” “like Jesus,” or whatever. This same argument is used when Christians oppose the expansion of government programs or actions such as welfare, the minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, amnesty for illegal immigrants, etc. Both so-called “progressive” Christians and non-Christians (amusingly enough) often yell that such Christians are disobeying the Bible’s teachings about taking care of the poor.
While common, these arguments are very confused, and unsurprisingly, their proponents betray their extreme lack of knowledge of Scripture when they presume to cite it. They also betray an inability to make clear distinctions and argue logically and instead rely on emotional rhetoric and catchphrases that ultimately argue nothing. In reality, there is a distinction between believing that a Christian has a duty through Scripture and that a Christian (or anyone) should be compelled to do that same thing by the government.
I was busy in January and didn’t pay much attention to Trump’s first couple of weeks, but I’m getting slightly caught up (only slightly), and boy, isn’t this a circus. It seems like if he were to cough in a certain way, people would freak out and call him an evil man while his defenders would come out and say that this cough is a tough cough that will be good for America. It is a fascinating, if not disheartening, environment.
So how has Trump done so far? On the one hand, he’s only been in office for less than a month, and I’m sure he’s doing a lot of learning on the job that everyone goes through when they tackle a new occupation (most of which aren’t nearly as difficult as the presidency). On the other hand, he’s actually already done quite a few things, and it is absolutely fair to critique his actions and words. The early returns here are not terribly encouraging, as Trump and his team are acting in the sort of ham-handed, egotistical, and abrasive way that I worried they might if he won. I’ve said time and again that he’s not a true conservative, but unfortunately, he is the public representative of conservatives, and at this rate he is going to do some long-term damage that will be difficult to rectify. I’m not a big fan of protests that consists of mindless chanting and shouting down people from talking, so I feel no need to defend the maturity of the recent protests at various town hall meetings; at the same time, it’s not like I feel that sorry for the politicians either, and these protests are an indication that many people, some of who were Trump voters, are already pretty ticked off at Trump and the Republican Party.
Trump supporters may object that he has a lot of haters who never intended to give him a chance: Fake-outrage liberals, the mainstream media, bandwagonning celebrities, etc. They will say these groups have often exaggerated, mischaracterized, and even lied about Trump’s words and actions. I will grant that much of this is true; such people clearly have an ax to grind and rarely scrutinized Obama in the same manner, and their commitment to thought-policing is hitting new levels of immaturity and stupidity. However, even so, that doesn’t mean everything that they have said isn’t true. It can still be true that Trump is making mistakes that can really submarine the effectiveness of his presidency (and make it likely that there will be a massive backlash against the Republican Party) if he doesn’t get certain things under control.
The Republicans in Congress are seemingly trying to remove federal funds from Planned Parenthood, which is reigniting arguing and anger over the abortion issue. Once again, we’re hearing the nonsense 3% statistic being thrown around to go along with a host of other common arguments to defend abortion and Planned Parenthood. Much of these arguments miss the central point of this debate, being red herrings that distract from the key issue: Do we have good reason to believe that the baby is or is not a human life? Does the mother have the “right” to end that life for any reason of her choosing? Even if we aren’t sure, is the chance that the baby is human great enough to make elective abortion morally wrong? It is frankly frustrating how many people, unfortunately including many confused Christians, use the following arguments when they are all simply irrelevant.
Like many, I did not take Donald Trump’s candidacy all that seriously in the beginning, and I was never a fan. I’ve been forthright with my criticism of Trump and have long said that I don’t believe he’s a constitutional conservative or a conservative Christian and that he will not conduct his presidency like one. Due to that, I never really cared that Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist organization The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), criticized Donald Trump or Trump supporters. I also never paid attention to it; I would glance at headlines but never bothered to really read what he said. However, in the last couple of months since Trump won, I’ve learned that people have been irked at Moore by his comments, with many leaders and churches in the SBC calling for him to be removed from his position or else they will stop financially supporting the ERLC.
Younger evangelicals (Moore is only 45) are rushing to his defense and decrying that the old geezers of the SBC are mistreating him for being bold enough to speak unpopular truth and calling them out on their support of a bad candidate (I’m paraphrasing slightly 😉 ). Perhaps this may be correct regarding some people, but I think this controversy highlights other issues too, issues that actually might be legitimate to question.
‘Tis the season, and that means it is the season of memes and pseudo-intellectual YouTube clips that shout from the rooftops that Christmas is just a pagan holiday. I may do more posts later on the larger issue of people throwing out memes and arguments that try to make it seem like Christians simply plagiarized from earlier pagan stories, but for now let’s just stick to the date of December 25th.
Before really getting into the claim, we should ask ourselves this: What exactly would this argument prove if it were true? Would it make the biblical account false? Well, no, it wouldn’t. The Bible gives no date of Jesus’ birth, and most Christians are pretty comfortable with saying that we do not know exactly when Jesus was born. This happens to be true for many historical figures, so it’s no big deal. In other words, even if this argument were correct, a Christian could shrug his shoulders and say, “So what? Christians modified existing pagan holidays to try to share their message instead. Who cares?” With this in mind, it is a bit amusing how some people find this argument to be some great problem for Christianity.
However, it is still worth looking into the claim because it shows an underlying problem with so many similar arguments, and that is a transparent desperation to look for the vaguest similarities with pagan religions, to assume pagan priority, to swallow memes wholesale, and then to strut around feeling smug and enlightened. I hate to break it to some people on social media, but memes rarely, if ever, constitute much of an argument, however entertaining they may sometimes be.
Great… going to write about politics again.
So the alt-right has been in the news a lot more recently after Donald Trump’s victory, particularly due to certain white supremacist events. Trump himself has been accused of being alt-right (not true), his chief strategist Steve Bannon is accused of being alt-right (technically not true, though he had no problem giving them a platform at Breitbart), and all of the alt-right is accused of being racist. This has led to more accusations that anyone who voted for Trump shares this white supremacist attitude, including Christians.
This leads to the question: What on earth is the alt-right? Is it okay for Christians to identify as alt-right?
Well, the second question is rather easy to answer: Um, no, though the reason why it’s a “no” may differ depending upon how “alt-right” is defined, which can be admittedly bewildering because of its various usages. But it’s still a no, and it would be wise for Christians to know what this movement seems to be and see that it is no friend of traditional political conservatism and especially not of Christianity.