Robert Jeffress, Trump, and North Korea: Does Romans 13 Apply?

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.

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Police Shootings, Emotional Accusations, and the Standard of Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Recently, former police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter after he shot and killed Philando Castille on a routine traffic stop.  Castille was armed, but reportedly told Yanez that he was licensed to carry.  Yanez still ended up shooting him when he believed that Castille reached for his gun as opposed to his wallet.  It was yet another high profile shooting of a black man by police (though this time by a Hispanic and not white officer), and once again the public (particularly the black community) was outraged when the officer was acquitted of all charges.  Cries of racism, systemic racism, and injustice filled social media again.

Much of this reaction is understandable.  While critics might argue, somewhat correctly, that the way the media chooses to cover these events gives off the impression that cops just go around shooting black people for no reason when that statistically isn’t supported, it’s still disturbing how some of these incidents go down.  Certainly, the Castille shooting looks very fishy at first glance, and nobody wants to see such stories whether they are rare or not.  Nonetheless, people need to be better at calmly and rationally evaluating these incidents without jumping to emotional conclusions, and they need to ask themselves this simple question: Was there enough evidence to criminally convict?  If not, no matter how we feel, an acquittal is the right decision for the jury to make.  Pointing this out is not racist, insensitive, or apathetic to injustice; it’s simply an acknowledgement of the facts as well as the limitations of our human courts.

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Tribalism Over Wisdom: Health Care Reform Just Because

Honestly, I don’t really like talking about politics, especially when the NBA playoffs are going on, but I think the new health care bill that just passed the House is worth discussing because it highlights so many things that are wrong with politics.  The American Health Care Act barely passed the House and will await the decision of the Senate, and it is, predictably, quite controversial.

I’m not going to discuss all the details of the bill and its differences with the ACA.  One reason is because, quite frankly, my understanding of healthcare does not go much deeper than surface level.  I’ve tried to do some reading on the bill, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be a policy expert on it.  Secondly, my aim is not even to defend or criticize the details of the bill over and against that of the ACA, though some details will arise.  My main purpose is to talk about the danger of political expediency over wisdom and the climate of political tribalism, a climate that makes it difficult to have honest, civil, and intelligent dialogue.

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The Distinction Between Government Compulsion and Christian Duty

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.

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Reviewing Donald Trump’s First Month and How Christians Can Respond

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.

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“Alternative Facts,” “Fake News,” and the Rhetoric of the Emotional and Close-minded

I expected Donald Trump’s presidency to be… eventful, and in his short time in office, this has proven true.  I was pretty swamped with things the past couple of weeks, but it was impossible not to notice the social media meltdowns over Trump’s executive orders and policy decisions concerning the wall, the refugee crisis, and global warming.  My Facebook feed exploded this past week with all sorts of hashtags, drawings, pictures, and articles which shouted particular positions especially on the so called “Muslim ban.”  Trying to find nuanced and sober analysis within that sea of nonsense was close to impossible.

In this jolly environment, accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are getting thrown around to go along with personal attacks that the opposing side is full of idiots and/or immoral monsters.  Basically, if someone cites or links an article that disputes one’s position, a quick way to dismiss that article or point is to mock it as “fake news” or an “alternative fact.”  It is this rhetoric that I want to address right now more than specific issues because such memes threaten to make an already toxic political environment even worse.  Essentially, while we should of course not want news out there that says straight up falsehoods, this kind of rhetoric fails to realize that evidence selection is a very important part of any discussion, and it is the foolish, the immature, and the close-minded who refuse to consider facts that may not fit their preferred narrative.

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Common Pro-Choice Arguments That Wildly Miss the Point

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.

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Evangelicalism, Conservatism, and the Alt-Right

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.

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Trade-offs: The Complicated “Economics” of Political Decision-Making

I know I hinted that I was done with the election and politics, and believe me, I want to be.  Those who know me know that I would rather spend time writing about football, basketball, philosophy, theology, or even pop culture (typically in a satirical way), but I feel like something else was important to address more fully: The oversimplified and uncharitable way people are treating their political opponents.  This isn’t exactly new, but the amount of emotional accusations, hasty generalizations, and melodrama is really getting out of control.  Those on the left are particularly angry right now and use rhetoric like these:

“If you voted for Trump, you just said that I don’t matter.” (where “I” is identified with some class of people that is allegedly oppressed.)

“A vote for Trump means that you’re for normalizing all of his offensive speech.”

“Hate won tonight.”

So on and so forth, all the same silly accusations that I already said many on the left would resort to.  In fairness, victorious Trump supporters have said things that can paraphrased like:

“Voting for Hillary means you just wanted more political corruption.”

“If you voted for Hillary, you’re a baby murderer.”

“Remember, Hillary tried to cover for Bill’s womanizing, so if you voted for Hillary, YOU are the one who hates women.”

I get it; demonizing your opponents makes it easier to rev yourself up to oppose them, and it’s often a good way to make yourself feel better.  However, such rage is ultimately immature and unhelpful and solves nothing.  What it ends up doing is simply poisoning the well of dialogue.

Look, I’m the last person who thinks that it’s bad for people to be blunt, snarky, sarcastic, or firm.  Those are fair game, and I put little value on hurt feelings on their own because hurt feelings are normally a pretty useless way to arrive at truth.  Still, there’s a difference between being blunt or sharply critical and caricaturing the other side in order to score cheap emotional points.  The problem with a lot of this rhetoric is that it does not seem to take into account the fact that political decisions are often fraught with trade-offs for each voter, and this was especially true of this election because both candidates were so disliked and so polarizing.

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Scattershooting Thoughts on the Election

Yeah, that just happened.  I expected a tighter race than much of the media predicted, but I still thought Hillary was going to win.  I just did not think that Trump would be able to win all the swing states he needed, much less pierce the so-called “firewall” of blue states.  Well, next thing I knew, Trump had won North Carolina and Ohio while leading in Florida.  At around 11 p.m., it became abundantly clear who our next president was going to be, though I still stuck around till the wee hours of the night to see the final confirmation.  Like many others, I grossly underestimated the grassroots support that Trump inspired and the level of shrewd political planning his team enacted.

And so Donald Trump is going to be our 45th president.  I never in a million years thought we would reach this point when he first announced his candidacy, but he beat every traditional politician doing things his own unorthodox and frankly ridiculous way.

There are a ton of articles out there analyzing the election, but I’m going to jot down some thoughts about the election which may or may not be connected to one another:

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