Don’t be a turtle! Thoughts about Christians and the 2020 election

Don’t be a turtle! Thoughts about Christians and the 2020 election

As I write this, on Friday morning 06 November 2020, it appears as if Joe Biden will win the Presidency. For many Christians, this is discouraging news. He is an older man, weaker in mind and body than he used to be, and at risk of being manipulated by the more radical people in his entourage. In order to secure his party’s nomination, he was forced to agree to policy agendas at odds with the scripture’s teaching on some of the most basic issues of life; abortion, marriage, what it means to be male and female, and more.

And yet, if the electoral college votes continue to go his way, Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States. This didn’t happen by accident. God is not in heaven above, biting his fingernails, pulling for Georgia and Pennsylvania to finish their vote counts. God knows the vote counts. He determined them. The 1618 Belgic Confession of Faith explains scripture well when it says (Article 13):

his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner even when the devil and wicked men act unjustly.

The confession goes on:

And as to what he doth surpassing human understanding we will not curiously inquire into it further than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ.

If you’re demoralized and hopeless about the results of this election, know that God determined it. It’s His will. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you do have to accept it. Even Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above,” (Jn 19:11). There’s a whole lot in that sentence. Pilate is only there because God wanted him there. Jesus knew that.

It’s the same with Barack Obama, Donald Trump … and perhaps Joe Biden.

So, how to react? Since at least the 1960s, evangelicals in America have often framed their engagement with the world as “cultural resistance.” This framing casts the Church as the brave underdog, manning the ramparts with spears, crossbows and swords, protecting the Bride of Christ against “the world.” It was an attitude of isolationism; of defensiveness. This is why, about a generation ago, so many churches hurriedly passed bylaw addendums that explicitly identified homosexual “marriage” as illegitimate, and declared that no same-sex “marriages” could occur in its facilities.

Mission accomplished? Not really.

It wasn’t about the Gospel. It wasn’t about engagement. It wasn’t about taking the message outside. The ethos was about resistance, about building higher walls to keep it all “out there,” to protect ourselves from “the liberals.”

As we consider a Joe Biden presidency and all the freight it’ll bring with it, the Church’s role is not to build higher walls or buy more guns. Christ doesn’t expect His Bride to hunker down and dig. He expects us to advance, to sally forth into this world with a message of rescue, reconciliation and hope.

The Church is a forward operating base in enemy territory. Our job isn’t to build a bunker and wait for the cavalry. It’s to advance, to march onward, to get outside the walls and advocate for Christ in this community. Think about these statements:

“We’ve got to take back our country!”vs.“Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life!”
“America has turned its back on God!”vs.“You’ll only find peace through Jesus Christ.”

The column on the left is framed from a perspective of cultural resistance, of defensiveness. It has no Gospel content. The column on the right is different. It’s the way the apostles preached. As we contemplate a Joe Biden presidency, the Church can’t retreat behind walls or use the same old tactics of cultural resistance. That isn’t evangelism; it’s isolationism.

Don’t give way to despair. Know God chose Joe Biden, and has a reason for doing it. Know He expects His Church to do its job and to advance onward with the Gospel. We can’t issue frightened cries from behind the castle walls. We can’t hide inside our shells like scared turtles. We have to go outside the fortress with the banner of the truth of the Gospel and tell people that old, old story. It isn’t about “taking back our country.” It’s about telling people about God’s country and God’s kingdom, so perhaps some of them might become citizens, too.

Singing the Ballot Blues

Singing the Ballot Blues

This Sunday, I preached a sermon about voting. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to telling Christians how to vote. I didn’t tell people “vote for Donald Trump or America is toast,” nor did I say “We must vote for Joe Biden!” I took a middle road, which is really the best road. It’s an uncomfortable road, because I believe a Christian ought to feel politically “homeless” in a world to which he doesn’t belong.

The Christian faith is about hope. Hope for a better world. Hope for a better us. Hope for justice. Hope that things are meant to be better than they are.

Hope that a God exists who is good, and that His Son Jesus of Nazareth lived, died and rose again to fix this broken world, by the power of the Spirit.

The Christian faith is about hope that God will rescue some of us, so we can be with Him in the new community, as part of a new family, in the new and better world to come. Christians can live here in peace and joy because of this new relationship.

But, while we wait for all that good stuff to happen … we’re stuck here. We can’t withdraw from society and isolate in Tupperware containers. We can’t marry the Church to the culture. We’re in this uneasy middle ground, with the Church set apart from the culture but not isolated from it.

This produces questions about how the Church should interact with society[1]. The election is 03 November; what should you think about voting?

I tried to answer that, here. I provided three principles to follow when voting:

  1. God will fix everything … later.
  2. Vote to support all kingdom values, not just some.
  3. Realize God doesn’t care if you don’t like your leaders.

The uncomfortable bit is in the second principle. I’m essentially taking the approach Michael Svigel summarizes pretty well in his article The Conscience of the Kingdom: A Third Way for Christians Caught Between Isolationism and Constantinianism. He writes:

On the basis of God’s Word and in allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians speak and act on behalf of righteousness. Christians address political corruption, weigh in on social ills, take righteous action on behalf of truth, justice, and mercy, and do so in ways that refuse either to empower a “strongman” or take shelter in a bunker. All of this is done in a manner that reflects the fruit of the Spirit and the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Conscience Christians avoid any alliances or allegiances that would surrender their ability to speak prophetically to the “Herods” of their day. And they refuse to surrender the impartiality necessary to serve as the conscience of the kingdoms of their age.

This kind of approach almost always means withdrawing membership and loyalty to political parties and political action organizations, but it never means retreating from political, social, cultural, and moral engagement. It means boldly but lovingly speaking out against unrighteousness and injustice while promoting righteousness and justice—assuming, of course, that Christians are actually living out righteousness and justice themselves! In the Conscience of the Kingdom approach, the Church neither unites with nor retreats from the State; rather, she lives as the Church in the State and speaks as the Church to the State.

So, here’s the sermon. I think it’s pretty important:


[1] For an excellent discussion, see especially John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 697-736; esp. 711-714. 

Pilgrims in an unholy land

Pilgrims in an unholy land

In its October 2020 issue, WORLD Magazine (a conservative Christian publication) has two interviews about the upcoming Presidential election. WORLD’s editor, Marvin Olasky, interviewed both Wayne Grudem and David French. They’re polar opposites, and that’s why they’re so fascinating.

Here, in those few pages of interviews, you have the ethical divide that splits conservative Christians. I suppose this is all really about the Church and the Christian’s responsibilities towards society. Basically, what you think about the Kingdom of God matters. I recommend the following resources for those who are interested in the Church, the Christian, and social engagement. Read in order, according to the amount of time you have available to invest:

  1. Michael Svigel’s wonderful article, “The Conscience of the Kingdom: A Third Way for Christians Caught Between Isolationism and Constantinianism.
  2. J.I. Packer’s article, “The Bible’s Guide for Christian Activism.”
  3. Charles Ryrie’s little book The Christian and Social Responsibility.
  4. Scott Aniol’s article, “Polishing Brass on a Sinking Ship: Toward a Traditional Dispensational Philosophy of the Church and Cultural Engagement.

But, back to the point. The divide is real. So real that French and Grudem seem to inhabit different planets.

Wayne Grudem

To many evangelicals, Grudem needs little introduction. He’s the author of the best-selling text Systematic Theology. Here’s his bio the seminary where he teaches:

Dr. Grudem became Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in 2001 after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for 20 years. He was named Distinguished Research Professor in 2018. He has served as the President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, as President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1999), and as a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible. He also served as the General Editor for the ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008).

Grudem is a well-known supporter of President Trump. Several years ago, Christian historian John Fea coined the phrase “court evangelical” to describe conservative Christians who seem to desperately yearn for access to the President, like so many little children lusting after candies:

The politics of fear inevitably results in a quest for power. Political influence, many evangelicals believe, is the only way to restore the nation to the moral character of its founding. How much time and money has been spent seeking political power when such resources might have been invested more effectively in pursuing a course of faithful presence!

Clergymen and religious leaders have, at least since Billy Graham, regularly visited the White House to advise the president. Like the members of the kings’ courts during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, who sought influence and worldly approval by flattering the monarch rather than prophetically speaking truth to power, Trump’s court evangelicals boast about their “unprecedented access” to the White House and exalt the president for his faith-friendly policies.

John Fea, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), p. 12.

By some people’s reckoning (like Fea’s), Grudem is a court evangelical. In his interview, he sounds less like the respected Christian theologian he is, and more like a GOP policy wonk from Fox News. Here are some excerpts:

The political left certainly has a lot to answer for, but what about the responsibility of Christian leaders? When Barack Obama made untruthful claims, he received a lot of criticism; but have we seen similar criticism regarding President Trump? I’ve publicly criticized his previous marital infidelity and his vindictiveness at times, and his brash, confrontational behavior at times. I looked at The Washington Post’s list of what it calls 16,000-some “lies” Trump has spoken and examined 20 or 30 of them. They’re what I’d call conclusions drawn by a hostile interpreter of words that a sympathetic listener would understand in a positive way. President Trump is often not careful in some of the things he says. He is given to exaggeration. Sometimes he’s made a statement after being given inaccurate information. I’m not sure he’s ever intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false, which is how I define a lie. As you know, I have written an ethics textbook. I believe it’s never right to affirm X when you believe X is false. If someone wants to point out to me some actual Trump lies that fit that definition, I’d be happy to look at them. 

Will America in 2024 be in better or worse shape if Biden is elected, or if Trump is reelected? The Trump presidency has resulted in a stronger economy, stronger national defense, positive steps toward achieving border security, standing up to China and Russia, negotiating new trade agreements, advocating educational freedom, standing with Israel, strengthening our military, and reforming our judicial system. Those are all what seem to me to be evidence of God’s blessing on the nation with President Trump. If he wins again, I expect there will be more blessing on our nation. If Biden is elected, he’ll support abortion, cripple the economy, weaken our military, largely abandon Israel, select more judges who legislate from the bench, weaken religious freedom. We’ll have more crime, a complete federal takeover of our healthcare system, and much more that looks like the withdrawal of God’s blessing.

Perhaps the strangest thing Grudem suggested (underlined, above) was that President Trump has never lied in his life. That is … an odd thing to say!

David French

French is a well-known Christian commentator:

David French is senior editor of The Dispatch, a conservative website, and a member of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn. He served in the Iraq War, was a senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, and was a staff writer for National Review from 2015 to 2019.

However, if Grudem seems to be speaking more like a GOP strategist than a Christian theologian, David French seems to have no goal other than to not vote for President Trump. His basic point is the Church has consistently failed to change public policy on critical issues by supporting GOP Presidents, and it will fail here, too:

Has he helped or hurt regarding our racial division? The extraordinary racial division in the United States is not just dealt with by policy. That is dealt with through character, personality, leadership, and charisma. The core of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ critique is that Trump by pattern and practice intentionally tries to divide the United States of America. I think that critique is right. A president of good character doesn’t try intentionally to divide the United States of America. All of this stuff is super basic. You ask Christians about this in 2015, and they say, “Of course.” But Christians have joined with Trump and look for a rationalization.

French continues in the same vein, but in response to a different question:

Does this president’s control over policy trump his own incompetence and poor character? The plight of the country now says that’s not just wrong, but laughably and tragically wrong. There is nothing MAGA about where we are now. There is an enormous amount of heartbreak, misery, death, division. That Donald Trump had a better platform than Hillary Clinton did not spare us from any of that. His character made it all worse.

Then this:

So you want a narrow Democratic win? No, I want a decisive loss for Trump, because if the loss is very narrow you’re going to have extraordinarily divisive forces in the U.S. calling into question the legitimacy of the election. A decisive win is the only way Americans are going to have confidence in the legitimacy of the election, sad to say. The margin will matter a lot. My hope is that a resounding rejection of Donald Trump doesn’t carry with it a resounding rejection of Republicans who are not like Trump. That’s what I’m pessimistic about. I suspect the resounding rejection of Trump will also lead to resounding rejection of Republicans who are not like Trump. That outcome is not best for the country.

Read both Wayne Grudem and David French’s interviews. It’s likely you have friends and family who exactly mirror both Grudem and French. The men inhabit different worlds. You can’t be more apart on issues. Yet, they’re both conservative Christians.

What to do in November?

I know that the Kingdom of God isn’t here, yet. It’s coming, though. The Church’s mission is to preach the Gospel, equip God’s people for faithful life and death in His service, and reach out so more people will join the family of God. The Kingdom won’t come until Christ rolls up this ruined world, throws it into the trash, and makes a new and better place for His chosen people. Then, we’ll have justice and righteousness.

Until then, Christians must speak and vote for policies that are closest to God’s. In other words, Christians must go in for kingdom values now, while we wait for that kingdom to come. Read Michael Svigel’s article.

On hating unbelievers

On hating unbelievers

There are a number of popular Christian pastors and teachers, usually on Twitter, who are writing about how evil Justice Ginsburg was. They suggest it’s ridiculous that any Christian express polite appreciation for her legacy. They seem quite happy she is dead. They typically mention her support for abortion as justification.

It’s seems strange that Christians should be pleased when an unbeliever dies. It is strange. These Twitter Christians often accuse those who do express appreciation for Justice Ginsburg of being soft on sin. Being wimps, basically.

I think those Christians are very angry people. Angry at what’s happened to their country. Angry at changes in society. And, their philosophy of ministry is essentially Christian fundamentalism. That movement has a good and noble legacy that’s often tarred by the foolish excesses of its worst people. These angry Twitter pastors would never say they’re fundamentalists, but they are. They often want to fight, fight, fight. They’re the archetypes of a philosophy they often claim to despise.

I was reminded, recently, of the strange dichotomy between Charles Stanley and a certain other well-known, conservative octogenarian preacher. What different philosophies. What different mindsets. What different emphases. What different ministries.

One Christian pastor, popular on Twitter, wrote just today:

Why must we refrain from stating the necessary and obvious reality that Ruth Bader Ginsburg promoted clear, definable, delineable evil? For over fifty years? In a position of great power, and hence responsibility before God? With all her strength, purposefully? With her last breath? And can we step back long enough to realize that if we allow the cultural pressure to “be nice to the dead” to control our speech at this time, that the result is the fundamental denial that true moral evil actually exists, that the secular worldview is truly morally evil, and that the deaths of the born and unborn that will be laid at the feet of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the judgment were not as important as our cultural comfort?”

These words, and others in his article, ooze hatred. Anger. This is an unhappy man. Ginsburg was not on the Court in 1973, when it decided Roe v. Wade. She came 20 years later. What could force a Christian pastor to hate a dead woman so much? Justice Thurgood Marshall concurred with Roe v. Wade in 1973, but can’t we still laud his achievements for civil rights in the 1940s and 1950s?

I’ve watched this same pastor become increasingly polarized in his politics over the past two years. He believes all Democrats are evil. He slanders evangelicals who think differently than he about every aspect of social justice. Politics infects everything he says, now. He doesn’t see it, of course, but he’s become a very angry man. So have many other Christians. Angry enough that he can write:

What is RBG’s legacy? I am seriously listening to Christian leaders lauding her for her “courage” and “consistency.” There is no questioning her intelligence. She had a formidable mind. And yes, she was consistent. Very much so. But here’s my point: so was Jezebel.

So many Christians are consumed with hate fueled by partisan politics. When you begin to think of all your ideological opponents as not wrong and misguided, but deliberately evil, then you’ve crossed the line. You’ve been radicalized. Ironically, you’re the mirror image of the leftist partisans you hate so much.

He hates Justice Ginsburg. HATES. Why? Should we be surprised when an unbeliever acts like an unbeliever? How can you reach somebody with the gospel if you hate her? Forget Justice Ginsburg; how can you reach a culture that largely agrees with her if you hate them, too? You can’t, of course.

That’s very sad. To hate people so much because they act like … unbelievers. Such were some of us. If God (Father, Son and Spirit) had that mindset, we’d all be toast.

Pushing back against the madness

Pushing back against the madness

I’m a bi-vocational pastor who works in the real world. In my own small way, I am fighting against the anti-racism madness sweeping our society. If you are tempted to believe I am one of those, “ain’t got no racism in there here country!” evangelicals who worship President Trump and have the GOP party platform sown into my bible between Malachi and Matthew, I direct you to my comments on racism and Jim Crow, and about the dangers of Christian nationalism.

Corporate and government human resources (“HR”) offices are prime movers behind the new religion of so-called anti-racism or critical race theory (“CRT”). This is a movement that’s captured the hearts and minds of the academy and the social science departments of colleges and universities. It may capture you, too. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employer watches news and becomes worried.
  2. Employer decides it must be able to say it “did something” to combat racism.
  3. Employer turns to HR for answers. “Do some training, or something …”
  4. HR departments become desperate, then Google (or, perhaps, Bing) “diversity” and “racism training,” and forward random YouTube videos to employees to watch; sometimes watching is mandatory. Little attempt to vet content to weigh ideology and perspective of the video.
  5. HR also finds huckster trainers, many of whom drank from the same well as the YouTube videos. Huckster trainers have developed cottage industry peddling a bastardized and popular form of critical race theory from “hot” authors like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi.
  6. Employer can now say it “did something.”
  7. More employees are indoctrinated into a hot new religion many don’t like, don’t accept, and find extraordinarily offensive.
  8. Nobody says anything. The real problem goes unresolved in favor of a new religion that teaches people to hate themselves, their society, and live in perpetual outrage

I speak from experience. I am a government employee; a manager at a State agency. Just last month, our HR forwarded a video to every manager and suggested we watch it and share with our subordinates. The video was everything I expected; an earnest academic telling everyone they’re racists because they aren’t black. Our society is soaked in racism, the trainer assured me. It impacts us all. We’re so racist, we don’t even know we’re racist.

I see.

Well, I replied to the email and sent a response to every single manager and Deputy Commissioner in the entire agency. I did it because I will not be intimidated by this evil worldview. Here is what I wrote:


It’s unclear where the line is between indoctrination and education, here. When employees are encouraged to watch a video whose thesis is that Americans (implicitly, white Americans) are all unconscious racists with associated unconscious bias, then it makes folks raise an eyebrow or two. Add to it, Professor Eberhardt’s faculty profile from Stanford University reveals she has a very particular thesis to push:

Through interdisciplinary collaborations and a wide ranging array of methods—from laboratory studies to novel field experiments—Eberhardt has revealed the startling, and often dispiriting, extent to which racial imagery and judgments suffuse our culture and society, and in particular shape actions and outcomes within the domain of criminal justice.

This thesis plays out in her comments in the video:

  • 1:37: “We are living with such severe racial stratification that even a five-year-old can tell us what’s supposed to happen next, even with no evildoer, even with no explicit hatred. This association between blackness and crime made its way into the mind of my five-year-old. It makes its way into all of our children, into all of us. Our minds are shaped by the racial disparities we see out in the world and the narratives that help us to make sense of the disparities we see …”
  • 13:06: “We know that the brain is wired for bias, and one way to interrupt that bias is to pause and to reflect on the evidence of our assumptions.”

Some people are racists. I’ve met people like that. However, Professor Eberhardt believes the very nature of American society is so “suffuse[d]” with racism that it is in “all of us,” even unconsciously. That’s a rather sweeping statement about a country that has had:

  1. an African-American President who was elected twice, winning the popular vote each time,
  2. an African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later Secretary of State, and
  3. has appointed two African-Americans to the Supreme Court, one of whom was Thurgood Marshall; a key architect and leader of the NAACPs successful strategy to put a stake into the heart of the Jim Crow laws.

I note that Professor Eberhardt, an African-American herself, holds an earned PhD from Harvard, is a former faculty member at Yale, and now teaches at Stanford. She has done well for herself; and good for her.

However, Professor Eberhardt impugns the integrity of every American (and every agency employee) of any ethnicity or creed, because she claims we’re all unconsciously racist. This is beyond the pale.

I look forward to future recommendations on the important issue of race relations. I can only hope they do not follow the same theme of “if you’re white, then you’re an unconscious racist and I can help you change.” This is a critical topic, as the [agency head’s name] recent communications have made clear. Perhaps it would be best to not begin by unwittingly impugning the hearts and minds of co-workers because of … their white skin color.


I got away with this for at least three reasons:

  1. I have a good reputation at my agency as a calm, intelligent, serious person. At least … I think I do!
  2. The email was polite, factual, and acknowledged that racism is an issue in American society.
  3. Every manager and Deputy Commissioner at the agency knows I’m an evangelical Baptist pastor.

Christians must not be turtles, hiding in their shells. We shouldn’t be scared kittens, peeking out from under the couch. We can have a voice. We must have a voice. Don’t be driven from the public square.

NOTE: on 04 September 2020, after I published this article, President Trump directed federal agencies to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.” This is likely an attempt to curry favor with his base of support. Still, it is a welcome development.

I Love Me …

I Love Me …

Carl Trueman’s forthcoming book will be required reading for any pastor (or, anybody, really) who is interested in a Christian explanation for the cult of self-worship in the West. He summarizes the issue in an article published today titled “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self … And How the Church Can Respond.”

Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you want to know what’s happened to the world? To people? Where did this “you do you!” ethos of self-worship come from? Why do people see their psychologized self-conception (which, tellingly today, almost always centers on sex) as the thing that defines them?

Trueman sums up the problem in the article:

… the idea that happiness is personal psychological satisfaction—“self-fulfillment”—is the staple of sitcoms, soap operas, movies, and even commercials. And this narrative, this illusion, has powerful implications. When the goal of human existence is personal psychological satisfaction, then all moral codes are merely instrumental, and therefore continually revisable, to this subjective, psychological end.

I’ve preached both a sermon that touched on this a BIT:

and one that touched on this a LOT:

and hopefully have an article forthcoming in a Christian magazine that lays some of this out. My latest article about the Bostock decision also noted that this lens of narcissism is behind SCOTUS’ redefinition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trueman closes his article with this:

We have been here before—despised, considered immoral, standing on the margins. And we can learn lessons that will fortify us as we move into an uncertain future.

I’m looking forward to the book.

Jim Crow wasn’t inevitable

Jim Crow wasn’t inevitable

C. Vann Woodward was a celebrated historian of the American South. His most well-known work is The Strange Career of Jim Crow, originally published in 1955 and updated for the last time in 1974. He aimed to explain why and how, exactly, we went from (1) the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction to (2) a segregation more complete than anything experienced in the antebellum, pre-war South.

His startling thesis was that the Jim Crow laws did not follow immediately on the heels of the Civil War, but came perhaps 30 years later and destroyed the (in some quarters) considerable progress that had been made in race relations. This is known as the “Woodward thesis.” He explains:

The obvious danger in this account of the race policies of Southern conservatives and radicals is one of giving an exaggerated impression of interracial harmony. There were Negrophobes among the radicals as well as among the conservatives, and there were hypocrites and dissemblers in both camps. The politician who flatters to attract votes is a familiar figure in all parties, and the discrepancy between platforms and performance is often as wide as the gap between theory and practice, or the contrast between ethical ideals and everyday conduct.

My only purpose has been to indicate that things have not always been the same in the South. In a time when the Negroes formed a much larger proportion of the population than they did later, when slavery was a live memory in the minds of both races, and when the memory of the hardships and bitterness of Reconstruction was still fresh, the race policies accepted and pursued in the South were sometimes milder than they became later.

The policies of proscription, segregation, and disfranchisement that are often described as the immutable ‘folkways’ of the South, impervious alike to legislative reform and armed intervention, are of a more recent origin.

The effort to justify them as a consequence of Reconstruction and a necessity of the times is embarrassed by the fact that they did not originate in those times. And the belief that they are immutable and unchangeable is not supported by history.

C. Van Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd ed. (New York: OUP, 2002; Kindle ed.), 65.

Now, that’s something to chew on. Here’s something more – where were the Christians in the South as this reversion to evil took place?

Note: The feature photograph (above) depicts Sheriff Willis McCall, of Lake County, FL, in November 1951 moments after he murdered one man and shot another during a fake “escape attempt” he staged as he transported both men to a State prison. This case of the so-called “Groveland Four,” in which his department framed four innocent men for the illusory rape of a white woman, is a poster child for the evils of the Jim Crow laws.

6: Bostock, transgenderism, and the cult of self-worship

6: Bostock, transgenderism, and the cult of self-worship

Read the rest of the series about the Bostock v. Clayton County court decision.

The Bostock ruling made two momentous decisions; (1) it read “sexual orientation” into Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and (2) it did the same for “gender identity.” So far in this series I’ve focused on the former. Now it’s time for the latter.

The transgender component of Bostock involves a man named Mr. Stephens. He identifies as a woman and all references to him in the Bostock literature are to “Aimee Stephens” or “Ms. Stephens.” However, I will refer to him as Mr. Stephens throughout.

Mr. Stephens was terminated from employment at Harris Funeral Homes (“Harris Funeral”) after he declared he would begin presenting as a woman to perform his duties as a funeral director. Mr. Stephens filed an EEOC complaint which eventually wound its way to the Sixth Circuit. In its petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”), Harris Funeral’s counsel argued:

… the Sixth Circuit ordered it to allow a male funeral director to dress and present as a woman at work. Harris Homes must do that even though its owner reasonably determined that the employee’s actions would violate the company’s sex-specific dress code and disrupt the healing process of grieving families. The language of Title VII does not mandate that result.

Petition, 2

Harris Funeral advanced two key arguments (Petition, i):

  1. Title VII says it’s unlawful to discriminate in employment matters “because of … sex.” The law never mentions “gender identity.” In fact, these are two very different things. So, Mr. Stephens can’t appeal to Title VII.
  2. The Sixth Circuit wrongfully applied the precedent from Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins to Harris Funeral. In Price, SCOTUS found it was unlawful for an employer to use sex-based stereotypes to deny a woman a promotion. In Price, employers considered the woman too “macho” and otherwise unladylike, so they did not promote her. But regarding Harris Homes, its attorneys argued, “[t]he Sixth Circuit thus treated the very idea of sex—which determines a person’s status as male or female based on reproductive anatomy and physiology—as an illicit stereotype,” (Petition, 11).

These are dividing lines. How do you know what you know? Christians have a divine revelation that tells them about the world, about themselves, about God, and about reality. Unbelievers have nothing but social conventions.

This is why the culture can re-invent the meaning of “sex” when it’s convenient. It’s also why it can assume that “sex = reproductive function” is a harmful stereotype. This is what Mr. Stephens’ attorney argued.

He was fired, the attorney declares, “because of [his] employer’s stereotypes about how women and men should appear and behave … because [his] appearance would no longer conform to his sex stereotype,” (Response, 1).

The Sixth Circuit decision remarked:

discrimination because of a person’s transgender, intersex, or sexually indeterminate status is no less actionable than discrimination because of a person’s identification with two religions, an unorthodox religion, or no religion at all. And “religious identity” can be just as fluid, variable, and difficult to define as “gender identity”; after all, both have “a deeply personal, internal genesis that lacks a fixed external referent.

Petition, Appendix A, pgs. 24-25a, footnote 4.

During oral arguments before SCOTUS, Mr. Stephens’ attorney proclaimed:

the objection to someone for being transgender is the ultimate sex stereotype. It is saying, I object to you because you fail to conform to this stereotype: The stereotype that if you are assigned a male sex at birth, you must live and identify for your entire life as a man.

Oral arguments transcript, 20:22 – 21:3.

Identity is the thing

At some point, you have to decide how and why you “know” what you know. Do you know it because you have a standard that transcends cultural values and trumps subjective opinion? What’s your basis for telling the other guy he’s wrong and you’re right?

The world has no standard. That’s why it’s gone mad. I fear it will now take a divine intervention for some people to even acknowledge what used to be accepted facts of reality.

The real problem is the cult of narcissism. The idea that you, as a person, are the sum total of your feelings. This is what our world teaches, encourages, indoctrinates us with. I preached about that, recently.

There are factors that shape you as a person. They determine how you see yourself and the world. How you see reality. There are the four primary agents of socialization in a person’s life (Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein, The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, 6th ed. [New York: W.W. Norton, 2018], 109ff):

In fact, according to many sociologists, the “self” is not a fixed thing. “[T]he self is created and modified through social interaction over the course of a lifetime,” (Real World, 102). Your identity is putty, ready to be formed and re-formed as you live your life. And this self-conception of you is often formed by those four agents, above.

There is certainly some truth to these insights. You are, in a meaningful sense, a product of your environment. But, our culture used to have “understood” guardrails inherited from the Christian faith that defined reality; mores that hemmed in the overt damage of our worst impulses even among unbelievers. This is what John Calvin called the second use of the moral law (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.7.10). God’s word, as the foundation for right and wrong in Western society, restrains evil by threat of punishment. It’s a deterrent:

Such persons are curbed, not because their mind is inwardly moved and affected, but because, as if a bridle were laid upon them, they refrain their hands from external acts, and internally check the depravity which would otherwise petulantly burst forth

Institutes, 2.7.10

But now, Western society has deliberately cut itself off from the Christian story that alone can anchor and explain reality. The world has tossed the moral law overboard; a move that was implicit for a while but has now become explicit.

Mr. Stephens is the result. We drift aimlessly on the swells of … feelings. Psalm 2 has something to say about God’s response to that. So now, these vehicles of socialization have no guardrails stopping them from jumping the track and plowing through a sub-division. Our feelings, our worship of self, knows no bounds. So, you see, to believe that “sex” is immutable is to be a hater.

Along with a whole range of beliefs in the modern world, there is confusion as to how they are to be understood and a yawning chasm as to how they are to be grounded. Originally pioneered in the West and grounded in Jewish and Christian beliefs, human dignity, liberty and equality are now often left hanging without agreement over their definition and their foundation.

If the original Jewish and Christian foundations of human dignity, liberty and equality are to be rejected, the ideas themselves need to be transposed to a new key or eventually they will wither. The Western world now stands as a cut-flower civilization, and such once-vital convictions have a seriously shortened life.

Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013; Kindle ed.), KL 847).

When he wrote that last sentence, seven years ago, Guinness was right. But now, that cut flower has died. The world has tossed it into the rubbish bin. The arguments Mr. Stephens’ attorney used prove it:

  1. Sex isn’t a biological fact. It’s a feeling validated by a mental health professional’s diagnosis; a verdict which is nothing less than our culture’s sacrament of grace dispensed on letterhead.
  2. To believe sex is a fixed, biological and reproductive reality is to discriminate. To cause harm. To be a hater. Cancel yourself now, bigot.

This “no guardrails” new normal is why a modern (c. 2019) sociology text can blithely dismiss the view that sex is fixed and immutable as an idea “found outside the discipline in such fields as medicine, theology, and biology,” (Real World, 256). It doesn’t appear to bother sociologists that their field, alone among all disciplines, goes its own way. Instead, the authors declare, “most mainstream sociologists” (i.e. the smart ones, you know) “believe notions of gender are socially determined, such that a binary system is just one possibility among many,” (Ibid).

This is why CNN, in an article recommending increased cervical cancer screening, refers to women as “individuals with a cervix.” After all, we can’t assume only women have cervixes, right? That would be a … discriminatory stereotype.

Tellingly, another sociology text that’s only 13 years old (c. 2007) knows nothing of “gender identity” as a category. The term doesn’t even appear in the index; nor does “transgender,” (Rodney Stark, Sociology, 10th ed [Belmont: Wadsworth, 2007]). It’s gender-based discussions focus on that most un-mainstream of assumptions – sex is immutable. How much changed in those 13 years!

Thus, Guinness the prophet wrote in 2013:

In the end, such a change of worldviews will mean decisive changes for the understanding of humanity, for the defense of human rights and ultimately for the treatment of human beings. Just as the road to Auschwitz began in professors’ studies and academic lecture halls, so the present degraded views of humanity will inevitably create a harvest of evil consequences, even if not fully visible now.

Guinness, Global Public Square, KL 898-913.

Untethered to the grounding of the Christian story, our culture will drift closer and closer to the reef. It will destroy itself because it has no grounding. It will become increasingly crazy. It’s always been this way. This is why in the 5th century Augustine wrote his masterwork apologetics text to teach Christians they don’t belong to this world; they belong to the City of God.

What’s the Christian’s task? To explain reality to a confused world. To insist, gently but firmly, on the truth. Women are women. Sex is sex. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You are not your feelings. You’re so much more than that. You don’t have to be a slave to yourself. There’s a God, named Yahweh, who made you because He loves you. He wants to fix you. He longs to fix you. He asks for your allegiance first.

What’s the Christian’s hurdle to achieving this? It’s that none of this great witnessing will ever happen if the Church’s agents of socialization aren’t stronger than the world’s:

As you consider these two competing frameworks for identity, these two prisms for understanding yourself, consider which one has more influence in your life. Consider how Mr. Stephens came to believe what he does.

Our culture teaches us to worship ourselves. So, we tend to do exactly that. Christians aren’t immune to the siren song of narcissism. But our story, our scriptures, our God, tell us to worship Him and His estimation of our identity and value.

Good book … so far

So far, Gilbert King’s book Devil in the Grove, about Thurgood Marshall and his defense of several black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in rural Florida in 1946, is a great book about a horrifying time in our country.

The author is a very good writer. This isn’t always the case. David Garrow’s biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bearing the Cross, which also earned the Pulitzer Prize and covered a similar subject, reads as though it were written by a mad collector of facts who murdered his editor.

Here’s the opening paragraphs from Devil in the Grove, as a teaser:

IF THAT SON of a bitch contradicts me again, I’m going to wrap a chair around his goddamned head.” One acquittal after another had left Tennessee district attorney general Paul F. Bumpus shaking his head in frustration over the NAACP lawyers, and now Thurgood Marshall was hoping to free the last of the twenty-five blacks accused of rioting and attempted murder of police in Columbia, Tennessee.

The sun had been down for hours, and the start of a cool, dark night had settled over the poolrooms, barbershops, and soda fountains on East Eighth Street in the area known as the Bottom, the rickety, black side of Columbia, where, nine months earlier, the terror had begun.

Just blocks away, on the news that a verdict had been reached, the lawyers were settling back into their chairs, fretfully waiting for the twelve white men on the jury to return to the Maury County courtroom. They’d been deliberating for little more than an hour, but the lead counsel for the defense, Thurgood Marshall, looked over his shoulder and knew immediately that something wasn’t right.

Throughout the proceedings of the Columbia Race Riot trials, the “spit-spangled” courtrooms had been packed with tobacco-chewing Tennesseans who had come to see justice meted out. But the overall-clad spectators were equally intrigued by Marshall and his fellow NAACP lawyers: by the strange sight of “those niggers up there wearing coats and talking back to the judge just like they were white men.”

Marshall was struck by the eeriness of the quiet, nearly deserted courtroom. The prosecution’s table had been aflutter with the activity of lawyers and assistants throughout the trial, but none of them had returned for the verdict. Only the smooth-talking Bumpus had come back. All summer long he’d carried himself with the confidence that his Negro lawyer opponents were no match for him intellectually. But by relentlessly attacking the state’s case in a cool, methodical manner, Marshall and his associates had worn Bumpus down, and had already won acquittals for twenty-three of the black men on trial.

The verdicts were stunning, and because the national press had defined the riots as “the first major racial confrontation following World War II,” Bumpus was no longer facing the prospect of humiliation just in his home county. The nation was watching and he had begun to unravel in the courtroom, becoming more frustrated, sarcastic, and mean-spirited as the trial progressed.

“Lose your head, lose your case,” was the phrase Marshall’s mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, had drilled into him in law school. Marshall could tell that his adversary, seated alone at the prosecutor’s table, was in the foulest of moods as he was forced to contemplate the political ramifications of the unthinkable: his failure to win a single conviction against black lawyers defending black men accused of the attempted murder of white police in Maury County, Tennessee.

The shock from the summer’s not-guilty verdicts had worn off by November, and Marshall sensed that the white people of Columbia were becoming angrier and more resentful of the fact that this Northern Negro was still in town, making a mockery of the Tennessee courts. He’d watched patiently as Bumpus stacked the deck in his own favor by excusing every potential black jury member in the Maury County pool (there were just three) through peremptory challenges that did not require him to show cause for dismissal. And Marshall had paid close attention to the desperation in Bumpus’s closing statement to the jury, when the prosecutor warned them that if they did not convict, “law enforcement would break down and wives of jurymen would die at the hands of Negro assassins.”

None of it surprised Marshall. He was used to, and even welcomed, such tactics from his opponents because they often helped to establish solid grounds for appeals. But Marshall also noticed that the atmosphere around the Columbia courthouse was growing more volatile.

A political cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier now doing public relations work for the NAACP had been poking around the courthouse and had come to believe that the telephone wires were tapped and that the defense lawyers were in danger. Learning this, Marshall refused to discuss any case details or sleeping arrangements over the phones, and the PR representative reported back to Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP, that “the situation in the Columbia Court House is so grave that anything may happen at any time.”

White issued a memorandum to NAACP attorneys, demanding “no telephone calls be put through to Columbia or even to Nashville [where Marshall was staying] unless and until Thurgood says that it is safe to do so.” White noted that “we are dealing with a very desperate crowd” and want nothing to “jeopardize the lives of anyone, particularly persons as close and as important to us as Thurgood and his three associates.” White even contacted the U.S. attorney general’s office and warned that if anything happened to Marshall while he was in Tennessee, it would “create a nation-wide situation of no mean proportions.”

Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (New York: Harper-Collins, 2012; Kindle reprint 2013), 7-9.

A bad argument from a good man

Grace Community Church, where John MacArthur serves, has released a statement announcing its intent to defy California’s latest rollback of church gatherings due to concerns of a resurgent COVID-19.

The statement is a disaster.

If MacArthur wishes to defy the California government, he needs to do better than this. Here are some relevant excerpts:

As pastors and elders, we cannot hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church. Pastors and elders are the ones to whom Christ has given the duty and the right to exercise His spiritual authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:7, 17)—and Scripture alone defines how and whom they are to serve (1 Corinthians 4:1–4). They have no duty to follow orders from a civil government attempting to regulate the worship or governance of the church. In fact, pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord and violated the God-ordained spheres of authority as much as the secular official who illegitimately imposes his authority upon the church.

He continues:

History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.

MacArthur explains:

When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.

Unfortunately, MacArthur made no substantive case, here.

In the New Covenant, without a Yahweh-mandated theocracy, we find precedent for defying the State in the Book of Acts. That volume shows the Church (1) being ordered to not preach the Gospel because the quasi-civil authorities do not like the Gospel, and (2) the Church refusing to obey (Acts 4:15-20).

In order to take advantage of this precedent, the Church must argue a local jurisdiction is acting in a way that fits the pattern. Specifically, persecution or otherwise discriminatory treatment because of religion. Of course, Luke is not on hand to take us into the minds of civil authorities, so we must use a “reasonable person” standard.

So, you must separate government directives into two broad categories of impetus for our context; (1) public health, and (2) persecution or otherwise discriminatory treatment because of religion. In order to trigger civil disobedience, a church must make a plausible case Scenario #2 is happening. In this, MacArthur has not succeeded.

He’s essentially advocating civil disobedience whenever a church disagrees with civil authorities. In fact, on his argument, why should any Christian ever obey his government? This logic is a blank cheque for anarchy, for those looking for it. I expected better from MacArthur.

What about Nevada?

Consider the situation in Nevada.

The Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) declined last week to hear arguments from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley alleging religious discrimination by the State of Nevada. Calvary Chapel sought to hold services with 90 people, with appropriate social distancing. However, Nevada restricts churches (and certain other institutions) to 50 people flat. But certain other public facilities, including casinos, are limited to 50% of the fire code capacity. Clearly, these are different metrics. When SCOTUS declined to hear the case, it let the lower court decision stand. In Justice Alito’s dissent, he noted:

The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or black-jack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.

Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services. A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy—and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed.

That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing. We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility.

If I were in Nevada, I would give serious consideration to defying the State’s order. To return to California, if Grace Community Church feels it’s in an analogous situation, it should explain. Perhaps it cannot.

In short, MacArthur (et al) has made a bad argument. No doubt, some evangelicals will gleefully post it as though Christ has spoken and the matter is settled.

It is not settled.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that churches can defy the California governor. John MacArthur just hasn’t made it. No Christian should rely on this statement as a basis for defying his State government. We must do better than this.

Return to California

In response to questions about what, precisely, has changed to warrant this reaction, Grace Community Church released a clarification appended to the original article. It reads, in part:

But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions. It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared.

This appears to be the beginning of an argument for civil disobedience based on government incompetence. But, again, the examples from the Book of Acts show us quasi-civil authorities who order the Church to not preach the Gospel because they doesn’t like the message. We have no example of the Church disobeying civil authorities simply because it disagrees with public policy. If Grace Community Church believe otherwise, it ought to prove its case.

Still, roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way. Pastors’ ability to shepherd their flocks has been severely curtailed. The unity and influence of the church has been threatened. Opportunities for believers to serve and minister to one another have been missed. And the suffering of Christians who are troubled, fearful, distressed, infirm, or otherwise in urgent need of fellowship and encouragement has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary.

To be sure, this is hard. Every pastor feels it. But, is there really nothing that can be done? A full, corporate worship service in your auditorium is the only solution to this problem? You can’t do visitation? You can’t have smaller gatherings in homes? You can’t have outdoor services?

Major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling that officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place into next year and beyond. That forces churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials. Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.

If MacArthur believes California is doing this to deliberately target religious institutions, then he must provide evidence. If he has none, then he’s encouraging any Christian on earth to disobey the State whenever he disagrees or otherwise finds civil authority inconvenient. This is puzzling coming from MacArthur, who believes (rightly, in my view) there was no biblical warrant for the Colonies to revolt against the British!

This is a terrible document. Too many Christians will accept it uncritically. Some of them will do so because they’re anxious for theological cover, any cover, to justify what they already want to do. Others, perhaps some of the same, will be moved by conspiracy theories or animated by political animus. Given MacArthur’s stature in the evangelical world, the bad arguments here are particularly disappointing. Even worse, MacArthur encourages you to “add your signature to the statement,” regardless of whether California’s civil context is your own.

I shall close with a summary from Phil Johnson, of Grace Community Church, made in the context of a dispute with Mark Dever about a 9Marks article which disagreed with the decision:

This is not an argument that triggers Scenario #2. Again, I say it’s possible there is an argument to be made for civil disobedience in California’s context. MacArthur just hasn’t made it.

Read the statement here.