Should the Church Be About Civilization Building? You Bet.

Evan McClanahan

Like all who are even a little industrious, I wake up and think about what needs to get done that day. People need to be checked on, sermons need writing, property repairs need tending, and bulletins need printing. Being a small church pastor includes the joy of two days never totally being alike and having my fingers in a lot of pies.

But what, really, do I do? I mean, what grand role am I fulfilling? Well, we believe, as Lutherans, that God works through the “Means of Grace”, Word and Sacrament. So, the items on the to-do list are what support the work of the preaching of the Word and the administration of Sacraments. I mean, if that is how God comes to us, reveals Himself to us, offers us comfort and hope, who am I to question that? So maintaining our worship facility, putting time into writing sermons, offering forgiveness on behalf of Christ, helping couples and individuals in their lives of faith…that is what I do.

Yes, but is that all? I mean, what is behind even that? Well, certainly, our eternal lives are behind that. I mean, the purpose of worship and being reconciled to God is, in the end, our eternal destinies.

But while I believe that our work as a Church is primarily the administration of the Means of Grace so we will be reconciled to our Heavenly Father, we have another important task. As Christians, we are to build up the world in which we find ourselves. It should be better with us in it than not.

Christians are in the civilization building business. Yes, in addition to assuring sinners of forgiveness and souls of salvation, we can easily justify a mandate to build a high and even proudly Christian civilization right here and now. That is to say, we can be completely unapologetic in proposing the Christian worldview anywhere and everywhere we can. For when I say “civilization”, I mean a civilization that assumes the truth of Christianity and seeks to implement God’s Law wherever and whenever possible.

“Civilization”, of course, is a valueless word. All of human history is the history of civilizations, each with their own technological, social, and moral hallmarks. If Western Civilization continues it’s course towards a technologically-dependent, Christian-less, pornographic civilization, even that sad result will be called and studied as a “civilization.” No, I am hoping – and working – for something far better.

The Bible supports this because we believe that Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and life. Those are absolute and exclusive claims. Christ is the only way to reconciliation with God and, therefore, with each other. The truth claims of Christianity and the moral callings of Christianity are non-negotiable. Yes, Christians often find themselves in un-Christian nations surrounded by un-Christian laws. But wherever we can, even if only around the dinner table, we are to aim for the best world we can hope for. And that is a world that seeks obedience to God in our worship, behavior, and even aesthetics. (I.e. turn off the music with potty talk.)

Were I to be king for a day to put some meat these bones, the first thing on my list – for this would apply equally to unbelievers and believers alike – would be using God’s Law as the basis for our own. Crazy, I know, and I certainly understand that much of the Old Testament law has been fulfilled and no longer applies, like the prohibition to eating shellfish. But I am not ashamed of God’s Law and no Christian should be. Far from being a zealot for the “separation of Church and State”, that whole Ten Commandments in or on a courthouse building is sounding pretty good to me these days.

A few other practical applications that I would love to see as law:

  • Reinstating the death penalty would reflect God’s revelation that some crimes do, in fact, merit it.
  • Kidnapping and rape are crimes that are death penalty offenses in the Bible. Perhaps they should be in our own time and place.
  • Harsher sentences for drug crimes. Rather than legalizing drugs, we should be treating them as the scourge on society that they are.
  • Making gambling illegal everywhere.
  • Making pornography illegal. I do not regard indecency as free speech.

I know, I know, you all think I have become the villain in The Handsmaid’s Tale. I have not seen it or read the book, so maybe you are right. But I do find it disturbing that our trajectory is lurching towards those immoral pursuits rather than than away from them.

Second, as Christians, we should hope that our understanding of morality remains the norm, or becomes the norm again. Certainly the major areas of concern these days are abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and gender confusion. Beyond the legal perils of all three of these issues and the legal jeopardy Christians may soon be in because of our opposition to these deviancies, our hearts and souls should be so influenced by the revelation of God that these would be unthinkable in our land.

It is not “civilized”, in the sense of having aspirational wishes for our culture, to tolerate these derivations of Christian teaching. We should absolutely oppose any normalization of gender fluidity and the transformation of children (and adults) into the opposite gender. We should oppose all human abortion…if we intend to be consistent in our understanding of human value, anyway.

Third, civilizations are built from the bottom up, so we heed Paul’s lovely teaching in Philippians 4:8 (LEB): “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

This is the stuff the West should be built on. To what degree it was before, I could not say. If I idealize our past, I will be reminded of slavery. If I bash it, I will be reminded of the tremendous good the West has done.

But when I think about teaching Sunday School, doing outreach to college students, or raising my own children, when I discourage them from listening to most pop music and encourage them to study their Bible, when I tell them everything that is wrong with Critical Theory and everything that is beautiful in God’s Law, I tell myself that I am playing a small role in building a Christian civilization. I hope I am right.

Is there something Un-Christian About “America First”?

Evan McClanahan

It seems to me that the political landscape has changed. President Trump’s populist rhetoric and policies undoubtedly had a lot to do with it. The dividing lines seem to be over whether it is proper to put America First, or whether America actually has so much to apologize for, we should seek the middle of the pack. I thought the debate was about how we keep America first. But now the very phrase is said to be KKK-inspired fascism. Is that the case? Can Christians want their own nation to succeed? Or is all “Christian Nationalism” equally bad?

The idea of putting America first or some vague concept of Christian Nationalism is often blamed for the events of January 6, and many pastors have officially renounced that entire episode as if it were solely inspired by Christian nationalism. But connecting some Christians who did participate in the events of that day with all patriotic Christians is just wrong. There is a place between storming the capital to “save your country” and believing that “America First” is akin to white supremacy. That’s where I’d like to land, and I don’t think it is un-Christian to end up there.

So, to answer the question, we must first ask, “Well, which nation, and which Christian, and what do you even mean by ‘first’ and ‘nationalism’?” Depending on how you answer those questions, Christian nationalism may be the most evil thing ever or a perfectly harmonious way to be both a citizen and a Christian.

Let’s start with some distinctions. I would agree that it is definitely possible, as a Christian, to be “too” patriotic. As Christians, we must remember that we are citizens in God’s Kingdom first and foremost. We want God’s Kingdom to be present among us. What we want from our nation is basically the opportunity for God’s Kingdom to flourish and for the execution of justice. I would like to think that all Christians – given the opportunity – would trade any nation for God’s Kingdom. But until Jesus comes again, I do not believe that choice is before us.

So, we accept the development of nations, and can even see the good in some of what they offer: borders, the rule of law, and provision for the general welfare of citizens, for example. If and when we equate any nation with the Kingdom of God itself, we have certainly gone too far. Yes, God blesses and curses nations as a whole in the Bible and there is no reason to think He has stopped doing so.

But what even is a nation? Is it the group of people presently numbered as its citizens in the present day? Is it the founding ideals and documents that gave rise to the nation in the first place? Is it the historical events that are definitional to that nation, both good and bad, noble and ignoble? Is it current day practices of generosity or genocide? Surely within the borders of any nation, you will find combinations of cruelty and charity, historical horror and present pleasantries.

In my own nation I am just as likely to see an incredibly compassionate act by a dear soul as I am a random act of violence against an innocent elder. I am as likely to meet a tireless advocate for the unborn as I am a tireless defender of abortion. I am as likely to meet an apathetic atheist as I am a born-again Christian. There are pacifists and war mongers, socialists and libertarians, prudes and libertines. Who among these people and which of these acts define the nation in which I live? Will the true Americans please stand up?

And what do we mean by “first?” Surely this is a comparison between us and other nations. It seems a general spirit of Christian humility and shame of our past has led some to apologize for our empirical tendencies. Well, I’m not sure how good of an idea that is. Should we trust that other nations, having surpassed us in power, will treat us fairly when it comes to threats of war, currency manipulation, or imposing UN resolutions against us? If our economic prowess falters and we are in need after a natural disaster, can we trust that the countries that are now “first” will come to our aid, as America often did for them?

Perhaps the most important question is, do Christians even have a dog in a fight such as this, or are we merely Kingdom-minded neutral observers, a community of Switzerlands in any nation? “Hey, first or last, we just want to worship, Jesus, okay? Christians will just have to deal with whatever hand we’re dealt.”

Well, with all the caveats above, I’ll offer my own thoughts. Any nation is a complicated mess of vice and virtue, so being proud of your nation as it exists now or has historically existed is almost certainly a rose-colored glasses kind of foolishness. Just as we judge a religion on its founding principles and not by the adherents of that religion, we do the same with our nation.

So, if I were to say I want America to be first, that is not me saying I am proud of everything or everyone that emanates from America. It is me saying that my government should consider our nation’s interests first, because there is good reason to believe that other nations will put our interests first and suffering could very likely be the result. While the poor may be blessed, poverty is not a virtue in and of itself. Peace, prosperity, liberty, and extended lifespans are all good things. They are not ultimate things, but they should be welcomed and worked for because, you know, we are to love our neighbor and care for them.

Because I believe America’s founding values to be objectively good, I find there to be no conflict in being a Christian and promoting them. You know, things like the rule of law, the dignity of man, the right to self-defense, and freedom of religion are wonderful things and I would hate to lose them. My faith is not at stake when I endorse those things. Nor is our faith at stake were we to lose them.

But, in other contexts, putting your nation first could indeed be a dreadful thing. The vast majority of Christians who adopted the moniker “German Christians” in 1930s Germany were absolute sell-outs. That kind of “Christian nationalism” is obviously a problem. Also, American Christians who are patriotic are not Nazis.

So is it un-Christian to have an “American First” outlook? Well, it depends, doesn’t it? Are they elevating their nation above God’s Kingdom? Then, yes. If their nation is ruled by wanton, tyrannical despots, then also yes. But if their nation offers a better chance for people’s lives to improve and their dignity to be observed, then no.

To decry all forms of “Christian nationalism” as reincarnations of swastikas on altars is absurd. It just may be that some nations – imperfectly to be sure – still provide a better hope for Christian values to flourish. So before you answer “yes” to the headline, at least ask, “Which Christian? Which nation? And first in what way?”

You Are a Body and a Soul. And Why That Matters.

Evan McClanahan

Theology on Air recently held a debate on the nature of the soul, which itself was really a debate on the nature of the human person. It may come as a surprise that Christian philosophers – who agree on so much of significance – cannot agree on the nature of the soul. After all, isn’t it just common knowledge that human beings are bodies and souls? Well, yes, but the extent to which these two substances become one being, or whether they are inseparable, are points of division. 

The basic dividing lines are these: are human beings a body and a soul? Do souls exist before (either in time or as an ontological reality) before the body comes into being? Are body and soul separated at death, so the soul goes off to Heaven (or Paradise or Hades or Hell) while the body waits for resurrection, decaying in the ground or existing as ashes in an urn? Or does the soul go into “soul sleep” at death because it cannot exist without a body? Are the accounts of near death experiences, where souls float above their own body and “see” and “hear” things possible, or are those absurd visions of a dying brain? 

The practical ramifications of this could be significant. At the popular level, there is now a growing belief that, for example, my body is just physical goo, occasionally with the “wrong” gender attached to the real me. In other words, my soul is who I really am, and what I think and feel then has a precedence over the realities of my body. Therefore, mutilating the flesh is acceptable and perhaps should even be a taxpayer-funded surgery…for my mental well-being, of course. Or, does abortion become less conceivable if a small human body already possesses a soul? Or maybe this might influence Christians towards one belief or another in terms of cremation vs. burial. 

To find concrete answers, where would one go? Well, there really is not much Biblical content to answer, so this is mostly a philosophical debate. Though both sides in this debate warned that the other side’s view could lead to serious problems, I mostly heard tinkering on the edges that didn’t seem especially dangerous either way. After all, whatever the answer is, there is nothing we can do to change it, we can’t know the answer with certainty now, and it won’t change my trust in a merciful God! 

But there are points of agreement that are important to note and have a lot of bearing on practical issues, some more controversial than others. First, any and all Christians must reject any kind of bare materialism. Whatever human beings are, they are not “just” flesh. We have or are souls, and are thus supernatural beings. When our hearts stop beating and our brains stop working, our souls will live on. 

At worst, they will exist in repose, waking up once Jesus comes again and glorious bodies are risen from the dead and reunited with a slumbering soul. At best, the soul will exist without a body in the afterlife, either Hades or Paradise, assuming that the gates of Heaven and Hell will not be opened until Jesus comes again. But, we are not mere stardust that happens to have evolved to possess reason and self-awareness. We are more than flesh. 

All Christians must also agree we are not “only” souls. Even if we are “mostly” souls, Paul clearly teaches that our bodies are “temples to the Lord” and the way we treat them matters. And while we may exist for a time without a body in the intermediate state between our bodily death and resurrection, that is not the “normal” or even ideal way for us to exist. Human beings are distinct from other created beings like angels in that we have bodies. The very earthy stories of Adam being made from dust and Eve being made from his side have always situated man in a materialistic light. If God wanted us to be bodiless, we could have just been angels. But he did not. We are bodies and souls. 

Christians are now confronted with multiple issues that an understanding of the soul can speak to in important ways, transgenderism probably being the most significant. After all, the argument is that the body is a mistake and, in some cases, needs very invasive surgery or hormone treatments to correct it’s misalignment with the true person, the soul. So the belief that someone is a particular gender trumps the obvious facts of the body. 

Christians argue against transgenderism as a concept because God made them male and female, and because part of our identity is the body that we have and are. It is just as wrong to say that God gave me the wrong body as it is to say he gave me the wrong soul. A defense of transgenderism always privileges the soul over the body, and we reject that because we are both souls and bodies. 

This defense actually undercuts one of the common rhetorical arguments for homosexual acts. It is often said that “God did not make junk,” which means, I (the homosexual) am “good” (in the Genesis 1 sense) just the way I am. I do not need to change because God made the creation, declared it good, and I am part of that creation. Therefore, my natural urges are good. Here, the body’s urges take precedence. The possession of the urge justifies it, even if there are natural realities (reproduction) and revelation (the Bible) that speak against those urges. 

On the abortion front, if we really are “just” flesh without a soul – at least for a time – then I suppose abortion is justifiable. But for that matter, since materialists only believe that human beings are matter no matter their age, then what makes the murder of other adults wrong? The problem with the existence – even for a short while – of a human body without a soul is that the addition of the soul at some point along the way is arbitrary. Sure, maybe at “quickening” we receive a soul, but what really is so special about the detection of a baby’s movements? 

Maybe it is the child’s first breath. But a difference in the way a child receives oxygen is not a significant change. If being able to breathe on one’s own makes one human, we should kill all those who are presently on ventilators. But no one would agree with that, right? 

Finally, as Christians age, they should think about making funeral arrangements. They should consider whether they want to be cremated or buried when they die. What does this conversation have to say about that? Well, Christians historically and generally have taught against cremation precisely because respect for the body as part of who we are has made it less than ideal. Even in death, destruction of the body is something Christians should avoid. 

The extent to which we are divided bodies and souls will never be fully agreed upon. But the fact that we are bodies and souls will lead to difficult social and political realities for Christians. For the tyranny of materialism never sleeps as it chases an endless hope of fulfillment apart from God. Meanwhile, beings with souls will never relinquish their transcendence for the false promises of material utopia. So the conflict continues. Maybe now, we understand the “why” a bit more.

“It Came upon the Midnight Clear”: A Surprisingly Wonderful Hymn

Evan McClanahan

I will admit to having a half-written article in the hopper for this now-late newsletter. It was on something especially relevant and timely I’m sure. But on Sunday, we sang It Came upon the Midnight Clear, and I admit to really paying attention to the words for the first time. Having judged this hymn as “merely” a popular hymn about the birth narrative, I must have never really listened to the rest of this carol. Like all great hymns, it offers beautiful commentary on a local text, but looks to our immediate circumstance and finally our eternal reality as well.

First, a caveat. Having watched Lutheran Satire’s takedown of somewhat superficial Victorian English Christmas Carols (as opposed to deeply incarnation Lutheran carols), there are elements to this hymn that strikes me as unnecessarily sentimental. For example, we do not know if the night was a clear one, and I’m pretty sure the angels did not play harps. But I get the idea. One should, in general, in that first verse, get the sense that the heavens open up to us in a way that is rare in the Bible, but definitely reminiscent of the Old Testament when Elijah rode to heaven in a chariot of fire and when Isaiah caught a glimpse of heaven in Isaiah 6.

It is admittedly hard to describe such a moment of heavenly glory. But the text by Edmund H. Sears – a fervent abolitionist who did not intend this to be a Christmas carol, but a melancholic commentary on a difficult period in his life – is a noble attempt to do just that. Especially powerful is the last line which sings, “The world in solemn stillness lay To hear the angels sing.”

The second verse, though, is a reminder that the angels continue to oversee events in the world and bring their song to us. “Still their heav’nly music floats O’er all the weary world.” Do they do this work through the same breaking in of the heavens? Well, I don’t know of many modern accounts if they do. But angels do exist and we do believe they are working on behalf of God and God’s people. I particularly like the specific Old Testament reference in the last line when Sears writes, “And ever o’er its babel sounds The blessed angels sing.”

The third verse is more specifically a reference to our daily lives and struggles. It makes it more clear that Sears was writing in the midst of personal difficulty and not only filled with the hope that a Christmas carol possesses. The third verse addresses the singer in it’s first words: “And you, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow:” Three times now the author has referenced bending. The angels bend near the earth in verses one and two. Now, it is us whose forms are bending low due to the crushing weight of the world’s troubles and labor. And indeed, isn’t it the case that we often feel that our daily work is too much for us, that we, like the woman bent over for 18 years that Jesus heals in Luke 13, have had all that we can take?

When we are in that place, we are called to look forward to the time when our burdens will be light and we will be lifted up. We look forward to the promised Sabbath rest that we will find in the new heavens and the new earth. The last line of verse three is this: “Oh, rest beside the weary road And hear the angels sing!”

But a great Christian hymn looks forward to our eternal reality and this hymn does that beautifully in verse four. We are reminded that, while we do not become angels when we die, we will be in their company and we will join their song.

“For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.”

I especially love the image that we now are recipients of the angel’s songs, but the day will come when we will desire to return the song. No, I don’t believe that the only thing we will do in heaven is sing. For that matter, it never actually says in Luke 2 that the angels do sing. But when the whole heavenly chorus joins them and they say “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” That is kind of the impression you get.

There is so much that could be said about why we continue to sing hymns in lieu of newer praise songs. But I’ll only say that I was reminded of what a treasure we have in our hymnal. We are pressed to express and we seek to understand ideas and visions that are truly just beyond our grasp. But with beautiful text and lovely music, we get about as close as we can to our eternal home. My encouragement to you is to pay attention to the text even if you don’t especially enjoy singing. A good hymn offers commentary on the biblical passage, our situation, and it looks forward to eternity. I am glad I noticed that “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” did that well.

Can Christians Be Strong?

Evan McClanahan

Several nights ago, I had a dream. My two children and I were driving into a bad part of town. We ended up in a large apartment complex where I did not exactly feel welcome. Then, as we were in a kind of enclosed area near a window, the window was opened and an exceptionally muscular man reached out and slapped my son with tremendous force. I was shocked. In my dream, I was going through what my response should be. Should I go after this guy? Get my children out of there ASAP? Turn the other cheek?

I woke up somewhat startled and still not sure how to answer the question. Maybe this dream was my mind’s way of processing the kinds of conflicts about the way Christians are to live in a hostile world. Should we project strength and aim to be the winner in disagreements and conflicts, confident that our view is true and good for all? Or should we leave those fights for others and withdraw, assuming that to turn the other cheek means to let others win far more often than not?

It is often assumed by Christians that to be meek, humble, kind, and gracious means we rarely have our own agenda or defend ourselves. Christians should advocate a life of peacemaking and this means if we lose, we lose.

But other Christians have taken a more aggressive approach, and, in America, this is often combined with a MAGA mindset. After years of losing various culture wars, they are tired of being door mats. Part of making America great means having their voices heard again. Their voice has been ignored on:

  • Abortion (Planned Parenthood still gets hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars)
  • Marriage (sacred descriptions of marriage have been replaced by wholly new definitions
  • Pornographic entertainment (not only the pornography industry, per se, but the ubiquity of a sexualized culture that is unsafe for children)
  • Church attendance decline
  • The religious freedom front (though cake bakers and nuns have won at the Supreme Court, there is concern as to how long it will be before they lose).

So instead of just “taking it”, they are advocating. And because some of the above issues are political, they are looking to politics to defend their causes. They are making more and more affirmative “I am right and you are wrong” kinds of claims and using their Christianity to defend their point-of-view. Churches are more brazen about telling people who to vote for, and it is these moral questions that may define how someone votes more than tax, economic, or foreign policy.

These are the kinds of questions and areas where Christians find substantial disagreement. So does Christianity – or Christ himself, really – offer an answer one way or another to where we should land in the public square? Can we project strength? Or must we withdraw?

On the “strength” side of the ledger is Jesus turning over the tables at the Temple, pronouncing curses upon hypocrites in Matthew 23, and even in his compassionate work of casting out demons and healing diseases, he is literally a force for good overcoming evil. On the “meek” (weakness is not even on the table) side of the ledger, we see Jesus submitting to the cross, teaching that when we are reviled, we are to turn the other cheek, and withdrawing instead of fighting back when his enemies come for him.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul writes: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul also instructs those in the household to be submissive and for Christians to pray for their leaders so they can lead quiet and peaceable lives. The general impression is that Christians are to be good and obedient citizens and not draw attention to themselves.

Of course, the context of the Bible is different from our own. There were no enshrined concepts like “religious freedom.” Christians were a minority group with no rights to speak of. We have opportunities that simply were not present then. So how does the Bible apply?

I suppose how you answer this question depends on how much you trust your rulers and whether you feel they are your ideological enemies. It also depends on whether you really believe that a Christian world is the best world for all. I believe it is. I, therefore, believe that those who would neutralize Christianity are harming me and my neighbor. For whatever worldview they insert in its place is not based in truth and will not offer desperately needed limitations on the ambition of my would-be rulers.

And so I would, in general, answer the question, “Yes, Christians can be and should be strong.” Christians can justify political resistance quite easily. Political evils – assuming we are talking about true affronts to human rights – are an affront to human dignity. Christians can justify social resistance, like boycotting, for example. Christians can justify judicial activism in the same way. Christians can even justify the use of physical force if life is in danger.

Wisdom and discernment are needed to know if and when it is time to project strength. And there are certainly examples of sinful hubris, aggression, and evil in the name of Christianity. It is hard for me to think of a scenario that would justify violence except in the case of self-defense. But certainly, non-violent resistance is not only acceptable, but good. For the destruction of Christianity is not good even for the opponents of Christianity. The freedoms we enjoy are enjoyed because of Christian anthropology, and when it is taken away, the opportunity for strength will be lost.

So much more could be said. For example, being at the mercy of the strong takes strength, too. Passivity can demonstrate the evil of the perpetrator. (Romans 12:20). And how we respond to coordinated attempts to wipe out Christianity is almost certainly different from our personal relationships, in which patience, love, and forbearance require humility.

Still, the question is whether Christians can be strong if and when they feel like their society is perpetuating evil. Assuming that our enemies will not be so humble or patient, loving or kind, but rather truly seek our destruction, it is at least the case that Christians not only can be strong, but should be.

With that as a conclusion, we would need to examine issues and situations in their own context to determine the proper course of action, because, again, being at the mercy of the strong takes strength. There is a time for meekness, humility, and being nice. There is also a time to resist evil. Indeed, it is an act of love towards our neighbor to do just that.

Is This Election Really “The Most Important of Our Lifetimes?”

Evan McClanahan

Every four years we are told that our vote is crucial because a particular presidential election is the “most important of our lifetime.” Every four years, each party presents a candidate that, apparently, will be so catastrophic to our way of life that America will never recover. The principles, traditions, and liberties we so love will be lost by the first Wednesday of November unless we vote for the other person, the only person who can save our nation.

This is said so often, I’m wondering if this isn’t a “boy who cried wolf” situation. Perhaps our nation will carry on, largely unchanged, no matter who is elected. I mean, don’t most of the doomsday scenarios not only not come to pass, but sometimes things even get better? So, in the meantime, maybe I will just ignore the rhetoric, do my civic duty without guilt or embarrassment, and maintain my cheery disposition.

But what if this really is the most important election of our lifetime? I mean, by definition one of them has to be. How would I possibly know? By what standard could I make such a judgment? When I think about past elections, I’m reminded of the issues at the time: the Bush tax cuts, 9/11 and the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, the 2008 housing crash and Wall Street bailouts, massive federal deficits, Obamacare, and a lot of hand-wringing about climate change and “green” energy. Until Trump, both parties continued or began foreign wars for decades, and both parties seem committed to spending money we don’t have. Despite the rhetoric at the time of each election, the apocalypse has not come and there was notable agreement between the parties.

President Obama was, for many conservatives, a difference maker in the usual back and forth, give and take. He was feared and loathed by the right because, unlike his Democrat predecessors, he was not content to tinker on the edges. He sought overhaul of the American way of life. He spoke of “fundamental transformation” and he was a student of Saul Alinsky, not exactly an American patriot. He was of the school that questioned America’s legitimacy in the first place, given slavery, imperialism, and capitalism. Hostile as his intentions may or may not have been, he was largely checked and balanced by a Republican Congress.

The argument for this cycle’s significance is that the very heartbeat of our country is at stake: the Constitution itself. Yes, the Constitution is in the crosshairs and is surviving on fragile ground because, it is said, one party wants to preserve it while the other seeks to destroy it. And this is not just tactical strategy to change the Supreme Court by court-packing. There really does truly exist a growing divide on whether the Constitution should even survive and whether America is a legitimate nation, given our history.

So is it true? Are the stakes higher now than ever? And if that is true, then won’t that be true for every election hereafter since the two parties represent such radically different visions? And what brought about such a change?

Well, yes, I do agree that this election is unusually significant given the emerging differences in understanding our nation’s founding and the different visions to either keep it great or start over using different principles. This election is different because the choice between the two candidates continues to get further and further removed from being two sides of the same coin.

Consider these five issues. Both parties agreed, at least in part, on these issues in recent decades past. Now, the differences are more stark.

Abortion. Yes, I know this issue is always the first to come up, but it is the pressing moral issue of several generations. Until it is abolished, it will remain so. We are far removed from Bill Clinton wishing abortion was “safe, legal, and rare.” And while the Republican Party has proven weak in its abolition of abortion, it at least defends the right to life for the unborn.

The proper role of government (especially in a pandemic-like situation). Both parties already represent mild to significant socialist philosophies (public education, progressive taxation, regulation of all industry, etc.). But Covid-19 revealed the fault lines regarding the authority of government to tell citizens if or how they can worship, gather, receive an education, or run a business. Covid-19 has become a political issue precisely because of two different schools of thought when it comes to “freedom at your own risk” vs. “safety for your own sake.”

Judicial philosophy. As already noted above, there are radically divergent views of the Constitution’s legitimacy and staying power. Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said that “Originalism is racist. Originalism is sexist. Originalism is homophobic. Originalism is just a fancy word for discrimination.” Those are not words that would have been said by a United States Senator a decade ago, but are now mainstream.

The goodness of America. Again, not so long ago, we all pretty much agreed America was a good and decent nation. Yes, with a troubled history, but also with significant moral achievements. The difference between the parties here is significant. From the progressive academy and media comes something like the 1619 Project, which, at one point, argued that America’s true founding was the year slaves first arrived on this continent, not 1776. (That language was recently surreptitiously deleted.) Trump, meanwhile, established the 1776 Commission, which aims to encourage “patriotic education.” Of course, he was immediately called a fascist for that. There is a reason that any historic American monuments – be they of Lincoln, Washington, or Catholic priests – are up for destruction: because America is seen as good and worth preserving by some, but overdue for a downfall by others.

The normalcy of Christianity. Christianity was once assumed as the moral standard for the vast majority of Americans. We are witnessing a rise in hostility to Christian thought and practice. It is now a mainstream view to see Christianity as a mere product of “whiteness.”  I guess we are all just relativists now, appealing to what we think seems good to us. To explicitly rely on heavenly revelation contained in a book called the Bible is increasingly considered one small step above witchcraft…if even above it. The loss of Christianity’s influence is mostly seen in the fights over abortion and marriage, but you certainly see it in a civilization that has normalized pornography, mainstreamed pot, and idolized sports.

Elections, on all sides, attempt to use fear as a motivator. I try to ignore the rhetoric and think for myself. Policies and tactics aside, there is a growing divide between our two major political parties. As moral issues – not practical or financial issues – continue to define our politics, our politics are getting more religious. Christians, then, will bring their understanding of the faith into their politics. It will prove to be divisive both in the Church and the State. But given the stakes and given the growing divide, it looks like each election really will be more and more consequential.

Why Are All of the Supreme Court Justices Jewish or Catholic?

Evan McClanahan

Did you know that every Supreme Court Justice is either Roman Catholic or Jewish? Ever wonder why? Assuming Amy Coney Barrett is approved and sworn in, a Catholic Justice will replace a Jewish Justice in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So the streak will survive. Even had Merrick Garland been approved, he was Jewish. The last two to vacate the Court were Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, both Roman Catholic. The last Protestant to serve on the Court was John Paul Stevens and he left the Court in 2010.

As a Lutheran pastor, should I be offended or even worried? Where are the Evangelicals on the Court? Is my worldview going unrepresented? For that matter, what about the Agnostics and Atheists? Surely between the two of them, one-ninth of the American population should be represented, no? Is there some kind of Old Religion Cabal in D.C., or is there something native to those two faiths that produces Justices such a high rate? After all, between the two creeds, only 25% of Americans identify as either Roman Catholic or Jewish. So how have they filled 100% of the Supreme Court’s seats? Here are my best guesses.

This Is About Harvard and Yale More Than Faith

Before ACB’s nomination and presumptive approval, every Justice had a pedigree that included Harvard or Yale. ACB can “only” boast a Notre Dame degree. No offense to our church members who are Fighting Eli’s or Harvard Pilgrims, but that stat is even more jarring than the limited faith traditions of justices. It speaks to the relatively narrow corridors of opportunity among the politically elite, the kind of backstage pass that only a select few will ever be able to possess.

In the past, I accepted that as both schools possessed reputations for the highest academic pedigrees. But as many academic institutions have little tolerance for some ideological points-of-view have a more cynical view that this becomes about shared experiences and shared networks. “Oh, I see you went to Harvard. You’re one of us.” (Harvard, Yale, and Stanford produce more members of the House and Senate than any other schools, too.)

Not All Religious Commitments Are Equal

In addition to the influence of one’s Alma Mater, to merely say that one is Jewish or Roman Catholic is pretty meaningless. Many justices have shared these faith commitments and come down on completely different sides of the law. Sonia Sotomayor is Roman Catholic, but she is as far removed as Scalia’s jurisprudence as can be imagined. Other examples abound.

Only conservative Roman Catholics admit and confront the reality that within the Roman Catholic Church there are widely divergent factions and worldviews. Far from being saved by a Magisterium, Rome, including her own Pope these days, fields a huge number of conflicting views. Yes, I know they would argue they hold fast on the core doctrines and the Pope has only spoken ex cathedra twice, etc. But if one is Jewish or Roman Catholic “in name only”, they may as well be rightly considered Secularist, Atheists, Agnostic, or some other “ist.”  I mean, can we really say that Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden are in any way observant Catholics when they defend abortion as they do? Traditional Catholics agree with me when I answer “No.”

The same is true of Judaism. Liberal or Reformed Judaism has virtually nothing in common with Orthodox Judaism. As one of my friends recently told me, he is, like many of the Jews he knows, an “atheist Jew.” Judaism has for centuries straddled the line of religious commitments and ethnic identity, so it is quite possible that you can rightly be called a Jew but never practice the faith or water it down so as to be virtually unrecognizable, as many Mainline Protestants have done.

Judeo-Christianity Gifted the World with Common Law and the Separation of Church and State

Still, even with those two caveats, we are talking about 25% of our religious identification holding 100% of the seats. Why? It must be because of the inherent connection to long histories and a deep relationship to the Law that you find in both traditions. The Bible gifted the world with an understanding of Law that has blessed all those who would observe it. Rooted in the objective nature of God, God’s Law – even the Old Testament Law – stands as a bulwark of truth, justice, and mercy. From this Law, the West has inherited a “common law” tradition, which relies on case law and precedent. We also inherited a distinction between Church and State. While that separation can be overplayed by extreme secularists, it gives rise to fascinating and challenging legal issues that the intellectually-curious and the historically-minded find an attractive pursuit.

Though not unequivocally, the Bible served as the standard against which cases would be judged. While we can eat pork because the ceremonial law of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ, there are moral offenses against God and neighbor offered in the Bible as examples from which we can write law or judge cases. With each case, precedent is set and that law is usually codified. (Of course, precedent can be reversed as it was in the cases of Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson. Hopefully, the same will take place with Roe v. Wade.)

This is a theory and practice of law that is in marked contrast with other faith and social traditions, like Islam which has Sharia as its legal standard. I would argue then that this Judeo-Christian tradition is the reason for our own legal tradition, and it, therefore, makes sense that those who come from the more ancient versions of those traditions might intuitively defend that tradition.

If there is one thing that both Judaism and Roman Catholicism have going for them, it is history and a sense of history. Evangelicals think a meaningful religious history began with Billy Graham or at best in 1517. There just isn’t a long view of history, and you see this in their music, architecture, and teaching. It is always contemporary. It is “on trend”. Are the buildings designed with history in mind? Are Church Father’s quoted? Do their religious narrative and systemic beliefs go back centuries or basically a few years or maybe even a few months?

It is impossible for me to imagine true disciples of Steven Furtick or Joel Osteen seeking the kind of life that would lead to the most rigorous work of legal discernment imaginable. All that matters to most Evangelicals is what is happening now. That pattern of thinking precludes work that is literally built on centuries of ideas, writings, and influences. That’s not to say that Evangelicals can’t or don’t do that work now, but there may not be the numbers en masse to filter upwards all the way to the Supreme Court.

So, Should Protestants be Offended?

Well, because there is more to it than mere religious confession, I don’t think so. Likewise, observant Jews and Catholics can and certainly do protect the interests of Protestants. Sometimes, even the liberals agree with our causes! Ideally, since it is the role of a Supreme Court Justice to interpret the Constitution, their background shouldn’t matter. But as it is more common in the age of literary deconstruction to reimagine the Constitution, backgrounds do matter. In most matters, I would prefer a practicing Roman Catholic with an Originalist understanding of the Constitution over a progressive theist of any stripe.

What matters is whether words have meaning that transcend time? Or can they be deconstructed to mean something else? Is there an unflinching moral core in the heart of a Justice that can be appealed to defend something as fragile as a civil society? Does the Bible possess and clearly communicate eternal truths that should influence our social life? If your answers are yes, no, yes, and yes, I want you on the court, no matter your religious tradition. I suppose it is sad that Evangelical churches and universities are not producing the kinds of minds that work their way into the court system. But it is not nearly the tragedy that progressive or “liberal” views have brought to our society through the court.

When Did Christian Virtues Become “White”?

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 12.49.19 PMEvan McClanahan

The headline above reveals two possibilities. I am either so blind to my place in life (as a white man) that I cannot see how my race and religious beliefs have become completely intertwined, or I am perfectly capable of sight, but I just don’t agree with the premise. That I am even asking the question means I am really stupid or it means the premise (that Christian virtues and white culture are synonymous) is absurd and I am willing to say so. But the question needs to be asked because we are now reckoning with Western Civilization as a whole: what are its foundations? Is our society worth preserving? Is it time to start over on another foundation?

Because “White” or European or, really, Christian culture is at least a foundation of the American experience, and America is apparently a hopelessly racist nation, our culture’s foundations have come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Because our European forebears gifted us slavery, perhaps it was never a culture worth building a civilization upon in the first place. So some say it is time to knock it all down – literally, in the case of monuments – which first requires defining what it is to be “White” or European or Christian in the first place. If the culture of the Ancient Americans was wholly rotten, then like a bit of cancer, we must identify it and root it out. We should probably take some healthy tissue around it out for good measure, too.

With that in mind, a poster was promoted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) that sought to identify “White” culture that has led to problems and presumably should no longer be normative. (The poster has since been removed and apologized for.) Besides being the kind of racism I was taught to avoid – stereotyping any one ethnicity, even if in a complimentary way – any of the characteristics listed could describe any number of ethnicities and I would argue some are virtuous by their very nature.

Here are a few of the “Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness and White Culture in the United States” that are listed on this poster, a poster which, by the way, is not new or unique but reflects ideas that are pretty common in the American academy today:

  • “Self-reliance”
  • “The nuclear family: father mother, 2.3 children is the ideal social unit”
  • “Objective, rational linear thinking”
  • “The primacy of Western (Greek, Roman) and Judeo-Christian tradition”
  • “Protestant Work Ethic: Work before play”
  • “Religion: Christianity is the norm”
  • “Respect authority”
  • “Delayed gratification”
  • “Protect property and entitlements”
  • “Be polite”

Yes, with this list, I am cherry-picking the best examples of critiques that tie into Christian values or virtues. What you see above strikes me as not only not bad, but firmly situated in the Christian ethic. To attack them or write them off as mere “whiteness” seems utterly dismissive and unhelpful.

Some of the critiques of “Whiteness” are critiques Christians might also bring. Instead of rooting them in “Whiteness”, we would just root them in plain ol’ sin. For example, Christians would agree with the museum that to “win at all costs” is wrong, that a “woman’s beauty based on blonde, thin – ‘Barbie’” is wrong, that “wealth=worth” is wrong, and that “rugged individualism” can be taken to unhealthy extremes. Indeed, any virtue can be taken to an unhealthy extreme and become a vice. So not everything that is said in the now-infamous poster is wrong; however, many whites criticize those same qualities or behaviors. And it is factually wrong and slanderous to suggest uniformity among whites to prize blonde women, be on time, be Christian or to have a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife. How is this not racist?

But this conversation troubles me not because I seek to impose white culture onto blacks, but because part of the critique contains several explicit mentions of Christianity itself, and it seems to suggest that blacks reject these virtues. Is that, in fact, insulting to blacks? As I said in a recent sermon, Jesus and His Church are in the process of being cancelled, both on the Covid-19 front and now the reassessment of Western Civilization. We are either “non-essential”, dangerous gathering places amid a pandemic or we are the root cause of racism. We are routinely described as an imperialistic force that brought so much evil into the world, it is time for us to go.

Well, I disagree. First of all, virtues are virtues regardless of the ethnicity that practices them because we live in God’s world. The same is true for vices. Christianity, through description or prescription commends the following virtues, and I cannot think of any good reason that any Christian – or person, for that matter – should not make them a habit.

  • “…in humility count others more significant than yourself.” (Philippians 2:3)
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
  • “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
  • “Honor your father and mother.” (Exodus 20)
  • “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20)

These teachings are the foundations of the “way of life” you see described above as “White.” And yet, I unapologetically claim that any culture or ethnicity would benefit from following God’s Word and seeking these virtues, because all men and women are created in God’s image.

Second, where Christianity has flourished, so have these virtues, and the critical voice against excess has also been present. Around the world, Christians who are not white believe that idleness is a sin, that being polite is part of following Jesus, and that authority should be respected. That alone makes this poster not just an attack on “Whiteness” (if there is such a thing), but the kind of world that Christianity produces. After all, do we really want a world that is the opposite of everything on this poster: non-rational thinking, a destroyed nuclear family, idleness, rudeness, play before work, etc.?

Third, rationality itself appears to be under assault. Did you know that Western science and math are being rejected because they are considered products of white or European culture? Math is now called racist. Perhaps this explains the phenomenon of flat-earthers becoming en vogue. I never thought I would see the day where “objective, rational linear thinking” would not be valued or limited to any subset of humanity. True, the extreme version of this – cold, unfeeling carelessness  (Modernism!) – is also not ideal. But God Himself created logic and order; we live in an ordered world governed by laws of nature. To reject them is to ultimately reject the God who created them. This has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin and everything to do with whether logic and reason are objective or not.

Now, perhaps I should just ignore this and move on. After all, the NMAAHC has removed the poster after considerable pushback. But this re-thinking of Western Civilization and, hence, Christianity itself, is not at its nadir; it is only beginning. Part of our apologetic as Christians now is not just defending the existence of God, the resurrection, and the design of the universe, it is also our virtues and our values which are increasingly seen as fundamentally flawed and even imperialistic evil.

I know, I know, this is my “white fragility” talking. But if we are in the midst of a revolution, then it will not be enough to defend a mere political or economic way of life. If virtues are the foundation of a civilization and if our Christian virtues are seen as harmful, we will have to defend both the truth claims of Christianity and the world it creates. We must do so in love or else we will mock our own virtues. But do so we must. Because the opening shots in this revolution were not fired with this poster; they were fired decades ago. Only now are we seeing a vocal enough majority who is willing to say that your faith is part of the problem and it must be destroyed to root out the cancers it is created.

On Bending the Knee, Protesting, and Black Lives Matter

CJRXBSXQNNH6M46LUMAQSGTHBEEvan McClanahan

“Therefore also God exalted [Christ]
and graciously granted him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:9-11, LEB

The news cycle surrounding the death of George Floyd has had three major foci: 1) the death itself, including the actors, details, timeline, and context. 2) The protests, mostly peaceful, and often led by Black Lives Matter (BLM) leaders or inclusive of BLM signage, etc. 3) The riots, defended by many as “the voice of the voiceless”, but rebuked by most.

No one disagrees – including the local, state and federal prosecutors involved – that the officers involved or present for the death of George Floyd should face significant reprisals for their actions. In fact, I cannot think of another high-profile police incident where there was such unanimity and swift action on the part of prosecutors to bring about justice. So in terms of media focus #1, the normally-slow wheels of justice are spinning as fast as possible to bring a just conclusion to a horrible event.

While it is disturbing that the riots have not been condemned – expect perhaps in passing – by many in the media, government, and academy, violent riots, the destruction of property, and the willful murder of even more citizens has seemed to abate. Many protestors and the leaders of such marches urged the rioting to end. It is a bit sad that this is a sign of progress, but in a triage situation, you save lives and progress from there.

So now, perhaps we can consider the marches and protests themselves, quite apart from any violence. As Christians, we always want to consider everything through a biblical lens. Of course, I am aware that many Christians claim to do that very thing and come out on very different sides of a whole number of questions. I can only offer you my justification for where I come down on the questions of the day and why. You are free to agree or disagree.

There is, of course, enormous pressure, especially compared to violent protests, to only cheer on the gatherings and peaceful protests. The subject of race is so explosive that to even question the motives or content of these protests is to immediately bring attention to yourself as a self-fulfilling prophecy of racism. Since much of the content of the marches is about racial parity, to even analyze the content or the leadership of the marches might only serve to prove the point that racism is as systemic and privileged as it is claimed.

And yet, Christians do not live by or through slogans, prejudice, assumptions, or snap judgements. We understand our world and our lives through the biblical revelation, and even if something sounds good, if it is not in accordance with the Bible’s teachings, we reject it, or seek to correct it in love. For since this is God’s world, the way towards peace is to know and love God Himself. And the way to know God is through his revelation.

Looking at the gatherings through a Christian and biblical lens, there is a lot to appreciate. There is an undeniable history in America that was evil and directly tied to race. There is an unbroken chain from slavery to Jim Crow to segregation that pit human beings against one another in ways we can hardly imagine. It is also undeniable that far too many in the visible Church defended and excused slavery, racism, and hatred.

The Civil Rights marches of the 1960s included many whites – including some Lutheran clergy I know – who understood that segregation was essentially inhumane. And as a result of those marches, specific legislation was passed that, while perhaps insufficient, was a significant step towards legal equality. Perhaps a question for us is, are those marches and these marches the same? What were the aims of those marches and what are the aims of these? When and how will we know that the goal has been achieved?

Today, of course, the titular issue is police treatment of people of color, not segregation. Or, at last, it was in the days following Floyd’s death. But the flood gates have opened to every grievance under the sun, and the animating backdrop to this is fundamentally the “woke” understanding of oppressed/oppressor distinctions that pits us against one another en masse.

Christians can agree with some specific grievances. For example, I believe Christians can say that our particular penitentiary system is not biblical, for Old Testament laws did not use a third party power to enslave a person for a crime. Rather, restitution was made between the persons involved. Christians can also say that racism is wrong. Though I wish that would be taken for granted, there are Christians who justify racism on a bad reading of Old Testament law regarding no intermarrying of tribes. Christians can also say that while Romans 13 is part of our biblical witness, so is Acts 4: we obey God rather than men. And by “men” that includes our political rulers, movement leaders, ideologues, and the decrees of what we now call “political correctness”. Some movements, organizations, and leaders are congruous with the Christians worldview and can be supported by Christians. Some are not. It is our job to know the difference.

This brings me to the foundation and hashtag known as Black Lives Matter. The genius of the founding is that, of course, on a biblical worldview, there is no disagreement that black lives do matter. (There is also no disagreement that this was not universally held in the past and it is not universally held today. Of course, there is no view that is universally held today, not even that the earth is round.) And yet, behind the phrase are certain beliefs and practices which are decidedly un-biblical and un-Christian.

While it may be that we can agree with some of the grievances and solutions of Black Lives Matter as an organization, no one should consider BLM a Christian organization. They certainly do not. Many of their beliefs are decidedly opposed to the Christian understanding of gender and marriage, and their mission goes far beyond ending racism. It is routinely said that the mission will not be complete until capitalism itself is overthrown. Tamika Mallory said that in Houston at a peaceful protest. And if this is not a Christian organization and Christianity itself is seen as an oppressive, colonialist force, will it be long before the calls are for it to be overthrown as well, unless it can be co-opted?

It was not that long ago that Christianity was seen as the problem and was overthrown. In the French Revolution, Notre Dame was converted to a humanistic temple, the 7-day week became a 10-day week, and thousands of clergy were executed by revolutionaries. I don’t see that exact pattern playing out, of course, but Jesus himself said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Indeed, given that protests are breaking out all over the world – where presumably targeted killings by the police of black people is not an issue – one wonders if this movement at large is not about the overthrow of the Western way of life generally.

If that sounds radical, it shouldn’t. There are many who hold that the Western way of life (be it some combination of Christianity, capitalism, and republicanism) have created the world’s greatest evils and nothing short of the overthrow of the West will bring about peace. The West is seen through the eyes of the Howard Zinns of the world, who look at America and only see oppression, colonialism, and slavery. True, some of what he recounts is part of our story. Those are also part of the story of any replacement of the West, be it anarchy (“defund the police” is quickly gaining steam) or Communism.

America is now labeled a failed experiment, and any good scientist knows that when experiments fail, the only recourse is to start from scratch. That is the call of the mobs, and that is how BLM connects the act of one police officer to the overthrowing of capitalism. What does one have to do with another? Well, if I was cynical, I might suggest that one event becomes a motivating force for the true aims of the movement, which does not promote the building up of a civilization through personal virtue, the nuclear family, and Christian ideals, but rather a humanistic understanding of the person, family, and society which have far more in common with Marx than Christ.

This gets me to the zeitgeist of the day: kneeling. Kneeling can be a symbol of worship, resignation, humility, or idolatry. It all really depends on the object or person before which or whom we are kneeling. We have seen police officers take a knee in solitary with peaceful protestors. We have seen politicians take a knee and we have seen many whites take a knee at the hands of YouTube pranksters intending to make people look foolish. We have seen marchers take a knee in a sign of solidarity.

It may be that some of those sentiments are good and proper. However, the problem with such a symbol is that if it gives the impression that I would be (were I to take a knee) in full support of BLM and everything they stand for, I would have left my Christian worldview behind and sought a new authority. To see the taking of a knee to be used to humiliate and to unite others around the BLM cause is troubling. While we may choose to take a knee in certain situations out of love, respect, or courtesy, the only situation in which we MUST take a knee is out of deference to Christ. And if there even may be confusion about where our loyalties lie as Christians, then we are to remain standing if and when we are asked to kneel.

So what are we to make of these protests, assuming they are peaceful? In the minds of many, they are needed airings of grievances of a people hurt again and again. In the minds of others, they are about more than one action, one man, or even one idea. There is certainly a mixture of both. I want to listen to the cries of those who have been hurt by racism. I also defend a Christian worldview and its fruits because I believe it is best for people of all races. And I will not kneel in this moment for fear of confusion that kneeling could indicate my support for an organization that is not Christian and does not purport to be so.

We must be careful where our passions lie. For idolatry always comes in the name of something good, worthwhile, and virtuous. It also comes in the form of fear: kneel to this god or be banished. In general, my counsel would be to kneel for Christ and stand up to and for your neighbor. That is loving God and loving your neighbor.

Reflecting on the Riots

Minneapolis Police Death Oakland ProtestEvan McClanahan

I normally refrain from speaking too directly on our nation’s current events that are often of a political nature. I am hesitant to do that from the pulpit as I have an organic view of how the ministrations of the Church build up the body. I believe that through Word and Sacrament ministry, Christians are built up, and through the diverse vocations of Christians, the kingdom comes among us also. However, that can be a dodge, and there is certainly precedent and need for clarity from our pulpits on matters of morality, culture, and even certain policies from time too time. Given the unrest that we are seeing in many cities following the death of George Floyd, I think this is one of those times to speak, if not from the pulpit, still as a pastor.

First, it should be said that what happened to George Floyd was a completely avoidable tragedy. I understand why anyone – of any color or creed – would be horrified at the sight of a defenseless person being killed in police custody. Even if you are, as I am, an intuitively “law and order” personality, we concurrently believe as Christians that those in power are also affected by sin and have a tremendous burden not to abuse that power. Biblical law and our nation’s Bill of Rights protects us – in theory – from a police state and police state tactics: improper search and seizure without probable cause, not being force to shelter soldiers, the need for multiple witnesses, not falsely testifying, etc. So even if our default worldview is one of respecting and honoring authority, not all authority rightly bears that burden. This certainly seems to be one of those cases.

Furthermore, if I have failed to listen or speak against racism, I repent. Racism is real and unworthy of living in the heart of a follower of Christ. I have tried to educate myself on some of the historic realities of racism so that if I am in a position to listen better and even be an instrument of healing, I would gladly be used. I seek to honor each person I meet as one who is made in God’s image. I would call on every Christian to honestly assess their own heart and root out any hatred of any neighbor.

While I seek to be informed, I am also wary of our media and social media creating my world for me. If you are on social media, then you already know that kind of interaction has long ceased to be a “safe space” for neutrality or sometimes, even reason. On the issues of the day, it seems you are either a hero or a villain. Yet, in many ways, social media dominates how we see the world as we go there to find like minds, get our news, and quench our enemies. I believe it is shaping us culturally in dangerous ways as we are losing our desire to reason and to consider both sides of any argument. What is needed is careful consideration of just where Christ is in this recurring national conflict around race and police brutality, as events like this will likely continue in the future and the response may grow worse still.

What is needed? If police brutality is indeed a national epidemic (again, I believe our information is often filtered and we do not get a full view of what is taking place in our world), then what is needed is Christian police officers who love their neighbor through their service. Is the Church raising men and women with biblical worldviews and encouraging them to become police officers? Just as we need to encourage our young people to be pastors, we need to encourage them to fill the justice system and peace keeping professions specifically trained as lovers of God and neighbor. What I saw on that video was not love of neighbor, and that strikes me as the most powerful and comprehensive preventative measure from this ever happening again.

On the backside of this tragedy has been several days of peaceful and not-so-peaceful demonstrations. While the outrage is justifiable, mob violence is no solution. I have been heartened that some of the protestors actually protected stores from looters, understanding that their role was to raise awareness, not bring about destruction. If murder is wrong, so is theft, hatred of your brother, destruction of property, and the deaths of others who are equally innocent. A mob fueled by anger is not a Christian response and it will only be counter-productive. Indeed, Jesus says that if we are even angry with our brother, we have committed murder against him.

The Bible also teaches us just retribution in the law of lex talionis: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Evil is to be made “right” through equal measures of justice. I would argue that the destruction of property completely unrelated to the case in question and the destruction of police cars and violence towards officers who were in no way connected to the death of George Floyd is indefensible. If Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:38 suggest that we are not to enact the principle of lex talionis, but rather to turn the other cheek, then such destruction is even less defensible, even while our personal disgust, fear, and anger may be justified.

The Bible teaches that those responsible for crimes are to be held responsible through the ministration of judges. The police officer who brought about the death of George Floyd and arguably those who did nothing to prevent it are to be held responsible, not every police officer in every major American city.

What is particularly troublesome to me is that merely pointing this out is assumed to be on the side of police violence. Many have so thoroughly come to believe that vandalism and rioting is acceptable that even though they are not present for the riots, they effectively support destruction as a tool of communication or retribution. Anecdotally, I see many people my age and younger supporting rioting as a legitimate form of protest. Christians should say, peaceful demonstrations, yes. Rioting, no. Again, to invoke lex talionis, the point is to extract equal judgement for a crime, not to go beyond.

What is needed? Not to be a broken record, but among all men and women made in God’s image, a comprehensive biblical worldview is needed. Without God, we only live for today and we are consumed by our passions. There is no reason to expect justice with such a worldview. Without God, we are becoming a nation of mobs, with stony hearts out to get what is ours. We need Spiritually-broken hearts what make violence towards others – no matter of their race, age, ability or creed – literally unthinkable. As we ignore and displace God completely from our understanding of the world, anger and violence will become our default position. At least, that is my fear. Hopefully, I am wrong.

I believe our Christian mandate is to have dominion and to build. Within our own souls, our marriages, our families, our communities and beyond, we are to peacefully build a civilization that demonstrates the love of Christ for the world. So what is needed in a time of riots? Christ, more than ever. The invitation to join us on our quest to build a civilization marked by a life with the Spirit. Far from being ashamed of that, we should actively promote it as our Christian calling. For if we love our neighbor as we are called, there will be no more need for riots at all.