Thursday, December 26, 2013

FAITH, CONSCIENCE, DUTY




Christmas 2013 has passed. For Nancy and me it was, for the most part, a season of quiet reflection. We did get a few gifts for my kids and for Nancy’s family, but decided against exchanging gifts with one another. It proved to be a very good decision. Our conversations were filled with meaning. Our home glowed with an aura of peace and good will, the kind the angels of Bethlehem described to the shepherds.
 
It was also nice to see that our media must have gotten the memo. Most of us have grown tired of the debate about what constitutes the appropriate seasonal greeting – “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I’ve never been able to figure out why so many in the Christian community got so upset to begin with. I guess it goes to show that our media has far too much power to shape our ideas and opinions.
 
I’m not na├»ve enough to think that we don’t have detractors and antagonists. We’ve got plenty. But, there are some things they can’t change, no matter how hard they try. Jesus’ birth was very real. So were his life, his deeds, and his words. They’ll never be able to give us a world where a masterpiece like Giotto’s “Madonna with Child” becomes “Madonna without Child.” Nor can they take away the very real encounter I had with this very real Jesus in the Republic of Vietnam back in the 60’s. Nor can they expunge the experience of millions of other Christians.
 
Looking back at it, it was especially nice this year to be able to escape the ever-grinding gears of America’s conspicuous consumerism machine. It’s sad when you think about it. Primitive and early Christianity had nothing whatsoever to do with the consumer mindset that has overtaken us moderns. In fact, the Christianity of those times had a decidedly counter-culture flair when it came to economics. Jesus said things that run counter to modern thought, things like “Man does not live by bread alone,” “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God,” or “No one can serve two masters….you cannot serve God and money.” The early church took these words seriously, which caused them to run afoul of the commercial interests of their time. The Apostle Paul enraged the merchants of Ephesus when he preached that the silver shrines dedicated to the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis were worthless. With the prospect of shrinking sales and profits in mind, an influential silversmith named Demetrius gathered his fellow craftsmen and merchants together and appealed first to their greed, then to their moral instincts. “Our trade will   lose its good name,” he said. Artemis would be “robbed of her divine majesty.” When the merchants heard this they were furious and Demetrius got what he wanted – a near riot. For two hours, the crowd roared in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” It took the city clerk to eventually calm the crowd down by suggesting they take Paul and his companions to court.
 
How the times have changed. I can’t imagine today’s Christian community becoming so out of step with the nation’s commercial interests that their anti-social behavior would cause near riots in the streets.
 
The New Year is a few days off. The uproar about what constitutes the appropriate seasonal greeting will be forgotten. But, 2014 will bring more important, and meaningful, points of tension between Christians and their antagonists. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not David Green, owner and founder of Hobby Lobby, has the legal right to integrate his faith with his business practices.  In a world that is increasingly post-Christian, new norms will continue to be established to replace those deemed “antiquated.” The new norms will give increased power to social service agencies or government bureaucrats. There will be more and more cases like the one in which a British social service agency forcibly took an Italian woman’s child from her by caesarean section and put the child up for adoption, using their notion of what was best for the child as the justification (the Telegraph – November 30, 2013).
 
These, and other cases (infanticide, euthanasia) to come, will force important decisions on Christians. Will we give in to the new norms? Will we try to re-establish our norms? Or, will be seek avenues of conscientious objection?
 
If we accept the new norms, society will consider us to be “reasonable.” If we choose the path of conscientious objection, we can be sure of powerful societal backlash against us.
 
The path of conscientious objection doesn’t mean that we’ll make the rules. It does mean that our loyalty to society and its new norms and our responses to them must be guided by our faith and conscience. New and newer norms will come, but we must remain constant in faith, conscience, and our duty to say, “No!”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

BLEEDING HEARTS, BLOODY WORDS





Almost every day America’s airwaves and editorial pages are filled with charges and counter-charges of treason. For a while congressional Democrats were the targets of the accusations. Then it was Chief Justice John Roberts. These days it’s Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and millions of members of the Tea Party.
 
The more I hear the shrill talk or read the vitriolic commentary, the more I feel like I want to puke.
 
Treason? Do those bandying the word about so casually really understand what it means? Maybe it would help if they would actually read article 3, section 3 of our Constitution, which defines it very precisely - “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
 
This current war of words and accusations has nothing to do with treason. Those leveling the outrageous accusations know it. The controversy may have something to do with a badly crafted and executed law or it may have something to do with a philosophical disagreement with our current Chief Justice. It may even have something to do with visceral hatred for a political insurgency like the Tea Party or differences of political opinion. But, it has absolutely nothing to do with treason.
 
The current epicenter for the accusations is Tea Party members or anyone who associates with them. The broadsides are coming from all directions, even small red state hamlets like Emporia, Kansas. Tea Partiers and those who associate with them are being portrayed as merciless traitors, bent on the destruction of the Republic. Their accusers portray themselves as loving, merciful defenders of all that is good and noble.
 
Is it really all that simple?
 
Tea Partiers are our fellow citizens and neighbors. Many of them have served honorably in our armed services. Some have “fought and bled” to defend the freedoms their accusers say they cherish. The vast majority of them are every bit as kind and compassionate as their accusers. In fact, I’d be willing to match their charitable giving and community service against their accusers’ any time. The truth is, their accusers haven’t cornered the market on kindness, compassion, service, or bleeding.
 
I’m not a Tea Party member, but I have friends who are. I’ve even been known to openly associate with them. As I was lobbying my fellow citizens to get the Lyon County extension issue placed on the ballot a while back, I met twice with members of the Tea Party. They showed me nothing but respect and kindness. I never heard any talk of sedition or revolution. They listened respectfully to me. Some supported me. They were even kind enough to give me a copy of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Now, if becoming acquainted with our founding documents amounts to treason, I plead guilty. If the time ever comes that I’m convicted of such a crime, I’ll gladly walk the steps of the gallows.
 
I do have quite a few things in common politically with Tea Partiers. Like them, I’m troubled when I see our fundamental rights under the first, second, fourth, and tenth amendments being slowly eroded by government edict and action. But, there are places where we part philosophical ways. In the current crisis, I believe Tea Partiers have made some serious tactical errors, particularly their misguided attempt to defund Obamacare. There are times when the door to disaster has to open and the chaos at its root is allowed to march through for all to see.
 
Economist Thomas Sowell recently cited Irish statesman Edmund Burke’s wisdom when matters of conscience and tactics collide. In 1769 Burke spoke against a bill that was weaving its way through Parliament. The long and the short of the legislation was that it would have subjected American colonists to charges of treason in Great Britain. Burke found the legislation extremely troubling, but didn’t attempt to block it because he knew its passage was certain. As he put it, I cannot support what is conscientiously against my opinion, nor prudently contend with what I know is irresistible. Preserving my principles unshaken, I reserve my activity for rational endeavours.”
 
The Tea Party would have better served their interests to get out of the way of the runaway train and wait for the mid-term elections. That would have been the rational choice. Unfortunately, they didn’t. But tactical misjudgment hardly constitutes treason. 
 
Under our law, treason is punishable by death (see 18 U.S.C. 2381).  Are the Tea Party’s accusers so convinced of their political correctness that they’d be willing to personally cast the final stone of retribution? If they are, then all I can say is “God help anyone who will eventually become their targets!”