In Defense of Barack Obama

Mark Driscoll, the often controversial pastor of Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, posts on his Facebook page today: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

I’m not a fan of Obama by any means and if I had to make a judgment about his faith in the Lord I’d be apt to agree with Driscoll. But that’s just it. I don’t have to make a judgment about Obama’s faith in the Lord. In fact, not only do I not have to make that judgment, I’m not supposed to. The New Testament is filled with verses against judgment, Matthew 7:1-5 one of the most widely quoted.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t point out evil deeds when we see them. It doesn’t mean that we can’t try to guide fellow Believers, or even unbelievers, toward righteousness. It also doesn’t mean that we should be so full of Grace that there is no room left for Truth.

What it does mean is that we should not judge what is in a man’s heart, and that is especially true if we’ve never even met the man. Perhaps if Driscoll was Obama’s pastor and had met with him on a regular basis he’d have come to a different conclusion. Or maybe not. But at least he’d know the man. As it stands, all Driscoll knows about Obama is what he reads in the news. And regardless of what sources Driscoll is reading, none of them are ever going to paint a full picture of what is in Obama’s heart.

Furthermore, acknowledging the fact that Obama has pushed for legislation which is clearly not Biblical, Obama’s secular actions may not be betraying his religious convictions. Case in point, I believe that abortion is a sin but I have also come to realize that making it illegal is not the best way to eliminate it. I also believe that Christ is the One True path to Salvation but that doesn’t mean I want to form a Theocracy. Doing so, in fact, would not only be bad policy from an earthly perspective, it would also be blasphemous.

I’m opposed to Obama because I am opposed to big government. I don’t have all the answers to the problems that plague society. In fact, I have so few of them that I don’t want to make those decisions, especially at the federal level. I think they’re better left to local officials or, better yet, the individual. But maybe Obama does have all the answers (all evidence points to the contrary; I’m just playing Devil’s advocate, pardon the phrase). Maybe if everyone did rally behind Obama and give him unlimited power we’d all be riding rainbow-powered unicorns and feasting on gumdrops and gingersnaps. Not something I want to try and I’m 99.99% sure it wouldn’t work, but the important thing isn’t whether I think it will work or not. The important thing is whether Obama thinks it would work.

If Mark Driscoll or I were to sit down with Obama for a completely candid conversation and learn that Obama agrees that none of his legislation will work and he’s only pushing it as part of a Machiavellian power grab so he can proclaim himself dictator and enslave the people, then I’d say Driscoll is right on the money. Obama is evil, doesn’t believe in the Bible and doesn’t know God. But if we were to sit down with Obama and learn that he really thinks everything he’s doing is helping to make the nation a better place, then I’d have to say that Driscoll is dead wrong. Certainly a good, Christian argument for ObamaCare and other social programs can be made; that we have a moral duty to take care of the least amongst us. It’s an argument I happen to agree with on its surface; I just don’t believe that the federal government (or any government, for that matter), should be the arbiter of that decision; that we’re given free will by God and it is up to us at an individual level to choose whether we help the poor or not.

And from a public relations angle, Driscoll’s post couldn’t have been worse. It’s probably safe to say that a large majority of folks who attend Mars Hill didn’t vote for Obama but there’s a reason that pastors don’t run for election and that the topic for the Sunday Sermon isn’t decided by a Gallup Poll. Pastors can and should speak to the issues of the day. I think it was completely justified for the Catholic Church to speak out against the contraceptive mandate or gay marriage initiatives. It has Biblical text clearly and definitively backing up those views. On the matter of Barack Obama though, the Bible is silent. (Yeah, yeah, for some folks Obama is the Second Coming and for others he’s the Anti-Christ. but those are fringe beliefs and not clearly backed up by Scripture.)

By bringing politics to the pulpit, Driscoll has alienated the very people he should be reaching out to (in the sense that I’m guessing he believes voting for Obama wasn’t the most righteous decision one could make). Jesus didn’t go around preaching to the folks He knew were already destined for Heaven. No, He spent His time with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. And while He was truthful about the sinfulness of their behavior, He always led with Love and Grace. I seriously doubt Jesus would have been impressed by Mark Driscoll’s post this morning and I’m guessing that Jesus’s Facebook page wouldn’t have carried those words either, even if Jesus knew that Obama wasn’t a Believer.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean I think Mark Driscoll is preaching some wayward Gospel or that he doesn’t know God. I’m going to take him at his word that he is a follower of Christ and believer of the Bible. We all struggle with sin and that is why we should always be very careful when pointing out the faults in others. Again, it is our duty as Christians (and humans, for those of us who aren’t Christians) to point out the shortcomings in others just as we wouldn’t stand idly by if a friend had a problem with alcohol or was cheating on his wife. But when we do counsel others we must do so gently, with Grace, and with the spirit of the Lord, for it isn’t we who will bring them to salvation (or Salvation), but the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Driscoll, I pray that we may all continue to valiantly fight in our struggle against the sins which are of greatest presence in our life; be we pastors, bloggers or politicians. Go in Grace and go in Peace, my Brother.

The Truth of Christian faith

I recently got into a Facebook discussion with an atheist (or maybe he’s an agnostic, I’m still not clear on which; he does lists his religious views as “Jesus built my hotrod”; I’m guessing Jesus in this case is his Mexican mechanic). He seems to enjoy posting rather inflammatory statements not necessarily calling Christians and other believers evil, although he sometimes does that too, but more often just insinuating that they are stupid or delusional.

Just yesterday, however, he posted a picture and a quote from Reform Presbyterian Reverend Joseph Morecraft. Morecraft, if this quote did in fact originate from him, could rightly be called an intolerant, religious extremist and, in my opinion, someone who has yet to grasp the core message of Christianity, which is Grace. The nut of the quote was thus; “…if the homosexuals are not burned out of America, if the humanist aren’t burned out of America, there is no hope.” Hmm. Yes, clearly he missed a few days at seminary, not to mention a basic grasp of the U.S. Constitution I’m guessing.

So I began what turned out to be a quite lengthly debate with this follower of “Jesus hotrodism” that, if this is what I’d been led to believe as the teaching of Christ I’d want no part of it either and then invited him to check out the Unitarians and read Case for the Creator. (Fellow Christians might see the former as counterproductive in trying to save his soul but I find baby steps are sometimes a better approach; better that he first believe in a Creator then work on Jesus than be introduced to it all at once.)

So we went back and forth a bit more until he mentioned his “hatred of organized religion” (his words, not mine) came not from being exposed to some ultra-zealous, over-regulated, Westboro Baptist brand of religion but from the following points he laid out, which I will do my best to respond to from a Christian standpoint as, I believe, that is the one true religion.

“Fatalism. A passive acceptance of one’s fate is a long-term consequence of being inculcated with the notion of a God that provides for all (or damns all). It appears to radiate toward weaker minded secular people as well. Symptoms: Resignation to the two-party system. Societal apathy.”

A belief in God is anything but a passive acceptance of one’s fate. Christians believe that our fate is in our hands as it requires an acceptance, an active acceptance, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Yes, Calvinists, of which I suppose I’d consider myself included, believe in predestination but only so far as God is omniscient and knew what our actions and beliefs would be before we were created by Him; not that He is controlling of those actions and beliefs. As for a supposed religious fatalism having an effect on political engagement, Christians, taking a catholic (as in universal) view of history not only don’t resign themselves to a two-party system but don’t resign themselves to party politics period and are some of the least apathetic people in the world. Where the governments of man may place barriers to God’s perfect plan, Christians find another way. Christians don’t need to rely on government to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless or cure the sick. Christians go out and do it themselves despite the obstacles they face. It was Christianity, after all, which was instrumental in bringing about the end of slavery in the Western world (and continues to fight for its end in places where it still, sadly, remains).

Philalgia. A neologism for love of misery. The underpinnings of early Christianity were based probably on misinterpretations of Jesus’s word and amplified by the dark age Church. As evidenced by terms such as “sinful” describing delicious food, things which provide pleasure are viewed with suspicion even by ostensibly secular people who likely do not reject this view out of hand because they don’t recognize it as religiously derived. Symptoms: Vice laws. The drug war.

I will admit that certain sects of Christianity, chief amongst them the papacy of the Dark Ages, spread a gospel of suffering but, as he mentions, this view was based on a misinterpretation of Jesus’s Word (and, I’d add, a lust for worldly power). True Christian faith is anything but a love of misery. True Christian faith is a love so powerful and immense words, and even the grave itself, can not contain it. Yes, early Christians suffered greatly even as many Christians today suffer to a great extent in places like China and, to a much lesser extent, even here as they become ostracized from the increasingly secularized culture. By rejecting what some may shallowly view as the pleasures of unrestrained sexuality, gluttony and greed, Christians aren’t just following archaic rules passed down for what some see as God’s sadistic pleasure, but to find a greater joy. In fact, the Laws which God has given us are wholly for our own pleasure, not His. After all, He’s omnipotent, while human suffering indeed saddens Him it does not compare to the agony which we put ourselves through here on earth by treating each other and ourselves the way we do. A brief illustration of the power of sin which most will understand; people drink alcohol for pleasure. But anyone who has had too much of it the night before knows all too well that, abused, it is, on its own, a vengeful mistress. Lust, fame, and all the rest, which viewed in the short term may seem to bring about pleasure, are are too painful when seen through the eyes of a man who’s found corporal pleasure in the arms of a thousand women but none who have touched his soul or the starlet who couldn’t cope with only the shallow admiration or her fans and found a bottle of pills or a razor’s edge more comforting than another day in this world.

Externalization of God. The view of God as an external, sentient being separate from humans (no matter how benevolent) preconditions the mind to accept external authority. Easily abused Bible verses like “Render unto Caesar” only exacerbate this problem. Symptoms: The expanding state. Excessive respect for authority.

Those who view only themselves as the ultimate authority in the universe indeed have no respect for authority. Hopefully they were dealt a healthy conscience (of course, that in itself would indicate a belief in something bigger, even if they don’t realize it themselves). If not, where is man to get his social contract? Are we not, then, like the beasts of the wild, savages in a savage land, pirates on a treacherous sea of humanity (but perhaps not, for even pirates have their code as thieves have honor amongst themselves)? And, as he rightly points out, verses like “render unto Caesar” can be easily abused as can almost any verse in the Bible. That is why Christians look not only to the Word of God as found in its pages but also to the Voice of God which comes to them through prayer. And an excessive respect for an ever expanding state of man comes not from the externalization of God but from His obliteration, for when one stops worshipping the “Big G” of God, one is left, most evidently, with the “little g” of government.

Zionistic, jingoistic nonsense in the Old (obsolete) Testament. Contradictions in the Bible aren’t just inconvenient, embarrassing details. They are flat out dangerous. They allow the religion to market itself as peaceful and loving, while justifying hideous acts of war with the equally hideous atrocities depicted lovingly in the OT. They precondition Christians to find war acceptable and somehow not at odds with humanitarian views. Meanwhile, the contradictory parts including parts about being peacemakers and the focus more on war for conquest rather than the glory of combat means that it is essentially portrayed as acceptable to be a chickenhawk. There can be no more disgusting wretch than someone who would never set foot on a battlefield yet expects others to do so.

This is not an argument against the Word of God in its purest form but against man’s inherently imperfect nature and his difficulty in properly discerning that Word. Yes, read with an untrained eye perhaps seeking to validate a preconceived notion instead of the Truth, one may view battle scenes of the Old Testament (and Revelations) as glorified and to the extent that Good triumphs over Evil they must be for, throughout time immemorial there has been a battle between these two great forces and to pretend that one does not exist in hopes that it won’t is grossly naive. What decent society would stand idly by as the weak are slaughtered and justice becomes a farce? Who would not come to the aid of a child being beaten by a drunkard father or a woman being raped. Yet, does this not require battle of a kind? Until the final call of Gabriel’s Horn sounds the end of the final battle will Evil be rid of this Earth so until then we must show understanding when we can but force when we must.

In short, I believe that those who look down upon Christianity (and faith, to some extent, writ large) have been fed a misguided version of it and must only be invited by us Believers into the amazing story of love, grace and the promise of everlasting harmony to those who will give up only their ego, that is our Faith.

God Bless and may the Grace of Our Lord shine down upon us all and turn our souls ever more toward Him and His Salvation.