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We learn in the New Yorker that Donald Trump ends every phone call with “You’re the Greatest!” If I had time and inclination to write a biography of Trump perhaps a good title can be adapted from an old Charlie Brown book;
You’re the Greatest, Donald Trump.
Greatness, it seems, is his highest ambition.
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for one of Trump’s best-selling books, The Art of the Deal, has just given the New Yorker a tell-all:
Trump only takes two positions. “Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest…. There is no private Trump…. All he is is ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’—recognition from outside, bigger, more, a whole series of things that go nowhere in particular… .”
Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader [in The Art of the Deal], “I play to people’s fantasies. . . . People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”
Schwartz now disavows the passage.
“I don’t do it for the money,” Trump declares. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it…. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”
…Of course he’s in it for the money,” Schwartz said. “One of the most deep and basic needs he has is to prove that ‘I’m richer than you.’ Schwartz saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for “money, praise, and celebrity.” Often, after spending the day with Trump, and watching him pile one hugely expensive project atop the next, like a circus performer spinning plates, Schwartz would go home and tell his wife, “He’s a living black hole!”
And now Donald wants to take us all into that black hole with him and Make America Great Again. [And, yes I still think Hillary is a far worse choice. Both have deep character issues, but as I’ve written elsewhere…. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.]
Friends on this side of the pond gristle ungratefully at any notion of America’s greatness (or goodness), or any country’s greatness for that matter. Paul gave good advice in Romans 12:3… “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…”
Yet, national greatness was a promise God himself made to godly nations. It’s in Genesis 12:2… “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” And it wasn’t just a promise to Abraham on into Israel then and now. In Genesis 35:11 that promise was extended greatly: “A nation and a community of nations will come from you... .” It is the promise of God that Judeo-Christian nations will be a blessing to the rest of the world and great in God’s eyes.
But what makes us great is where Mr. Trump has it all wrong.
Jesus said those who practice the Sermon on the Mount will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:19). The Sermon on the Mount is the standard of greatness by which God will measure kings and nations, and you and I. In the halls of academia we speak of a coming eschatological reversal where the first will find out they are indeed, last. Trump still has time to figure this out and that is my prayer.
“But as far as his worldview, Trump’s worldview, you know… I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’ I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation…. “Nowhere is government told to forgive those who wrong it. Nowhere is government told to turn the other cheek. Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary. I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find. And I believe that’s biblical.”
Trump is as much a Christian as Obama, in my view. Regarding an issue very important to me, to all the other little people like me all over the world, and to Jesus, neither Obama or Trump are men of peace. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.
Lance Wallnau made a comment recently that we should all think long and hard about; “Christ in you is the hope of glory, not Christ in the White House. What do you think, should we really give up hope on any sort of notion of a Christian (Christlike) nation? The Sermon on the Mount is what Christlikeness looks like.
My friends on the Christian Right (who BTW consider me a grand disappointment) have long been saying we need to elect people who represent “Biblical values.” Apparently we now learn from Pastor Jeffries those are not the values of Jesus. Apparently it is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, he believes may work on a micro level but not in a macro application.
In Pastor Jeffrees re-reading of the infamous Sermon on the Mount he in so much imagines Jesus ascended the Mount to say: “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”
When will the Christian Right wake up to how inconsistent they are in valuing all human life? Bombs away, Jesus love you!
Ya, ya, ya… here comes someone to remind me of Romans 13 (someone who apparently has never read Romans 12: if your enemy is hungry, feed him… overcome evil with good, etc).
How many times do I have to say this?… In Romans 13:4 Paul was writing to believers in Rome saying they need to revere Roman authority as God gives governments even the authority of the sword. He was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the mercy path when they one day get in power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of the Romans and the ethics of Nero?
For those genuinely conflicted on the application of the Sermon on the Mount to anything beyond an individual Christian life I offer the following (which will soon appear in a book I’m now putting the finishing touches on: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount).
From chapter seven of my forthcoming book:
The two main interpretative questions for the Sermon on the Mount, again, are; Is it liveable? and; To whom is it for? Over the centuries, very few interpreters of the Sermon on the Mount have given the Sermon application beyond the individual believer. The contention is that the ethic was given to individuals, not to nation-states. Yet, Tolstoy challenged this entirely and sought to settle this centuries-old ambiguity with a simple appeal to the words Jesus actually used in Matthew 5:43-44 (and what they would have meant to his original hearers); “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” Tolstoy explained: [N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality. Therefore the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’”
Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation. Tolstoy spoke of “the widening sphere of love” and believed a nation could be loved too…. Tolstoy believed obedience to the teachings of Jesus worked on both the micro and the macro level. Goodness on a small scale does not somehow become badness on a larger scale and he decried the notion that badness on a small scale could be construed as goodness on a larger scale…
For posterity sake I’ll repost some fragments of my recent Facebook rants…
If Gideon could get by with a ridiculously smaller army, maybe America can too? God chooses the weak things to confound the wise. My “fiscally conservative” colleagues in government all seem hell bent to borrow and spend LIBERALly when it comes to Defence spending (basically welfare for the Defence contractors). Let’s cut our army in half, and double the salary/benefits of every solider and cancel every college debt for the youth of America – it’s just digital-from-thin-air-money anyway. Heard a great quote yesterday from Kim Fabricus: “The Sermon on the Mount– ain’t for extra credit.” Either His ways are indeed higher than our ways or they are not. Maybe we should quit questioning His judgment and just do what He says. Some trust in chariots, some in horses but we apparently trust in our military-industrial complex.
Why don’t my gun control friends join me in renouncing Obama’s illegal gift of guns to Mexican drug cartels that soon kill US border agents (fast and furious) and also remind the world that Obama and every recent US administration before him spends millions arming those who want to kill us and our friends around the world. If you are really for gun control, why don’t you care about the guns that are really killing thousands and thousands of people all over the world, and at home? The vote in the Senate yesterday was a reactionary feel good bill that is a complete swing and a miss at solving any really problems.
The United States is now an oligarchy. “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws” — Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild. Did they ever count those extra 2 million votes in the California primary? I think Sanders won fair and square. I also don’t think elections matter any more nor do I have any confidence that votes are honestly tallied and the winner really wins. I care more about who is in boardrooms and war rooms and what is really going on in there than I do about bathrooms and who and what may be going on in there. Good grief. Enough with our selective moral outrage – guns are the problem– no, gays are! I’m pretty sure we Christians don’t resemble Jesus all that much. Bombs away! Jesus loves you.
It is outrageous to me that media networks in the US can blacklist a decorated presidential detail secret service agent who protected the Clinton’s (but now thinks America needs to know the character of the Clintons) and also blacklist a special forces vet who defended an abandoned (by Hillary) US Ambassador in Benghazi. So much for free speech and free elections and for the fourth estate. One reason Trump is so popular is he bypasses these things which in the past have given us the people they want us to vote for – money and the media. No one alive has more baggage than Hillary Clinton. Now Wall Street gives Clinton an ultimatum; if you choose Elizabeth Warren for VP we will cut off your cash. Of course, Warren is a sworn enemy of the banks and Hillary is an ally.
Back in our youth ministry days we would make beaded Gospel bracelets to help youth understand and share their faith. The dark bead represents sin and life in spiritual darkness and separation from God. Red represents the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross for our sin. White is the result…. our sins washed white as snow. We are forgiven and cleansed by His Blood. Green represents the season of spiritual growth and fruitfulness. Gold is for rewards in heaven. (The Baptists like to add a blue bead for Baptism.)
Last fall I decided to start wearing my old bracelet again– so I’d be reminded to keep the Gospel central during my sojourn back into academia. Honestly I’ve been mildly bothered that the bracelet is hardly eschatologically correct. Today I wandered around a bead shop and came up with this new one.
The colors are the same until you get to the green bead. At this point I’ve added a tri-colored bead: red, green and white to symbolize the three colors of martyrdom which I speak of in my Fall Away Factor Book. Here’s the backstory there:
A Celtic monk in the seventh century named Cambrai, in what we call the Cambrai Homily, outlined three categories of martyrdom designated by colors; red, green and white. Red martyrdom refers to when blood is shed; when they lop off your head or throw you to the lions. If Christ is indeed first, our safety and security is at least a distant second. Interestingly, the Celtic saints never faced a period of red martyrdom but they still knew the call of Christ was to lose your life to find it. So Cambrai spoke also of green martyrdom to refer to those who leave behind comforts and pleasures, deny their flesh, assuming vows of poverty and chastity or living simply and frugally. White martyrdom is the separation from loved ones. It’s kissing your family goodbye before getting on a ship to sail to a faraway place to spend your life reaching the people God calls you to reach. (The term white martyrdom was first used by St. Jerome, a desert hermit in the third century).
If I were writing the Fall Away Factor book again today I’d add a fourth color of martyrdom, gray. Following Jesus and following the Church are not always the same thing. Gray martyrdom represents excommunication, being shunned and regarded as dead. Gray martyrdom is when following Jesus means you disaffiliate and break with the traditions of man. Jesus took a different path than the religious leaders of his day. Martin Luther was defrocked. Tolstoy was excommunicated. Gray is for hearts of stone.
After the gray bead, I’ve placed a thin gold bead for the reward we receive in heaven. But it’s a thin bead because heaven as we know it is only the temporary abode of the dead. In short order, the dead are raised and we are back living with Jesus here on the earth. This I represented in the earthen bead. The meek will inherit the earth.
My world for the next few months is all things Tolstoy. I’m onto an important linkage between Tolstoy and Bonhoeffer but I’ll not spell all that out here. Hopefully some of my findings will make their way into a book I’m writing called: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey The Sermon on the Mount.
Obey the Sermon on the Mount. What a novel idea, huh?
Here’s a crash course to give the basics needed to explain this fascinating Fresco which is my interest in this post.
Tolstoy was a famous and successful nineteenth century Russian novelist who wrote what is considered the greatest novel ever written, War & Peace. That would be what I’m calling First Tolstoy – his literary writings. Second Tolstoy is my designation for the second half of his prolific life– his religious writings; mostly a call to obey the Sermon on the Mount. He was anything but orthodox and rejected significant dogma we’d think is orthodox, and he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that but simply put, he believed the Church had become a great hindrance to the Gospel and was full of superstition, paganism and idolatry. Tolstoy was a reformer who had no interest to reform the Church. The Church was too far gone. Best to go back to the plain meaning of the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.
Tolstoy died in 1910. However this Fresco was sanctioned (27 years earlier) by the Orthodox Church in 1883, the year Tolstoy published his first book on obeying the Sermon on the Mount (My Religion – What I Believe).
Gotta love the Church /S.
Tolstoy was deemed a “madman.” If Tolstoy was mad for his adherence to Jesus’ teaching, what would that make Jesus? What a paradox that literal obedience to the teaching of Christ is still considered crazy radical even in Christian circles today.
Good theology is essential when bad things go down. So, to start with some theological preciseness, the question in the title would be better phrased: Is Scott Westerhuis hell-bound? The reason for that clarification is because it isn’t until after the Great White Throne Judgment that the books are opened and each one judged. It is then both Death and Hades are gathered up and together thrown into the Eternal Lake of Fire (aka Hell). The temporary abode for the unredeemed dead is Hades, not Hell. So no, no one is presently burning in hell.
The question was posed yesterday on Facebook by a seasoned journalist friend in South Dakota who, since last September, has been covering the horrible unfoldings in Platte, South Dakota. He took some criticism for even posting the question. Understandably this is still a very tender topic in our small home state.
Scott Westerhuis was husband and father of four, an active member of First Reformed Church and an involved member of a close knit small town community. Made aware he was soon to be in serious trouble for plundering a million dollars from a fund set up to help young Native Americans, late that night he took his shotgun and killed his wife and their four children all in their beds, and then set fire to their house and taking his own life.
For the benefit of others in our state, here were my contributions in the midst of a most interesting string of comments to the question.
Me: One doesn’t spend eternity separated from God for anything they did or didn’t do. The way you end up there is rejecting what Jesus did to make possible eternity with God.
A reply to me: Can someone profess Jesus is their Lord and Savior and then commit multiple murders? Were they lying when they made the profession or did they change their mind? Or did they not even think about it? (a subconscious decision)
Me: People profess Jesus as Lord and then commit adultery or break any of the other Ten Commandments. Our various traditions differ a bit on whether some sin is worse than other sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said if we are angry it’s the same as murder. A lawyer friend in Sioux Falls who has/is defended some of those facing the death penalty in South Dakota told me once that every murderer he’s ever met felt justified from their vantage point at that time to do what they did, and he and I agree that includes the State when we kill killers. We do what they do and then have our rationalisations for it. Psychologically suicide and killing occur in when we aren’t thinking clearly and rationally. Killing is irrational. Unless a person decidedly rejects Christ and then kills, I’m not sure we can say they go to hell– at least not for killing. I’m grateful I’m not judged according to the worse thing I’ve done. The Gospel is about what Jesus did, not about what we’ve done. Did he do enough on the Cross to pay the price for all our sin or do we need to add to his finished work by doing more right and less wrong? Reject him and we are on our own to stand before God on our own good merit.
This is pure speculation: perhaps this guy dearly loved his family and couldn’t imagine life without them or imagine ruining their lives and shaming them all so horribly with his crimes and to spare them that greater pain, in a colossal act of misguided mercy, and moment of irrational panic- hardly thinking clearly about anything – believing in Christ and heaven- reasoned to himself that they could all go together and be together and that God would understand.
Good people in society concoct all sorts of justifications for killing to save themselves and others.
I’ll wrap up here with some Gospel basics: Salvation is not genetic or hereditary any more than marriage is– your grandparents being married doesn’t mean you are– your parents being Christians doesn’t automatically make you one– a individual choice to receive what Jesus did for you appropriates salvation to an individual. Salvation is not by ritual or ceremony. Salvation is not by addition– doing more right. It is not by subtraction– doing less wrong. It is not second hand– not mediated by anyone other than Jesus. Salvation is not by comparison– we are less bad than those people down the street – those gays or Muslims or compared to that guy on death-row. It is not universal– you can decidedly reject what Jesus did for you and many do. He doesn’t force people to spend eternity with him when they make it clear they don’t want him part of their lives here. Salvation is not by showing up to church. It can’t be bought or sold. Salvation is not by sincerity. The 9/11 hi-jackers were sincere, sincerely wrong. You get the idea. And, by the way, our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Hell-bound people chose that course themselves by rejecting the only way God set forth for salvation. If all religious paths were viable options, he wouldn’t have sent his only Son to die on a Cross to atone for our sin. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
As hard as it is to accept, I’m doubtful Westerhuis is hell-bound. The reason is because salvation isn’t based on what he did. It is based on what Jesus did. From what I can tell, he was a believing Christian. And yes we aren’t to judge or try to read hearts, but people in my line of work get asked these hard questions– and usually people like me have 2-3 days max to think of something to say at a funeral. It’s not a time to give false assurances. It’s a time to be clear about how it is that Jesus defeats death for us all. God has an amazing way to bring life from death and draw out good from bad. The possibility of salvation for Scott Westerhuis will hopefully result in the assurance of salvation of many others.
Retraction and Correction – Page 228
Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.
Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.
Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount; “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.
There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”
**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]
On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________
Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?
Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.
In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.
And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?
And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.
A preliminary word is in order as to what could possibly motivate me to write three articles on the subject of transgenderism in the span of two weeks time. Primarily the fact that the South Dakota Legislature is making news on this subject all the way over here on this side of the pond (I’m living in Scotland) and until recently I was a member of that legislative body. Additionally, my difficult and surprising votes last year on this issue put me in some serious hot water with Christian friends, church members and pro-family values groups whom I’ve worked alongside for years. Then comes the year of Caitlyn Jenner and I sat quiet as I sorted through my discomfort and sadness at the course joking by Christian friends on social media. Finally, dealing with hot potatoes is something I’ve never shied away from and I typically have little restraint in firing away a prophetic challenge if I discern the Church needs a wake up call or a course correction. So here goes it.
This won’t be the place where I discuss inner healing and the power of Christ to mend the broken, including broken identities. Also I won’t take time to defend that statement but will simply refer to the three frameworks– integrity, disability and diversity – outlined in Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse of Wheaton and Regent Universities new book called Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Or, read my recent op-ed on this topic here: Empathy and Accommodation for the transgendered in South Dakota. What follows in this article is about the Church and its witness and welcome of transgenders and the matter of Christian Hope.
From my vantage point the Church, myself included, has utterly failed homosexuals in our communities. And now we have our chance at stewarding a message of hope and being a community of hope for the transgendered and those struggling with gender dysphoria. TIME magazine called 2014 the year of the transgendered. It is my opinion that though well-intentioned, the path we’ve chosen on this issue in the South Dakota legislature in the 2015-2016 Sessions, a path that the Christian contingency in the House and Senate have forged, is a path that has now done irreparable harm to our witness.
In an earlier post I wrote: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide, compared to a national average of just 4.6 percent. When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence are we complicit and how could Jesus possibly say to us “Well done”? This is from my earlier article on this subject:
I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.
Do you suppose our world will ever come to the place again where we have to hide Jews and Gays? (I’m aware there are differences between homosexuality and gender dysphoria.) If the days ever come again where we must hide the despised of this world, will they come to us and consider God’s House a safe house?
No. As long as Deuteronomy 22:5 is the only text the Church reads, our witness and welcome will continue to be disastrous. In no way am I advocating being selective or ignoring any text. I remain theologically conservative holding a high view of Scripture. The fact of the matter is Deuteronomy 22:5 can hardly be construed to be God’s view on gender dysphoria today. The situation behind the text was the matter of pagan swapping of sex roles and rituals in temple prostitution. That is what is abhorrent to God– not a seven year old boy who sneaks off to wear his sisters dress and feels crushing shame afterward. There are however other texts that more directly apply which I will illustrate shortly. Some of my friends will be again disappointed in me for the position I am taking on this issue but there is too much at stake to leave our present course unchallenged.
There is nearly a total breakdown in our society of traditional gender norms. But let’s be honest, this started long before the 1960’s. A few generations ago a young woman who wore pants was a matter of gossip and scandal among good churchgoing people. Today any female of any age could wear exactly what men wear – mens jeans, sweatshirt – and minimise any femininity and even don even some masculinity and really, does any one care? We view it as completely amoral. Boy hair cuts, girls on the football team and others who wear camo and hunt – the Church somehow found a way to successfully navigate it. Yet there is no grace or wiggle room for a male who dons femininity in hairstyle and dress – such a person is a pariah to us, a freak. A question I’ve been asking lately is: What makes us think someone else’s brokenness is a bigger deal to God than our own?
The following is a brief rereading of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 particularly in light of the challenge the Church is having welcoming the transgendered. I’ll start by presenting the text itself, a text which I suggest vitally important text relating to our welcome and inclusion of various members of the Body of Christ.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The working title of this rereading I’ll phrase as follows. I’ll try to be brief.
The Body, it’s Members and the Body of Christ:
What Does Christian Hope Look Like For The Transgendered?
This text offers much for a theology of the body and a theology of disability within the broader framework of the Body of Christ as a community of inclusion– not severing disabled or unsightly members or members that are hard to look at or be around – all the while living in a fantasy or illusion of uniformity where everyone should just blend in.
In a variety of areas today, radical surgical and bio-enhancements including prosthetics are commonly encouraged strategies to help people find some measure of normalisation, functioning and sanity. Whether that is right or wrong, judgments about them have become a criteria for inclusion and welcome into Christian community. What I’m challenging here is the fact that those judgments are keeping people from the very place they most need to be.
My hope is we realise we have failed to figure out how to love the sinner and hate the sin and that we rethink what is amoral and what is actually immoral when it comes to the DSM-5 psychological designation of gender dysphoria.
The admonition in the text is to extend a special measure of grace toward the member that is hurting: “When one part hurts….” The Christian community is to be a fellowship of the suffering. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. We aren’t to leave people to hurt in isolation from the other members, or cut them off. Severing results in death of the member (think here of the 41% transgender suicide attempt rate). Attachment to the body is vital to the life flow. The life flow, and structural things like bones and ligaments, aren’t effected by anything superficial or cosmetic. If it is true that God looks at the heart, maybe we ought to look deeper. If it is true that nothing can separate us from the love of God, why have we been severing away the less presentable members?
On a number of occasions over the years I’ve told homosexuals who visit our church they are welcome on one condition – that they remain open to God touching any area of their lives, including that area. And I made a promise in return, to not press the timing of God dealing with whatever He wants to deal with in their life.
Parents may retort; But Pastor Steve, there are children in the fellowship too, doesn’t this sow confusion? No. It sows no more confusion than any other disability in our midst. How hard is it to explain to our children that some people struggle and that we ought to love those people all the more? A little loving explanation and our kids go… Oh, okay– and head back out to play.
On several occasions over the years this issue has presented itself to me in the pastoral context. The Christian people struggling with this confide deep remorse and conflict at giving God the impression they are rejecting his handiwork, or insinutating that he made a mistake when he made them. My response has been God understands entirely, in fact better than we do. He’s not offended or mad about their ingratitude. The Father is a father.
When my son Thomas was a teenager I bought him a light blue electric guitar for his birthday. He was thankful but I could immediately tell he was disappointed. He didn’t like the color and I could tell by the look on his face. It bothered me for a few weeks and one day when he was at school I swapped it out for the red guitar he really wanted. I wasn’t offended in the least. My heart was for his happiness. My suggestion here is not that God says to the transgendered, “Oops, my bad. By all means get the red guitar.” My suggestion is that God is a Father and he understands this far better than we ever will. People who have gender reassignment surgeries haven’t cut themselves off from the Father’s love. This article is a plea that the Church would reconsider whether this community should be treated as a severed member.
The Christian Hope for the transgendered is right up front in verses 12-13… Christ’s bringing together of separated parts (Jew/gentile, Male/Female), offering humanity wholeness and congruence again, and his Body being a community of inclusion where people are valued, indeed indispensable.
Could this mean the transgendered person has much to contribute and teach us? Isn’t the text saying the entire body becomes disabled if we cut them off? The Christian hope for the transgendered is not in a series of procedures that fixes all their problems. It is Christ and his new Body.
When Kristen and I were young parents we’d look around at some empty nesters who raised great kids and wondered what they did right.
Now we are those empty nesters and by the grace of God we couldn’t be prouder of our kids. They certainly aren’t perfect or without challenges and struggles, but one of the questions we get on occasion these days is:
What did you do to get three kids out of their teenage years with their faith intact?
These are some of our thoughts related to that question.
- It takes God to raise Godly kids. God has always been central in our lives and we weren’t shy about being dependent on Him for strength and forgiveness and parenting strategies and graces and patience. We prayed with them every day. Every day I sent them to school and told them to have a “good and Godly day.” One million times each I told them about the wide and the narrow road.
- Being faithful to God is the best gift you can give to your spouse. Being faithful to your spouse is the best gift you can give to your kids. Faithfulness in these two areas is far more important than anything else you could give or say to your kids, including spending time with them.
- Always remember, even God has prodigal children and He is the perfect parent.
- Every kid has free will and is unique. Their bad choices were on them, not us. We tried not to compare our kids with other kids.
- Every day brought temptation and attack. The devil wants our kids and spiritual warfare is daily for parents. We still war over our kids DAILY, over their health, their minds, their emotions, their DRIVING, their finances and choices, their hearts before the Lord, their futures and callings, and their (future) spouses.
- Every season passes. We went though rebellious seasons, a seizure disorder, debt and extra jobs with different shifts, bad grades, loss of grandparents, etc. Parenting is a marathon not a sprint. I remember Caleb getting suspended in GRADE SCHOOL for taking a scissors apart and making a sword. I thought he was showing his brilliance as a young warrior. His teacher in a conference with us couldn’t think of one thing to say when Kristen asked her to tell us something positive about our child. We were glad when next year came. Next year comes.
- Every “gate” has to be monitored – let the good in, keep the bad out; eye gate, ear gate, etc. We didn’t let darkness in our home; posters, video games, music, movies.
- Every Dad has a leading role to play in raising Godly kids. Parents today abdicate the Christian instruction of their kids to an hour with a Sunday school teacher each week, or to a Christian school. Not good.
- Every Mom has an intercessory authority. This I believe was our secret weapon for raising Godly kids.
- Every chance we talked about God and the Bible. We talked about big circle and little circle issues. Little circle is something the little brother did to them. Big circle are things like kids in war zones, human trafficking, suicide on the Rez. We tried to raise them in the big circle. When they’d fight about something insignificant, all I had to do was draw big circle in the air with my finger and it worked.
- Every trip we took at least one of them with us (mission trips take kids out of their little world and introduce them to God’s world. I’ve seen kids come home and even rebuke their parent’s materialism.) We still don’t do vacations. We do mission trips with our kids (they usually pay their own way). We have a ten-acre place which would be a great place for a ATV four-wheeler. Every time I wonder why we still don’t have one I remember it’s because we put our money into our mission trips together. If you can afford both, great. If not, guess which one will make an eternal difference in your kid’s lives. We saved to serve. In that we combatted any teenage sense of entitlement and modeled denying self.
- Every time, Mom and Dad were one. They didn’t even bother getting a second opinion or trying to play one of us off the other.
- Every meal in the evening we ate together.
- Every night we were home or at church together. Very little television, if any; usually a video if the day went well.
- Every trial we “huddled” up. Some thought we were too honest with our kids with the problems we were facing. We talked with them about what was going on. We asked them to pray for us. I don’t remember too many us versus them seasons. Most of the time the “us” included all of us facing our family challenges together.
- Every Sunday we were church. If you are hit and miss, they will be too. Here’s a quotable from Kristen: “Parents, if church isn’t your priority when they are little, it won’t be their priority when they are older.” We were steady in the same church through thick and thin. We’ve had more opportunities and reasons to leave our church in twenty years than perhaps anyone else. But we tried to bloom where we were planted and learned to love and be faithful to people. Sometimes we ask ourselves what that taught our kids that will make them different than the kids of church hoppers.
- I prayed our kids wouldn’t be popular at school. I learned this as a youth pastor. It’s not that I didn’t want them to have friends. It’s just that the influence of peers is uber-strong and popularity is a trap no matter what age you are.
- Mom and Dad were on the same page with God, equally yoked spiritually.
- Looking back we wonder if we hadn’t shifted away from traditional or denominational Christianity if our kids would have “dried up.” This isn’t to say we didn’t pass on a rooted faith. In fact, some of our favorite excursions were to the graves of saints and sites of Church history. We exposed them to God’s superheroes. We showed them the book of Revelation was way better than Harry Potter.
- The move of the Holy Spirit in our church came at the right time for our family. Conferences in Colorado Springs and Kansas City put our kids in the middle of a move of God in this young generation. Countless times they’ve been in stadiums full of believers and in strategic prayer meetings and sacred assemblies in various places. God touched them in these places and marked them.
- We made college decisions based on ministry callings not career callings.
- Extracurricular activities – sports, dance, hunting – all took a distance second place to church. One sport, no Sundays/Wednesdays. We didn’t let them drive or have cell phones until they were sixteen. It didn’t kill them. The sky didn’t fall.
- “Family” included church and church people. We notice people today put family and family time first and wonder later why their kids wander spiritually. Christ is encountered in the communion of saints. Pastor Dennis was there the night my dad was killed. My kids see Pastor Dennis today as a surrogate grandpa.
- Every “screw up” is forgivable. Nothing they do or don’t do is a deal breaker with regard to your relationship with them. Our kids knew they couldn’t do anything to get us to love them less. Be steady to them even when they aren’t to you or to God.
By the way, some of the things listed here came from our kids as we asked them this week why they are hungry for the Lord when many pastor kids fall away. It is never too early or too late to start some of the things listed here. God can redeem the years the locusts have eaten. There is a grace.
My friend Bob Smietana wrote this article in USA Today called Pastors Seek To End War On Drugs By Decriminalizing Use. Basically, Rev. Edwin Sanders pastor of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville and other clergy are wanting to decriminalize drug use. The article ends with this comment from Pastor Sanders:
“God does not care if you smoke weed…. God is not that petty.”
The comment raises an interesting question: Is God petty?
Well,,, if he’s not, then he’s not HOLY. I know what God says about obeying laws. I know he knows better than we do that there are more negatives for society than positives with pot. For sure what’s best for society comes before what’s best for any individual. We know what God would say about coming under the influence of anything but the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine God saying it’s ok to get high. If that makes him petty, sorry.
My sense is that a glimpse at the holiness of God would reveal many things we presently think are no big deal. It’s a false grace message to say God only cares about the big sins and that you are ok with him as you are. The Cross was too severe and unnecessary if God isn’t petty. Is your wife being petty because she won’t let you whistle at other women?