It is possible to be a Values Conservative

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Because of the effective take-over of the Republican Party by the Trumpians, and similar developments in several other countries, I find it necessary to state clearly:

It is possible to be a values conservative without becoming a right wing crazy.

It is possible to be a values conservative without supporting attempts to overturn election results, violent attacks on the institutions of government, or the fomenting of civil unrest.

It is possible to be a values conservative and a Christian without being a “Christian nationalist” of the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Trumpians in the US, or Victor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Europe.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not turn a blind eye to the suffering of refugees from war zones or famine-stricken countries.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not oppose government aid to the disadvantaged in our own countries.

It is possible to be a values conservative who rejects abortion as a birth control method but who recognizes that there are legitimate exceptions to a total ban and wants these enshrined in the relevant laws.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not oppose, but indeed supports, comprehensive universal healthcare with needs-based public financing.

It is possible to be a values conservative who supports reasonable gun control – at the very least a ban on private ownership of military grade weapons beginning with assault rifles.

It is possible to be a values conservative who believes churches and religious believers should be able to follow their understanding of human nature, sexuality, and marriage while at the same time respecting democratic decisions concerning broader definitions of civil marriage.

There are probably other aspects I can think of right now; but my main point is that it is possible to be a values conservative without being a right-wing nutter.

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What is “the worst”??

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According to this article  in the Roys Report,

The 47-year old lead pastor of an evangelical church in Wiconsin was arrested after soliciting a sex act with an underage girl. …

“These arrests demonstrate that the market for juvenile commercial sex is not confined to limited segments of society,” said Washington County attorney Kevin Magnuson. “The buyers come from all walks of life and each are responsible for the tremendous harm to the victims, their families and the public that sex trafficking causes.” …

“It’s a sad thing,” said the church’s associate pastor. “This is a lose-lose scenario for the community and the people impacted by it. The worst thing is what this will do to his family — and the church family.”

Unfortunately this associate pastor’s perspective is all too common in churches across the denominational spectrum.

No sir, the worst is notwhat this will do to his family — and the church family”, but what this sort of thing does to the victims of sex trafficking and to the testimony of the Lord’s church, and that is where our focus should be, not on the perpetrator’s family and congregation (however painful and devastating this no doubt is for them), nor on the reputational and legal problems that may cause the local church and/or denomination.

 

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Quo Vadis, America?

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In a recent Facebook discussion on the subject of “Christian nationalism” a commenter said, 

“I sometimes feel we have an attitude that because we do it better than most, we don’t need to make changes. When you believe you are the best, why make changes??”

This was my response, slightly expanded here, which gave me no pleasure to write:


As an Austrian who grew up in a home built with Marshall Plan funds and and who was fully aware that without US involvement in WWII my country would likely be living under either Hitler’s or Stalin’s terror regime, and who therfore used to be an uncritical fan of the US in my youth; as one who was socialized and formed as an Evangelical Christian by American missionaries, spent almost five years living in the US working for a Christan ministry, and still has many dear friends in and from the US, but who now is thoroughly disillusioned with both American society/politics and the American church, I would say the attitude you describe is wrong on two counts:

  1. Of course you need to make changes. Even the best can always do and be better.
  2. But you don’t actually do it better than most. Let’s see:
    • You are almost the worst at controlling violent crime, largely due to a ludicrous misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment to your constitution;
    • You may have some of the best (and best-equipped) doctors and medical facilities but you are pretty worse than most industrialized nations at providing equal and equitable healthcare access and funding to all;
    • You are a leader in technological research who sends people into space and spends tons of money on your military, but your power grid and road network and telephone network are in deplorable condition;
    • Your education system leaves most of its graduates shackled by debt for many years;
    • Your society is hopelessly polarized and your politics controlled by the extremes of the left and the right:
      • The Democrats are dominated by a destructive “progressive” agenda which seeks to deconstruct human nature as essentially male and female and plays with identity politics which divides rather than unites the country;
      • The GOP is under the thumb of a serial adulterer and liar who has brought the country to the brink of political collapse and possibly civil war and whose followers know only law and order but not mercy and compassion;
    • Vast swathes of the American church, instead of being a prophetic witness speaking truth to power, have got into bed with either the political left or the political right, championing their respective agendas and favouring the separation of church and state only when it suits them while trying to push their own agenda on the state when that suits them.

I could go on, but this is enough to show why in a very real sense you do it worse than most in so many areas that the meaning of American exceptionalism has become inverted, and why there is definitely room (and a desparate need) for change.


It pains me especially that many churches and leaders in my own Evangelical tradition have, in an extreme and especially bizarre form of supersessionism, appropriated the Jewish people’s status as God’s uniquely chosen people not just for the church (bad enough in view of Romans 9–11) but for the United States, claiming the promises made to Israel but disregarding most of the responsibilities such as caring for the poor and welcoming strangers. At the same time they uncritically support the State of Israel as an actor in and venue of their favourite end time scenario but have little use and sympathy for Jews as a people.

So the question posed in the title of this post is a very real one: unless the American nation and the American church drastically change direction, and do so soon, I fear for their future.

 


The cover image appeared here. The editor of e-International Relations could not find any licensing information so I decided to use it. If anyone claims copyright I will of course remove it.

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Biblical? Christ-Like?

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(I borrowed this text from Craig Greenfield)

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah (representing the Prophets and the Law of the OT). (Mt 17:1-9)

God’s command is “This is my son, Listen to him!”

In this powerful moment,
with these powerful words,
Jesus is lifted above and beyond all other teachers
and all other parts of scripture.

This is why we must read the Bible though the lens of the life and teachings of Jesus.

This is why Jesus can dare to say, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye (in Exodus 21:23), but I say to you, Love your enemies”

This is why we seek,
not to be Biblical,
but to be Christlike.

Note from Wolf: I am fully aware that this hermeneutical principle can be (and has been) distorted and abused. That doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And I know one can argue about the word “biblical” in the meme above, but I think readers of good will know what is meant.

And finally, a common temptation seems to be to read all Scripture not through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings, but rather through the lens of that image of Christ we have constructed in our own head.

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

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The Easter Anthems from the Anglican Liturgy
1 Corinthians 5.7b, 8; Romans 6.9–11; 1 Corinthians 15.20–22 (ESV)

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival,
  not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
  but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Christ, being raised from the dead,
  will never die again;
  death no longer has dominion over him.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all,
  but the life he lives he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin
  and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
  the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For as by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
  and to the Holy Spirit;
  as it was in the beginning is now
  and shall be for ever. 
Amen.

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Pastor, What Were You Thinking?

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This post was prompted by three different things I came across in my reading in the past two days.

I am borrowing the title for this post from an article by Joe McKeever in Christianity Today’s ChurchLeaders website which I read yesterday. He lists a number of missteps by unidentified pastors which reflect well-publicized real-life events of recent months and years, and which resulted in an end to the ministry, career, and often the marriage of the pastor concerned, and in each case asks the poignant question, “Pastor, what were you thinking?”

Then during a period of insomnia very early this morning I came across Facebook posts and discussion threads from Australian friends which posted media reports first hinting at some major scandal breaking at Hillsong Church and then reporting on an all staff meeting at the church where the lead pastor revealed two incidents of inappropriate behavior by Hillsong founder Brian Houston:

  • Ten years ago a Hillsong staffer quit her job after Houston sent her a series of inappropriate, sexually suggestive text messages; Houston acknowledged that he was at fault and when the staffer had trouble finding a new job apparently personally paid her two months’ salary. 
  • Two years ago, at Hillsong’s annual conference, a group of conference attendees, including Houston, were in the bar drinking after the evening program. All of them seem to have been drinking too much, and Houston was also taking anxiety tablets at the time. When he went to go to his room he couldn’t find his key and knocked the door of another room where a woman was staying who was also drunk.  The woman has not accused Houston of anything, and Houston says nothing of a sexual nature happened, but Houston spent 40 minutes in the room of a woman other than his wife. This incident was investigated both under the auspices of Hillsong’s global board and then also by the church’s elders, and Houston was told to take three months off from ministry. He failed to abide by that instruction and also seems to have continued drinking alcohol.

The original Facebook post by my Australian friend talked of a scandal “worse than you can imagine”, and the ensuing discussion which focused mostly on the second, more recent, incident revolved around such things as whether “worse than you can imagine” was an accurate characterization of these two incidents; whether the reports were even true, whether Christians should post such reports, the lack of accountability on mega churches,  etc. What was notable by its absence in this discussion by Christians was any sense of scandal or outrage at the mere fact of Christian conference participants, including church leaders, getting drunk at the conclusion of a day focused, presumably, on issues of spiritual growth and other topics pertaining to the Christian life.

The final piece that inspired me to write this post was this piece in the Daily Mirror about a woman in the UK’s Greater Manchester area who, having had quite a lot to drink at a birthday party and after a discussion of the war in Ukraine, had the bright idea to try and book an Uber for a ride to Ukraine, so that, in case the UK should get involved in the war and her military boyfriend was deployed there, she could join him. Fortunately for her the booking didn’t go through because her credit card company refused the £4500 charge due to insufficient funds.

All of this caused me to reflect on the problem of drunkenness. 

I have  two confessions to make:

  • I enjoy a glass of wine or two with or after a meal, or just sitting around with friends, and I have my glass of Kräuterlikör or Southern Comfort most evenings to help me go to sleep.[1]
  • I have never gotten drunk. Not because of moral probity or because of religious or spiritual convictions, but because I am deathly afraid of what foolish things I might do if I lost control of my mind and my will.

So, on the one hand I do not look at this woman in the UK or at Brian Houston or others in my immediate circle of family and acquaintances who do on occasion drink too much with a sense of “holier than thou” but rather with pity and incomprehension, echoing Joe McKeever’s question, “What in the world were you thinking?”

On the other hand I wonder what the lack of outrage at the idea of drunkenness at a Christian conference says about our Christian subculture.

For the past ten years and until the Covid-19 pandemic and my own health issues put a stop to it I regularly attended a twice-yearly Christian conference where, after the evening meeting, we would gather for fellowship over a glass of wine or a beer; but I have never seen anyone get drunk on those occasions, and I cannot imagine the conference organizers tolerating it had it happened. So I am rather puzzled by the situation which resulted in Houston’s drunken incident: both that this group was drinking so much, and also that in discussing the incident on Facebook,  commenters from a variety of Christian traditions all seemed to focus on Houston’s 40 minutes in that room, but didn’t seem fazed by the idea of a group of Christian conference participants getting drunk together. The question I would like to ask the conference organizers, as well as the commenters, is, “What in the world were you thinking?”

It seems pretty clear to me that in all of these situations the answer is: people were not thinking, or if they were, it wasn’t with the brain God has given them for the purpose.

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  1. Unlike most Austrians I don’t drink beer; I just never acquired the taste[]
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Consecration to the “Immaculate Heart of Mary”?

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The Catholic News Agency reports that on March 25 Pope Francis will consecrate the Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,  and in another article explains what exactly this means.

In recent decades many Protestant denominations have abandoned, revised or relativized essential aspects of the Christian faith as attested by the Bible. This, together with the emergence of renewal movements within the Catholic Church whose spirituality is very close to that of evangelical Christians, has led to an increasing approachment between the Catholic Church and the Evangelical movement, with the realization that our two traditions can at least both recite the ancient creeds[1] without reservation.

As an Evangelical with Roman-Catholic roots, and with both family and many friends in the Catholic Church this planned act saddens me because it underlines the major disagreements which still divide our traditions.

In view of what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says about the cloud of witnesses which surrounds us[2] even as an Evangelical I don’t have too many problems with the notion of asking the saints, i.e. believers who have preceded us in earthly death and whom the Church recommends to us as examples of a faithful Christian life, for their intercession; this does not seem too different to me from the practice common among us Evangelicals of asking for the intercession of believers who still live among us.

But I cannot find any support or justification in Scripture for a piety focussed on the saints which credits them, including the mother of the Lord, with miracles; which considers prayers to the saints more efficacious than prayers to God himself; and I particularly cannot find any justification for consecrating people or countries to anyone other than God himself. As far as I can see this skates perilously close to the line between honoring  exemplary men and women on the one hand, and worshipping God on the other; a line which, when crossed, results in idolatry. And we have not yet even addressed whether the heart of Mary is indeed immaculate (sinless) when Scripture clearly suggests otherwise[3].

I find this planned act all the more regrettable as we have come together during the pandemic to pray across denominational boundaries for our countries, both in Germany (Deutschland betet)) and Austria (Österreich betet gemeinsam), and are just coming to the end of a week of Europe-wide, cross-denominational prayer for peace in Ukraine and Russia (Europe prays together). This act will break this unity: some will commend these two countries to God himself, while others will commend them to the mother of Jesus, as if she were on a par with the Trinity.

And this act suggests something else: that in the Catholic Church the supposed revelation of Mary in Fatima has primacy over the revelation of God in Scripture.

Sad.

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  1. even if reciting the creed is not a standard part of most evangelical worship services[]
  2. Heb. 12:1[]
  3. Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-12[]
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Ukraine Invasion: Idle Speculation

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In the days since the beginning of Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine I have come across some comments from fellow Christians which leave me scratching my head. I want to address two ideas from these comments.

The End Times Scenario

This is the idea that the war in Russia is part of the scenario for the End Times predicted in the Bible, and that therefore it is (a) fruitless and (b) contrary to God’s will for us to pray for an end to that war. It’s been prophesied, it’s happening, and there is no point praying.

Folks, that is cynical, unbiblical, un-Christian nonsense!

Scripture tells us that God does not desire the death of the sinner; it tells us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that we should be peace makers. And while we should always be prepared and ready for Christ’s return we are to avoid idle speculations about its timing.

Therefore it is never wrong to pray for an end to war, suffering, poverty, etc; rather, it is the sacred responsibility of all who claim to be Jesus followers.

What God does in response to our prayers, how He hears and answers them, is another question; but there is no doubt that we may and should pray—and help in practical ways as we are able.

The God’s Punishment Scenario

Some Christians have advanced the idea that Putin’s invasion is God’s punishment for the Ukraine’s liberal abortion legislation and the many unborn children who die there every day – and who are we to pray against God’s punishment?

I think that is selfrighteous nonsense, a private interpretation which cannot be justified either biblically or by other facts.

For one thing, many more abortions are taking place in Russia than in Ukraine; for another, both countries have inherited their abortion legislation from the Soviet Union where laws were not arrived at democratically, by any stretch of the imagination.

Our “western” countries, on the other hand, are democratically moving to ever more “liberal” laws, not only regarding abortion but also assisted suicide and euthanasia.

So, if there is a country that has deserved such drastic punishment from God, it is hardly Ukraine; and proclaiming some catastrophic event a punishment from God is not only arrogant but also contravenes the biblical injunction not to judge.

And Putin as the defender of Christian values is a truly perverse notion.

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“Complete” Creedal Formulae?

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Yesterday, First Things magazine published a “Web Exclusive” by Theopolis Institute president, Peter Leithart, entitled Theology Is Not Archeology, He describes today’s impressive and edifying attempts by theologians to recover, explain, and defend traditional creedal and theological formulae, doing away with arrogant caricatures of pre-modern theology and revealing its impressive subtlety.

It is great article, with one caveat.

Quoting from the article:

Having retrieved with all possible care, theologians must reflect on what they have retrieved, and be willing to criticize and refine hallowed creedal and confessional formulae if they are … incomplete …

Retrieval is a theological good, but there must be life beyond retrieval.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Peter Leithart intended this, but the suggestion that creedal formulae must be complete implies that theology is valid only insofar as it penetrates every mystery, or to the extent that nothing remains hidden from it so  it can come up with complete formulations of truth. It ignores the fact that while God is infinite we are but finite, which in turn implies that anything we say or think about God will not completely do justice to His reality.

Of course theology must be more than archeology, of course there must be theological life beyond retrieval, but that life can and must include the recognition that we can only know about God what He has revealed to us, and that while we live this side of eternity, this revelation, and thus our theological formulae, have gaps; that whatever we have learned about and experienced of God, we need to hold in an open hand, knowing that it is likely incomplete.

As St. Paul says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12 CSB)

 

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Christians persecuted in Germany …

... just as in Communist Romania!

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(Sorry, video is in German only)

These parents, Camelia and Petru Furdui from Romania, who now live in Walsrode in northern Germany, must feel themselves transported to their homeland during the time of Communism which they probably only know from their own parents’ stories –but they are living in that model member state of the European Union, Germany!

On April 26, 2021 local Child Protective Services removed their seven children, David, Naomi, Estera, Natalia, Ruben, Albert, and Lea from their care without advance warning and placed them with foster families and in children’s homes. At that point Lea was just over a year old; she recently celebrated her second birthday without her parents and siblings.

After the initial reason given for this drastic measure, an accusation of child abuse, proved to be without basis in fact, the new charge now is that the children’s religious upbringing (the parents are members of a Pentecostal church) is “out of step with the values of the majority society.” A charge like that is clearly a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and of the right to bring up one’s children. The “Basic Law”, the German constitution, says in Article 6,

(2) The care and upbringing of children is the natural right of parents and a duty primarily incumbent upon them. The state shall watch over them in the performance of this duty.

(3) Children may be separated from their families against the will of their parents or guardians only pursuant to a law and only if the parents or guardians fail in their duties or the children are otherwise in danger of serious neglect.

An upbringing that is “out of step with the values of the majority society” is conspicuously absent as a legitimate reason for separating children from their parents.

Of course one may wonder whether this description of events by the parents Furdui corresponds to the facts, or whether there’s not more to the story — after all, CPS are usually very circumspect when it comes to the removal of children. In this context I note with interest that when one googles “Furdui Walsrode” there are dozens of media reports, mostly from secular media in fact, which bascically tell the same story as the Furduis. I find it hard to believe that no secular journalist could find a legitimate reason for removing those children — if such a legitimate reason were to in fact exist.

Based on other reports about the treatment of Christian parents by German authorities and about the causes of conflicts between Christian immigrants to Germany and the German school system and CPS a very likely scenario would involve one or more of the Furdui school children speaking up in school against some of those values of the majority society which in German schools are increasingly being communicated across the curriculum, such as the full equivalence and legitimacy of all sexual inclinations and expressions. Combined with the immigrant status of the Furdui family I can see CPS taking such action, for examle after a complaint by the school about those maladjusted immigrant children.

And after all, this buzz phrase about being out of step with the values of the majority society fits in very well with this scenario, coming as it does about from a segment of academia which equates conservative Christianity with fundamentalist Islam and paints the horror scenario of parallel societies which the state has to combat.

Mind you, I am not even imputing malicious intent to the CPS officials. In the modern, “progressive” view religion is not just unnecessary, but many aspects of a traditional Christian view of mankind and the world are considered wrongheaded and even immoral (such as the insistance of lifelong marriage between one man and one woman, the disapproval of sex before or outside of such marriage, the condemnation of abortion, the insistance that men and women cannot be arbitrarily exchanged and that a person cannot change his or her sex (or “gender”) at will, etc.). And children have to be protected from wrongheaded and immoral opinions. However, Germany claims to be a country governed by democratically defined laws, and in such a country the standard for measuring the legitimacy of any government action has to be the law, not officials’ individual sense of morality.

If you want to contribute to the family’s legal costs, please use this GoFundMe link.

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