You know, some people on both sides may not like what I’m about to say, and I’ll probably get a lot of heat, but whatever. I believe it with every fiber of my being.

Christians need to be standing with homosexuals right now. Not for a “right” to “marry” (which I do not feel exists, or should). Why? Because, believing as I do that most homosexuality stems from a lot of darkness and pain in the life of an individual (from a host of causes), I equally believe that the Gospel, and those who bear it, are here to reach out to broken people, no matter the sin, for we ourselves are broken people redeemed by nothing but God’s good graces! We are no better! I know there are wonderful exceptions, but often times, I feel the worst for homosexuals who are stuck between a rock and a hard place: the rock being a church that too often wants to avoid real talk about real life issues, and would rather be in happy Jesus land (a false Jesus, in a made-up fantasy world, not the one we live in), and the hard place being a world that doesn’t have a clue about its own sexual brokenness, and seeks to justify it in any way it can. We have people in the church who act like homosexuality is worse than any other sin (how convenient for them!), who refuse to exist in genuine relationship with one another (thus shielding themselves from the darkness and pain so many of their Christian brothers and sisters carry, and are afraid to reveal for fear of rejection), and thus perpetuate the darkness they are so willing to attack in the public square, but so unwilling to lovingly confront in private, where it really counts. We have guys in the church so willing to throw around the word “homo” and “gay” and “fag” as an epithet, completely unaware (and don’t really care?) about the damage they are doing, and machos that condemn homosexuals, but sleep around, watch pornography, and all sorts of other things. Is it any wonder we have a world that is so utterly confused on this subject? Homosexuals are made into this almost un-redeemable, “weird,” disgusting class of people by too many “Christian” (who have forgotten their own filthy rags; Isaiah 64:6) and I am tired of it. I am also tired of a world trying to foist this indefensible definition of “marriage” onto all of society.

I cannot affirm the homosexual agenda not because I hate homosexuals. Quite the contrary. I have seen too many men and women who have been so hurt in their pasts (sexual abuse/experiences, absent fathers and mothers, family breakup, etc.), and so unsure of how to deal with it that homosexuality is the way they turn for love and affection, a universal human desire, but misdirected. I cannot affirm the homosexual agenda because my heart aches for these people and I want better for them, not because I hate them. God forbid. But I also cannot stand with those who self-righteously act as if homosexuality is beyond redemption (maybe not with their words, but by their actions). If they know Jesus, they know Him only superficially. Nothing is beyond His reach, His power, His love, or His care. But the same Jesus who extends His loving hand no matter what calls ALL of us to “sin no more” (John 8:11). He came to seek and find THE LOST (Luke 19:10), not sing Kum-By-Ya with everyone and leave them comfortable in their sin, but show them a better way, to bring us back to our Creator Father and His wonderful purpose and plan for our lives. He calls all of us to repent, so we have no excuse (John 15:22). He has told us the state of our heart. We either listen to Him and follow, or we don’t. Jesus can’t just be a “good guy” who doesn’t care about the sin we each have. That’s why He came! You think a guy who dies on a cross to bear the weight of sin doesn’t think sin is a big deal? None of us has a right to embrace our sin because that is “who we are.” Jesus disagrees, but offers to show us who we are really are, and to adopt us into the family of God. We all need to take it or leave it.

To all my gay friends, I do not say homosexuality is okay, but I love you to pieces, and I’ve got my own crap in my own life that I desperately need God for. I’d love to get to know you better, and while I’d love for you to know about Jesus, I’ll love you regardless of how you feel about Him. You are welcome here, who you are, your opinions, and everything else.

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Ever since I can remember, I have been a “Conservative” politically.  I have believed in lower taxes, a smaller government, national defense, traditional marriage, protection of human life in the womb, and any and all other tenets typically associated with this political philosophy known as “Conservatism.”

But my thinking has been adjusting quite a bit as of late.  Do I reject any of these things?  Up until this point, you might have been expecting me to say “yes,” but I actually believe in them far more deeply.  So what has changed?  Why not remain a Conservative?  Or perhaps a better question, how can you believe these things and not be a Conservative?

I can’t answer all of these all at once, and this will be the first of many posts on this subject, so forgive my somewhat general answer for now.  Also, please indulge me in this somewhat longer post, as it is necessary in order to accurately reflect on a topic of great, but not often discussed importance.

I am no longer a Conservative because I believe that one of the single most powerful forces in the creation, dissemination, and sustaining of any idea are the words which are used to describe and define it.  After receiving the declaration from King George III that the American colonies were in rebellion, Samuel Adams noted to a friend in January 1776: “How strange do the tools of a tyrant pervert the plain meaning of words!”

How insightful and prescient for our time!  For the student of history, it becomes clear that the beginning of all tyranny is not in a certain government action or policy, not the rise of one power or another, but in words, in ideas.  The Holocaust did not begin in Auschwitz, or even at the Wansee Conference at which it was designed.  No, the Holocaust had its unofficial beginning the moment a Jew was labeled a “sub-human,” untermenschen in the original German, and it was accepted.  This became “The Final Solution.”  Communism was not born with the Russian Revolution of 1917, but once people accepted the notion of an endless and historical “class war” as a fact, a “fact” which laid hold of their imaginations, their affections, and their purpose.  This became “The Workers’ Paradise.”  The slaughter of tens of millions of people in Maoist China was intended as an extension of the already accomplished Chinese Revolution, and became “The Great Leap Forward.”

Does anyone see a trend here?  Each and every one of these tyrannies, arguably the greatest the world has ever known (purely in terms of number of deaths they caused) labeled their evil as something which was ultimately a great good, a solution, a paradise, a leap forward.  Fascinating, isn’t it, how such nice sounding words could be used to justify some of history’s greatest crimes?  And apparently some people accepted such words, because some man named Adolf doesn’t get a Holocaust on his own, nor a Lenin or a Stalin a gulag archipelago on their own.  And being named “Mao” certainly doesn’t guarantee that you can slaughter 60 million people either.  No, each of them had followers, because before any of their crimes became real, they were first ideas which captured the imagination, and all too often, sometimes the best of intentions of their followers.

As a Christian, the importance of words is even more profound and undeniable.  By His word, God created the universe.  By His word, He performs many miracles, signs, and wonders.  By His word, He directs the affairs of nations, and the course of history.  He sent prophets to the nation of Israel to proclaim His words to His people.  Perhaps most importantly, for our sake, is that by His word, He has saved us by the sacrifice of Christ at the Cross.  Christ Himself was called the Word, and it was that word which expressed to the world God’s indescribable love.  How can anyone accept the Gospel unless he first hears it, and in hearing it, is it not words that he hears first, which only then become beliefs?  Has a belief ever preceded the words to describe it?  Did the universe precede the words by which God made it?  The Bible is clear and unequivocal: words matter, and should be of great concern.

So what on earth does that all have to do with us “Conservatives”?  Quite I bit I would say.  Let’s look at our own day: the destruction of marriage is justified under the guise of “equality.”  The justification for all sorts of sexual perversion is labeled as “liberation.”  A fundamentally unfair tax code (for the rich and poor alike) is justified as necessary for everyone to pay their “fair share.”  All new taxes are re-termed as “revenue” (confusing actual result with intention).  The systematic divorce of any religious or otherwise supernatural thought from human life is labeled “education.”  The elevation of a right to murder an unborn child has been enshrined under the guise of our Constitution as being the expression of a position which is “pro-choice.”  And to top it all off, this is all advanced under the all-too-comforting word “Progressive.”

Who among us, might I ask, is against equality?  Who is against liberty?  Who is against everyone paying their fair share?  Who is against education?  Who is against the individual having choices?  And who on this celestial globe is against progress?

The answer in the vast majority of cases is “no one.”  But, clearly that depends on one’s definition of all of these terms, and clearly, the “Progressive” definition of these terms amounts to complete and utter distortions of their meaning and how they should be used.  And yet, somehow millions have been convinced by these words.  Oh how strangely do the tools of would-be tyrants pervert the plain meaning of words!

So what do we see is the definition of “Conservative”?  A quick glance at the Dictionary brings up these definitions: “Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc…cautiously moderate…traditional in style of manner…avoiding novelty.”  In addition to this proper definition, the term “Conservative” has cultural baggage which often times equates it with “old and/or old-fashioned…white…status quo,” etc.  The problem is, these definitions do not describe my beliefs, political or otherwise.  If you are a “Conservative,” do they describe yours?

Perhaps more importantly, the term “Conservative” has become a purely political term, nothing more.  That is perhaps its Achilles Heel.  If history teaches us anything, it teaches that politics, its practices, its players, its institutions, is downstream from culture.  Too often, people do not arrive at political opinions via political reasons and/or principles, but by the values of the culture in which they live.  In other words, you cannot simply advocate a political position and expect people to accept simply because it is factual, logical, and works.  It has to be convincing to the values of the culture.  The American system of ordered liberty did not arise in any other area of the globe because few other places had a culture in which the required worldview was present, one which believed in liberty, yes, but a liberty guided by knowledge and virtue.  But notice where the change happened: in the definition of words.  Somewhere along the line, “liberty” was stripped of the values of knowledge and virtue, and thus stripped, has taken on a completely different character.  Taking this into account, a “Conservative” cannot possibly hope to achieve their goals for our country by simply keeping to politics, but this is precisely what a “Conservative” has become: someone who holds a certain set of political opinions.

Let me illustrate my point with regard to the importance of culture: I debated a “pro-choice” friend of mine once, and when it came down to it, and as he had no problem admitting, he was ultimately pro-choice because he felt that if he wanted to have unprotected sex and have the “full experience,” he shouldn’t have to worry about having a kid.  He did not arrive at this position through political persuasion or principle, but quite literally through his penis.  He had accepted the values of this hyper-sexual culture of ours, applied them to his life, felt they were to his advantage, and obligingly proceeded to adjust his political opinions accordingly.  Don’t tell me we just have to win elections.

So, we have the two parts in place: words, and culture.  How does this add up to a rejection of the word “Conservative”?  Here’s how: we cannot achieve our goals unless we utilize the immense power of words to our advantage by accurately and convincingly portraying our ideas, and we cannot achieve our goals through politics alone, since politics is downstream from culture, and our goals are far more than just political goals, but goals which aim to improve human life.  “Conservative,” therefore, not only implies the wrong things (status quo, old-fashioned, etc.), but also applies to the wrong things (just politics).

Now, some will say “But ‘Conservative’ in the way I mean means ‘to conserve something.’”  Fine and dandy, but I got news for you gang: I don’t like that either.  That strikes at only one aspect of what I previously called “Conservatism,” namely the actual values, principles, etc. of our movement.  It says nothing about how to maintain them.  It says where you need to be, but not how to get there.  It’s like a Christian saying “you need to love them,” and refusing to model how to do it.  To say you believe in “conserving something,” and then only go about that in a political way merely reinforces the preaching of politics, when politics has never been the source of our problems, only a result of our problems, which then brought even more problems.  Our Founders recognized this clearly: before they even got to politics or putting together our Constitution, they had to recognize the one basic fact of all human culture, and that is that it is fallen and flawed.  For being the people who supposedly value the Founders, why is this so difficult for us to get?

It’s all wonderful if we agree on that which needs to be conserved, but not when we have no idea on how to actually make that happen, and looking at the modern “Conservative” movement, you would think that politics is the only means to “conserve” that which we hold most dear, which is really not political at all.  Additionally, the words we use have an enormous impact on the thoughts we think and the actions we perform.  Perhaps it is just me, but “to conserve something” feels like a poverty-mindset.  It feels like it is being said by someone who is always on the defense, not that we shouldn’t be on occasion, but where on earth is our offense?  “To conserve something” sounds like the thought of a man who is worried because he is already in the process of losing everything else.  Does this not perfectly describe what so many of us who cherish “Conservative” beliefs have felt for a long time?  Is it more complicated than simply using the right word?  Yes, absolutely.  But to a certain extent, words cannot be divorced from reality, and we ourselves are suffering the consequences of that truth as we speak, as the best-sounding words are used to justify the growing tyranny of our time.  The word “Conservative,” when we actually look at it, has nearly nothing to do with either our values, or how we get those values in the culture.  On the latter question of culture, it falls silent and has nothing to say.  Only politics here.  There is very little inspiring in it, nothing to capture the imagination, and it is ill-equipped to intellectually combat the growing tide of tyrannical thinking in our culture.  Unfortunately, “Conservatism,” out of its abhorrence for the state whose reach has excelled its grasp, has found itself focusing on almost nothing else, and continually defines itself almost exclusively in political terms.  “We’re trying to save only what we were given!  We’re trying to save what we have left!”  No thanks, I’ve got better things to do.

I truly believe that in many ways, unless the “Conservative” movement gets a grip on some of these basic realities, it will not be in a position to capture the hearts and minds of the American people, let alone the people of the world, at this crucial time in our history.  It is lacking the first line of defense, and I would argue the first line of offense as well, particularly in an age of mass-marketing: the right words.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture where if you don’t get someone in the first few seconds, you too often don’t get them.  If you were ignorant of politics, and had no qualms with our current culture, which would you want to hear more about, “Conservative” or “Progressive”?

So, while there is far more to this fight than simply using the right words, using the right words is an essential first step.  So what word do I suggest?  What word do I think captures the reality that what we are talking about is not a set of stale, old-fashioned ideas, but eternal, powerful, and inspiring ideas?  What word do I think can be applied to both politics and culture, rather than just staying sequestered to politics?  What word do I think begs more questions from the listener, rather than make them feel they just heard the same-old-stuff, and uninteresting stuff at that?  What word is focused not just on preserving what it has been given, but adding to it and enhancing it?  What word do I think can help breath fresh new life into the cause of liberty?

REFORMIST.

So what is a “Reformist”?  We take a look at the Dictionary, we see it is “an advocate of reform.”  Already sounds far more interesting and thought-provoking than “Disposed to preserve existing conditions,” doesn’t it?  From the get-go, it is defined as standing up for something, advocating something, not just being against something else.  So we look at what “reform” is in the Dictionary: “The improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc.” which seems to only be possible if you actually believe there is a morally right, uncorrupt, and satisfactory alternative.  In an age where crisis seems to haunt us around every corner, where so many seemingly overwhelming problems exist in all realms of society, doesn’t this not only seem more attractive and inspiring, but far more accurately describe our actual positions and goals?

Additionally, as you saw with the definition, a “Reformist” is not confined to politics.  A “Reformist” recognizes that the “Progressive” welfare state cannot be fundamentally destroyed simply by defunding welfare programs, but by REFORMING the culture that gave birth to them in the first place.  A “Reformist” believes that we cannot possibly talk about fiscal discipline without REFORMING the monetary system, and the culture of credit and easy money which helped bring about its downfall in the first place.  A “Reformist” does not believe that abortion is ultimately ended by it being made illegal, but by REFORMING our culture in such a way that sex again becomes sacred, the family is valued, and children are seen as a blessing, not an obstacle.  A “Reformist” does not believe that all economic problems are solved by lowering taxes on the DC side of things, but that we ought to be REFORMING our society around us through our giving, our volunteering, our entrepreneurial efforts, and how we raise our families so that DC doesn’t have to constantly tax us more to supposedly solve the very same problems.

On, and on, and on, and on, we see that a REFORMIST is from the get go far more capable of innovative thinking, far more capable of thinking out of the box, far more capable of addressing not just politics but the culture which informs it, far more optimistic, and thus far more capable of being inspiring and capturing the imagination of the American people.  When you are simply trying to “conserve” something, you are automatically on defense before the game has even begun.  But our ideas are worth going on the offense for, and because they are true, noble, and eternal, there is an infinite number of ways they can be applied for the betterment of both individuals and society.  Because our words have so shaped our thinking in this way, we have too often missed the boat when it comes to defending the same eternal truth through sometimes completely different means in an ever-changing, dynamic culture.  In our current culture, a “Conservative” is the man who for all the right reasons is trying to save the family pictures from being destroyed in the house fire.  The “Reformist,” however, is not only the fireman trying to preserve (or “conserve” if you like) the house and the family inside it, but the construction contractor behind him to rebuild for them, the neighbor to comfort them, and the mentor/teacher/pastor/rabbi/etc. to teach them.  A “Conservative” only seems to be capable of being a President, a Supreme Court Justice, a Senator, or a Congressman.  A “Reformist,” on the other hand, can be all of those things, but also the businessman, the artist, the mentor and teacher, the banker and the street sweeper, the writer and the coffee barista.  We can no longer act as if we are “conserving” anything from the destructive forces of the state while at the same time almost completely focusing on that state.  To do so is to engage in the very idolatry which we say we abhor.

“Reformist” is our “Progressive,” but we actually mean it for good, and while we actually back it up with ideas that work, it also opens up avenues for new ideas on how to advance the same principles.  We’re not trying to beguile or coerce voters, we are trying to convince, persuade, and inspire them.  We’re about more than politics, we’re about culture, and we recognize that we will only see what we want in the former if we do the hard work of fostering the right things in the latter.  We’re about more than helping groups, we’re about enhancing quality of life for all.  We’re about far more than just the poverty-mentality of “conserving” what we have left, but the forward-looking mentality of making the world a better place by applying the eternal truths in new and innovative ways.  We’re not just about the rights in the Declaration of Independence, but the responsibilities which come with them and maintain them.  We’re all for the institutional separation of church and state, but affirm that a society which rejects God, religion, and morality is on a sure path to hanging itself, and destroying the very liberty it seeks to protect.  If you are a Christian, I affirm that while we should care about both, it should be of far greater concern to us that we are involved in raising up disciples, being a disciple ourselves, and discipling the culture which informs our political system rather than whether some politician in DC decides we shouldn’t say “Under God” anymore.  We’re not just about freedom, we’re about justice, from the most successful and prosperous among us, to the least fortunate.  We don’t want politicians in DC to be the only people espousing the doctrines of liberty, as if that will make it all better.  We want it proclaimed in our churches, our synagogues, our social clubs, our schools, our city halls, our art, our music, our movies, our buildings, our media, our websites, our books.  We want liberty proclaimed and lived in the halls of Congress, in the White House, in our Courts, but more importantly in our finances, in our economics, in our science, in our literature, in our relationships, in our organizations, in our sports, in our businesses, on Wall Street, on Main Street, in our universities, in our dance clubs, in our restaurants, our coffee houses, in our gated communities and in our slums.  The eternal truths are not compartmentalized.  They apply to all of life.  Liberty is not a political idea.  It is at its foundations a spiritual one which has political implications.  How then can we expect to maintain it by focusing only on mere politics?

“Conservative” is backward looking, “Reformist” is forward looking.  “Conservative” sounds, well conservative.  “Reformist” sounds positive, upbeat, interesting, and perhaps even inspiring.  “Conservative” is stuck in cultural mire from which it remains to be freed, and much of which is self-inflicted.  “Reformist” provides a more fresh start.  “Conservative” is dependent on the past generation.  “Reformist” beckons the rise of the next generation.  “Conservative” focuses incessantly on Washington DC.  “Reformist” starts with “We the People” first, you guys in DC second.  “Conservative” wants to preserve only what it has been given. “Reformist” wants to make it better, in-line with the eternal truths.  “Conservative” wants better social policy.  “Reformist” wants a better society.  It is not the Reformation of culture through politics, but the Reformation of both culture and politics, recognizing that you cannot reform the one without the other.

We don’t want to just “conserve” what we were given, but add to it, enhance it, and make it better.  In other words, we don’t want to change just our politics, but more importantly, we want to change our culture, and rebuild the foundations which make liberty not just possible, but sustainable.  Our goal is not simply better politicians and politics, but the better people and the better society which is only possible when man is free.

Congratulations.  If this is you, then you are a REFORMIST.

By Joshua Charles and Chandler Schmidt

Has anyone noticed that all the mass shootings in recent memory—Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now Newtown—have been carried out by young men?  We don’t consider that a coincidence.  While generalization from incidents to an entire culture can go too far, as two young men who know what it is like growing up in America, have dealt with our share of struggles, and have dedicated significant portions of our lives to helping our fellow young men find purpose and hope for the future, we’d like to offer some thoughts on what is happening to young men in America that we believe are relevant to these massacres.  The debate on gun control can wait.  What all of these mass shootings have made clear goes far deeper than guns, and to the question of what our culture teaches its young men.

What we as men in our early 20’s can say to you, our fellow citizens, is that unfortunately, Thoreau’s observation that “Most men live quiet lives of desperation” has become sadly all too common in our culture.  The statistics are familiar and sobering, but they basically boil down to this: young men are falling behind in education, the workforce, and most importantly, in their families.  More children than at any other time in our history are born out of wedlock, and miss out on that precious and essential security that comes from being born into a family in which your mother and father have already made an absolute commitment to love one another forever.  More and more boys feel less and less connected to their fathers, who too often live vicariously through their sons instead of teaching them how to live their own lives with integrity, character, and purpose.  Too often fathers emotionally neglect their children to a degree that they might as well not be there, and young boys are starved of the affection and selfless love from the one person who can give them the best kind they need, and when they grow up to be young men, they go looking to fill that void with all the wrong things, while finding themselves incapable of giving it themselves.  It is a heart-rending reality of our generation of guys that too many of us have never had “the talk” with our dads, but are familiar with pornography often times before we’re even teenagers.  Our culture—as heard in music, seen on television, and viewed on the internet, and too often without the aid of our dads to show us otherwise—teaches us how to sexually objectify women long before it teaches us how to respect and love them; it reduces violence to something which is cool and fun, rather than something which should be shunned, and only used to stand up for those that can’t stand up for themselves; it exalts the men who are either too macho to show love for fear of being weak, or too passive to care about anything in this life that really matters; and finally, it teaches us that morality is just a matter of opinion, so we should just do whatever seems like the most fun.  The most important thing about life is no longer being and doing the good, but YOLO (“You Only Live Once”).  The rule of the day is instant gratification, and the sense of living for something good and eternal has been lost.

And you know what?  Our generation has bought it all, and we’ve come up empty, desperately empty.  Too many of our young men live for nothing bigger than themselves, are depressed, don’t have a clue where they are going in life, or what it’s even about, and it is often for two simple reasons: they do not feel loved, and they lack the type of male mentorship only a father figure can give—the arm around the shoulder for encouragement, and the loving discipline that develops character.  Into this horrible vacuum, in a desperate search for meaning and contentment, flow the idols of our culture: drugs, sex, alcohol, and yes, violence, and we are seeing the evidence of it everywhere.

While the situation is complex, it starkly reveals some simple truths: we need fathers to be fathers, we need sons to feel like they are sons, and no matter which side of the political aisle we fall on, we need to realize that at the heart of solving this issue is not a new law, regulation, or government program.  The anguish and mental instability behind these massacres weren’t caused by guns.  Rather, we argue that it was a culture that treats matters of the soul with indifference or outright hostility, and then preaches its own substitutes, which bring only emptiness.  Our culture can no longer preach moral chaos and apathy and then act surprised when we see it on full display.  It’s about time that we adults grow up for the sake of those kids that now never will.

Joshua Charles is the co-author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Original Argument: The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st CenturyChandler Schmidt is a junior undergraduate electrical engineering student at the University of Kansas.  Both he and Joshua served as Presidents of their KU Chapter of Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX), a Christian fraternity.  They can be followed on Twitter at @joshuatcharles and @chanschmidt respectively.

I have had quite a few conversations with fellow Christians (interestingly enough, always initiated by them) in which the subject of Mitt Romney being Mormon comes up, and inevitably the question is asked “Should I vote for a Mormon?”

I will address this issue in two parts, the first focusing on the question of Mormonism as a theological question, the second focusing on Citizenship.

This is an issue on which I say here and now that I have no absolute claims to truth or being right.  I have my own thoughts, but I could very well be wrong.  If you think I am, let me know.  If you just want to attack, take your small mind elsewhere.

Mormonism

Let me cut to the chase: I do not have a problem with voting for a Mormon.  But of course, someone’s religious background, cannot be the only criteria by which I would decide to vote for or against someone.  Many a President has claimed to be Christian, and many of those who claimed most fervently this mantle of being “born again” I would have most fervently voted against.  Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton come to mind.  But as our current incumbent President is fond of saying, “Let me be clear”: my vote for the proverbial “other guy” (Reagan in ’80 and Bush in ’92) would have been based on policy concerns, and while more faith-oriented issues would certainly have played a role, this would have been my primary criteria for voting for them.  More on this in the second post.

I recently had a friend say something to the effect of “I’m considering voting for Obama because at least he’s a legitimate Christian, while Romney is a Mormon.”  This point bears a clarification on my part as well.  Do I consider a Mormon a Christian?  The answer is simply “I don’t know.”  I have serious issues with Mormon theology.  I do not believe it is a Biblically-based theology, and I do believe it is profoundly in error.  I do not believe it is what most people would call “Christianity,” if by “Christianity” you mean a bunch of theologically correct individuals.  You may ask, “Well then, how can you say ‘I don’t know’ when it comes to whether a Mormon is a Christian or not?”

The reason I can so emphatically say ‘I don’t know’ is because I not only don’t, but in many ways I can’t.  Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits.”  I have the additional problem (perhaps you do as well) of a legalistic flesh.  My flesh wants legalism, but of course applied to everyone else, not myself.  But the more we think about it, “You shall know them by their fruits” is pretty darn vague when it comes to answering the question all of us are too often too keen to pounce on: “Who is a real Christian?” by which we mean “Who actually is righteous in God’s eyes?”  It is usually far easier and more appropriate to identify those who are not.  Someone who is blatantly living a life of the flesh while claiming to be a Believer should be challenged in love.  We are called to do that.  But many of us go a step further: we not only want to challenge them on their sin, we want to be able to have a say in how they stand before God.  Somehow we always tip the balance in our favor and against others.  But when I look at the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, patience, etc. and while I see these characteristics exhibited in people who most of the time are Christian, sometimes they aren’t, and some of the best, at least in my experience, are Mormons.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone else believes they know your heart better than you do?  Additionally, have you ever been treated by someone else like they knew what is really going on in your heart, and they are so certain about it that they are unwilling to entertain the thought that they could be wrong?  Worse yet, have you been that person?  I can say that I have been on both sides, I have been the accuser and the accused.  Don’t get me wrong, if we think a friend or brother is having an issue, we often times (though not always) should approach them about it.  But when we claim to peer into another’s soul, we ought be very careful in claiming absolute righteousness in doing so, for only God see’s the heart, as is attested to so often in His Word.  Given this fact, we must be profoundly humble when it comes to the heart of another.  “But the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it?” I am so often told.  Fine.  Then don’t trust your deceitfully wicked heart, trust mine.  I’ll just assume you said “touché.”

So why do I bring this up?  The reason why, beyond the fact that it has come up in this election year, is because so often, other Christians will say to me “Well, Mormon’s only act so good (speaking generally) because their religion is works-based and they are just doing it to earn brownie points with God!”  Maybe so, maybe not.  God has said only He sees on the inside.  Only He can peer into the heart with utter clarity.  So is that oft said statement a logical conclusion?  Perhaps.  But how often is our world logical and reasonable, especially when it comes to human behavior?  So I submit to you the astounding thought that perhaps Jesus meant to accomplish two things when he said “You shall know them by their fruits.”  Perhaps he meant to be utterly clear on who was not a Disciple, and utterly ambiguous on who with absolute certainty was?  If this is the case, it certainly isn’t because Jesus Himself is confused as to the matter, but because He knows how utterly destructive we can and so often have been when we try to assume God’s mantle as judge and peer into the heart, pronounce sentence as expeditiously and carelessly as we so often do with others, and be that much more convinced of our own righteousness.  Oh how quickly we become what we hate!

I will go even further on the question of spiritual fruit and say what perhaps few who make this argument are willing to say: Mormons, regardless of motive or intent, are often times very effective at doing what the church ought to do.  In other words, I often see a great deal of the fruit Jesus spoke of.  There are incredible Christian ministries, leaders, churches, etc. all over the world who exhibit the same, but, speaking from my own experience, looking at a group of people as a whole, Mormons are quite impressive (I’m not in the comparison business).  Rarely have I seen a regular church congregation able to help a member out with their mortgage, or feeding their family during hard times.  Rarely do I see as strong of families so consistently abounding in a congregation.  Rarely do I see parents as attentive to the education and moral training of their children as among Mormons.

Now, before any of you get angry, thinking I’m implying that this must somehow be reflective of their theology, you have committed the same error as before.  No, none of these things justifies us before God.  None of them.  I believe in grace, and desperately need it myself.  Perhaps instead of anger, we should be convicted?  If we supposedly have the true Gospel of Grace on our side, then why are those we so often accuse of being part of a Cult often times out-doing us in terms of simple obedience?  I would say to you that a group who claims theological superiority and is grossly deficient in obedience is perhaps more cult-like than the opposite.  It is a thought provoking question which I leave you to stew in on your own.  “Yes, but Jesus is the Lord of my life!”  Is He?  And yet you do not obey.  Now who is trying to earn brownie points with God?

As relates to more theologically abstract questions: “Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity.  Mormons believe you can become a god and create your own worlds.  Mormons this, Mormons that.”  I know, and I find those ideas I mentioned contrary to scripture.  However, I am saved by a person, not by a theology.  How about you?  I can just hear the pouncing feet: “You don’t care about theology!”  Nonsense.  I would be willing to bet that there are proportionally few human beings who enjoy rigorous theological discussion as much as I do.  We should have good theology, for good theology can be the fountain of good fruit, both external and internal.  But God has given me and you only a partial role over judging the external.  We must leave the internal fruit to Him.  Motive, heart, intent: those are in God’s corner, not mine, and not yours.

The other provocative question that I feel compelled to ask is this: Do we really think that when we come face-to-face with God that our own theology will be able to stand up to the beauty which we will behold?  Yes, we may be “right” on God’s nature, God’s plan of salvation, God’s power, God’s love, God’s justice, etc. ad infinitum.  But I would submit to you that on that day, if the most theologically correct person on this earth does not find that his theology falls utterly and completely prostrate upon beholding the King of Kings of whom it could only in comparison catch a glimpse of before, then that theology will have been for naught.  Speaking for myself, I expect to be surprised in more ways than one when I meet God face-to-face.  I expect to have my socks blown off actually, because at the end of the day, my “correct” theology isn’t God.  God is God.  A truism, perhaps, but one which we ought consider deeply as we dismount the high-horse of our own religious egos.  Did you notice that Jesus didn’t really have a checklist when he approached someone?  No.  He simply said “Follow me.”

The last point I shall make: no person on this earth can have perfect theology.  That’s right.  No person, no religion, no book, no nothing can have perfect theology, meaning a theology that perfectly describes God.  Why?  Because that theology would be an idol, and God would not be God.  Can you describe the infinite perfectly?  We can quote the Bible speaking of the “unsearchable depths and riches” of God, get our theological brownie points, but then we act as if that’s the end of the story, as if our mental assent to that point somehow garnered us the approval from God which we say we can’t earn anyway.  I would submit to you that it is the beginning of the story, and one which even when we live eternally with Him we will never, ever be able to finish!  That used to annoy the hell out of me.  Now it pumps me up.  Now I say “My Lord and My God!”  Now I can say with utter sincerity how incredibly thankful I am that the self-imposed burden of completely understanding God is no longer mine to bear, because I’ll never be able to do it.  “So you’re saying that you don’t even try?”  On the contrary.  I love getting to know God more and more and more.  That is what the heart of every disciple should be.  But instead of being afraid of a never-ending maze, I instead embrace a never-ending adventure.  All of us know generally what the Mona Lisa looks like.  I say generally because we could never reproduce it exactly ourselves, even those who may be artistic geniuses.  Not even good old Leonardo da Vinci could do that exact same thing twice.  But if we saw the Mona Lisa with a part of the face missing, would we not think to ourselves “This painting is messed up/incomplete/inadequate/imperfect”?  Of course we would!  So if we would declare that so easily about an incomplete little painting that all of us are very familiar with, why are we so arrogant to presume that the same does not apply to our incomplete understanding of God?

This makes it a certainty that all of us will in one way or another (probably many ways or another) be wrong about how we view God.  In other words, our theology will be wrong.  So am I a Universalist?  Am I saying that all roads lead to Jesus?  No I am not.  My beliefs are quite the opposite.  I am simply saying that all roads do not end at theology, and that we ought instead bow in humility before the God of whom theology can only be a mere shadow, and we ought have the same humility before we ever presume to know the inner recesses of one another’s hearts, both those who agree and disagree with us theologically.  That is not my privilege, nor yours, and at the end of the day, thank God for that.

Let’s debate theology.  “Let us reason together,” as God Himself said to the prophet Isaiah.  Let us stand for what is right.  But let us never value what is correct more than that which is right, and that which is right, in human terms, is what God requires of us.  Judgment is not required of us, so let us never presume to sit on the throne that alone is God’s.  We are entitled to conclusions about actions and ideas.  We are not entitled to the judgment of souls.

“Screwy theology!”  I’m guilty.  “Idolatry!”  Yep, guilty of that too.  “Works based!  Controlling!  Unbiblical!”  I have been all of those things, externally, as well as internally.  Guilty, guilty, guilty.  But thank God in Heaven that the judge’s gavel is not yours, and thank God in Heaven that it is not mine, for just as those who inappropriately and presumptuously tried to bear the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament died, such will be the case for those of us who presume to pronounce judgment on the soul of another, “For with what measure you use, it shall be measured against you.”

The Complicit Church: Part I

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

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Frederick Douglass:

“I take this law [the Fugitive Slave Act] to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.”

Apparently a disengaged church is not a recent phenomena.

What of the murder of the weakest and most defenseless among us, the unborn?

What of a theft-based, unjust monetary system, that robs from a man that which his blood and sweat have rightfully earned, but is too faceless and cowardly to admit it?What of wars where innocent men and women die but which we are not even told why we should be there?

What of an education system that is a black hole for money, and a black hole for too many of our kids, that teaches lies as truth, and evil as good?

What about blacks and other minorities who are chained by their zip code to attend schools that absolutely and utterly fail them in our inner cities, perpetuating ignorance and the tyranny of low expectations?

What of the immigrants, those who genuinely want a better life for them and their children, who are paid the wages of an indentured servant because their overlords can threaten them with deportation?

What of a government that claims to be able to do with bureaucracy what only genuine human love, charity, and affection can achieve?

What of a debt that RIGHT NOW is chaining those not even yet born, chaining their dreams, their ability to make their own way, their ability to fulfill their God-given potential, their ability to pursue happiness?

What of the human slavery and sex trafficking in our own midst?

What of a government that reinforces a culture of lust and sexual perversion through our education system, reinforcing in the minds of young men the idea that women are nothing but tools of pleasure, and in the minds of women that love can be found by being treated as such by a boy under the false name of a “man”?

What of a government that will not defend its own laws for the sake of marriage, that most fundamental and essential of human relationships, and marginalizes and excoriates those who defend its viability?

What of corporations and the powerful being able to carve up our laws and our tax code to their benefit and aggrandizement, at the expense of those less materially fortunate, who are then told by that very same government that it can save them from the very people it just prostituted itself to?

What of the exception to being salt and light in this world that says “Avoid politics! There let the world reign!”? No phrase as such has ever been written

Politics may not save us, but it sure is damning us.

We all remember what happened eleven years ago this very Tuesday.  Last year, on the ten year anniversary of 9/11, I wrote the following words in my journal, reflecting on not just the profundity of the day itself, but some lessons that my life’s course had been teaching me the past few years: 

Why does death change everything?  How is it that we can hate the soul of another, and yet when informed of their impending deceasing we arrive at their bed as if we had never left?  Why is forgiveness and love so incredibly easy and forthcoming when the loss of a long lost loved one is upon us?  How can I as a “good” and “loving” human being despise another and then rush to their deathbed should I be called to do so?  I believe this reveals more of the barbarity of man than the inhospitality of God.

One of my favorite movies is “Thirteen Days,” about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  A top member of the national security team at the time looked right at Bobby Kennedy at a certain point in the debate about what to do and said: “Bobby, sometimes there is only one right choice, and you thank God when it’s so clear.”

Looking back on 9/11, I can’t help but feel the same.  I woke up early this morning to a perfectly sunny, blue sky, just like that day.  You know, we throw around the feel-good phrases like “Never Forget,” and “God Bless the USA,” but I am tempted to think that at the end of the day, that’s all they are: lines that make us feel good, but which are ultimately meaningless.  What’s the point of a line we can say, but not live?

We certainly learned things as a nation.  We realized, without any room for doubt, who our enemy was, and to a certain extent, the nature of that enemy.  But if we peel back the veil of time these past eleven years, we, or at least I, remember that there was something much deeper, and far more powerful that we remembered after 9/11.  We remembered each other.  We remembered in a new way love of family, love of friends, and love of fellow man.  Most importantly, at least for a fleeting moment, we remembered God.  9/11 was one of those moments that, while all of us wish it had never happened, nonetheless induced a catharsis that probably would not have happened without it, and despite the pain and the anguish, the images of our fellow citizens being murdered, we thanked God that, at least for the moment, it was all so clear.  Our hearts had waxed cold.  Many of us realized that day that the love we thought we had for our loved ones was not what it should be, or that, perhaps it was strong, but we rarely took the pains to express it.  In other words, we took our loved ones for granted.  On 9/11, it was undeniable that, as the scriptures have taught us for thousands of years and we refuse to listen, life is short.  Those we love most, and even ourselves, could be gone in a moment.

When I wrote that journal entry, at the same time that I was reflecting on 9/11, I was also remembering the death of my Aunt Felicia.  She was not a blood relative, but she mine as well have been, for she was probably the single best “family” member I have ever had beyond my immediate family.  She was like a second mother to me, and no one, no one, served as selflessly, as lovingly, as joyfully as she did.  I remember the day my mom called in 2006 to tell me that her cancer had returned.  Through a long series of many months, and what eventually was slightly over a year, I saw this truly beloved person in my life deteriorate right before my eyes.  The cancer began in her lungs, and quickly spread to her liver, her kidneys, her spine, her brain, and every other conceivable place in her body.  It was everywhere, and it was literally consuming her.  At the end, she could no longer walk because of the excruciating pain in her spine, and she was sleeping twenty three hours a day.  She was completely bald, and her face, her beautiful, loving, welcoming face, had become swollen almost beyond recognition. 

I remember the last trip we took to go see her.  She was so happy just to be with us.  She had always been happy, but Aunt Felicia outdid herself that time.  We all just baked, made great food, watched movies, talked for hours, laughed like little kids…it was a truly wonderful time.  But then it came to an end, and the weight of the fact that this could very well be the last time we ever saw our Aunt Felicia hit all of us.  I kept it together for the sake of my cousins, my sister, and most of all my mom, but I was literally in pain at the thought of losing her.  I remember the last hug, which lasted for at least a minute.  I remember her whispering in my ear not to worry, that even if she did leave, she’d be with Jesus.  I was hugging her with the desire to encourage her, and here she was encouraging me.  I said I loved her, she said she loved me, we kissed, and that was the last time I saw her.  She was dead a few months later.

A few months after the trip, but before her death, I put pen to paper to write a letter to my Aunt Felicia.  Because she had to sleep so much, it was hard to get a hold of her to say hello over the phone, so I figured the fail-safe way would be to send her a letter.  I wrote it in February of 2007.  I really poured my heart out to her, recalling the so many good memories, and offering my own encouragement.  But I never sent it.  I was afraid to.  The letter mine as well have been a goodbye letter, and I remember a deep inner sense that by sending it, I would almost be acknowledging, perhaps even sealing her fate.  I set it aside, saying to myself that I would send it later, but never did.  I never got to speak with her on the phone.  That last hug was the last time we ever spoke.

Rummaging through some of my papers in February of 2011, I found the unfinished letter.  When I found it, I wept.  Why had I not sent it?  What had I been so afraid of?  It was one of those tasks that for all those years I had actually remembered was undone, but which I always, and quite conveniently, stashed away in the file cabinet in the back, pretending as if it wasn’t a big deal anymore.  I was confronted in 2011 with the consequences of my poor, and ultimately cowardly decision to not send that letter four years previous.  I had refused to love as I should have because I was afraid.  Did my Aunt Felicia know I loved her?  Absolutely.  But man, what a letter like that would’ve meant to her at a time like that.  But my fear won the day. 

I think there is a reason that the Bible tells us perfect love casts out all fear.  It does.  It truly does.  What I think 9/11 taught us, on the deepest level, was that we had better stop being afraid of loving each other, we had better get over the occasional awkwardness of expressing love, we had better get over the fear and the risk of pain that it always involved, for the fear and pain that comes when you no longer have any chances is far worse.  We also realized that true love is sacrificial.  It’s not just some fuzzy feeling.  It’s a commitment.  It took unspeakable tragedy for many of us to finally get a closer glimpse of the type of love Jesus had always called us to, and had exhibited perfectly Himself.  At the time I wrote my journal entry, I was also struggling with some issues with very close friends.  I had no doubt that if one of us was on our deathbed, all argument would immediately cease, our frustration would turn to true love and solidarity again, and all issues would be gone.  How strange I thought.  Perhaps it was a thought very similar to that which came to mind on September 12.  We are so quick to judge God Himself, to ask Him “How could you let this happen?”  And yet, it was our hearts which were cold, unfeeling, and dead.  What we came face to face with on September 12 was not God’s sins, but our own.

So have we forgotten?  Do we still run to the God who was so important to us on September 12?  Have we forgotten the brotherhood of that day? 

One of the great ironies of the aftermath of 9/11 was that so many of our leaders, in an effort to encourage us, quoted Isaiah 9:10, when after a national tragedy the people of Israel said the following: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stone; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”  What was apparently not realized is that in the previous verse, it said that this was said “in pride and in arrogance of heart.”

So have we forgotten?  I fear that we have, and as I said in my journal entry, it is not owing to God’s lack of hospitality, but to the barbarity of our own sinful nature, if it indeed takes a 9/11 for us to be reminded of the love we ought show to each other, and but for a very short time indeed.

Today, I remember to give that hug, to make that call, to offer that encouragement, to love sacrificially, to dare to even say “I love you” to someone I actually do love.  I remember that to be a friend is a holy and sacred honor, I remember that to bless is far better than to be blessed, that time is short, so there is no time to waste.  I had better remember to love as I have been loved by my Father in Heaven, for the risk of not loving is so much greater than the risk of loving.

My Lord once said: I came that you might have life, and have it to the full.  And yet, He died on a Cross for me, for you, condemned, with spit on his face, having been betrayed by His closest friends, all while doing it for them.  My Lord, while appearing weak, contemptible, and cowardly, carried to completion the single greatest act of courage in the history of mankind.  So today I remember that love like that, first with that man, and then with others, is what it is to have life to the full.  Today, I remember that love is an act of courage. 

That is something that I hope I shall Never Forget.

Alexis De Tocqueville wrote the following in Democracy in America, published in 1834-35.  I offer it to you for deep thought and reflection.  It is somewhat lengthy, but please read it.  I believe he was writing prophetically.  This is not a Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Liberal thing, for those carrying all banners have advanced tyranny.  This is about the existence of freedom in our country:

“I had noted in my stay in the United States that a democratic state of society similar to the American model could lay itself open to the establishment of despotism with unusual ease…

When the Roman emperors were at the height of their powers, the various nations inhabiting the Roman world still preserved their different customs and manners: although they obeyed the same monarch, most of the provinces were administered separately: they abounded in powerful and energetic townships and, although the whole government of the empire was concentrated in the emperor’s hands and he remained the arbiter of everything when the need arose, the small details of social life and private everyday existence normally eluded his control…their tyranny was an excessive burden on a few people but never spread over a great number; it latched on to a few main objects, leaving the rest alone; it was violent but its extent was limited.

If despotism were to be established in present-day democracies, it would probably assume a different character; it would be more widespread and kinder; it would debase men without tormenting them

I, too, am having difficulty finding a word which will exactly convey the whole idea I have formed; the old words despotism and tyranny are not suitable. This is a new phenomenon which I must, therefore, attempt to define since I can find no name for it.

I wish to imagine under what new features despotism might appear in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, living apart, is almost unaware of the destiny of all the rest. His children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human race; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he stands alongside them but does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country.

Above these men stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny. It is absolute, meticulous, ordered, provident, and kindly disposed. It would be like a fatherly authority, if, father-like, its aim were to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks only keep them in perpetual childhood; it prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind. It works readily for their happiness but it wishes to be the only provider and judge of it.  It provides their security, anticipates and guarantees their needs, supplies their pleasures, directs their principle concerns, manages their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances.

Why can it not remove from them entirely the bother of thinking and the troubles of life?  Thus, it reduces daily the value and frequency of the exercise of free choice; it restricts the activity of free will within a narrower range and gradually removes autonomy itself from each citizen. Equality has prepared men for all this, inclining them to tolerate all these things and often even to see them as a blessing.

Thus, the ruling power, having taken each citizen one by one into its powerful grasp and having molded him to its own liking, spreads its arms over the whole of society, covering the surface of social life with a network of petty, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules through which even the most original minds and the most energetic of spirits cannot reach the light in order to rise above the crowd. It does not break men’s wills but it does soften, bend, and control them; rarely does it force men to act but it constantly opposes what actions they perform; it does not destroy the start of anything but it stands in its way; it does not tyrannize, but it inhibits, represses, drains, snuffs out, dulls so much effort that finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as shepherd.

Our contemporaries are ceaselessly agitated by two conflicting passions: they feel the needed to be directed as well as the desire to remain free…They conceive a single, protective, and all-powerful government but one elected by the citizens…Under this system citizens leave their state of dependence just long enough to choose their masters and then they return to it.

At the present time, many people very easily fall in with this type of compromise between a despotic administration and the sovereignty of the people and they think they have sufficiently safeguarded individual freedom when they surrendered it to a national authority. That is not good enough for me. The character of the master is much less important to me than the fact of obedience…

Equally, I realize that when the ruling power represents and is dependent upon the nation, the powers and rights taken from each citizen do not simply serve the head of state but the state itself, and that private individuals derive some advantage from the sacrifice of their independence to the public good…

We forget that it is, above all, in the details that we run the risk of enslaving men. For my part, I would be tempted to believe that freedom in the big things of life is less important than in the slightest, if I thought that we could always be guaranteed the latter when we did not possess the former.

Subjection in the minor things of life is obvious every day and is experienced indiscriminately by all citizens. It does not cause them to lose hope, but it constantly irks them until they give up the exercise of their will. It gradually blots out their mind and enfeebles their spirit, whereas obedience demanded only in a small number of very serious circumstances involves enslavement on rare occasions and burdens only a certain number of people.  It will be useless to call upon those very citizens, who have become so dependent upon central government, to choose from time to time the representative of this government; this very important but brief and rare exercise of their free choice will not prevent their gradual loss of the faculty of autonomous thought, feeling, and action so that they will slowly fall below the level of humanity.

I may add that they will soon lose the capacity to exercise the great and only privilege open to them.  The democratic nations which introduced freedom into politics at the same time that they were increasing despotism in the administrative sphere have been led into the strangest of paradoxes.  Faced with the need to manage small affairs where common sense can be enough, they reckon citizens are incompetent; when it comes to governing the whole state, they give these citizens immense prerogatives.  They turn them by degrees into playthings of the ruler or his masters, higher than kings or lower than men. Having exhausted all the various electoral systems without finding one which suited them, they look surprised and continue to search, as if the defects they see had far more to do with the country’s constitution than with that of the electorate.

It is indeed difficult to imagine how men who have completely given up the habit of self-government could successfully choose those who should do it for them, and no one will be convinced that a liberal, energetic, and prudent government can ever emerge from the voting of a nation of servants…

The vices of those who govern and the ineptitude of those governed would soon bring it to ruin, and the people, tired of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions, or would soon revert to its abasement to one single master.