All posts by dwray

Politics, Religion and the DNC

The Democratic National Convention meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina has adopted a platform. The old south Democrats of bygone days would be shocked by it. Not only is there no mention of God, the twin anti-biblical themes of pro-abortion and pro-homosexual marriage are prominent issues supported by the new Democrats. This serves to further widen the divide between Republicans and Democrats, and between Democrats and conservative Independents. So stark is this divide that I predict some voters will find that they choose a candidate based on these positions more that on the persons of the candidates themselves. Last Saturday in Charlotte I spoke with a Roman Catholic monk who said he did not favor either candidate. But surely these platforms will push such a voter one way or the other.

Even the protestors on Sunday afternoon were largely Democrat-leaning if one is to judge by their posters. The Coalition to March on Wall Street South walked through the streets of Charlotte under the complete charge of the police. They sang, “we are the people, we own the streets” but the streets were clearly owned by the police. Barriers kept all protestors on a specified route, and no exits were allowed. Over 80 groups were represented by the protestors, and most seemed to favor things supported in the Democratic Platform. However, they did object to the degree to which both parties are beholden to the largest corporations. This is surely the scandal that people of all parties and faiths could potentially agree upon. Money has corrupted politics. The love of money is indeed the root of all kinds of evils. On that score neither party is innocent, and neither is listening to the biblical prophets. “They rejected the law of the LORD, they did not obey his commands.” (Amos 2:4)


Embarrassed by the public outcry for leaving God and Jerusalem out of their platform, the Democrats backed off last night and moved to include God and Jerusalem. God must be so pleased that after three indecisive votes the moderator finally said God is back in. This decision was greeted with boos from what appeared to be half of the delegates.  Not that the Republicans are anything to brag about, for they too are in many respects charging ahead with utter disregard of God’s will. Christian voters are faced with the worst case of choosing the lesser of two evils that I have ever witnessed.

Austin Miles summarized well last night’s DNC meeting in the Christian Post:  “So let’s understand this pageant: God was mentioned and most of the audience booed. Sandra Fluke who sins against God while demanding we pay for her sins is cheered. Senate Hopeful Elizabeth Warren, a fraud and liar who pretends to be a Christian is cheered. Bill Clinton, a kinky adulterer is cheered. And God is booed? Something is wrong with this picture.” [See his whole commentary here]

The Bible and Politics

Welcome to the season of hot political rhetoric. Not that this is new. History shows that political arguments have always been warm to hot in American life. And the Bible has always played a role in American politics. Sometimes the Bible has had a positive influence because of its emphasis on justice and truth. At other times the Bible is kicked around like a soccer ball without interpretive integrity. Despite Jefferson’s desire to see a “wall of separation” between the state and religions, it is a low wall at best. As we enter this election season here are a few thoughts about the Bible and politics.

1. Christianity is not dependent on the winds of political change for its existence, power or future. The faith of Jesus Christ has grown and endured all manner of political vicissitudes throughout its history. It started in a totalitarian Roman context and today it is thriving in many diverse circumstances in the world. In fact the majority of Christians today live in  South America, Africa and Asia.

2. Christians in free countries should vote, and participate in the discussions of issues in the public square. Freedom is a gift from God to be cherished and responsibly used.

3. With freedom comes responsibility. Christians should rise above the rhetoric of lies and distortions common to political campaigns. In this age of Internet and email, Christians should seek to promote the truth. This means, for example, fact checking politically charged emails before forwarding them!

4. Biblically based religion itself may aggravate people as Christians take a stand for moral principles. But so much as it is possible Christians should seek to promote peace, but not by sacrificing truth, justice and moral principles.

5. In American history the Bible, when represented with integrity, has often served as a conscience to the nation. The call of the Churches is to speak prophetically to power, that is to witness to the nations that God is God, and his will is to be followed. Such a witness does not come with a guarantee of immediate success. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God will be established at last.

For a good resource about religion and politics in American history see: The Founding Fathers and the Debate Over Religion in Revolutionary America. Edited by Matthew Harris and Thomas Kidd, Oxford University Press, 2012. (ISBN 9780195326505).


The Knowledge of God

“God is portrayed as a mass of vagueness behind a veil of enigmas, and His voice has become alien to our minds, to our hearts, to our souls. We have learned to listen to every ego except the ‘I’ of God.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur 186)

Rebbe Heschel well summarized the sickness that is overtaking the Western world. It has become commonplace to think that ideas about God are non-factual, and thus purely subjective. The biblical record is no longer viewed as history, and therefore its lessons can only have personal implications but cannot command even a minimal assent. So biblical religion is no longer a matter of knowledge. This type of view negates the entire biblical pattern of thought.

According to the Bible knowledge matters. God is a self-aware knowing and knowable Person, not an impersonal force. The rejection of the knowledge of God is one of the chief reasons for the mess humankind is in. As the Apostle Paul put it: “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). A depraved mind leads to depraved behavior.

The scriptures repeatedly call us to knowledge: In Romans 10:2 Paul refers to those who are zealous for God but ‘their zeal is not based on knowledge.” In Ephesians 4 we learn that the body of Christ is growing toward unity ”in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.’ First Corinthians 13 tells us that our present knowledge is imperfect, we see “through a glass darkly.”

The Christian churches are called to bear witness to the knowledge of God. This is the view that prevailed in American Christianity up until the present time. To do this there needs to be a fresh call to study and learn the biblical content, and see again that intellect and faith are not enemies but friends when informed by biblical patterns of thought.

The Christian Faith Begins with Creation

The faith of the Bible does not begin with “accept Jesus as your Savior.” It begins rather with, “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) The message of the Bible is a comprehensive world-view message that includes all things. It is a message that is intended to shape everything about human life. It weakens Christianity when this point is missed. The Christian faith reaffirms creation with the emphasis that Jesus the Christ is Lord of all things, for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh . . .” (John 1:1, 14). Only with this background can we understand why the biblical record ends with the declaration that Jesus is “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16) Christians in the West need to get hold of this if they are to be adequately prepared for the coming days when powerful forces will use every means to silence the message of Jesus. A shallow, superficial and short-sighted faith will not endure well. The mighty Roman Empire tried to silence the Christians and ended up conquered by them. This was possible because of a faith that was willing to die, and unwilling to compromise basic principles. For them there could be only one Lord of life and death; the one who is before all things, an in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

A Troubling Bishop

The homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson from New Hampshire, went on record last week complimenting Gay and Lesbian Presbyterians for creating “holy chaos” and “enormous confusion” in the Presbyterian Church USA, according to a report in the online Christian Post. He said this to a gathering of Homosexual activists who call themselves “More Light Presbyterians.”  So this is what we have come to, that a presumably biblically knowledgeable Episcopal Bishop can encourage the fomenting of confusion in another Protestant denomination even though the Bible says that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33). And this disturbance of the peace of the churches is justified in the name of a sexual freedom nowhere granted as acceptable in the Bible, as 2000 years of Christian history testifies. Is not this sort of rhetoric more akin to the “father of lies” (John 8:44) than a Christian Bishop? What Bishop Robinson is saying would doubtlessly put the Apostles into a series of flaming rebukes. Dante would have to find another ring of the Inferno to accommodate such a blatant presumption. There is no cause that justifies the sowing of confusion and chaos in the churches. If people cannot be persuaded by rational biblical arguments, or by holy example, then perhaps there are no reasons for them to change their long-standing position. If the LGBT groups must resort to confusion and chaos to get their way, then they have already shown themselves to be servants of a different king than King Jesus.

The Southern Baptists are Making History

I an not a Southern Baptist, nor any kind of Baptist. But I am a Christian who considers all Christians my brothers and sisters. But today I am pleased to see that the Southern Baptists have cut through the false rhetoric of Gay rights activists to rightly affirm that homosexual marriage is a moral and spiritual issue, not a civil rights issue. The Southern Baptists have the distinction today of being the largest Protestant denomination in America. This has not always been the case, but it is so now. So when they speak as a group they represent a lot of Americans. They have also made history this week by electing an African American pastor as their leader for the first time in their history. Good work, people! For the sake of clarity I reproduce here the part of their document on homosexuality that shows their resolutions:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19–20, 2012, oppose any attempt to frame “same-sex marriage” as a civil rights issue; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that the effort to legalize “same-sex marriage” qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage Southern Baptists everywhere to fight for the civil rights of all people where such rights are consistent with the righteousness of God; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we express our love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we stand against any form of gay-bashing, whether disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions toward persons who engage in acts of homosexuality; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that pastors should preach the truth of God’s word on human sexuality, marriage, purity, and love with all boldness and without fear of reprisal; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we proclaim that Christ offers forgiveness of sin for those who turn from their sins and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sin.

The Sin of Selective Bible Reading

The Bible is a rich book full of sufficient depth of meaning and purpose to occupy for a lifetime the best of minds. It is also a book with a straightforward message that anyone of normal mental capacity can understand sufficiently for their own good. But here I address those who actually read it, and especially those who teach it to others. The Bible has one unified story that fits together beautifully when read as a whole, and is treated with due respect. It is not a disconnected collection from which one can cherry-pick favorite verses and thereby do justice to its contents. Each successive part of this grand narrative builds upon that which went before. The grand story of Jesus cannot be understood properly without seeing how his person, words and works build upon the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). There are great rewards awaiting the person who will take the trouble to understand the Bible in its entirety. For teachers of the Bible this should be a minimum requirement. Today there are many helps toward this end. Let me recommend only one at this time: Recovering the Unity of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. At only 250 pages this is a relatively small book given the enormity of the project. It is a worthwhile place to start for those who want to understand better the unified plan and purpose of the world’s greatest book.

Sunday Morning Rhetoric and the Media

Normally the major media outlets pay not attention to what is said from pulpits on Sunday mornings. But last Sunday a North Carolina pastor made some absurd comments about locking up lesbians inside an electrified fenced area until they die out. This sort of excessive, and mean, rhetoric is not at all typical of Christian preaching. The media knows this, but nevertheless they have broadcast this far and wide as if to humiliate not just this one pastor, but conservative Christians everywhere. If a thoughtful preacher gets up on Sunday morning and delivers a persuasive case for some biblical idea no media outlet will give it a second glance. So what does this tell us?

Is Biblical Religion Under Attack in America?

It is not hard to find claims that biblical religion is under attack in America today. Whether one believes this or not depends upon how this attack is defined. If we think of it as an overt and obvious frontal assault, then most of the time we do not see it. God and Bible are frequently mentioned in public discourse and many times these references seem positive. But a deeper look suggests a serious tension. Biblical religion today, like ethics and morality in general, is acceptable so long as it is not treated as factual. Facts are for science, not religion and ethics. So goes the mantra. Religion is tolerated so long as it does not rise to a commitment higher than a hobby. So is that attitude an attack on religion? It certainly serves to undermine the influence of biblical religion in today’s society. The Bible sets forth its message as factual, not just opinion. It calls for a level of commitment that is higher than a hobby. The prophetic call was “Thus says the Lord.” Fence-sitting is not an option in the face of such a message.

The Bible and Linear History

We all, in the West at least, learned history on timelines. We think of history as linear. There is reason to believe that we owe much of this to the Bible. The Bible is a book of linear history. It starts with a point of creation and proceeds with prophecy and promises to forecast a future that ultimately culminates in an end of the world and final judgment. It begins in a garden and ends with a city, the celestial city of God in a new Heaven and new Earth. This linear view of time is so built into our way of thinking that we seldom think consciously about it. We assume it in our views of the world, and have some trouble imagining any other way of seeing time. This is just one more way in which the Bible has  helped to shape civilization.