Browsed by
Category: Politics

Seeking a Bible Topic

Seeking a Bible Topic

Franklin Graham is quoted by the Huffington Post as saying that the President Trump’s refugee ban is not a Bible topic. He actually said a bit more, but “not a Bible topic” is going to be the quote that follows him all the (remaining) days of his life. And well it should, though I think most are missing what’s being said.

My purpose is not to defend Franklin Graham on this; in fact, I am diametrically opposed to his position on these refugees. I believe that we should welcome Muslims in the same way as we would welcome anyone else in need. It’s relevant, in one way, to point out that many refugees from Syria and Iraq are Christians. But for a Christian that shouldn’t be the issue. If all were Muslims we should remain equally concerned for their welfare, and equally willing to put our own welfare at risk on their behalf.

But I think the issue here is a bit different. Let me quote just a bit more from the article. (If you’re diligent, you’ll go and read my source, and perhaps some of its sources in turn.)

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” Graham told HuffPost. “We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

The issue here is not directly that refugees are not a topic in the Bible. The specific question is whether the Bible provides a command that can be directed at the United States, that directs us to admit all refugees. This question is one of hermeneutics. How do you make such a determination?

One passage that might be cited is this:

 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

That line “love the alien as yourself” might come up in a discussion of how a Christian should look at this. I would not want to be left in a refugee camp for years, and if I had gone through a series of checks in that camp, I would not be delighted to suddenly learn that I would be left there for another six mother (or perhaps more). A person who loves an alien as himself probably wouldn’t do that.

But does this law apply to us right now? I personally believe it applies to me (for reasons I won’t detail here), but does it apply to my country?

At this point we might consider another passage from Leviticus:

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (18:22)

Now if Leviticus 19:34 is a command, is not this also a command? If the first applies to America does the second not apply also, and vice versa?

But what we find is that those people who want Leviticus 18:22 to apply find a way to make it apply. I’m not discussing here whether they’re way works or not, but merely consistency. A certain number of those don’t want 19:34 to apply and they find a way to explain that it doesn’t. Again, the reverse is also true. No, not everyone is thus inconsistent. Some will apply both and other will not apply both, but there is a considerable amount of inconsistency.

Is there a valid, consistent hermeneutic that can make one apply and not the other? Possibly. But we rarely hear about that.

I was teaching the New Life Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola as a guest this Sunday and we discussed this topic a bit. One of the members quickly brought the conclusion: Most of us have our viewpoint first and then find scripture to support it. I pointed out that this was also the case when we reject or accept someone else’s viewpoint and biblical claim.

From one point of view I can’t help but agree with Franklin Graham. No, not about refugees. I agree with him that in the sense he describes (using the full quote) that there is no scriptural command that could be said to apply to the United States and that would require that we accept anyone who wants to come here.

I also disagree, with some vigor. That is not the way to determine what is a biblical issue. I’ll be interviewing one of my undergraduate professors tomorrow evening for our Energion Tuesday Night Hangout. I’ll embed the YouTube viewer at the end of this post. He used to tell us to narrow the letter and broaden the spirit. That is, you find out who it applies to originally in the narrowest way possible, but then you find the principle or spirit that inspires that command, and you apply that much more broadly.

One might say that this approach offers a great deal of leeway. Indeed it does. And so does every approach to interpreting the Bible. That’s because the Bible wasn’t created by a committee of lawyers and mathematicians. Rather, it is the result of the experience of (some of) God’s people with their God.

As such, the Bible can enlighten, guide, inform, and help, but does remarkably little (if any) direction in the sense that Franklin Graham was apparently applying. If that approach is applied consistently, the Bible fades into insignificance.

Except as a fig-leaf used to cover our pre-existing passions.

This is one reason I advocate the process of letting the Bible change you and then that you, through your actions, influence others. Even better, let God use the pages and text of scripture as God wills to change your own life.

In my case, this would mean adjusting my way of thinking about other people. It would mean making me feel empathy for those who suffer. As such, I would want to live in a nation with policies that reflect such a view. I don’t have to ask anyone to live according to one divine decree or another, always in dispute. Rather, I simply use what influence I have in favor of that position.

If the Bible is used in the sense of the quote from Franklin Graham, then very little is a Bible issue, at least in terms of politics or society. But if we look at the Bible as one of the ways in which God changes our character, then everything is a Bible issue, because through it I let God change me and then I go forth to influence the world.

I believe that Jesus would want me to welcome Muslims into my country, my neighborhood, and even my home. But I know people from many faiths, and indeed some atheists who would agree with my goal. So I can advocate this as a good policy from a secular or a religious viewpoint.


A collection of books I publish and recommend on inspiration.

Lawyers and Politicians

Lawyers and Politicians

We like to hate lawyers, but the real problem with our laws is that they are written by politicians.

The Complexity and Imperfection of Solutions

The Complexity and Imperfection of Solutions

According to an NPR story, the clearance rate for murder, meaning the percentage of cases in which someone is arrested (or identified), is 64.1% nationally. This will vary by community. That means that a lot of murderers have not been identified and have been running around the country while being murderers.

If that shocks you, color yourself naive. Yes, the clearance rate has dropped badly, while at the same time the rate of violent crime has dropped, yet even at 90% clearance, a significant number of murderers got away with it. Certainly, enough got away with it to convince arrogant potential murderers to think they might be the one that gets away. A key factor in preventing any activity that’s criminal or disapproved is the extent to which the criminal expects to get caught. For a summary, see Deterrence in Criminal Justice. (I’d prefer to cite other sources, but they are behind a pay wall, and this article cites those sources.)

My point here is not criminal deterrence, but rather the fact that the things we do to achieve a result are not necessarily going to achieve the result we expect. For many people the way to eliminate an undesirable activity is to make it illegal. If you make a law, you’ll fix the problem. But we live regularly with problems that have not been fixed by the laws created for that purpose. Politicians know how to play on expectations when they name laws. The Affordable Care Act does not necessarily provide affordable care and the Violent Crime Control Act may not actually control violent crime. Even when things go well the cause may not be the one seen as obvious.

There is a common saying that you can’t legislate morality. In one sense that’s nonsense, in that you can write any law you want. You can even declare the Bible to be your basic law. I’d love to see the hermeneutic used. Personally, I would want Matthew 7:1 to be absolutely and universally applicable, but then I have a bit of the anarchist in me. You can write a law telling people not to be selfish, but enforcement might be a problem. So yes, you can write a law saying anything, but that law might not be effective. So in another sense, it’s good sense, in that you have to legislate behavior, not morality, and laws vary in how well they can control behavior. In yet another sense, even a law that successfully alters behavior will not necessarily make those who follow it more moral, and in that sense you really can’t legislate morality.

Most of us want to do so, however. We want to make laws that really fix problems, and we expect that, having made the law, the problem will be fixed. This leads to a great deal of very bad law. I use a rule of thumb. If you hear words like “epidemic,” “national tragedy,” or other similar words, assume that the resulting legislation will be a mess, often causing more problems than it solves and ruining many people’s lives in the interest of solving perceived problems. As in the case of immigration and refugees, often these laws are written to solve problems that don’t really exist.

Watch out as well for “even one ____ is intolerable.” You’re not going to eliminate all instances of a behavior that anyone perceives as desirable. Someone is going to do it. We hear this with topics such as child abuse, murder, terrorism, or sexual crimes. “Not one case!” yells the politician, sounding so virtuous and determined. But at  a minimum, there’s one lie there. Nothing that politician does will eliminate all cases. The law cannot make you perfectly safe. As you hear about solving the “opioid epidemic,” be aware that government agents will be ruining the lives of people who are genuinely trying to live with pain, all in the name of preventing addictions by someone else somewhere else.

I find it totally amazing that people who advocate limited government in some ways are quite determined to get the government more involved elsewhere and somehow assume that the government’s actions will be effective. The same issues that make regulatory agencies subject to stupidity and chicanery apply to every other aspect of government as well. Your local police or the FBI can be a bureaucracy as much as the EPA.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a law. It just means that we need to shed our naivete about how making laws will fix things. Here are some key points:

  1. Correctly identify the problem. I have no idea how many people want to solve an epidemic of violent crime while violent crime is actually in decline. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to do some work. I believe we do. But we need to look at what the actual cause is.
  2. Look at solutions that will actually improve the situation. If the likelihood of getting caught is, indeed, more critical than the severity of sentence (see citation above), then what we need is better enforcement, not longer sentences (or some combination). You might need to increase the size and training budget of your police force rather than changing the criminal laws themselves, for example.
  3. Do not expect any solution to make you perfectly safe. The world will still have murderers, rapists, terrorists, and other evildoers in it. Trying to make the law accomplish more than it can is wasteful and increases the negative effects.
  4. Once legislation is in place, test it. Find out what has happened and do your best to determine what the cause was. Review the law and its results.
  5. Be ready to hear about revision. Fear of what may happen if we change often prevents reform efforts. For example, for those who believe that there should be a welfare safety net, the idea of welfare reform is frightening. Fear prevents progress. It can also prevent deterioration, but that’s not at all guaranteed!
  6. Don’t believe the labels. The name of a law doesn’t mean the law does what it says. Politicians are veteran label manipulators.

In this information age, there is a great deal of data available to you. Read it instead of the anecdotes (many of them false), shared on your Facebook feed.

On Refugees

On Refugees

And now for a short post. Here’s one of many links to the stories: Trump vows ‘new vetting’ to weed out Islamic radicals.

I try to avoid partisan politics on this blog, but on this issue I must be clear. I believe that we should be open to refugees even at very substantial risk to ourselves. I do not believe the current risk even approaches significant. I am totally opposed to the actions taken by the current administration on this issue. I would regard it as my duty to aid any refugee at any level of which I am capable.

We Now Pause for a Bit of a Rant

We Now Pause for a Bit of a Rant

Scot McKnight (whose work I deeply appreciate) quotes Dennis Prager (whom I rarely read) on his site, talking about the difference between the “left” and “liberals.” You can follow the link to read what set me off.

Labels are necessary if we are to communicate. Words are, pretty much, labels. All labels have limitations. The word “tree” can evoke different meanings. Different people might have different boundaries between a tree and a shrub, for example. That’s why we have words, and not just a word. We have phrases, clauses, sentences, and yes, even paragraphs. You use those to explain the detailed boundaries of the way you are using a particular label.

The problem is not labels. The problem is the misuse of labels. Politics gives birth to lots of misuse because those in politics want to have shorthand ways of vilifying opponents. So we take a group’s label, find all the bad things done by anyone who might fit that label, and apply them to the entire group. That’s why we have videos from liberals (as defined today, not the century old definition used by Prager), showing stupid conservatives. This is supposed to leave us with the impression that everyone on the right is an idiot and knows nothing.

In turn (and I don’t care who went first, just “in turn” in terms of this rant), we have conservatives producing videos of stupid liberals.

Wow! I am so utterly dumbfounded! There are stupid Republicans. And Democrats. And liberals. And conservatives. And Christians. And non-Christians. And …

The only thing we should get from such videos is a low opinion of the people who make them.

My problem with these labels is that while I know stupid people who hold a variety of positions, I also know intelligent ones. Intelligent conservatives, liberals, progressives, leftists, rightists, and so forth. I find no sense in which you can determine intelligence by political position. Further, I know of no way to discover how charitable someone is through a label. Sure there are surveys, but do you really want to assume that a survey applies to each person you meet? I find it much easier to just talk to them and then listen.

My father, for example, was a vigorous opponent of what he called socialized medicine. Yet he gave away medical services or charged less than the market would bear all his life. He never turned anyone away over money. He died as John Wesley suggested with very little. Without a doubt he cared, cared deeply, and did something about it. I’m sure my conservative friends will applaud.

But there are others, “leftists” if you please, who believe very firmly that everyone should have medical care. They don’t believe private charity can accomplish it, so they work to make it available to everyone using the mechanism of government. Their purpose is not to “get” the drug companies, the health care equipment manufacturers, or the doctors. Their purpose is to provide better health care for more people. They aren’t evil. They take a different approach.

There’s plenty of room to debate these approaches. But none of this will happen if we assign all possible evil characteristics to our opponents, and all possible good ones to our allies.

One of the characteristics that will prevent any movement toward unity is the desire to vilify groups of our opponents, not by labeling them, but by misusing their labels or by mislabeling them.

A little generosity in the use of labels would go a long way. And no, don’t assume I blame most mislabeling on the right because the quote that set me off was from Dennis Prager. This issue has plenty of blame to go around. Several times.


(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)

Identifying Hatefulness

Identifying Hatefulness

There are many people concerned about hatefulness right now, and one might think that this concern came largely from opponents of the president-elect. I’ve found, however, that the concern comes from all sides. (“Both sides” is a very dangerous concept in a complex world.)

Let me suggest a simple test. When you find a blog post, Facebook status, Tweet or something else in the form “Did you know that (derogatory term here) (name of person) did (disgusting thing) and is unfit to feed pigs,” just substitute your own favorite politician/candidate/commentator in the (name of person) block and ask yourself how you’d feel. If it would make you very angry, then it’s just possible that it’s a hateful statement.

I know the standard retort: “But (name of person) actually did it whereas (MY name of person) is actually innocent. Truth counts!”

That’s really not the point. It’s not even an issue of whether the person deserves to get called out on it. The problem is that we need discourse that is both civil and truthful if we’re going to get anywhere but deeper into fruitless conflict. You do not increase the value of a truthful comment by adding insult to it. “The other side started it” and “we have to respond” are not adequate either. How effective has your response been with regard to whatever it is you’re responding to?

There are many proposed policies right now that make my blood boil. I occasionally start writing posts that I have to delete, not because I think they’re false, but because I think they won’t advance the discussion.

To identify a couple of such issues, let me say that I consider a border wall on our border with Mexico or a registry of Muslims to be misguided, based on faulty data, and, in fact, morally wrong. It’s much easier to discuss and support those positions than some of the more personal (and even moral) claims made against specific persons. On the other hand, if I were in the Senate (not going to happen!) I would certainly have to consider such personal issues and, based on the best evidence available to me, vote for or against particular confirmations. Suggesting a free pass is silly. The losing side does it after each election.

Let me reemphasize. I oppose hateful, insulting speech not because I think the “other” side hasn’t triggered some of it, but because I think it’s both wrong and ineffective. It does nothing to convince new people that your position is right. I’m not arguing for fairness, but for effectiveness.

You Don’t Have to Have an Opinion about Everything

You Don’t Have to Have an Opinion about Everything

I posted a note from an article regarding the data released by DHS about Russian hacking, if it was Russian, and then I started wondering whether people would assume it is my opinion that the Russians were not involved.

In fact, I do not have an opinion on that because I do not have enough information to support a reasonably informed one. The article simply notes that the evidence released by DHS doesn’t appear to point to Russian activity specifically. That doesn’t mean that this is the only software used, or the only IPs, nor does it mean that the understanding of the article writers is complete. Their conclusions are stated in admiral fashion. They note the nature of the evidence and what they can identify about who it points to.

What amazes me, however, is the massive number of people who already have come to a conclusion on this. Either the Russians did it or they didn’t, and we make the determination based not on actual data but simply on which group of people we associate ourselves with. My guess is that not one in ten of those people with a firm opinion on this topic have even the tiny amount of information that I’ve collected, nor do they have my knowledge of computer security. Many of them couldn’t really tell you what “hacking” means, and what would be necessary to get the kinds of data involved. Yet they have firm opinions, loudly expressed.

I note here that I’m not a security expert in the sense that the people who develop anti-virus software are. I simply know enough about how computers are attacked that I can select good software and suggest/apply good security practices. The people who have the expertise to actually make determinations are not all that numerous.

It doesn’t hurt not to have an opinion. It doesn’t hurt to say, “I don’t know.” Which I say right now: I don’t know. I am not convinced it was a Russian government action, nor am I convinced it was not. Let’s look at the evidence.

What really bothers me about all this, and what I do have an opinion about, is the threat that potential hacking presents to national security. A serious effort could disrupt an election and in ways that are much worse than some manipulation of information. Get used to it. Information is going to be manipulated. I don’t trust the government to be able to deal with the human factors that hamper good data security. In my experience, the most common problem is the password on a sticky note, often also easily guessed, and not the highly technical hacker.

And of course I must note that I suspect rampant stupidity has a greater influence on U. S. elections than does foreign interference, assuming there was any.

We might want to consider electing some more technically qualified leaders for a technical age … it’s just a thought.

(FWIW, it’s bad writing style to conclude with something quite unrelated to your title and opening paragraph. But this is my blog and I’ll write badly if I want to.)

What About the War on Christmas?

What About the War on Christmas?

A war on Christmas
Image components from Openclipart.org

Each year I’m saddened and yes, annoyed, by the supposed war on Christmas and responses to it. Every time someone can’t set up a manger scene on public land, or is even forced to share the public space with other groups, there’s an outcry. It’s a war on Christmas! Never mind that there are, in almost every case, plenty of churches nearby, where such a scene could be placed with at least as much visibility.

Or someone is wished “Happy Holidays!” at the store, and is offended that it’s not “Merry Christmas!” Oh the agony! And yes, it’s quite possible that the checkout person at your grocery store was instructed by management to say “Happy Holidays!” Having worked in retail, I know that I was constantly instructed in what I was to say when answering the phone, greeting customers, and most especially when taking their money following the sale. Some of the stuff I had to say was really annoying, too.

But businessmen make these rules for their employees based on their perception of customer service. They are not religious decisions, and they are not actually doing you harm. You can say Merry Christmas all you want, but “he who has the gold makes the rules,” so if you work for the company, you follow the rules.

If I owned a retail outlet, I would instruct my employees that unless they know who they’re talking to, Happy Holidays would be the appropriate greeting, and I would ask—and expect—them to be sensitive to each customer. This is not because I don’t believe in public witnessing or prayer. Just yesterday I encountered a lady in Walmart who needed my help getting a large back of cat food off the shelf. We chatted for a few minutes, and then we prayed together right there in the aisle. Nobody stopped us, because we were the customers. I knew before I suggested it that she would be open to prayer simply because I listened to her first. So we prayed in the aisle beside the cat food.

Shoving a Merry Christmas in someone’s face is not likely to do much for witnessing. Here in the United States people already know this is a majority Christian nation. The form of your holiday greeting doesn’t make you special. If, on the other hand, you make a scene about what sort of greeting you receive at the store, you provide a very bad witness.

When you take on the title “Christian,” you bear the name of Jesus, the anointed one. You are to be Christ, the presence of God, in the world. When you make a scene over not getting your way, you do not provide a good witness to the anointed One. Rather, you make Him seem small, selfish, petty, and rude. You may, in fact, be taking God’s name in vain. Rather than making someone more interested in the Jesus you serve, you may well be driving them away. The clerk in that store may herself be a Christian who is merely following the rules of her job as she should. And you’re going to make her life more difficult because of that? Really? Do you think the one who was led as a lamb to the slaughter yet didn’t open his mouth is pleased with that?

The problem is that there is a difference between witnessing to Christ and witnessing to our own importance. What is the one thing that having a creche on the grounds of city hall does that having one in front of our church does not? It demonstrates our power. They would both witness to the story, always assuming that the right message is conveyed. But the one on the grounds of city hall tells people that we’re in charge and can do things the way we want to.

There is a way in which Christians should be involved in the culture war. That is by living in a Christlike manner and bearing the name of Jesus as we do it. That is a gospel proclamation, by word, deed, and sign. Our importance, our position, and our pleasures would take a back seat to loving each person and making sure that’s evident.

The original story of Christmas was one of giving, giving up rank and privileges, giving up power, becoming subject to the worst of the worst, and then loving, loving, and loving some more. I’m afraid there has been a real war on Christmas, but it’s all over.

Here in the United States, we lost.

Surprise: Fixing Is Harder than Criticizing

Surprise: Fixing Is Harder than Criticizing

“The flaws in Obamacare are obvious to me. The solutions are much harder,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). (Source: Politico.)

Image credit: Openclipart.org.
Image credit: Openclipart.org.

As a restatement of the obvious, that quote leaves little to be desired. Just so. I too can find plenty to criticize in the Affordable Care Act, which is not surprising for a law that is really a patchwork of compromises. That it is called “Obamacare” is a testimony to how we like to simplify things and find one person to credit or blame.

I just couldn’t resist posting the quote. I will watch with interest if there is a three year deadline to see what patchwork of compromises results, if any. Healthcare has always been an issue where proposing solutions has been much easier than getting them past Congress.

While I also find the ACA to be flawed in many ways, I give President Obama credit for having actually tackled the issue, done the hard work of proposing solutions, and getting even a flawed act passed. (See? I like to simplify my targets too!) If we get something more workable out of the new process, which I think is unlikely, President Obama will still deserve credit for forcing the issue. If he hadn’t, I expect nobody would even get to it in the next couple of congresses.

Recounts: The Scripts Continue to Change Hands

Recounts: The Scripts Continue to Change Hands

Ancient Egyptians exchange scripts on accession of new king. (Credit: Openclipart.org). Note: This is neither real hieroglyphs, nor is it a political script.
Ancient Egyptians exchange scripts on accession of new king. (Credit: Openclipart.org. Those who can’t tell real from fake news take note: This is neither real hieroglyphs, nor is it a political script.)

Political discussion in this country seems to have somewhat more in common with trash talk among sports fans than it does with any form of constructive dialogue.

OK. Now that I’ve practiced understatement, let’s look at the current state of political talk. I had hopes that I might find my Facebook feed more palatable after the election. No, not so much. I really enjoy carefully thought out pieces written by people I disagree with. I can’t stand trash talk, even by people I agree with, perhaps especially by people I agree with.

And so goes talk of fraud in the election. While voter fraud is vanishingly rare in this country, there will always be reports of suspicious activity, and almost any anomaly produces some sort of complaint. Back in my college years I served as poll watcher in a couple of elections. The slightest perception that we weren’t being treated with due honor would morph in our minds into a sinister intent to mess up the vote in our precinct.

All parties do this and all parties criticize other parties. It is in the nature of something as complex as a U. S. federal election that there will be allegations of fraud. Of course, the president-elect has managed to carry this to new heights in a tweet claiming that there were “… millions of people who vote illegally,” and this in an election he won!

I think I agree largely with Nate Silver in his article, Why I Suppport an Election Recount even though It’s Unlikely to Change the Outcome. As he points out, it is statistically incredibly unlikely that a recount will change the results. Those who think this might somehow produce a Clinton win are probably smoking something that’s only legal in Washington and Colorado (bless their hearts!). At the same time, in an age of electronic voting and hacking, I think it would be worthwhile to have an audit of our security procedures, not to change this election, but to make good security plans for the future.

But hypocrisy will reign, as those who threatened not to accept the election results if they lost criticize others for questioning them in any way, and those who criticized them advocate recounts.

Scripts are exchanged. Life goes on. Truth is the victim.