Stop telling lies about me.

Christians can and should debate politics. There’s room for diversity of opinion, and therefore for healthy debate, on the best application of biblical principles to public policy. You do not have to be a Republican or a conservative to be a faithful Christian. Everybody hear that? Good.

All our speech is to be “gracious, seasoned with salt”– that is, every word we speak in public and private should be flavored with the Gospel, as salt flavors food. This applies whether we’re speaking face to face or screen to screen; whether we know who we’re talking to or not.

So, progressive Christians, when you say or repeat or link approvingly to those who casually assume that Republicans don’t care about the poor, that we hate homosexuals, that we’re only concerned with babies before they’re born, or that women’s health doesn’t matter to us, you’re not just engaging in bad logic (ad hominem, imputing motives, poisoning the well, begging the question, etc)– you’re encouraging hateful slander against many brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. Please, stop doing this.

There are people in both parties who are concerned only with power, who could care less about anyone’s good but their own. And there are people in both parties, third parties, and no party who have honest differences on a thousand different questions of how to make the country better. When we assume the worst about those on the other side, we’re contributing to the poisonous state of our discourse that we all complain about.

On the loss

The vast majority of conservative thinkers thought that the polls were weighted too heavily toward the Democrats, and that Romney would win. In fact, the polls were right, and the vast majority of conservative thinkers were wrong.

So starting Wednesday, collectively from the right side of the Internet, there was an outcry: We were robbed! Obama cheated! The election was stolen!

Oh, wait. That didn’t happen.

Actually, what happened was a lot of mea culpas. From the guys I read (we’re not talking anonymous blog commenters here. They’re terrible on both sides.) there was surprise, disappointment, and honesty: Wow. We read this totally wrong. The electorate is not what we thought it was.

I’m disappointed too. There are permanent consequences to this election. But the reaction on the right gives me hope. There can be sober analysis without self-delusion, and we can learn from this. If we’re willing.

***

As many on the right have pointed out, the USA is not a center-right country anymore. A center-right country does not elect Barack Obama twice. Republicans must realize this, and here for me is the most important point we must take away from this election: We must find leaders who can persuade.

We need guys who will go before hostile and skeptical audiences and make the conservative case, across the board. We need to refuse to be portrayed as anti-poor, anti-woman. These are lies, and they need to make us angry. Instead of being terrified that we’ll look anti-poor or anti-woman, we need to show righteous indignation at that charge. We need to point out that those attacks are simply fear-mongering, and show exactly why our policies are better for the poor, better for women, and so on.

We need a nominee who will go to the NAACP and say “You’ve been voting lock-step with the Democrats for 50 years. Has it gotten you anywhere?” We need a nominee who will go on with Jon Stewart, laugh some at his own expense, and then absolutely destroy the cliché arguments that get thrown at him– and have fun doing it.

We can’t play it safe anymore. We have to talk about big ideas, knowing that about 55% of the country is not inclined to agree. We have to change their minds.

***

Along those lines, here’s a speech I kept wanting Romney to give this summer:

You know, the other side’s been talking about me having a lot of money. He’s right. I made a ton of money last year, and I gave a ton of money away. You know how I got my money? I’m damned good at my job. You know what my job is? I come in and fix things when they’re bad. I take things that are losing money and make them make money. Then the people in charge make money, and they hire more people, and those people make money. I’ve done this a lot.

I also raised some eyebrows the other day when I said I like being able to fire people. You know what? I do like being able to fire people. I think if people don’t do their job well, they ought to be fired. Their bosses ought to fire them. That’s called “accountability,” and we need more of it in Washington, not less.

Now I’m asking you for a job. You’re the people in charge. I’m asking you for another chance to do what I’m really good at: Turning things around. And if you hire me, and I don’t perform, then you get to fire me. How’s that sound?

If the president wants to talk about my money or my background, that’s fine. I welcome that talk. I’d go up for a job interview against this guy any day of the week.

We all get to dream, you know.

***

With this, I’m taking a little break from politics for a bit. Which brings me to my final thought: I have a ton of respect for the guys who do this stuff for a living– the Senators and congressmen and governors and all that. Because after a bummer election, I can stop thinking about it for awhile, but they have to get up the next morning and figure out what to do– how to regroup, where to compromise and where to stand firm, all that. I don’t envy them.

A post in which I upset some friends

First things first: I consider myself a conservative with a decent libertarian streak. I consider libertarianism to be a helpful in-house critique of conservatism. So the presence of Ron Paul and Ron Paul fans in the Republican party is largely a good thing, I think.

But Ron Paul fans are a diverse lot. You can largely filter them by asking the question “Will Ron Paul ever be President?” If their answer is “No, but I’m voting for him to send an important message,” then no worries, and you can probably have a good thought-provoking conversation. I’ve had several and enjoyed them.

If their answer is “He’s the only one who can beat Obama,” or “the party bosses would never let that happen,” or  “Yes, if it weren’t for the system / Romney’s evil minions / the secret cabal of Communists meeting at Chris Christie’s house,” I find it best to back away slowly. These are the guys who use “neocon” like a curse word for everybody other than Dr. Paul and claim there’s no difference between Obama and Romney. (Now I have my qualms with Romney, but as I tweeted recently, if you can’t tell the difference between him and Obama, you deserve Obama.)

Which brings me to my point. A lot of Paul fans are frustrated that the party isn’t taking them seriously, to which my response is: Why should they?

You have all these voters who 1) can’t out-and-out win a single state for their guy and 2) are not going to vote for the nominee. Voters supporting a Republican candidate who argue that the Republican candidate is perhaps a worse choice than Obama. In other words, these are not Republicans. These are folks who are going to take their toys and go home if things don’t go their way. From the standpoint of the party, they’re haters– people you’re never going to win. So why should you try?

Barack Obama would be foolish to spend one cent or one moment’s worth of energy to persuade guys like me to vote for him. It’s never going to happen. The same is true for Romney and some– not all– Ron Paul fans. The thing for him to do is talk fiscal sanity, make his case to those who are persuadable (whether to his right or left), and not chase the haters. That just makes sense.

On pastors and politics

I love politics. I have since I was a dorky little kid. I’ve told Melissa that I’d like to live 4 lives: one as a pastor and theologian, one as a musician, one as a chef,  and one as the President of the US. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones would play “Big Country” at my inauguration.) (I’m being really vulnerable right now, and I hope you appreciate it.)

But as it is, I have one life, and it’s the one I really want: as a husband, father, and pastor. How does that work with my interest in politics? Is it OK for a pastor to talk politics in public, to blog and tweet political stuff, or does that hurt his witness for Jesus?

In the US people get this wrong every whichaway: Some churches seem afraid to speak clearly where the Bible does, but others seem entirely in the tank for one party without putting much thought into it at all. Neither of those errors are confined to the right or left. In Europe most people could care less what the church thinks; that’s a different problem.

I escape a good bit of this by living and working where I do, which is fine with me. But I still have to think about what’s wise and what’s not. So I’m a conservative with a pretty decent libertarian streak, and I’m also a Christian who believes the Bible is the final voice on all matters on which it speaks. But I’m an ambassador for Jesus, not for William F. Buckley. I want people to know the one true God, to worship him and enjoy him forever, and I want that a lot more than I want people to vote the way I do.

So I try to be careful. I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes that will turn people off from hearing the gospel. The gospel is offensive enough without me being offensive myself. But I also think people are grownups, and in general can handle the idea of a “man of the cloth” having personal opinions as well.

These may be kind of arbitrary, but I have some “best practices” I try to follow. Some are just to avoid unpleasantness, some to avoid feeding my own idols, and some are career-specific.

  • No politics in the pulpit. Generally I try to preach exegetically, so the topic is determined by the Bible, not me. I probably wouldn’t ever instruct people to vote for a certain candidate, although in a case where the passage I’m preaching on clearly addresses a topic I wouldn’t hesitate to point it out. I can’t for the life of me imagine having a candidate address the congregation during worship. That has always given me the heebie-jeebies, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat.
  • I don’t bring up politics when I’m meeting or getting to know people. If others bring it up and I disagree, I try to change the subject. (Those who know me well would be really surprised at the restraint I sometimes show.)
  • Most of the time I try to stay away from politics on Facebook, and I’m more unfiltered on Twitter and the blog. The blog does push to Facebook, but I figure the people who are interested enough to read it actually want to hear what I think. Generally, I’m not interested in arguing, unless I think the relationship with the other party can handle it and there’s mutual respect and willingness to listen.
  • I try to keep my speech gracious and respectful. I’m sure I have a broader view of what that might permit than some, but I do have a filter, and there are many comments left on the cutting room floor. (“If you knew all the things I didn’t say…”)

Who knows. I may decide one day that I’ve been wrong, and that I should keep my mouth shut entirely when it comes to politics. But this is where I am now.

What do you think? Is it bad for pastors to talk politics? Any horror stories?

Paul Ryan: “Stop segregating poor people into inferior care.”

Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan on one of the features of his health care plan:

One of the options, and I’ve talked to a lot of governors who say they want this, is to stop segregating poor people into inferior care. You know, where they go into the doctor’s office with “poor person” stamped on their forehead [because] they’re on Medicaid, and more and more doctors won’t even see Medicaid patients anymore because they lose money every time…

And so one of the ideas that I think governors ought to consider is: don’t have them in some sort of separate system that’s just for low-income individuals. Mainline them into the private health insurance system, where they too can choose, with additional resources, private health insurance like everybody else. So the next time they go to the doctor’s office, they’re indistinguishable from anybody else.

(Uncommon Knowledge podcast, recorded 09/27/11. Starts at about 16:15.)

Republicans are often painted as the party that doesn’t care about the poor. In reality, many of us care a great deal about the poor, and think that conservative policies are more helpful to them than liberal ones. Few of our leaders have explained that well. (Interestingly, George W. Bush was great at making this case to hostile audiences, especially when off the teleprompter.) Time will tell, but I believe in Paul Ryan we have someone who’s not afraid to play offense when it comes to the social-justice implications of policy.

What Chick-Fil-A is about

I don’t think the fact that Chick-Fil-A had a record-breaking day this week is mostly about gay marriage, although that’s part of it.

I don’t think most people there thought they were making a bold stand for Jesus, although that’s an easy straw man for detractors (“Oh yeah? How many orphans did you buy a sandwich for?” Uh, how many orphans did you buy a sandwich for Wednesday?).

I certainly don’t think it’s mostly about homophobia. This is a ginned-up controversy on that front; no one has presented any evidence that CFA discriminates against homosexuals in their hiring or service.

There are elements of truth in these, and I understand the Christians who felt Chick-Fil-A day or whatever was a bad idea. But here’s what I think it’s mostly about:

There are a lot– a lot– of people in this country (USA) who have heard for years about how insensitive and backward they are. Who have seen an organized attempt to write their opinions out of the public square. Who have seen countless examples of offense being taken, and capitalized on, when it’s clear that none was intended. There are a lot of people who are made to feel guilty because of their alleged privileged status, or religious beliefs, or voting pattern. A lot of these people aren’t looking for a demonstration to join. They just want to be left alone.

A lot of those people saw someone sort of like them make a statement, in response to a question, explaining his personal beliefs– beliefs held by millions of people in this country. Then they saw the organized outrage that followed. They saw elected officials declaring war on a company because of the religious beliefs of its leader. And they said, you know what? Not this time.

I think very few of the hundreds of thousands of people who ate delicious chicken and waffle fries Wednesday were “haters“. They didn’t pick this fight. I think many, perhaps most, of them are just ordinary people who are sick and tired of being told that they’re haters, sick and tired of being told their beliefs are outside the pale, that they’re racist or homophobic or misogynistic or whatever, when they know they’re not. There are a lot of these people, and their patience is wearing thin. Their cultured despisers should perhaps pay attention.

A few political thoughts

It may surprise you to learn– it surprises me to learn– that there are actually people who want to hear what I think about politics. Two or three at least.

It also may surprise you to learn that I actually have some interest in this blog. Too often I have a thought, intend to work it into a post, and never get there.

And so, to deal with both these things and not take up a whole afternoon: some recent political thoughts in bullet-esque form.

 

Ron Paul

Good domestic policy ideas, bad foreign policy ideas. Both fail to take into account that it’s 2012 and the world is what it is. You can’t wipe the slate clean and start all over.

Stop talking about how you’re the “only real conservative in the race.” You’re not a conservative; you’re a libertarian. Nothing wrong with that; they’re just two different things.

Good grief, are his fans obnoxious. My favorite thing to note: These people who pride themselves on thinking outside the box, not accepting the story they’re fed? All of them post the same comments, the same YouTube videos, the same everything within an hour of each other.

 

The weak Republican field

My theory is that a lot of the people we wish were in (Christie, Ryan, Daniels) thought about it, and thought about what it would be like to run against Barack Obama. He’s a great politician, so there’s enough of a challenge there. But he and his machine are also brutal,* and the press is right there with him. Whoever the Republican nominee is will be repeatedly called a racist homophobe who hates Muslims and poor people, and it will be relentless. So my theory is lots of these guys looked at that and said “You know what? I’m good. Maybe next time.”

Each probably made the best choice for themselves and their families, but increasingly I’m thinking along these lines: Our country needs some A-game conservatives to step up, and it’s frustrating that they haven’t done it.

* This link goes to an Ann Coulter column. I’m not a Coulter fan, but she had the most succinct summary of what I’m referring to. This is not an endorsement of Ann Coulter. I’m not a fan.

 

Newt

Yeah, about 3 of every 5 ideas he has are great. He’s a great debater, and he says the things we wish they’d all say. But… no. The personal history, the megalomania, the inconsistency, the fact that people who’ve served under him generally aren’t supporting him… just no.

It would be nice to have Newt debate Obama as Romney’s DH. The soundbites would be delightful.

Havel and Il: a (fairly obvious) lesson for leaders

The deaths of two heads of state were in the news yesterday. One was a champion of freedom, the other a tyrant.

A lesson for leaders, whether of nations or businesses or churches or households: You can seek to amass as much power as possible, and perhaps succeed. Then you will be feared– and detested.

Or you can serve for the good of others. You will probably have less power. But you will be respected and loved.

“Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists”: Characteristic brilliance from C. S. Lewis

Lewis in his essay “Why I Am Not A Pacifist”:

[Some suggest] The removal of war must therefore be attempted. We must increase by propaganda the number of Pacifists in each nation until it becomes great enough to deter that nation from going to war. This seems to me wild work. Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists. In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not. If not, you have done nothing. If it is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbor who does not. Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists.

(Note that he’s using “liberal” in the classical sense: as opposed to totalitarian, not as opposed to conservative.)

Meet the new boss

In a delightful gift to lovers of irony worldwide, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and imperialist cowboy Barack Obama has launched the US into yet another war in yet another sovereign nation in the Middle East. Key difference: this time it’s to remove someone who nobody regards as a threat to the US.

Barack Obama, 19 March 2011:

Good afternoon, everybody. Today I authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun.

“In this effort, the United States is acting with a broad coalition that is committed to enforcing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for the protection of the Libyan people. That coalition met in Paris today to send a unified message, and it brings together many of our European and Arab partners.

George W. Bush, 19 March 2003:

My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.

More than 35 countries are giving crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases, to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units. Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense.

Oh, and just for kicks and giggles, Barack Obama, December 2007:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

One can only hope that there’s a brave state senator somewhere who, while not having to take a vote on the matter, will boldly declare his sense of outrage and moral superiority.

(PS This is quite possibly the right thing to do. And I’m sure it was a tough call. The President could, for once, show a modicum of human decency and acknowledge that others before him have had to make similar ones. I doubt W is sitting by the phone.)

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