Another Modest Proposal: The Only Thing We Must Change Is Change Itself

So, the Presidential campaign this year has given us two of the least-regarded Presidential candidates in history, and while it is certainly short on integrity, vision, and even intelligent rhetoric, one thing it will never lack is people telling you how you have to vote. Medium reminds us, in the ponderous tones of the pedantic that there is no such thing as a protest vote in an article with that title.

The author’s point, if one clears away the condescending lectures on the fact that we have an Electoral College, is that since “no one” is listening to or cares about your useless “protest vote” (that’s a vote for anyone but half of the Clintrump chimera) then you are really only allowing everyone else to decide whom they prefer.

“Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.”

Now according to this, only an act that results in a change is morally responsible, and I might agree with that, but what the author is actually contending (and does not admit to contending) is that change only counts if it is immediate and visible. And that’s just ridiculous. In fact, it’s actually extremely harmful. It’s part and parcel of what I wrote about two weeks ago when the Wichita barbecue was criticized for not leading to “change.”

What is ironic is that the people who seem most hostile to this idea that change can come slowly and invisibly should be the ones who understand it the most. The Civil Rights movement in this nation suffered what must have looked like decades of dormancy. From the founding of the NAACP in 1909, it would take 55 years to topple Jim Crow. It would 45 years even to strike down Plessy v. Ferguson. Yet where would Martin Luther King have been without the long, quiet years of raising scholarship money for men like Thurgood Marshall? Was that an act of ego? Of course it wasn’t.

Those who have insisted on change, change NOW at any cost, have left a devastating legacy: John Brown insisted on immediate change, and pushed the nation closer to Civil War.

But hey, if we agree that only acts that result in immediate change is morally responsible, then hell, let’s take that principle to it’s logical conclusion. According to people who agree with this article, people who are voting red in blue states, or blue in red states, are only voting their egos. I guarantee you, no one in Washington D.C. wants to hear why you are voting for Trump, and no one here in Kansas wants to hear why you’re voting for Clinton. In fact, Gary Johnson, judging by past elections, is statistically more likely to win electoral votes in this election than either of those electorates is to flip in the College.

So if you’re not voting your ego, you have to vote with the majority. That’s the only rational choice: not to have one. Only voters in swing states should be voting for the candidate they prefer. Remember, this election isn’t about you! It’s about not hurting people with your selfish desire to have the candidate that your obviously ignorant self has the temerity to think is best!

Can’t stomach voting with the majority? Stay home. Oh, but wait, we can’t do that! That wouldn’t bring change either! So if you can’t vote with the majority, and you can’t stay home, then the only other thing to do is to… what?

Revolt? Rebel? “Vote” for REAL change? John Brown style change? The justice that comes out of a barrel of a gun, as Chairman Mao — another fervent believer in change NOW, at any cost* — would say?

It seems the logical conclusion from this whole train of thought, incremental change having been shown to be a lie.

Or perhaps — perhaps rather than Civil War — we might entertain changing the idea that change is the highest good?

If the abolition of democracy is the alternative, it’s a change worth considering.

*to other people, of course. Not to him personally.

The Conservative Christian Who Cannot Make Voting For Donald Trump A Morally Good Choice: An Open and Respectful Fisking of Dr. Wayne Grudem

I was dismayed last week to read Dr. Wayne Grudem’s call to Christians to vote for Donald Trump. You can find the whole thing here. While I disagree vehemently, I also respect Dr. Grudem as a capable theologian whom I have found generally respectful of those he disagrees with. Dr. Grudem’s words will be in italics. Mine will be in bold. And this is gonna be a long one. For reference: I am not a liberal by almost any definition. I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton either. But that is another topic.

Some of my Christian friends tell me they can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump because, when faced with a choice between “the lesser of two evils,” the morally right thing is to choose neither one. They recommend voting for a third-party or write-in candidate.

As a professor who has taught Christian ethics for 39 years, I think their analysis is incorrect. Now that Trump has won the GOP nomination, I think voting for Trump is a morally good choice.

American citizens need patience with each other in this difficult political season. Close friends are inevitably going to make different decisions about the election. We still need to respect each other and thank God that we live in a democracy with freedom to differ about politics. And we need to keep talking with each other – because democracies function best when thoughtful citizens can calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences. This is my contribution to that discussion.

So far, Dr. Grudem, I don’t really have anything to object to. Although I disagree with your thesis, I think you are absolutely right about respect and patient dialogue. However, I just have to ask whether those two qualities are in fact hallmarks of the candidate you are choosing to defend here. 

I do not think that voting for Donald Trump is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

I did not support Trump in the primary season. I even spoke against him at a pastors’ conference in February. But now I plan to vote for him. I do not think it is right to call him an “evil candidate.” I think rather he is a good candidate with flaws.

Again, I’ll agree with the core thesis: all candidates are flawed. On occasion, it may be better to accept those flaws than to accept much worse flaws. But let’s look at what those flaws are, on your own showing:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Here’s my first serious criticism: if you believe that bombing the families of terrorists is morally reprehensible as a strategy, then this cannot be waved away as a “mistaken idea.” Punitively killing people’s families isn’t a “mistake.” That’s a deliberate strategy that involves killing non-terrorists to influence terrorists. Mass killing may in fact be necessary to end a war, and that did work in World War II, but let’s not pretend that the firebombing of Tokyo was a “mistake.” Either defend it on moral grounds, having the courage to say outright that it is a morally terrible but necessary choice, or don’t. But don’t call it a mistake. Furthermore, Donald Trump has not “abandoned” this position. He just evaded it when cornered and said that “take out” didn’t mean “kill.” What it does mean, he has not made clear.

On the other hand, I think some of the accusations hurled against him are unjustified. His many years of business conduct show that he is not racist or anti-(legal) immigrant or anti-Semitic or misogynistic – I think these are unjust magnifications by a hostile press exaggerating some careless statements he has made. I think he is deeply patriotic and sincerely wants the best for the country. He has been an unusually successful problem solver in business. He has raised remarkable children. Many who have known him personally speak highly of his kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. 

Of course, the press is hostile to Trump now that their free advertising — whoops, I’m sorry, I meant “dedicated coverage” — has made him the Republican candidate guaranteed to lose to Hillary Clinton. He’s the kind of Republican candidate they’ve had wet dreams about since Nixon kicked McGovern’s ass in 1976! Of course they magnify his statements. That doesn’t mean that those statements don’t exist (nor do you need to be particularly leftist to find them. Is Fortune magazine leftist? Seems hard to credit). But they scarcely need much magnification and they don’t seem “careless.” And if your candidate goes around placing full-page ads in newspapers to object to removing “hate and rancor from our hearts” CARELESSLY, then that is a major problem in and of itself. Indeed “carelessness” seems to be a hallmark of Donald Trump’s candidacy and character. When the young men falsely imprisoned in the case linked above were exonerated, Donald Trump… didn’t care.

And while I am sure many people speak highly of him, many people speak highly of Che Guevara, but he was still a racist mass-murderer.

But the main reason I call him “a good candidate with flaws” is that I think most of the policies he supports are those that will do the most good for the nation.

Should Christians even try to influence elections at all? Yes, definitely. The apostle Peter says Christians are “exiles” on this earth (1 Peter 1:1). Therefore I take seriously the prophet Jeremiah’s exhortation to the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

By way of modern application, I think Christians today have a similar obligation to vote in such a way that will “seek the welfare” of the United States. Therefore the one overriding question to ask is this: Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?

Okay, sure, although I think you hardly have to reach this far into Scripture to support the idea of seeking the welfare of your own nation, and I definitely agree that Christians have a moral imperative to use the power granted us to make sound decisions based on effective policy.

If this election is close (which seems likely), then if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win. Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?

Well, no. First of all, write-in candidates are not the only other choice, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that they are. Gary Johnson is going to be on the ballot in all fifty states, and he’s polling ahead of Clinton in Utah. This may be the first election since 1964 that a third-party candidate wins electoral votes. Jill Stein has far less support, but at least is nationally known.

Under President Obama, a liberal federal government has seized more and more control over our lives. But this can change. This year we have an unusual opportunity to defeat Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism that she champions. I believe that defeating that kind of liberalism would be a morally right action. Therefore I feel the force of the words of James: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Dr. Grudem, this is unworthy of you: you are using Scripture as a club to try to beat people into submission by using a strategy very similar to victim-blaming. You might as well say that crime victims “sin” because they know that going outside increases their exposure to crime. They know this, so they should stay indoors. And it can be just as easily argued on the same grounds that defeating Donald Trump is a morally right action and claim that people who vote for him “sin.” This sort of spiritual Mutually Assurd Destruction gets us nowhere, and should be avoided. In addition, one might very well have used the same argument to defend voting for Hitler in 1933, when Josef Stalin had killed millions of people, while Hitler (as far as I can tell) had killed none. “A vote against Hitler is a vote against Communism!” And in case it’s in doubt, I believe impeding, let alone defeating Stalin’s Soviet Union would have been an immensely morally right action. But we have to ask: defeat it in favor of WHAT?

And, Dr. Grudem, as long as you are using James’s epistle to back your position, let us see what he has to say about “careless statements:”

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear,slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
James 1:19-20.

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
James 3: 7-12.

The Scripture, sir, tells us not to trust men like Donald Trump. BECAUSE OF their words. So I have to question whether your “moral choice” is a Biblical choice.

 

Some may feel it is easier just to stay away from this messy Trump-Clinton election, and perhaps not even vote. But the teachings of Scripture do not allow us to escape moral responsibility by saying that we decided to do nothing. The prophet Obadiah rebuked the people of the Edom for standing by and doing nothing to help when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem: “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that . . . foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” (Obadiah 1:11).

But voting for a third party is not voting for Hillary. And it is not doing nothing. I agree that staying home is a bad idea. But it is not the only idea, and it is wrong to equate “doing what is unlikely to succeed, but right” with “doing nothing.”

I am writing this article because I doubt that many “I can’t vote for Trump” Christians have understood what an entirely different nation would result from Hillary Clinton as president, or have analyzed in detail how different a Trump presidency would be. In what follows, I will compare the results we could expect from a Clinton presidency with what we could expect from a Trump presidency.

Okay, good: let’s discuss policy. That’s what this election is supposed to be about. Whether it is about that is a different question.

The Supreme Court with Clinton as president

Hillary Clinton would quickly replace Justice Scalia with another liberal like Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. This would give liberals a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court even without Justice Kennedy, and 6-3 when he votes with them.

But that is not all. Justice Ginsburg is 83, and she has had colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and has a heart stent. Justice Kennedy is 80. Justice Breyer is 78. A President Clinton could possibly nominate three or four justices to the Supreme Court, locking in a far-left activist judiciary for perhaps 30 or more years. She could also add dozens of activist judges to federal district courts and courts of appeals, the courts where 99% of federal lawsuits are decided. Judicial tyranny of the type we have seen when abortion rights and same-sex marriage were forced on the nation would gain a permanent triumph.

The nation would no longer be ruled by the people and their elected representatives, but by unelected, unaccountable, activist judges who would dictate from the bench about whatever they were pleased to decree. And there would be nothing in our system of government that anyone could do to stop them.

That is why this election is not just about Hillary Clinton. It is about defeating the far left liberal agenda that any Democratic nominee would champion. Liberal Democrats are now within one Supreme Court justice of their highest goal: gaining permanent control of the nation with a five vote majority on the Supreme Court, and then relentlessly imposing every liberal policy on the nation not through winning elections but through a relentless parade of one Supreme Court decision after another.

Even if Clinton were to drop out of the race (perhaps due to additional shocking email disclosures, for example), our choice in the election would be just the same, because any other Democratic nominee would appoint the same kind of liberal justices to the Court.

This is the reason that a lot of people whom I otherwise respect give for casting a vote for Donald Trump: BUT THE SUPREME COURT! And given the overreach of the judicial branch and the federal government, I share the concern. But Donald Trump isn’t the answer to that concern. Firstly, there’s little evidence that he’s actually in favor of limiting that overreach. Trump was in favor of Obamacare just in FEBRUARY! And the mandate! Secondly, Trump has made proposal after proposal that shows that he is ignorant of the basic limitations of the Constitution! How could such a man reliably pick a Supreme Court justice that is NOT the very kind of “liberal” you fear? He could do it through sheer ignorance.

Abortion

On abortion, a liberal court would probably find the ban on partial-birth abortion to be unconstitutional (it was upheld by only a 5-4 majority in Gonzalez v. Carhart, 2007). In addition, the court could find an absolute “right to abortion” in the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and then sweep away with one decision most or all of the restrictions on abortion that pro-life advocates worked for tirelessly over the last 43 years, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and prohibitions on non-doctors performing abortions.

Voters should not doubt the power of the Supreme Court to abolish all these laws restricting abortions. Think of the power of the Obergefell v. Hodges 5-4 decision in June, 2015. It instantly nullified all the work that thousands of Christians had done over many years in persuading the citizens of 31 states to pass constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But no one is campaigning for such laws or amendments anymore, because it would be futile. The Supreme Court has spoken, and therefore the issue is settled in the political system of the United States. We lost – not at the ballot box, but because we had a liberal Supreme Court that nullified the democratic process regarding the definition of marriage.

So it would certainly be with any efforts to place legal limitations on abortion. Nobody would campaign any more for laws to limit abortions, because any such laws would be unconstitutional. The legislative lobbying work of pro-life advocacy groups would be totally and utterly defeated. Millions of unborn children would continue to die.

Yes, well, I’ve already written on why opposing same-sex marriage on the legal level is a bad idea. In addition, I really hate to break it to you, Dr. Grudem, but most Americans want abortion to be legal, at least under certain conditions. If you want the court to oppose this, then you are engaging in the same type of judicial rule you object to liberals using, and that’s dishonest. Additionally, the Bible does not consider abortion to be the equivalent of murder: Exodus 21:20 states that: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.” The same law would require the death of the offender if the woman died, but only a fine for terminating the pregnancy. This practice of “fining” seems to imply that Old Testament law considers  termination of pregnancy (even when it is caused by someone NOT THE PREGNANT WOMAN) morally equivalent to theft, which was also punishable by fines.
I cannot therefore find any Biblical grounds for taking this objection seriously. I dislike abortion intensely, but I didn’t write the Bible.

Religious liberty

The current liberal agenda often includes suppressing Christian opposition to its views. So a liberal court would increasingly nullify rights of conscience with respect to forced participation in same-sex marriage ceremonies or expressing moral objections to homosexual conduct. Already Christians are being pushed out of many occupations. Florists, bakers, and professional photographers have had their businesses destroyed by large fines for refusal to contribute their artistic talents to a specific event, a same-sex wedding ceremony to which they had moral objections.

Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran in Atlanta was removed from his job because of self-publishing a religious book that briefly mentioned the Bible’s teachings regarding non-marital sexual conduct, including homosexuality, amidst a host of other topics. His situation holds ominous implications for any Christians who hold public sector jobs. In our military services, many high-ranking officers have quietly been forced to resign because they were unwilling to give support to the homosexual agenda.

Mozilla/Firefox CEO Brendan Eich was pushed out from his own company merely because he had donated money to Proposition 8 in California, supporting marriage between one man and one woman. This event has troubling implications for Christians in any corporate executive role who dare to support a political position contrary to the liberal agenda.

Last year Boston urologist Paul Church, a Harvard Medical School faculty member, lost his hospital privileges at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center because he had expressed concerns about the medical dangers associated with same-sex activity.

Are my predictions about this kind of loss of religious liberty too grim? The three conservative justices still on the Supreme Court expressed similar concerns just last month. The case concerned a Washington pharmacy that has been owned for 70 years by the Stormans family, who are committed Christians. They will likely now be put out of business by the Washington State Pharmacy Board for refusing to dispense an abortion-causing prescription drug. On June 28, 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Stormans’ appeal, in spite of the strong dissent written by Justice Alito (joined by Roberts and Thomas):

“At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. . . . . there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State . . . . If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” (italics added)

I generally share these concerns, but again, given Trump’s ignorance of the Constitution’s guarantees on freedom of religion, it’s pretty hard to believe that Trump would be able to appoint justices who wouldn’t do exactly what you fear from Clinton.

Christian business owners

If Clinton appoints just one more liberal justice, it is likely that many Christian business owners will be targeted. Hobby Lobby won its 2014 Supreme Court case (again 5-4), so it was not compelled to dispense abortifacients to its employees, but that case could be reversed (the four liberal justices in the minority, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, are still on the court). If that case is overturned, it would force Hobby Lobby out of business, because the Green family had said they would shut down the company of 23,000 employees and over $3 billion in annual sales if they lost the decision. The implications for other Christian business owners with pro-life convictions are ominous.

These incidents show that it is not an exaggeration to say that, under a liberal Supreme Court resulting from Hillary Clinton’s election, Christians would increasingly experience systematic exclusion from hundreds of occupations, with thousands of people losing their jobs. Step-by-step, Christians would increasingly be marginalized to the silent fringes of society. Is withholding a vote from Donald Trump important enough to pay this high a price in loss of freedom?

Some Christians have even hinted to me that “persecution would be good for us.” But the Bible never encourages us to seek persecution or hope for it. We should rather work to prevent such oppression of Christians, just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Paul did not encourage us to pray that God would give us bad rulers but good ones who would allow us to live a peaceful life:

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1Timothy 2:1)

Yes, Dr. Grudem, I share your concern, and even more, believe your interpretation of Scripture to be right on, here, but it still doesn’t make Trump more familiar with Constitutional law than he was in the last paragraph. It also doesn’t exactly jive with your willingness earlier to use an argument that voting third party is morally equivalent to voting for Hillary. By your own logic here, any action that could be expected to lead to the strengthening of our faith through persecution should be taken: after all, strengthening our faith is a good thing, right? And you just told us that not doing a good thing is sin.

Christian schools and colleges

A liberal Supreme Court would also impact education. Christian colleges would likely be found guilty of “discrimination” if they required adherence to the Bible’s standards regarding sexual conduct, or even required affirmation of primary Christian beliefs. Campus ministries like Cru and InterVarsity have already been forced off of many university campuses following the 5-4 Supreme Court decision CLS v. Martinez (2010), which upheld the exclusion of the Christian Legal Society from the campus of Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. And now California’s Equity in Higher Education Act (SB 1146), which recently passed the California state senate and will likely become law, would prohibit Christian colleges from requiring students or employees to hold Christian beliefs or abide by biblical moral standards regarding sexual conduct, and would prohibit colleges from assigning housing based on a student’s biological sex if a student claimed to be transgender. Colleges like Biola and Azusa Pacific could not long survive under those regulations.

With regard to elementary and high schools, laws promoting school choice or tuition voucher programs would likely be declared unconstitutional if they allowed such funding to go to Christian schools. A tax credit program for scholarships to private schools, including Christian institutions, was only upheld by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn in 2011, and all four liberal justices who voted against it are still on the court. Another possible target of the liberal agenda would be laws that allow for home schooling, if the secular/ liberal governmental hostility to home schooling in European countries is any indicator.

I feel like I’m in church again, singing a hymn where I don’t know the words to anything but the refrain, only in this case the refrain goes: “I share all thy concerns, but thy solution doth not impress me.” 

Churches

Churches would not be exempt from the impact of a liberal Supreme Court. The court could rule that any school district is allowed to ban churches from renting school buildings on Sundays, an action that could severely hinder the work of small churches and church planting in general. (This was already the ruling of the Second Circuit in the Bronx Household of Faith case regarding New York City public schools.) And some churches in Iowa have now been told that they have to make their bathrooms open to people on the basis of their “gender identity” if the churches are going to be open to the public at all.

“I share all thy concerns, but thy solution doth not impress me.” 

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech would be increasingly restricted in the public square. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that prayers of visiting pastors who prayed “in Jesus’ name” when they opened a city council meeting were allowed under the Constitution, but again it was a 5-4 decision (Town of Greece v. Galloway) and all four liberals who wanted to restrict such prayers are still on the court.

“I share all thy concerns, but thy solution doth not impress me.” Especially since Trump has spoken of his own willingness to clamp down on free speech. I sure don’t want that to be a precedent, still less a precedent set by a Republican.

Criminalizing dissent

Another troubling possibility is that liberal activists, once in power, would further entrench themselves by criminalizing much political dissent. We have already seen it happen with the IRS targeting of conservative groups and with some state attorneys general taking steps to prosecute (!) groups who dare to disagree with activists’ claims about the danger of man-made global warming.

“But my conscience won’t let me vote for Donald Trump,” some have told me. But I wonder if their consciences have considered the gravity of these destructive consequences that would come from a Clinton presidency. A vote for Trump would at least be doing something to prevent these things.

Well, you’d like to think so, anyway.

In addition, I think there are several positive reasons to vote for Trump.

The Supreme Court with Trump as president

Trump has released a list of 11 judges to show the kind of nominee he would appoint to the Supreme Court. A lawyer familiar with many of these names has told me that they constitute a “dream list” of outstanding judges who would uphold the original meaning of the Constitution and would not create new laws from the bench. Trump has said he would rely primarily on advice from the Federalist Society, the organization that promotes the “original meaning” view so strongly exemplified by Justice Scalia before his death.

If Trump would appoint a replacement for Scalia from his list of 11, and probably one or two other Supreme Court justices, then we could see a 5-4 or even 6-3 majority of conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The results for the nation would be overwhelmingly good.

Such a Supreme Court would finally return control of the nation to the people and their elected representatives, removing it from dictatorial judges who repeatedly make law from the bench.

Well, that’s great news. I very much admired Justice Scalia. But all of this hinges on Donald Trump being a man of his word. And you just acknowledged that Trump is a man who makes careless statements. Moreover, the legal record abounds with cases of Trump and his companies NOT keeping their words to pay bills.
Political promises are the currency of the business of politics. Why should we trust that the man whose company claimed that they should be let off because they had “paid enough” will not tell us, when he is elected, that he has “kept enough promises?”

Abortion

Such a court would likely overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion laws and the regulation of abortion to the states.

Dr. Grudem, it’s not going to happen. I don’t like abortion either (saying it isn’t murder, by the way, doesn’t mean I think it’s a right, nor that I think it should be carte-blanche legal) but Republicans have been fighting this for FORTY YEARS. One of the main reasons trump is popular is that Republicans who WANT to see it happen are damned tired of Republicans promising to end it and it keeps being legal. You don’t have the support among the populace for this. And promoting bad policy because you really, really WANT it to happen is exactly what you say we shouldn’t be doing.

Religious liberty

A conservative court would vigorously uphold the First Amendment, protecting freedom of religion and freedom of speech for Christian colleges, Christian ministries, and churches.

Such a court would likely overturn the horribly destructive decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) that changed the meaning of the First Amendment and ruled that a government action “must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion” (note: not a specific denomination but “religion” in general). A conservative court would likely declare that the First Amendment was only intended to prohibit the establishment of a state-sponsored church or denomination.

Such a decision would once again allow the nonsectarian affirmation of personal belief in God in public schools, would once again allow coaches to pray with their football teams before a game, and would allow visiting clergy to be invited to give a prayer at high school graduation ceremonies. It would also imply that nativity scenes without Santa Claus and Buddha should be allowed in government-owned parks and buildings at Christmas time. It wouldn’t require these things, but would allow them if local officials chose to approve them. It would restore true freedom of religion as the First Amendment intended.

It would also protect freedom of conscience for Christians who object to participating in abortions, or dispensing abortifacient medicines, or who do not wish to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. It is also possible that a conservative Supreme Court would eventually return control of marriage to the states.

Slightly modified refrain: “Generally a good idea, if you trust Trump.”

Freedom for Christian influence in politics

Significantly, Trump has pledged to work to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the IRS code, which has been used for 62 years as a threat to silence pastors from speaking about political issues, for fear of losing their tax-exempt status. This would be a great victory for freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

In short, a Trump-appointed Supreme Court, together with dozens of lower court judges appointed by him, would probably result in significant advances in many of the policy areas important to Christians. It would also open the door to huge expansion of influence for the many Christian lobbying groups known as “family policy councils” in various states, especially enabling them to work for further legal protections for life, for marriage and family, and for religious liberty.

Speaking of which, at least you’re honest enough to ask:

How can we know that Trump won’t change his mind?

“But Trump has changed his mind in the past,” a politically-minded friend said to me. “How do you know that he will do what he has promised? Maybe he’ll betray you and appoint a liberal Supreme Court justice.”

My reply is that we can never know the future conduct of any human being with 100% certainty, but in making an ethical decision like this one, we should base the decision on the most likely results. In this case, the most likely result is that Trump will do most or all of what he has said.

I disagree, obviously. Trump has a track record of NOT doing what he says he will. That’s what a bankruptcy IS.

In the history of American politics, candidates who have been elected president have occasionally changed their minds on one or another issue while in office, but no president has ever gone back on most of what he has promised to do, especially on issues that are crucially important in the election. In this election, it is reasonable to think that the most likely result is that both Trump and Clinton will do what they have promised to do. That is the basis on which we should decide how to vote.

Possibly correct, but Trump has said so many contradictory and unconstitutional things that it breaks all precedent. It’s almost impossible for me to believe that he WON’T have to break many, if not most of his promises.

And notice how Trump has changed his mind. He continues to move in a more conservative direction, as evidenced by his list of judges and his choice for vice president. Just as he succeeded in business by listening to the best experts to solve each problem, I suspect that he has been learning from the best experts in conservative political thought and has increasingly found that conservative solutions really work. We should applaud these changes.

Of course he is moving in a more conservative direction. He’s already poison to all liberal and most swing voters (which is why, barring a disaster, I’m fairly confident he won’t win) and a lot of conservatives hate him. He has to play to the base. He doesn’t have to keep playing to them after he’s in office.

His choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate is an especially significant indication that he will govern as a conservative. Trump could have picked a moderate but instead picked a lifelong solid conservative who is a thoughtful, gracious policy wizard. Pence is a lawyer and former talk radio host who served 12 years in Congress and had significant congressional leadership positions, so he will be immensely helpful in working with Congress. He is a committed evangelical Christian. He is a former board member of the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative Christian lobbying group in Indiana.

However, the Supreme Court is not the only issue at stake in this election. While I disagree with Trump on a few things (especially trade policy), on most important issues, Trump will likely do much good for the nation.

Taxes and jobs

Trump has pledged to cut taxes significantly, while Clinton wants to raise them. Trump is advocating a 15% tax rate for corporations rather than the current 35%. Lower corporate taxes would lead to business expansion and a massive increase in available jobs and higher pay levels. For individual taxpayers, Trump favors a top rate of 25%, but for Clinton it’s 45%. Most small businesses file under this individual rate, so once again Trump’s lower taxes would result in substantial expansion of businesses and many more jobs. Finally our economy would snap out of its eight years of anemic growth.

In my judgment, Christians should support lower tax rates that would lead to more jobs, because Obama’s economic policies for the last eight years have hurt lower income and low-middle income families the most. Many can’t even find jobs, and others can’t find full-time jobs. Those who have jobs struggle to survive with no meaningful pay raises year after year. It is no surprise that these are the people who are supporting Trump in overwhelming numbers.

Tax rates are also a good indicator of government control. Higher tax rates mean greater government control of our lives, while lower tax rates indicate greater freedom.

If all that comes along with closing loopholes in the system, I’m all for it. Has Trump said ANYTHING about that? Or is it just more “tax cuts promote growth because magic?”

Minorities

Two of the deepest causes of poverty among minority groups and racial tensions in our country are failing public schools in our inner cities and lack of available jobs. Trump expressed a commitment to solve these problems at several points in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. He pledged to reduce taxes and regulations, leading to many more jobs. And he said:

“Nearly 4 in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58% of African-American youth are not employed . . . . This administration has failed America’s inner cities. It’s failed them on education. It’s failed and on jobs. It’s failed them on crime . . . . Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America? . . . . We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice.”

By contrast, Clinton will bow to the teachers’ unions and oppose school choice at every turn, and she will continue to strangle businesses with high taxes and regulations, preventing job growth.

Awesome, but that’s not a policy. It’s a vague goal at best.

The military

Trump has promised to rapidly rebuild our depleted military forces, but Clinton would continue the liberal policy of eviscerating them through denying funding. This is dangerous in light of increasing threats from China, Russia, Iran, and ISIS.

Funding the military will make very little difference if it is employed ineptly, as has been the case since approximately 1991, and I’m being generous, there. Trump has even less experience with military action as an arm of government policy than Clinton does, and I think SHE’S going to be disastrously bad at it.

Borders

Trump has repeatedly promised that he will finally secure our borders, an urgent need to protect the nation from ever more terrorists and drug smugglers. Clinton will not do this but will continue to allow in what she thinks will be thousands of future Democratic voters.

Promises, again. There are 11 million — ELEVEN MILLION — illegal immigrants who are determined to live here regardless of what the law says. Many citizens support them in this. Many of both groups believe their political power can only increase by increasing the flow. Amnesty and a path to citizenship for these folks, giving them a stake in closing off the pipeline, is the only alternative to actual civil war.

ISIS and terrorism

Trump has pledged to aggressively attack and utterly defeat ISIS. Clinton will continue the anemic Obama policy of periodic bombing runs and drone attacks, under which ISIS has continued to thrive.

See the comment on use of the military, above.

China and Russia

Trump will not let China and Russia and Iran push us around anymore, as Obama has done, with Hillary Clinton’s support when she was secretary of state. If Trump is anything, he is tough as nails, and he won’t be bullied.

He won’t APPEAR to be bullied. That’s very different from actually being bullied. By asking Russia to expose the emails it might have from Hillary Clinton, he has ALREADY rewarded Russia’s interference in our elections, setting a dangerous precedent. I have little use for Obama’s foreign policy, or Clinton’s, but at least they have the advantage of not scaring the bejeezus out of our allies, whom Trump has openly threatened not to support if they should fall behind on their NATO obligations, FURTHER encouraging Russian bullying of NATO.

Israel

Trump has promised to vigorously defend and support Israel, while Clinton will most likely continue the Obama administration’s criticism, snubbing, and marginalization of Israel.

And why does that need to be a cornerstone of our foreign policy? Maybe it does, but it’s worth perhaps not simply assuming.

Energy

Trump has said he will approve the Keystone oil pipeline and grant more oil drilling permits leading to lower energy costs and providing thousands of jobs. Lower energy costs help everybody, but the poor most of all. Clinton, by contrast, will make fracking nearly impossible and essentially abolish the coal industry, causing energy prices to skyrocket.

Here, I agree, but I’d love a statement supporting nuclear power.

Executive orders and bathrooms

Trump has promised to rescind many of the most objectionable executive orders given by President Obama, so he will likely end the compulsory moral degradation forced on us by a liberal agenda, including orders forcing schools to allow boys in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, in defiance of the will of the vast majority of Americans. But Hillary Clinton would likely perpetuate and expand these policies.

The problem is not which laws govern our bathrooms. The problem is there is law about bathrooms at all. Trump is just the opposite side of the same terrible coin, here, but that is a large topic, for another time.

Health care

Trump will work to repeal Obamacare, which is ruining the nation’s health care system, and replace it with an affordable free market system in which companies have the ability to sell insurance across state lines, thus substantially lowering insurance prices especially in those states that currently allow only high-priced “Cadillac” insurance plans. But Clinton would continue to work relentlessly toward federal government control of our entire health care industry.

Not according to what he said in February.

The unprotected

Trump will finally begin to recognize and protect what Wall Street Journal writer Peggy Noonan calls “the unprotected” in America — people in lower income areas who cannot find good jobs, cannot find good schools for their children, do not feel protected from crime, and find their retirement savings are not enough because for years they have been earning no interest in the bank. Trump said in his acceptance speech, “Every day I wake up determined to deliver for the people I have met all across the nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned . . . I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves.”

These American citizens recognize that Trump has built a business career on listening to experts, solving problems, and getting things done. They realize that Trump didn’t earn $4 billion by being stupid, and their instinct says that he might be exactly the right person to solve some of the biggest problems in a nation that has for too long been headed in the wrong direction and stuck in political gridlock.

They may not have college degrees but their old-fashioned common sense tells them that America would be a much better place if we no longer had to be afraid to say “Merry Christmas,” or that boys are different from girls, or that Islamic terrorists are Islamic terrorists. They’re sick and tired of being condescended to by the snobbish moralism of the liberal elites who dominate the power centers in our nation. That is why they cheer when Trump repeatedly violates the canons of politically correct speech. They have found in him someone who gives them hope, and they are supporting him by the thousands.

This is unquestionably Trump’s appeal. This is what his supporters want. But he’s not God, or even a ruling king. He can’t do it by fiat.

Does character matter?

“But are you saying that character doesn’t matter?” someone might ask. I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.

In addition, if someone makes doubts about character the only factor to consider, that is a fallacy in ethical reasoning that I call “reductionism” – the mistake of reducing every argument to only one factor, when the situation requires that multiple factors be considered. In this election, an even larger factor is the future of the nation that would flow from a Clinton or a Trump presidency.

Your statement on reductionism is correct. Interesting that I rarely see a Christian figure make those same argument when a Christian politician of better character (but questionable policies) runs against a Democrat with worse character (but better policies). And hopefully, I’ve addressed many issues by now, sir.

To my friends who tell me they won’t vote for Trump because there is a chance he won’t govern at all like he promises, I reply that all of American presidential history shows that that result is unlikely, and it is ethically fallacious reasoning to base a decision on assuming a result that is unlikely to happen.

Consider instead the most likely results. The most likely result of voting for Trump is that he will govern the way he promises to do, bringing much good to the nation.

But the most likely result of not voting for Trump is that you will be abandoning thousands of unborn babies who will be put to death under Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court, thousands of Christians who will be excluded from their lifelong occupations, thousands of the poor who will never again be able to find high-paying jobs in an economy crushed by government hostility toward business, thousands of inner-city children who will never be able to get a good education, thousands of the sick and elderly who will never get adequate medical treatment when the government is the nation’s only healthcare provider, thousands of people who will be killed by an unchecked ISIS, and millions of Jews in Israel who will find themselves alone and surrounded by hostile enemies. And you will be contributing to a permanent loss of the American system of government due to a final victory of unaccountable judicial tyranny.

When I look at it this way, my conscience, and my considered moral judgment tell me that I must vote for Donald Trump as the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America.

By all means, Dr. Grudem, vote your conscience. The only way forward is for us each to vote our consciences. But your reasons, I regret to inform you, have not only failed to move my conscience, they have utterly strengthened my determination not to vote for Donald Trump, because I cannot place my faith in the God of the Bible, and in the Donald Trump that I have learned about. I regret even more to inform you that, because of what I can only see as a selective use of Scripture to support a partisan political viewpoint, and in spite of the respect I have for your many years of Biblical scholarship, I cannot hold that scholarship in the same high regard I have previously. However, please believe that, should Trump be elected (which I doubt he will), I shall pray to the God we both worship that you are correct and that I am wrong. Because may God help us all if you are not.

A Christian Case For The Legality Of Gay Marriage

So much has been said on the subject of the recent Supreme Court ruling that it is nearly asinine even to mention that much has been said. And yet, in all that has been said about love, and all that has been said about justice, and all that has been said about fairness and all that has been said about hatred and bigotry and hypocrisy and force, I have yet to hear anyone address an issue that, in my opinion, the Church must acknowledge. That issue is whether or not we, the Church of Christ, are obligated to be honest to the world about what we want out of our government.

Despite some of the histrionics that I have seen from scaremongers on the extreme left, most of the Christians that I know and fellowship with do not want a theocracy in America. I have lived in enough places in this nation and spoken with enough Christians that I can say with assurance that most Christians do not want this. They do want their faith, and the right to practice it protected, and like all people, they get scared (despite the Lord’s command that they should not) and overreact. But the vast majority of them don’t really want a Church State.

I am going to speak, then, to those in the Church who agree with this principle. If we really do agree that Church and State should be separate, and that the State should have nothing to do with the Church, it is difficult for me to understand why the Church should consider it relevant what definition the State places on “marriage.” “Marriage” to the State denotes a legal arrangement that allows for special privileges between the married parties, most of which have to do with parental and property rights. What do we have to do with what the State says, unless it directly challenges our rights to be the Church of Christ?

I submit that it is dishonest of the Church of Christ to both want and not want the State to do our bidding. If we wish to seize the power of the State to make laws (which I think would be a grave mistake) then we should at least be honest enough to proclaim that this is what we want, and work openly for the establishment of a theocracy, which would make laws along Christian principles. I trust that such laws would include making divorce and the remarriage of the divorced illegal as well. But I have not seen the part of the Church that campaigns against the legalization of gay marriage waging a campaign against laws that recognize these other practices of marriage. All of them are practices which the State permits and Christ condemns.

The Muslim faith does, under certain conditions, permit and encourage its adherents to lie to unbelievers in a practice known as taqiyyah. Some Muslims have interpreted this to justify any lie to a non-Muslim. Others stress that taqiyyah only allows Muslims to lie about their Muslim identity to escape torture and death at the hands of persecutors. This is a difference between the Muslim faith and the Christian faith. As Christians, we are charged in the strongest terms to openly avow our faith in Christ when asked. We cannot be honest with God if we are dishonest with the world.

Thus, when we as Americans take offices that require us to execute the laws of the State, and consider ourselves as citizens whose rights are protected by the State (not, please note, granted by the State), we are obligated to make and interpret the laws of the State in a spirit of honesty. And I cannot see how, honestly, we can deny the State the right to define legal marriage as long as we assent to the State’s right to grant changes in married couples’ right to hold property and raise children. If we deny it this right, then we are essentially lying. We are trying to make the State into the Church. I see nothing Biblical in this. It would be just the same as if I, in my capacity as an employee of a private business, took money from my employer and then used my time and effort to preach the Word of God. That would not glorify God. That would be fraud, and sin.

If we assent that a secular State is good, and that we, as the Church of Christ can partake of it, then we must assent to the State the right to make its laws, and its right to, within those laws, enforce them. Otherwise, we are committing fraud, and this we cannot expect the Lord to honor. Note that this applies to Christians regardless of whether you believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful.

If the Church is not honest about its contracts and its obligations as a citizenry, it is not really being the Church. It is being a den of liars and fraudsters. This cannot be a good witness. This cannot glorify God.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being Grouped

In her excellent novel, Dawn, Octavia Butler shows us a small group of humans struggling to adapt after having been rescued from a nuclear war on Earth by an alien species called the Oankali. One of the aliens says that humans have two attributes that doomed us to destroy ourselves. We are intelligent, and we are hierarchical. The hierarchies we seek to establish are the cause of our violence, and intelligence used in service of this violence gives us the ability to destroy our species.

I would add a third quality, however, that Ms. Butler may have overlooked,* and this is our tendency to groupishness. In some ways, this can be a strength. One of my favorite characters in all of science-fiction, Ambassador Delenn of Babylon 5, said, “Wherever humans go, they form communities.” Yes. We form groups. We form them because they are fun. We form them because we learn from them. We form them because they are essential to realizing certain dreams. And we form them because they make us feel safe. We form them because they reassure us that we are righteous. That we are sane. That we are not trapped in the hell of loneliness.

We are born into certain groups, whether we like it or not. Physical gender. Levels of physical abilities. But the fact is that we humans will make up groups to sort people in any number of ways. Some are real. Some are imaginary. And it is this tendency of humans that truly makes me fear for our species.

It isn’t just that we place ourselves in these groups. It is not even just that we seek to exclude others from our own groups. It would, in some ways, be impossible to have groups that did not exclude. It is our desire to group other people, whether they are willing to be so grouped or not, and then to rank them in an hierarchy according to what groups they have been melded with.

We’ve all played the game: “If you are this, you can’t be that.” “If you are this, you must also be that.”
You cannot be a loyal American and a Muslim.
You must be a racist if you fly the Confederate flag.
You cannot be scientifically knowledgeable and a Republican.
You cannot be a pacifist and a patriot.

What else is the current debate over the Confederate flag about? It’s about the ability to put people in groups. The Confederate flag was originally flown over the desire to put people in groups. To have a symbol for the people who wanted to ensure that the white race would always be superior to the black race. To have a symbol for those who believed that the federal government had no authority to order the sovereign states to obey it.

For those who believed the former, but not the latter, there was no special symbol, but the American flag did well enough. After all, most white people in the 1860s were quite openly convinced of white superiority. As for those who currently believe the latter, but not the former, they have no symbol. They want to use that symbol because it is potent and rich with history. Their opponents are just as concerned with the potency of the symbol, and are determined to deny its use, because they fear that it secretly means a determination to subjugate and destroy them, just as it openly did 150 years ago.

The common thread here, as I see it, is that people want absolute freedom to group. Of themselves they wish to say, “I and I alone, determine what groups I join and what they mean to me, and only we, the People of the Group, may have an opinion on the worth of the Group and the ultimate meaning of the Group.” Of others, they wish to say, “I will determine your worthiness to be admitted to my group, and what other groups you belong to, whether you acknowledge your membership in that group or not. Whether you know those groups exist or not.”

Obviously, these freedoms cannot coexist. No two people can have that kind of power over themselves and over the other. At the core of this groupishness is a terrible fear that we may be left alone with no group, and a willingness to disrespect others’ agency to form groups, lest they expel us from our group, or tear our group apart. The more a group feels itself attacked, the tighter it hangs together, because a group is in many ways a spiritual home. A place where we can escape form loneliness and be understood by the Group. Threaten that, and you threaten something very close to family. People will kill for it. Some asshole just did, because he thought that members of the Group of Black Americans threatened his Group (what he called it in his mind, I neither know nor want to) by their insistence on being fully included in the Group of Americans. Now the Groups are on the march. Active. Angry. Defending their Groups from perceived attack and mobilizing to attack Groups they perceive as potential threats. Groups they perceive as the source of this asshole.

I feel I have spent a lot of time saying little that is profound. What, after all, can I recommend, here? I don’t have much of an answer except “awareness.” Awareness that leads to love. When you see people passionately defending a group or a symbol that stands for something you hate, be aware that they are probably being honest in their claims that they are defending a love, and a home. Don’t assume they must be cherishing a hate because they know or dress like, or like the same symbol as THOSE PEOPLE. It’s true not everyone is honest. Some are monsters, I will grant, who lie about what groups they are part of and what those groups mean. Most are not. Be aware of what you are doing when you assign people to groups, and that you may be wrong. Be aware that if your Group is threatened, you may overreact. Ask yourself if that’s possible. Try to allow people the same freedom to form Groups and determine their meanings as you would want for yourself.

It’s the only lesson, or hope, that I can see.

*I say may. Steven Barnes, who certainly knew Ms. Butler better than I did (having been her student for only a week) says that Ms. Butler said that humans were hierarchical and tribal. I prefer “groupish” because it implies a more fluid construct than a tribe, which is usually something you are born into, or at least choose for the long term. However, I’m happy to give both Ms. Butler and Mr. Barnes credit for noting the really important parts of this phenomenon before I did.

We Hold These Rights, Part I: Of Whom Do We Hold?

Preface: In four weeks, I’ll be going to a conference on the Bill of Rights, sponsored by The Bill of Rights Institute, on Civil Liberty and the Constitution. As part of this conference, I have been asked to read a number of historical documents, written by the framers, their mentors, and those who lived, legislated, and worked within that Constitutional frame. This resonates deeply with me, as I have been struggling for some time now with concepts such as “rights,” “freedom,” and “justice.”  What follow are my thoughts.

If the Declaration of Independence had an author other than Thomas Jefferson, it was John Locke. This, we all learn in History class. Okay, we learn it in MY history class. But I’ll be honest, I’d never actually sat down and read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which I imagine puts me in company with 99.9% of my readers.

After getting over my relief at finding that actual contact with the text didn’t contradict my years of learning from others what “Locke said” about government (and better yet, that it didn’t contradict my years of TEACHING what other people had told me “Locke said” about government,* I began to truly come to grips with the text, and began to realize just how derivative from Locke our founding document is:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal,”

I have heard these words since before I really knew what they meant. Almost every schoolkid in America would come out with at least that if you asked him or her what the Declaration said.*** Fewer would be able to go on:

“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This derives directly from Locke, who wrote:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind… that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not another’s pleasure: and… there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.

Of course, Locke is not basing his argument for equality nearly as much upon that which we would today call “reason,” in the scientific sense, as he is basing it upon theistic and Christian principles. Locke did not, as modern atheists do, think of reason and religion as being naturally opposed, but as natural allies of one another. And lest I be mistaken, the intent of this entry is not to contend that America was founded by Christians or that it should as a matter of policy endorse Christianity, still less that it should impose Christianity (or any belief of conscience) upon its citizens. But the evidence should be enough to assert that the principles upon which this nation was founded (if we take the Declaration to be the founding) are principles which explicitly take their justification from a theistic and a Christian foundation. “We hold these truths,” say the founders. Hold them based on what? Scientific reason, divorced from scripture makes a mockery of the idea that all people are created equal. It would be scientifically ridiculous to maintain such, both then and now. How are they equal? They are not equal in physical strength, command of wealth, social fluency or mental faculties, or anything that explicitly serves the state or community.

Now, what science most definitely shows us is that trying to sort people into superior and inferior classes based on broad identities of race, gender, wealth, ethnicity, ancestry or any number of chauvinistic nonsense is ridiculous, but that is a far cry from the dictum that thunders into our souls the equality of man with man, and man with woman. In contrast (and increasingly) we see inequality governing our relationships until the day we all die.

That, perhaps, is the indisputable equality, though the poor are certainly “more equal” than the rich in the rate at which they meet that fate.**** Certainly they suffer more along the way to it. And my atheist friends would likely say that this is enough to make people equal: that they all suffer and die the same. Certainly I agree that this makes them feel equal to each other, but then, I already agree with Locke that people are equal as children of God. I don’t have to come up with additional justifications for equality. But as true as this fact is, it hardly makes people of unequal abilities equally valuable to a human society in the present, unless the very act of treating all people equally strengthens society in some concrete way. If any studies have been done on this, I am not aware of them, and would appreciate being enlightened.

However, regardless of whether such studies have been done, and regardless of their results, it is surely obvious that Locke and his disciples were not using them. Their rationale for founding a nation upon the ideal of equality was a recognition, however flawed and however badly realized, of the equality of humanity before a Divine Creator. Of course, it was a completely hypocritical recognition. The image of Thomas Jefferson looking up from the Declaration and watching his slaves trudge home, broken in body and spirit, while considering himself the champion of equality forces us to either laugh or weep. But the words he wrote, however hypocritical, became, inexorably part and parcel of freeing the grandchildren of those slaves, and became the great “promissory note” which Martin Luther King presented to a complacent white America, who had then no alternative but either to admit their hypocrisy, or to grant equal civil rights to their black American brothers and sisters.

Of course, full equality is not yet here, but perhaps we can see now that it is more than fitting that the man who presented that promissory note held the title “Reverend,” and dared to claim that equality was not only politically wise and morally right, but a divine command. But why do I bring this up? Do I mean to say that one must be a Christian, or even a theist, to be a “real American,” or to claim, defend, or advocate for rights? Not in the slightest: I’m not anyone’s morality police. You do what you do because you have chosen to do it. You don’t owe me an explanation until you violate someone else’s rights. But if we want to know where our rights come from, in the minds of those who articulated them, we should look with our eyes open, whether or not we agree with them. And from Martin Luther King back to the very oldest of American principles, preceding even the independence of the American states, we see a strong belief that the rights we hold, we hold of God.

*this happens more often than history teachers would like to admit. Relying on secondary sources** has occasionally resulted in me inadvertently “teaching” bad facts. In my defense, I have also caught actual history textbooks teaching bad facts. Not just “leaving them out” but teaching positive untruths.

**yes, I know, I should never do this, but the thing about teaching history is, well, there’s a lot of it. Even those of us who teach have to skim and read the summaries at times.

***hell, a lot of them would come out with this if you asked them what the Constitution said, but that’s an all-too-common confusion.

****I always sigh when I read somebody who claims that the poor are “more likely to die” than the rich. How ridiculous: they’re equally likely to die.