Three personal statements about Charlottesville:
- As a Christian, I repudiate racism (Galatians 3:28).
- As a Republican — the party of Lincoln!!! — I repudiate neo-Confederate white nationalism.
- As a conservative, I repudiate the mob violence of neo-Nazis and fascists.
American public discourse, especially about controversial issues, is often conducted at a very low level. More heat than light, one might say. In this video from The Heritage Foundation, John Corvino, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson show how to have an informative, civil, and pointed debate about the legal conflict between religious liberty protections and LGBT nondiscrimination laws.
Over at InfluenceMagazine.com, I offer some thoughts about Joseph, adoptive father of Jesus, as a model for Christian fathers today. I’m reposting the article here with permission.
One of my favorite memories growing up was playing basketball with my dad. He’d get home from work, and we’d head to the nearby park to shoot hoops. When I was little, he’d let me win the game, but as I got older, the games became more truly competitive.
I still remember the first time I beat my dad for real. I felt great, and he celebrated my win. Only now, as a father myself, can I understand how genuinely proud he must’ve felt that his boy was growing up.
This Father’s Day, many will celebrate their dads with affection. I certainly will. Some who have lost their dads will shed a tear because they miss him. Others, however, didn’t have good relationships with their dads, so they will honor them begrudgingly, if they do so at all.
America’s Crisis of Fatherlessness
Fathers make a difference in the lives of their children, whether they are present or absent. Present fathers help their children flourish. Absent fathers leave a hole in their children’s hearts that they can spend a lifetime trying to fill.
For several decades now, America has experienced a crisis of absent dads. Statistics collected by the National Fatherhood Initiative reveal the problems that result. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 24 million children — 1 in 3 — live without a biological father in the home. Children in father-absent homes experience a greater risk for these ills:
- Behavioral problems
- Criminal behavior
- Dropping out of high school
- Substance abuse
- Teen pregnancy
Children are resilient, of course, and single moms do heroic work. But God designed families to have moms and dads. Together, they create a home environment where children can thrive.
Joseph as a Model Father
Fatherhood needs to be about more than mere presence in the home, however. Dads need to be actively engaged with their sons and daughters. As the father of one boy and two girls, I am drawn increasingly to the Bible’s portrait of Joseph — husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus — as a picture of the kind of father I myself want to be.
The Gospels say little about Joseph. Only Matthew and Luke describe him at any length. He seems to have died by the time Jesus began His public ministry. What they do say about Joseph, however, is enlightening. Matthew 1:19 describes him succinctly as a righteous man, my translation of the Greek word dikaios. The parallel Hebrew term for dikaios is tzadik, which Jews in Jesus’ day reserved to describe someone who was especially close to God.
I hope to be a righteous man who does the right thing kindly and who remains always open to God, assuming whatever responsibilities He sends my way.
What did Joseph’s righteousness look like? Notice four things.
First, as a righteous man, Joseph did the right thing. Matthew says that Joseph and Mary were engaged and chaste (1:18). However, Mary became pregnant. Knowing that he wasn’t the father, Joseph resolved to divorce her. (For Jews of that period, an engagement was as binding a covenant as marriage, which was why divorce was Joseph’s only legal recourse.) He couldn’t condone her perceived adultery, and her son was some other man’s responsibility.
Righteousness is more than doing the right thing, however. In Jesus’ day, the word “righteousness” — dikaiosoune in Greek, tzedekah in Hebrew — was the word used to describe charity. For example, when Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them,” He was talking about giving to “the needy” (Matthew 6:1–2). If you go to Israel even to this day, a beggar requesting tzedekah is asking for charity.
When we understand that righteousness is charity, we understand why Matthew says Joseph resolved to divorce Mary “quietly.” As a charitable man, he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” (1:19). For him, righteousness meant doing the kind thing.
I cannot help but wonder whether Joseph’s quiet resolution about Mary — whom he no doubt thought had been sexually immoral — shaped Jesus’ own compassion for sexually immoral women. Consider these three examples:
- Jesus revealed himself privately as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well, who was cohabiting with a sixth man after five failed marriages (John 4:1–26).
- When Jesus’ religious opponents caught a woman in the act of adultery, He sent her accusers away before He told her privately to sin no more (John 7:53 through 8:11).
- At a dinner in Simon the Pharisee’s house, a sinful woman — perhaps a prostitute — anointed Jesus’ feet. When Simon mumbled about the impropriety of this, Jesus publicly praised the woman’s devotion, favorably contrasting it with Simon’s own inhospitality (Luke 7:36–50).
Contrary to Joseph’s perception of the circumstances, however, Mary had not in fact been sexually immoral. The Gospels emphasize that she was a virgin when the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in her womb (Matthew 1:18, 22–23; Luke 1:27; cf. Isaiah 7:14). Joseph didn’t know that; however, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” and set him straight, saying, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).
This reveals a third dimension of Joseph’s righteousness: openness to God. A tzadik, as I said above, was someone especially close to God. This certainly describes Joseph, to whom God revealed himself even in Joseph’s dreams. According to Matthew 2:13, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph a second time, urging him to “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt … for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
Joseph’s openness to God in his dreams was the result, it seems to me, of his openness to God in the details of his life. Luke shows us what both Joseph and Mary’s mundane righteousness looked like. They circumcised Jesus on the eighth day and then performed “purification rites,” both required by “the Law of Moses” (Luke 2:21–22; cf. Leviticus 12:2–8). Similarly, they participated annually in the Passover Festival in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41; cf. Deuteronomy 16:1–8). They were people who, as Luke puts it, did “everything required by the Law of the Lord” (2:39).
The last time we see Joseph alive in the Gospels, it was Passover, Jesus was 12 years old, and the family was at the Temple. The boy Jesus engaged in a discussion with religious teachers. Perhaps it was His bar mitzvah. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Preachers often attribute Jesus’ wisdom at this young age to Jesus’ divinity, and that no doubt played a part. But I can’t help but wonder whether Joseph’s openness to God — and Mary’s too, of course — played the greater role at this stage. Luke says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (2:52). Thankfully, God had provided Him a good dad (and mom) in the growing years.
And this reminds us of one more thing about Joseph’s righteousness: it involved the assumption of responsibility. Joseph had nothing to do with Jesus’ conception, but he assumed responsibility for Jesus’ life nonetheless. He adopted Jesus into his family, and in doing so, conferred a heritage as heir of King David (Matthew 1:16–17).
This aspect of Joseph’s fatherhood has struck me with particular force over the last four years, in the course of which my wife, Tiffany, and I first fostered and then adopted two little girls. (We have a biological son as well.) I am not my girls’ dad, in a biological sense, but I am my girls’ in every other sense. When they think of their dad, it’s my face they see.
So, happy Father’s Day! And father well!
To me has fallen the awesome responsibility — and privilege — of not only housing, feeding and educating these girls, but also loving, disciplining and preparing them for adulthood. Someday, I’ll walk them down the aisle at their weddings, and their children — though not related to me biologically at all — will be my grandchildren. They are, together with my wife and son, my forever family.
I know what kind of thoughts Joseph must have asked himself when that angel of the Lord set him straight in a dream. I’ve asked them myself. But I hope that, like Joseph, I too will father all my children in such a way that they grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.
In other words, I hope to be a righteous man who does the right thing kindly and who remains always open to God, assuming whatever responsibilities He sends my way. My children need me to be that man. And, men — whether you’re fathers or not — our nation needs you to be a righteous man as well.
So, happy Father’s Day! And father well!
Over at Influence Magazine, I offer some opinions about hateful words and violent deeds in the wake of yesterday’s shooting of Rep. Steve Scales (R-LA) and GOP congressional staffers. The article is posted here with permission:
“The tongue has the power of life and death,” Proverbs 18:21 says, “and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
This proverb came to my mind yesterday when I learned that a gunman had shot and wounded Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La., 1st District) and four congressional staff members in the early morning near Washington D.C. The shooter later died from wounds sustained in a gun battle with Capitol Police, who were protecting Rep. Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.
The shooter evidently supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Sen. Sanders immediately denounced the violent act. Regardless, some right-wing pundits quickly tied the incident to anti-Trump and anti-Republican rhetoric by some left-wing pundits and Democratic politicians. They claimed that rhetoric had created the “climate of hate” in which the shooter acted.
This is not the first time partisans blamed violence against them on the other side’s rhetoric. Democrats, for example, pointed to Republicans’ “climate of hate” in 2011 when a gunman shot then-Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords (D-Ariz., 13th District) and 17 others. Giffords suffered brain injuries, and six people died.
I’m not interested in assessing whether the Left’s rhetoric is more hateful than the Right’s or whether the Right’s actions are more violent than the Left’s. As far as I have seen, the answer to those questions generally lines up with the respondent’s ideology. A person on the Right thinks the Left bears the blame, and vice versa. This suggests that we’re not coming at the answer from an objective, statistical point of view.
Instead of assessing blame, I want to make an obvious point and a less obvious point and then offer an explanation and several suggestions:
Points Obvious and Less Obvious
The obvious point is this: Both sides think climates of hate are capable of producing violent action. Nobody thinks there’s zero connection between words and deeds. Everybody acknowledges some connection.
The less obvious point is this: Regardless of that acknowledgment, neither side changes its rhetoric in a significant or enduring way. Oh sure, after a tragedy, right-wingers and left-wingers will come together, pray for the victims, sing “Kumbaya” and pledge to work together. A few days later, however, they’re back at each other’s throats, using the same nasty rhetoric they used before the violence that temporarily brought them together.
Explaining Why Our Rhetoric Doesn’t Change
Why? How can people who acknowledge the connection between words and deeds go on to think their hateful rhetoric doesn’t generate violence on their side? The explanation, it seems to me, is that they think their rhetoric is true. Partisans and ideologues don’t merely disagree with the policies of the other side; in other words, they think the other side and its policies are objectively evil. That’s why both sides in political debates are tempted — and too often succumb to the temptation — to compare the other side to Hitler and the Nazis, which all sides agree to be symbols of perfect evil.
But here’s the deal: In American politics today, if you really think that people on the other side are like Hitler and their policies are like the Nazis’, then the obvious response is to go to war — to engage in more violence, not less.
Nobody in their right mind thinks that way, though. After a tragedy like yesterday’s shooting, we all get together and pledge to talk kindlier and work together more constructively. That implies — and you need to pay attention to this point! — that the other side in current American politics doesn’t deserve the hateful rhetoric your own side sometimes throws its way.
Three Practical Suggestions
Once you and I realize this point, several suggestions come quickly to mind.
First, repent! We constantly tell people on the other side of an issue from us to cease and desist from their climate of hate, but Jesus told us to take our own advice first: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3,5).
Applied to political rhetoric, this means we need to police our own words — and the words of those on our own side — first.
Second, follow the Golden Rule! How do we know which of our words are hateful? The answer to that question is as simple as the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
If you want people to ascribe good motives to your actions, ascribe good motives to their actions. If you want people to characterize your statements accurately and in context, do the same for them. If you want people to acknowledge your right to speak and act, acknowledge their similar right.
Third, don’t retaliate! In my experience, I practice self-criticism and the Golden Rule as long as the other side does so. The moment they deviate from those two standards, though, I am tempted to ditch those standards and start throwing mud. That’s a bad idea, for as some wag once pointed out, when you wrestle with a pig in the mud, you both get dirty … and the pig likes it. Responding to bad rhetoric with more bad rhetoric creates a vicious cycle of bad rhetoric.
Once again, Jesus points the way: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39).
The best way to stop a vicious cycle is to stop being vicious, and turning the other cheek does that. It stings, of course, but it also stops things from escalating to violence.
What I’ve written here applies to politicians and citizens, to leaders and followers. It applies most of all to Christians, however, and especially Christians leaders. We lead our congregations, and we represent them in the public square. It is incumbent on us especially — as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ — to do what He said to do.
As our nation wrestles with a vicious cycle of hateful words and violent deeds, let’s make sure we model a better way. Our tongue has power. Let’s use it in a way that brings life, not death, to ourselves, our churches and our communities.
Over at The Atlantic, Adam Serwer exposes what he calls “The Myth of the Kindly General Lee.” It’s well worth reading. Here’s a sample:
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.
But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black. Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one. That ideology is known as the Lost Cause, and as historian David Blight writes, it provided a “foundation on which Southerners built the Jim Crow system.”
Lee is a pivotal figure in American history worthy of study. Neither the man who really existed, nor the fictionalized tragic hero of the Lost Cause, are heroes worthy of a statue in a place of honor. As one Union veteran angrily put it in 1903 when Pennsylvania was considering placing a statute to Lee at Gettysburg, “If you want historical accuracy as your excuse, then place upon this field a statue of Lee holding in his hand the banner under which he fought, bearing the legend: ‘We wage this war against a government conceived in liberty and dedicated to humanity.’” The most fitting monument to Lee is the national military cemetery the federal government placed on the grounds of his former home in Arlington.
To describe this man as an American hero requires ignoring the immense suffering for which he was personally responsible, both on and off the battlefield. It requires ignoring his participation in the industry of human bondage, his betrayal of his country in defense of that institution, the battlefields scattered with the lifeless bodies of men who followed his orders and those they killed, his hostility toward the rights of the freedmen and his indifference to his own students waging a campaign of terror against the newly emancipated. It requires reducing the sum of human virtue to a sense of decorum and the ability to convey gravitas in a gray uniform.
Read the whole thing!
Today is the 28th anniversary of “The Tank Man,” the unidentified Chinese citizen who, for a brief moment, held up 17 Chinese tanks sent to quell pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. His stance was an instant icon of the man against the state, but we should remember that the state brutally crushed the protesters and continues to censor any reference to Tiananmen Square to this day. For more information, check out this PBS Frontline video from 2006.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Six Day War. In this article, historian Michael Oren, author of the excellent ‘Six Days of War,’ explains what that war meant to both Israel and the broader Middle East. He writes:
All wars in history inevitably become wars of history. No sooner do the guns grow silent then the debate begins over whether the war was justified and its outcome positive. The arguments surrounding the Civil War, for example, or even World War II, fill volumes.
But few wars in history have proved as contentious as the Six-Day War. On American campuses, students and faculty members still lock horns on the question of Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria — the West Bank’s biblical names — and the Palestinians’ demand for statehood in those areas. U.S. policy-makers, meanwhile, devote countless hours to resolving the war’s consequences diplomatically. Obsessively, it seems, the media focuses on the realities created by those six fateful days.
And never have the disputes surrounding the Six-Day War been bitterer than now, on its 50th anniversary. The battle lines are clearly drawn. On the one side are those who insist that the Arabs never threatened Israel seriously enough to provoke her territorial expansion. The war resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the building of Israeli settlements. Rather than a victory, the war transformed Israel into colonial, apartheid state.
The other interpretation maintains that Israel had no choice but to fight and that this defensive war provided the state with secure borders, vital alliances, peace treaties and a renewed sense of purpose.
Read the whole thing! Then read the book!
Remy Munasifi may very well be the best satirist on YouTube…