The word “gentleman” once described someone of noble birth, a man of the gentry, and thus one of good manners. Today the term is used for any man who is courteous, especially to women, and generally conducts himself well.
The alternative to gentleman?
I suppose it could be feral masculinity, an undomesticated man, a man who uses his superior strength only to his own personal advantage and is unconcerned about the good others?
But then again, a gentleman is not a man who is lacking in animal strength or incapable of doing selfish or violent and evil things. Rather, a gentleman is someone who decided not to be governed by their animal instincts and despite being strong enough to acquire what they want through force.
A gentleman is not someone without animal instincts and strength. Rather, a gentleman is a man of inner strength, one who uses this spiritual fortitude to hold back those urges to use his physical, intellectual or other carnal strength to dominate others.
The Dominion of the Weak
We live in absurd times, cartoonish actually, where self-designated victims use shame to leverage a social advantage and yet are not called out for this bullying behavior. The victimhood narrative, ironically, has become a tool of oppression and only works because most of the ‘privileged’ people are too polite to stand up to it.
In fact, gentlemanly behavior, like opening a door for someone else, can lead to accusations of oppression.
And, that’s not to say that some gentlemanly behavior is inauthentic and merely a means of some men to manipulate women. Many have learned to “play nice” simply as a method of gaining advantage for themselves. Their polite public behavior is a social tool and their true colors come out when they finally get what they want. These are not true gentlemen, but are weak-minded opportunists in a gentlemanly guise.
It would be better that the fakers would dispense with the pretense. And, with the rise of feminism, many of these weak men do the same thing, giving up the mask of traditional gentlemanly behavior, and use the new guise of ‘woke’ politics instead. This “wokefishing” enables them to get in the pants of unsuspecting ‘progressive’ counterparts and has been the subject of some online outrage.
It is quite similar to those who use a false minority status, like Rachel Dolezal, Jessica Krug, and Elizabeth Warren, as a means to gain an economic or social advantage. Being oppressed is not what it once was. Identity politics is extremely lucrative for those able to exploit it. It actually means special treatment, a fast-tracked educational or political career without the normal merit based requirements.
In the current paradigm women and minorities enjoy both the benefits of traditional Christian cultural values, of care for the poor and protection of the week, while also browbeating those who provide those things. The odd part is that true toxic masculinity, cultures that objectify women and give them a decidedly second tier status, is now given a free pass by also claiming for themselves that coveted victimhood status.
President Trump can be cast as the victim. As can Vice-Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, by those turning normal debate interruptions into some kind of affront to minority women. In both cases, by traditional standards, these personalities would be proving themselves unworthy of a leadership role. But when the oppressed rule a person can play victim and still exercise dominion over others.
Politics is a domain for the weak and shortsighted, not the meek and eternally minded…
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
For years my understanding of meekness was off a little. I may have taken it to be a sort of spiritualized synonym to weakness. In other words, a weak person who keeps their head low and accepts their place of inferior status. The word, in my religious upbringing, was often used in reference to women by those quoting Saint Peter:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
(1 Peter 3:1-4 KJV)
To many in my past that passage is roughly translated as “do not stand up to patriarchal abuse or we will brand you as a Jezebel.” To them it is a woman’s place to accept a sort of secondary status and these truly weak men, like the first Adam, are constantly blaming woman for their own moral failures. They want the respect of a leader while simultaneously being unwilling to take responsibility or sacrifice themselves.
However, these phony self-serving patriarchs should have continued reading, meekness and falling under authority is not only for women, this is addressed to all:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
(1 Peter 3:15-16 KJV)
A man who does not fall under authority, who does not lead with a meek and respectful spirit, no matter what he claims to be, is not a Christian leader. A Christian leader follows after the example of Christ Jesus who, in meekness, took the sins of the world on his own shoulders, suffered and died. He was willing to be mistreated and humiliated, not only for sake of his disciples, but also (and perhaps especially) for his abusers.
Only the truly strong can be meek. A weak person uses all means to gain political or social advantage, including a claimed inferior victim status, whereas the meek subject themselves willingly to the good of the other. A weak person uses their strength to dominate, the meek person uses their strength to serve and protect. In other words, to be meek means having strength or something to give. Meekness is a synonym for gentleness, not weakness, and a posture that one of strong faith chooses to take:
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
My heart sank when I saw the image of Jonathan Price. I’ll admit, while the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake do matter, it is hard for me to identify with those who turn them into blameless victims and saints.
But this was different. Price, according to reports, was a “pillar in the community” and had been intervening in a domestic incident when Tazed, then fatally wounded, by a responding officer.
The officer has been charged with murder and it will be up to the justice system to decide his guilt or innocence. There is no reason for me to demonize him nor to defend his actions. There are always multiple sides to every story, the bodycam footage is likely to tell us more about the circumstances that led to the shooting, and the officer deserves his day in court.
However, the reason I’m writing this is that there some who are now mocking Price for his taking to social media, back in June, to encourage peace with law enforcement officers. They would have you believe that this is some sort of lesson to him or those who would follow in his footsteps.
This is his post:
The glee that this man learned the hard way and that “they will still want to kill yo’ ass” is wrong on so many levels. No, the death of Price does not disprove his advice nor help to prove the narrative that black men are being gunned down for being black. It certainly does not justify the hatred of the police or make anything he said wrong.
1) There is no proof (yet) that the officer acted with malicious intentions. Police officers are human. Humans make mistakes. It could be very possible that the officer who shot Price horribly misinterpreted the situation or that Price himself did something unintentionally that made him appear to be a threat. If he was simply out to kill black men there would be many far easier ways he could satiate those aims without being as clearly identified as the killer.
2) With rare exceptions, it is still far better to cooperate with law enforcement and not see them as our enemies. Most deadly encounters with police involve some kind of criminal behavior and resistance to lawful commands. That is why I can’t see many of those killed by police (or who died in police custody) as being hapless victims as they are often presented. If people did not fight with officers or run there would be very few deaths.
Price, despite his own tragic end, was right. Yes, he was a black man killed by a police officer. But the officer was promptly charged and, more importantly, this case is the rare exception. The fact remains, no matter your skin color, a person who does not engage in criminal behavior or resist the lawful commands of a police officer is at a much lower risk than a person who does those things.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Those trying to make a positive difference in the world are taking a risky posture. The sardonic quip, “no good deed goes unpunished” pays homage to this reality that being a Good Samaritan is often not safe. Doing the right thing, getting involved, can cost a person their life. A Google search for “Good Samaritan killed” shows many times where those intervening were harmed and that’s why many keep their heads low rather than get involved.
Chris Kyle, the ‘American Sniper’ was one of those go-getter types. He took an active role in the lives of others and with this trying to help made himself more vulnerable. He took a man under his wing who had some serious mental health issues and ultimately paid with his life.
That, above, is precisely why many run the opposite direction from a crazy person. It is a self-preservation instinct. We know when something is off and we run. This man couldn’t even appreciate the fact that the only reason that he was included at all is that the men he murdered cared about him. They took the risk, they were doing something good that very few are willing to do and paid the ultimate price for their courage.
Price too, by getting involved in a domestic dispute, put himself in a position that was very risky to himself and certainly could’ve just been a bystander. He would very likely still be alive today had he not gotten involved. And yet his bravery took him into a confusing circumstance, led to a police officer mistaking him for the offending party and ended up with him being shot.
Price, like Kyle, had their lives together. They very well could’ve avoided dangerous people and risky situations. They could’ve taken the safe position that many people do. But quite obviously they were willing to stand apart from others. Price by humanizing law enforcement and refusing to go along with the easy tribal narrative. Kyle in his willingness to lay aside his privileged life, as a successful warrior and publicly known personality, to spend time with a troubled man that most would avoid.
These stories could be used as a cautionary tale against this sort of faithfulness. The tribal cynics and true cowards now ridicule Price. They will have you believe that being like him will lead to you being shot. And these same people would probably have stood by, as bystanders, laughed, and made a video for YouTube rather than attempt to intervene on behalf of another. Kyle and Price should be commended for not being content to steer clear of danger as many do. They were being peacemakers.
For They Will Be Called Sons of God
The Beatitudes are a regular part of the liturgy and a wonderful reminder to think beyond our present circumstances. It is basically a list of what true righteousness looks like and the rewards of righteousness:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
All of those things listed come at a short-term cost. Humility as opposed to arrogance; sobriety as opposed to mindless merriment; taking a submissive rather than aggressive posture; leaving our comfort zone rather than being complacent, all of these things require one to sacrifice something in the present tense. But the promise, in relation to all, is a later and greater reward.
This is completely at odds with the “get mine” attitude and pursuit of instant gratification of this age.
The idea of a “peacemaker” is not to be in denial of the personal risks of involvement. Entering into the conflict-zone is always a risky affair. Those on either side of a divide could easily mistake you for an enemy combatant. In the fog of war, friendly fire or getting caught in the crossfire are very real possibilities and those entering the fray usually are not unaware of this.
It is courage, not ignorance, that drives a peacemaker into danger. A Christian is supposed to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) of following after Jesus, the ultimate peacemaker, and consider the price of His obedience. Jesus, the son of God, came into the fray, knowing full well of the pain and suffering He would endure, as a means to make a path of peace between us and God.
It is by the God-man Jesus, the word of God made flesh, that we can become the sons of God through adoption. To be a peacemaker at personal cost is to live beyond ourselves, to live by faith rather than fear, and put on the divine. For those of faith, doing what is right will be rewarded in the end and even if it costs us everything in this life.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
“I’m not a fan of guns; I’m a fan of not getting shot. I know this video doesn’t capture my smartest moments but I hope any idiot criminal with a gun watching thinks twice before loading, brandishing and aiming their firearm at someone over a traffic infraction.”
I really can’t tell you what is going on in a mind like that. Sharp as a tack, right?
But, what I can tell you is that shooting through your own windshield, while traveling nearly triple digits, does make merely brandishing and aiming a firearm at another motorist seem like responsible adult behavior by comparison.
Why he thought that this other man’s infractions justified his own, more egregiously offensive and dangerous behavior, is beyond me.
And yet this kind of attitude, that of people being blind to their own faults while completely aware and judgmental of when others fail, is not usual. In fact, I would venture to say that most people (yes, including you my dear audience and also yours truly) do this all of the time.
“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions”
Stephen R. Covey
Recently someone very close to me, who runs a retail store, had a bigger competitor start to stock her most popular item. Not only that but, to add insult to injury, this other shop owner had the gall to price the product lower. Clearly, they were aiming to steal sales and this was very upsetting.
I mean, where is the honor?
And I was definitely sympathetic. In fact, so sympathetic that an awful thought crossed my mind. We could eliminate the competition through some means which I will not mention. I mean, it was not that I would seriously do such a thing. But the startling part is how quickly my mind goes to those dark places and can justify the horrendous retaliation.
Anyhow, when I verbalized this thought, half expecting her to be absolutely appalled, she confessed to having been contemplating the same exact thing!
That we were both drawing from an event that had traumatized us both as a solution to something as mundane as another store deciding to sell a hot seller and be competitive really gave me something to ponder. The only difference between me and a murderer is that I do not act on the impulse when it comes.
It is strange, indeed, that when someone does harm someone that I love, my own outrage is always justified in my own mind. However, when I contemplate doing something many times worse in response, somehow the pain inflicted on the offending party is not outrageous and completely justified?
It is prideful. It is sinful. But people can always come up with reasons why their own actions are appropriate, we are very skilled at justifying our own transgressions.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”
It is easy to blame circumstances when we do something wrong. I mean, we were having a bad day, we were dealing with all of these external factors, how can we be blamed? However, when another person does something similar to us we will see it in terms of being a character flaw and, basically, something irredeemable.
For example, that guy who just cut you off in traffic, he’s an “idiot” who should “learn how to drive!” But when we do it is “oopsie” and “that doesn’t reflect me most of the time.”
Likewise, in the case of the bigger competitor stocking an item that sold well in our own store. To them, they need to keep the lights on and selling popular products at a lower price is just good business. Everyone does this, right?
But from the other side, looking in, it can seem greedy, cut-throat, disrespectful, unethical, and wrong. These are obviously unprincipled people, the worst kind, and should be ashamed. We can very soon have a caricature of them in our minds. Make them into ugly villains, out to ruin the little guy and keep everything for themselves. Nasty people with a total disregard for anyone else.
This the tendency to attribute differently to other people than we would for ourselves is referred to as fundamental attribution error. In that the other side is always awful, we catalog and recall everything they’ve done wrong as proof of some sort of genetic flaw. But then we quickly forget those out-of-character moments we’ve had and are even shocked when others do not forgive us for our own faults.
In short, when offended we attribute it to character flaw, something irredeemable. But, by contrast, when we hurt others it was a simple mistake or because circumstances demanded that we do what we did. We should actually reverse that, question our motives while assuming the best of the offending person’s intentions.
All Are Now Victims of the Protestantized World
Cities burn, people deliberately killed by other people, billions of dollars in damages already done, and we are led to believe that this is all because a man died while in police custody in Minnesota. This is called social justice.
Ironically, the same people who decry racial profiling against people who are somehow like them do not hesitate to group others, they freely use terms like “white privilege” and with this grouping deny the individuality of those whom they deem to be different from them. They are perpetually the victim you are always the oppressor. Therefore they are exempt from the rules and you deserve to be punished.
It is “mostly peaceful” when they (the far-left) protest, according to the reporters and despite fires burning in the background. It is okay for the protestants and their sympathizers to deny responsibility for the carnage. But, if one of those on the “other side” so much as defends themselves for this aggression, they are instantly labeled as a “white supremacist” or “terrorist” and should be shown no mercy whatsoever. Furthermore, the actions of one is declared to reflect everyone remotely associated with those who question the social justice assault.
Of course, for those of us watching the violent display and denials, this is appalling, hypocritical and wrong. It is dangerous when some are allowed to label all who oppose them in dehumanizing ways and aren’t denounced. It is completely scary when a person is described as a “domestic terrorist” for defending himself from being assaulted by a group of rioting men who coincidentally (or not) all had been previously convicted of violent felonies.
How can some be so detached from reality that everyone they oppose and assault are somehow “literal Nazis” deserving of death?
It all stems from the Marxist oppressor versus oppressed or victim narrative. The self-designated victim is always justified in their prejudice, hatred and violence. In fact, charging them with a crime for criminal behavior is going to be counted as persecution in their own warped minds. They can’t be faulted for what ‘oppressive’ circumstances have done to them. They are never at fault. But stand up to their bullying and it going to be treated as hate and thrown up as proof of their victim narrative.
But it goes beyond the current far-left. The rights or demands for dignity of those protesting are actually appropriated Christian cultural values. Like Judas throwing the words of Jesus, “sell all and give to the poor,” in his face as he wrongfully rebuked a woman’s display of worship, those crying “social justice” are also presenting a twisted Gospel founded on their particular grievance rather than God’s grace.
They, like the Protestant reformers before them, are right that the system is broken. Unfortunately, rather than turn to grace, and loving their enemies as Jesus loved His, they turn to law and harsh judgment of those, especially those in authority, who do not meet their own personal standards. Unfortunately, the church and society created by those tearing down ‘the system’ is no better than the one it replaces and is often many times worse.
“The boss isn’t always right, but he’s always the boss”
There is this great movie about a captured Soviet spy, “Bridge of Spies,” that focuses on his relationship with the lawyer who represents him. This unassuming man, with an eternal calm, Rudolf Abel, is an interesting contrast to his anxious American attorney, James Donovan. Abel finds himself in a predicament, stuck between two superpowers, one that could execute him as a spy and the other likely to torture and kill him as a potential turncoat if returned to them. Yet, although in this impossible circumstance, the elderly Russian agent remains sober and seemingly unfazed. He speaks few words, but when he does they are profound and memorable, as in the following dialogue.
Rudolf Abel: “How did we do?”
James Donovan: “In there? Uh, not too good. Apparently, you’re not an American citizen.”
Rudolf Abel: “That’s true.”
James Donovan: “And according to your boss, you’re not a Soviet citizen either.”
Rudolf Abel: “Well, the boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss.”
James Donovan: “Do you never worry?”
Rudolf Abel: “Would it help?”
Abel was calm because he knew his place. Unlike those of us who constantly fret and fuss about things really not in our control, he stayed composed, collected and focused on what was relevant in that moment for a man in his position. It would not help him to worry about things he had no power to change nor was there reason for him to place his own personal perspective above that of his boss. He was submitted to his authority, not in ignorance or indifference, but because he knew his place and thus stayed in his lane.
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority…”
One of those things degraded or completely discarded, as a part of Protestantism, is the concept and of ordained authority and the respect thereof as is commanded in Scripture.
Today nearly everyone, in the West, regards themselves to be their own Pope, to be individually able to discern truth for themselves by study of Scripture and disregard the requirements therein that they deem are no longer suitable.
Martin Luther may have reconsidered had he known his “reformation” would lead. Sure, the Christian tradition had been corrupted by Rome. In fact, abuse of Papal power is what had led to the Great Schism between the Orthodox ‘East’ and Roman ‘West’ in 1054. However, the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. Protest has displaced submission at all levels. Insubordination is encouraged.
There are many today who have this erroneous totally unChristian idea that a leader needs to be absolutely correct and perfect before they can be obedient. It is an idea, born of Democratic ideals, that the hierarchy must be completely dissolved or, at the very least, must be subservient to them.
And, while there is an element of truth, that a Christian leader should be a servant and the first among equals rather than an authoritarian jerk, this does not give us a right to play boss over the boss.
Only submitting leaders who deserve it means it is impossible to submit to anyone. And if someone only ever submits to those whom they fully agree with then they are not submitting to anything other than themselves and have denied the one who urged obedience to even the hypocritical Jewish religious authorities:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”
(Matthew 23:1-3 NIV)
This submission to even corrupt authority is a theme of Scripture. David, even as the chosen successor to king Saul, refused to go against God’s ordained and was submissive even at great risk to his own life.
Jesus too was submissive and did not resist the authorities who he knew would lead him to his death. And the Apostles urged, without qualifications, that church submit to the ordained leaders:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.
Hebrews 13:17-18 NIV
Desire to, not always do?
Please note, this is not an apologetic for abuse of authority and it does not mean always maintaining our silence when offended either.
But it does mean that when we so speak we do it appropriately, with purity, and without malice:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
(1 Timothy 5:1-2 NIV)
We should address sin:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
(Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
There is absolutely no excuse for gossip and slander, smear campaigns and character assassinations, disrespect and disregard. Our being offended does not give us a justification for our own sins. The passages above don’t say that if things don’t go your own way bash the leadership, then you pick up your marbles and go home. There certain is no permission to become separatists and follow in the footsteps of Diotrephes who rejected the church of the Apostles. It is implied (and explicit in Scripture elsewhere) that we stay in our lane, we submit to the correct process and those who are ordained to lead that process.
Unfortunately, the church, like the Protestant world, is infected with this attitude of my way or the highway, that if I don’t like how things are run then I’ll burn it all down and recreate society in my own image. It is absolutely arrogant. If your righteous indignation leads you to reject ordained authority, then I question that you are as righteous as you think that you and urge repentance.
“No Justice, No Peace!”
My Protestant friends are still stuck on this notion of a perfect and pure church. They, like me, wanted leaders to ease their own burden of faith and, basically, a magic unicorn that would always only give them feelings of sunshine and rainbows. Good or bad, right or wrong, is always on their own terms and nobody dare tell them anything otherwise. In spirit they are truly no different from the Marxist protestors. They are perpetually the victims and justified to do as they please while those who offended them are monsters. These people should stop being lukewarm, go whole hog Protestant and become full-fledged social justice warriors. At least our leftist friends are honest about their destructive ends.
I became Orthodox because I could no longer trust my own judgement and was finally ready to submit to an authority greater than my own. No, I was not naïve nor indifferent to the existing problems and troubling events in the history of the church. But I had been humbled and realized that someone with all of my faults, who desperately needs the mercy of God, was in no position to judge the entire church. I was led to the church by a spiritual father that I could trust and respect. I’ve also quickly learned that the Orthodox ordained also are like those of the Mennonite denominational tradition: Fallible men, who unworthily put on the vestments, and are as much in need of my mercy as my respect.
Here’s a good point in this essay to make a confession. I have not lied. I have not revealed the names of those who offended me. And yet I did create a caricature of them in this blog that was not fair to them. They hurt me, but they were making a reasonable effort, as much as they were capable of doing and, in many ways, were my better.
In retrospect, while my unapologetic (and inappropriate for the context) pursuit of faith was finally rewarded and right, my own attitude towards those who had hurt me was judgmental and wrong. I was like Saul of Tarsus, a bull in the China shop, leaving a wake of destruction while in pursuit of completeness and desperately in need of God to point my efforts in the right direction. So, lest anyone feel judged by me now, I’ve been there done that, raged against the injustice, rebuked the faithless of others while having not much to give, and have now, finally, found my peace.
When I stopped demanding that God came to me on my own terms, when broken to the point where I could leave all of my prideful identities behind, that is when the fullness of faith was revealed to me. God had answered my prayer, He had made the impossible possible, but not on my own terms and not without having suffered such a humiliating defeat which was so utterly complete that there would be no recovering my old ways.
“No Jesus, No Peace”
The Protestant says, “no justice, no peace.” They, like me prior to my departure from them to Orthodoxy, will hold others hostage and harass endlessly until they get what they want. They attain, not through love, but by their bloody insurrections and overpowering the established order by brute force of the mob. Given the choice of Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas, they will choose the murderer. (Watch this if you do not understand Barabbas vs Jesus) They want salvation without sacrifice, the kingdom without Christ, and are often orders of magnitude worse than the ‘oppressors’ whom they attempt to throw off. They are school shooters, the control freaks, people blind to their own faults and willing to kill you for yours. They will never know peace unless they repent.
What the protesters get wrong is they put justice, on their own terms, ahead of Jesus. They, like Judas, are truly self-serving under a righteous façade and after a worldly kingdom where they have the political power. The the truth is not “not justice, no peace,” but rather this: “No Jesus in our hearts, no peace inside.”
Those who externalize blame for their own sin, demonize those who go against them and their own ideas, and reject all authority besides their own are lost. They first reject the authority of the church and those ordained by the church, then they begin to shed tradition, eventually even the tradition of Scripture cannot escape their reformation and is discarded. This paring down continues until, ultimately, they become miserable narcissists who reject God and would kill Jesus if they had to chance.
The death spiral can take a few generations. But it often starts when something doesn’t go someone’s way and they allow the seeds of discontentment to grow in them. I’ve known more than a few young men who completely lost faith and left Christianity behind because of the rejection of a romantic interest. That could easily have been me had it not been for God’s grace.
It is so incredibly sad, those who are in the church, claim that they could endure persecution for Christ, and yet divide over petty issues, imperfections and insults. They only love when things go their way and never actually submit to anything besides their own agenda. Worse, rather than even depart in peace, they encourage the church to turn on itself and seek to destroy the peace of others with their accusations. Sadly, even after the destruction is over, after they burned everything to the ground, they will still be as miserable as they were before. The word Jesus may come from their lips, but they rejected His way in their hearts and never really knew Him.
“Know Jesus, know Peace”
Progress towards Christ starts when we stop externalizing blame and repent. Peace comes when we stop indulging our flesh and start walking in the Spirit. St Paul, who certainly wasn’t afraid to be confrontational and probably had his enemies in the early church, in his letter to the Galatians, spells out the difference between a person living by flesh in contrast to those walking in the Spirit. He creates a clear delineation between those who “serve one another humbly in love” and those who “bite and devour one another” and warns of the destruction to come to those who do not change:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:19-23 NIV)
St Paul is talking to the church, this means that these things of the flesh that are listed were very likely present in the church then, now and are in need of rebuke. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. However, if we continue to “live like this” we will eventually forfeit our salvation. The fruit of the Spirit, which come through repentance and faith, should keep us from cataloging lists of offenses, it should lead us to forgive others of their trespasses against us and to show mercy as we have been shown mercy by God. The contrast really could not be any more clear: Peace or discord, forbearance or factions, self-control or orgies of envy, rage and hatred. Kingdom of God or eventual condemnation and separation from God.
Sure, some of us, those of us who are well-taught religious folks, we can put a smile on our face and go through the right motions. As is often repeated by Orthodox Christian: “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” (Psalm 55:21 NIV) It is easy, for those of us raised in a church, to mask our selfish motives and sinful attitudes in the right language. Judas, like many of us, had kept his discontentment under a self-righteous veil before eventually being open in his betray of Jesus. He sold Jesus out because he was looking for worldly things and became disillusioned.
But, knowing Jesus means giving up our own rights, denying our own flesh, and following after Him in self-sacrificial love. It means forgiving others before they even acknowledge their own sins. There are no exceptions.
The Gospel text today:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:27-36 NIV)
That is the path to peace.
We can know Jesus by living in obedience to Jesus and, through that, giving room for the Spirit of God to live in our own heart.
The alternative, of waiting until everyone is worthy before we can love or submit, is what leads to chaos and confusion. It is what leads to violent confrontations on Florida highways, murderous thoughts against those who offended us, a destructive spirit of “burn it down” (unless I get my way) and divides the church rather than build it up. We need to stop the poison of accusations leaving our lips and start to give the medicine of healing instead or we will write ourselves right out of the kingdom.
I suppose it is a bit impolite, especially in the age of the telephone, to drop in unannounced?
Oh well, I had already made my way down the long drive flanked by soybeans, to the old farmhouse behind the barn, entered through the little gate of the white picket fence, and was currently deciding what to do after ringing the doorbell twice with no response.
Earlier, this bright sunny September day, on my way from Sunday liturgy to coffee hour, I had received a text message from Lilian, my younger sister, inviting me to a fellowship meal at my old church. She told me about a special service to honor two elderly couples, both ordained leaders from my youth, and this presented a bit of a dilemma—do I go or not?
Since becoming an Orthodox Christian I had made as clean a break as I could from my conservative Mennonite past. In fact, the last regular service I’ve attended was several years ago. The circumstances of my leaving were not the most pleasant and I’ve avoided returning for various reasons. But, in this case, my loyalties overruled my trepidation, I had been invited and wanted to show my appreciation.
However, by the time I had arrived only one of the two couples remained. Pastor Sam and his wife Donna had already left for home.
I had missed the opportunity to wish them well.
Or, perhaps not?
My mother suggested what I was already thinking: I could go visit them at their home a few miles away from the church, take a couple of minutes to chat, express my gratitude and then be on my way again. So, after making my rounds, greeting the other couple, I headed down the road.
Anyhow, I’m at the door of the house, waiting, nobody answered the doorbell. So, while being bold, I decided to continue on with boldness. The door was unlocked (not unusual for rural Pennsylvania), I poked my head into the entry, cautiously ventured down the hall, “hello?”
They must’ve heard the doorbell. I was just inside the door when Donna came out from the back of the house and greeted me with a warm smile.
She told me she would get Sam and left me in the living room. I looked around. I debated where to sit. The old wingback chairs or antique couch? The furniture and decor remained largely unchanged from my last visit a few years ago, by appearances, which is comforting for someone like me who is oftentimes overwhelmed by the pace of change.
But one thing was different, that being the whirring sound of a compressor, which was plugged in near the door of the room, with an oxygen tank on top and various air tubes radiating out from the device.
Sam’s health, according to my mother, had declined precipitously since our last interaction.
He has had an ongoing heart issue and, more recently, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung ailment that does not come with a good prognosis. I had last seen him a few months earlier in his barbershop of sixty years, “Masters Style Shop,” (where his son and a grandson worked beside him for many years) and didn’t know what to expect.
He was out of breath and labored to talk.
But, despite his difficulties, his good humor and the mischievous smile remained.
I had to think of those times, decades before, where he would turn on the overhead projector, slap down the transparency with lyrics, and confidently, in his distinctive baritone voice, lead the congregation in a familiar song, “I’m so glad to be part of the family of God!” It was a sad day when he had retired. The character of the church, those founding couples, was fading into my childhood.
Sam had a way of speaking, a charisma, that captivated me and reminded me of the late Billy Graham.
Sam had always taken a special interest in everyone, including me. We would always talk about the high school football score in the fall. He knew that I had played, we would chat a little, and something of his demeanor always left me feeling cared about.
He had been born in the very room that we were sitting in. The farm had been in the family that long. Sam, and his wife Donna, are fixtures in the community, the kind of people who can be relied upon. They were Lutheran before finding a place in the Mennonite church, people of devout and sincere faith. Sam also served in the military as a young man.
The short visit Sunday turned into a couple of hours, their home a very hospitable place and there was little doubt that this may be my last chance to spend time with this venerable man. I would have probably stayed later, but could no longer keep Charlotte waiting and knew that it would be selfish to stay much longer. So, after introducing Charlotte (on the other side of the world) through video call, we said our goodbyes.
Problem: Small scale Filipino farmers plant not knowing what the price will be by the time the crop is ready for harvest. When the price drops due to oversupply of vegetables the farmers barely make enough and sometimes even end up dumping their crops because the cost of transportation is greater than the value of the vegetables.
The problem is three-fold. First, it is the inability of farmers to see the whole picture of who is planting what crops, which results in overproduction and then drives market prices down. Second, it is a problem of markets being mostly local, with little to no access to other markets, this keeps prices lower. Third, there is not enough coordination between domestic farmers and government agencies that control the importation of agricultural goods.
Solution: The Department of Agriculture (Philippines) needs to study the market to find out what amount of vegetable production is needed. Once they establish a baseline, then they should come up with a voluntary program that will aid farmers in deciding what crops to plant today based on their projections of future demand.
The Department of Agriculture (Philippines) could issue a quota voucher to farmers, who had enrolled in the program, to plant crops based on the projections and granting them certain protections for if the market price does drop. In other words, if there is a market need for a particular amount of green beans then the agency could issue a proportional number of vouchers. This, assuming import controls, would stabilize the markets and prices. And, if the market price dropped anyways, abiding by the voucher system would entitle the farmer to some compensation.
Another way to get better prices for isolated farmers is to facilitate the connection to a broader market. Access to markets beyond the local region is one way to increase the value of crops produced and also to stabilize price fluctuations. Government contracted transportation and distribution could be a part of this or it could be entirely put out to bids with private contractors. The transportation costs to be offset by the better prices in the destination market, the farmer would get the voucher guarantee price and the rest would go to the transportation contractor.
This sort of analysis and organization could also be done independently of the government. But it would take a significant investment. The national government would be in a better position to facilitate this than a private entity of limited resources. That said, universities could help to develop the models of the agricultural markets necessary to determine how many vouchers should be issued for each kind of crop. It would need to be a collaborative effort. Maybe with the help of transportation cooperatives between these small-scale farmers?
And one key is to incorporate the local ‘grassroots’ input, as well, as a strictly top-down central planning agency would likely fail. Central planning generally doesn’t work and especially not when it removes the autonomy of individuals to act in their own self-interest or allow choice. Participantion would need to be voluntary and incentives market-based rather than artificial. Ideally it would be self-sustaining and entirely funded by the beneficiaries.
Finally, yes, protectionism may be bad in excess, as in North Korea. However, any country that wishes to maintain domestic industry and jobs must moderate foreign imports. Haitian farmers learned this lesson the hard way when cheap, subsidized, rice exports from the United States destroyed their already meager profits and forced more of them to compete for the limited opportunities for employment in the cities. So it is incumbent, on the government of the Philippines, to control agricultural imports for the benefit of domestic producers.
One of the markers of Protestantism, from the start and especially in the current evolutionary stage, is the purity spiraling of those still seeking the perfect church on their own terms. In a sense, the protest of Protestantism never has ended and continues to fracture the Western church into oblivion.
As a product of that way of thinking, I had always sought after and argued for my own ideal for the church. It could very well, if I was slightly more ambitious, had eventually led to the formation of the Perfect Church of Joel. That is what many Protest-ants do when they become disillusioned with the tradition they were born into, they protest and start their own new and ‘perfect’ church.
Of course, the shine of these fresh attempts to reform or restore the ‘original’ church is soon burnished. The next generation comes along, or disagreement comes up between these idealistic individuals, and soon spawns the next Protestant group, and the next after that, and the next after that, ad infinitum.
The Seeker Versus Slanderer
The concluding end of Protestantism is only perfect disunity, with everyone staying at home on Sunday as to be away from those other hypocrites and to do church right their own way. And, yes, if you’re thinking of the retired Burger King “have it your way” slogan, that might as well be the banner over these endeavors. Protestantism is the church for the consumerist age. It is defined by individualism, marketing campaigns, and seeker-sensitivity, or alternatively, pride, perpetual discontentment, and perfectionism.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Like now, there was also self-aggrandizement in the early church:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
(3 John 1:9,10 NIV)
There was plenty to criticize in the early church. There was sin overlooked or even celebrated locally, there were cliques of those of higher social status and those left out, arguments among leaders, and plenty for someone to be dissatisfied with. But Diotrephes took things a step further, he rejected church unity altogether, refused even the Apostles, and I’m sure, in his own eyes, his theology was impeccable. However, it is quite evident that Diotrephes had put himself first and, despite his inflated ego, was as sinful as those whom he arrogantly slandered or shut out.
There is no indication that Diotrephes ever wavered in his commitment to himself and his own understanding, it is quite possible that he remained inordinately impressed with himself until his last breath, but we certainly should not follow his example.
This is what we should seek after:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
(Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)
Casting Pearls Before Swine
Had I still been seeking a perfect church I would not have become Orthodox and I would not have joined your silly cult group either. I can pretty much rip anything to shreds with my critical spirit and, at the right point in my life, would’ve been one of those that Jesus advised his disciples about, saying:
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
(Matthew 7:6 NIV)
It is likely not a coincidence that this quotation above follows Jesus saying “judge not, or you too will be judged” and recommends us taking the beam out of our own eyes first.
There is nothing to be gained by dialogue with a cynical and divisive skeptic. They aren’t there to learn, they are there to tear you apart as a means to prove their own superiority or justify themselves. Their goal is not to understand, it is to trip you up so that they can smear mud in your face. I think we all know the type. They live for controversy, for an opportunity to debate and disparage.
Do not engage these people. They are not seeking after the unity described by St Paul. They are proud, self-righteous, demanding, and never satisfied.
No, these contentious people are no more hopelessly lost than anyone else. They may be sincerely seeking and yet will not be argued or logically driven from their own position. However, despite their perpetual restlessness as a result of hidden uncertainty or insecurity, they cannot see the folly of their own way and are only engaging you to feel better about themselves. They will ridicule and mock because it distracts from their own inner lack of peace.
It is not worth arguing with someone who is focused on the imperfections of everyone else. They will need to come to terms with their own imperfection first and by not arguing with them you give them that space they need to turn their inquiry inward. Jesus said to pray for those who persecute us, he did not say to try to argue and persuade those not truly interested in hearing or considering their own need for repentance.
I’ve spent years of my life trying to convince people. I believed that people were changed by means of the mind, that we were rational creatures, and could employ reason to drive people to a correct perspective. But there is more to than that and, as a wise uncle recited to me years ago, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” The pigheaded, those blinded by their own bias, will stomp, snort and sneer at anything they don’t want to accept. Without a change of heart, without repentance, trying to engage with them is a waste of time.
Correcting Our Orientation
Looking back the problem is clear. The divisions in the denomination that I was born into, the conservative versus liberal, had to do with a horizontal rather than vertical focus. We were oriented wrong. We thought we should be unified by our shared standards, our understanding of theology, and purity on our own terms. But the reality is that this was an approach that led to quarrels and a form of religious pride disguised as righteousness. Had we been oriented towards Christ we would have been more understanding of our own continual need of salvation and thus been more forgiving of faults and differences.
Seeking perfection in the church brings division and self-centeredness.
Seeking perfection in Christ brings unity and healing to the imperfect church.
Many seek the perfect church at the expense of following Christ who spent his time with losers. They neglect to notice that the book of Acts and the letters of St. Paul are full of examples of failure. Even the leaders of the church, Peter himself, had to be “opposed to his face” (Galatians 2:11-13) and call him out for hypocrisy. So who are we that we think that we are somehow cut from a better cloth than the Apostle themselves and can create a better church better than the one that they left for us?
Sure, the history of the church is full of imperfection and failure. There were heresies that gained traction and even leaders that got out of line. But why are we seeking perfection in the church? Shouldn’t we be seeking after Christ, who loved us while we were still lost in sin, who forgives us as we forgive others?
This was what Jesus told the disciples:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
(John 13:34,35 NIV)
This idea of a pristine church, free of failures, abuses, or problems, flies in the face of our need for salvation and a Savior. It is pride, the biggest sin there is, and people trying to save themselves, that divides the church. It is an orientation that looks across the aisle rather than inward and upward, eyes that see every sin but our own. It is preferring that others conform to our own will and understanding over loving each other (as commanded) and valuing our Communion together.
I became Orthodox once I stopped chasing after the fantasy creature of a perfect church. I gave up on the sufficiency of my own reasoning and started putting unity in Christ over having things my own way in theology and practice. There never was a perfect church, at least not one perfect according to my own hopes, perspectives, or personal standards. But there was a church that was brought together in their following after the teaching of the Apostles and in their seeking after unity in the Spirit.
The measure of true faith is how much we love those who do not deserve it, as Christ first loved us, and this starts with loving our brothers and sisters in the imperfect church:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
(Luke 6:36-38 NIV)
To be perfect, as our Father is perfect, is to be merciful as our Father is merciful.
A smug and sanctimonious religious person, shockingly from Anabaptist background, tried to hijack a point about loving individuals (rather than groups) by using an example of Old Testament judgment. They literally took the other side in a post explaining the kind of dangerous tribal thinking that led to the Holocaust. This individual really ought to be ashamed and repent of this perverse use of Scripture.
Before I go too far, it is very clear, to anyone who has read a history book or the Bible, that tribe in tribe violence and genocide were the norm. In Europe, North America and around the world, all lands have been conquered from the prior inhabitants by the current occupiers. The rivers, lakes and oceans would likely be filled with blood of our ancestors and those whom were violently removed from the gene pool by our collective ancestors.
That is the natural state of things. In an age prior to society life was, as Thomas Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes, for his part, credited the formation of strong central governments for the transformation. An observation that made sense in 1651, before the use of modern governments to commit horrendous acts of genocide, I suppose?
Nevertheless, there has been been a shift of thinking from a time when it was okay to completely destroy an enemies tribe and the present. Many today, at least prior to Marxist indoctrination and regression of the past decades, would find it morally abhorrent to use one crime by one individual as an excuse to raze an entire village, steal the possessions of every inhabitant, kill all of the men and take the women captive, as was the case over and over again in the Old Testament of Scripture.
Something took us from the brutality of the Old Testament, where it was okay to judge an entire tribe based on the transgressions of a few or even one, to the idea, that underpins Bill of Rights, that all individuals should be granted rights. What took us from the time when only members of our own genetic or religious tribe have rights to the present? What led to the abolishment of slavery, something that had been practiced on all Continents, by people of all skin color designations against all other people at some point in history, before becoming unacceptable?
The answer, of course, is the one man, of the Jewish people, who started his ministry like this:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luke 4:16-21 NIV)
Jesus began with a declaration of the fulfillment of the Old Testament, after reading a prophecy about the blind being given sight, the oppressed being given their freedom, the poor having some good news and stunned his religious audience. Of course his message had a strong appeal to the Jewish people, who were looking for a tribal Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule. It is no surprise that in these discontented time such a man would quickly find a cult following and become a threat to the established religious order.
But Jesus continued to defy the expectations of his religious tribally-minded followers. He subverted their expectations by expressing admiration for the faith of a Roman soldier, an occupier, by going to the home of a Jewish tax collector (and collaborator) and by using the despised Samaritan people, the “deplorables” of the smug and sanctimonious religious people in his audience, as his examples of virtue. Not only did extend the boundaries of “love your neighbor” to those outside of the tribe, he also did it using it a person from a group that they despised.
The idea of a “good Samaritan” or a Roman with faith greater than all of Israel, common parlance today to many of us, would be repugnant to them. How dare he! How dare Jesus compare them, the self-proclaimed elites of their own ethnic tribe, to these unwoke heathens? How dare he criticize their measures of righteousness, their loud public proclaims of socially acceptable displays of sacrifice, defy their rules of ritual cleansing and then call them hypocrites! It is no wonder these hateful bigots tried to cancel Jesus.
Jesus, by praising the equivalent of a police officer and a “flyover country” Trump supporter who rendered aid to a traveler, defied both their tribal identity focus and oppression narrative. They were the good guys with the right to rule. And at first they concluded that Jesus was confused, they asked his disciples why he ate with the bad people, the privileged tax collectors and alt-right trolls. He couldn’t be all that wise if he didn’t know what side of the social justice fence to be on, could he? Of course Jesus had never turned anyone away, but some excessively proud hypocritical people did reject him and his teachings.
The role of underdog and social elite has flipped at many points in history. First the Christan Jews were persecuted by the anti-Christian Jews, then the Romans destroyed the Jewish center of culture, and took up persecution of the Jesus cult spreading in their own ranks, before converting to Christianity themselves. We can mention the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land and Europe before being pushed back by the Crusades. Constantinople was a bulwark of Christianity before becoming overrun by the Turks, who never were held accountable for their Armenian genocide and that eventually the inspiration for an underdog artist and war veteran seeking a “final solution” named Adolf Hilter.
The one constant during two millennia of turmoil, of nations rising and falling, of a brief period of European domination of the world (after shedding their own tribalism) leading to the present time, is that Christianity has always been force for outreach across tribal lines. Yes, some did wrap themselves up in the name of Christ without actually applying his teachings. Progress does seem to always be a matter of two steps forward and one step back. And yet this idea of tribes coexisting, the imperfect tolerance of those who look, worship or act differently from us, is the rare historical exception.
Tribe against tribe violence was and is the norm. God even directly ordered the destruction of rival clans according to the Biblical narrative. But those looking to see Ninivah destroyed, like Jonah angry and disappointed on the hill, should stop seeing themselves as God and repent. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. So those hoping for the world to burn, especially the system that has benefitted them more than most, should be warned. Jesus didn’t come so that tribal grievances could be redressed violence against a rival tribe. He came to free us all from this cycle of sin and death.
Those promoting or justifying intertribal conflict and contempt are antithetical to Christ. While Jesus sought to erase these artificial boundaries, to free us from our mental prisons of prejudice and give us sight that sees beyond race and socal status, these impostors are like Judas. They envy rather than love their neighbors and would leave a man bloodied on the side of the road if he wore the wrong skin color or may even beat him themselves. They may couch their in the words of Christ, as compassion or concern for the poor, but their real aim is social status and political power.
Those who seek to divide the church (and countries) into competing identity groups, privileged and oppressed, have betrayed the cause of Christ and seek to bring people back into captivity rather than free them. They are spiritually blind despite declaring themselves to be ‘woke’ and have nearly the entire backing of the corporate and institutional system behind them despite flaunting a victim status. They are like the Pharisees, perpetually offended, and seek to destroy anyone who would expose them for the truly toxic people that they are.
Sure, Jesus did divide, but not along lines of ethnicity, gender or social status. He subverted, not by targeting the brutal Roman rule (or laws) nor by “down with the hierarchy chants” against Jewish religious leaders. No, instead he urged compliance, he told his followers to “turn the other cheek” when insulted and to go the “extra mile” when compelled by the occupying Romans to carry their gear. Even when delivering a withering criticism of the religious authorities, he acknowledged they “sat in Moses seat” and taught that the position itself should be respected even if the occupants were unworthy and corrupt.
Those comparing an unruly mob to an Old Testament prophet (even one as contemptuous as Jonah) and suggesting the current destruction is somehow God’s judgment have no theological or moral leg to stand on. The teachings of Jesus do not give anyone licence to judge nations, that is the work of God and the saints someday, not ours. Jesus, however, did stand up to the social elites then and they hated him. They whipped a mob into a frenzy with their false accusations, an ineffectual leader bowed to the demands of the mob and that’s why Jesus was crucified.
Recently a business page erupted over an earlier post that had offended some. The post, a rather mild meme suggesting that we not judge anyone on the basis of outward appearance, was removed and the owner immediately apologized. They claimed that they had not intended to post the meme, that they did not agree with the content, and this explanation was plausible given that the account doesn’t usually post anything besides menu items.
And yet this did not please the mob. These hate-filled individuals continued to assail the business even in response to the post expressing solidarity with their particular cause. There was blood in the water, the sharks circled with merciless indifference to the pleas and the appeasement strategy clearly was not going to ward off the continuing attacks. They were going to be branded as a horrible and insensitive person no matter what they said. No explanation good enough. Nothing they did prior mattered and there was no way to atone. Last I saw they were open talking about closing up shop as the verbal onslaught carried into a second day after another vain attempt to explain.
The perpetually offended can only ever see through the lens of their victimization and can’t ever be pleased. The mistake many people make, like this hapless small business owner, is that they assume they are dealing with someone like them, someone who can be reasoned with, who wants stability and peace. But I knew a few of the characters in this mob. These weren’t all good people trying to make the world a better place. No, not at all. Some, despite growing up in the same community as me and given every opportunity for success, had made a career out of conniving and seem to thrive on creating chaos for good people. They force others to tiptoe around them while themselves being totally uncaring about the suffering they cause others.
Of course, if you call these clingers to grievance out on their hypocrisy they will suddenly find religion and retreat to “only God can judge me!”
Grievance, in the case of this type of person, is a manipulation tool. It is exploitive of a cultural propensity towards compassion. Those who ply the grievance trade are not interested in solidarity or equal treatment, they are miserable people who want supremacy over others and thrive on creating conflict for their own gain. The only way to win is not to play their game.
The Victim Gambit
Years ago I had been invited to join an online discussion forum. I signed up with a sort of naive optimism, thinking it would be a place for intelligent conversation about things pertaining to theology and my religious sect. But my delusion did not last for long. The site was a lightning rod for the damaged and disgruntled, many of them ex-Mennonites or sexual abuse victims, some of them back for their revenge and others to commiserate.
Of course, I had a great amount of compassion for those who had bad experiences. There was no excuse for what they had gone through and I would gladly stand with them against the abuse they had experienced. However, their experience did not reflect my own nor the values I had been taught and I refused to be the whipping boy for things that had nothing to do with me. I’ll take the weight of the world upon my shoulders sometimes, but I’m not one to allow myself to be bullied.
It was in this encounter with grievance personified that I learned an important lesson. You cannot negotiate with those clinging to and defined by their grievance. Even goodwill gestures will eventually be reinterpreted in ways that a normal and healthy mind could hardly even imagine.
Case and point?
There was a woman on the site, maybe ten years my senior, with a slow burning hatred towards men. She had been sexually assaulted years ago and was completely devastated by the experience. But despite this pity me presentation, they struck most people as being a somewhat reasonable voice and who, along with me, had been given moderator powers. Of course it was important to me to have a positive working experience with them for this and other reasons. I did some outreach and very soon learned of her unfortunate experience many years ago and deduced that it still played an outsized role in defining her worldview.
One Sunday afternoon this chronically depressed individual was expressing their misery and woe, again, and I decided I would do something to try to cheer them up. I drove a little over an hour to where they were to chat face to face and had some vague hope that this would help our communication online as well where my voice or intent was frequently misunderstood by them. The afternoon didn’t go badly, as I recall, and she invited me to McDonald’s nearby for a snack. I had thought about paying, but was slow to the draw as I considered how that would be interpreted and decided we should both pay for our own so this would not be misconstrued.
This kind gesture would come back to haunt me. A few years later I did begin to date and things online began to deteriorate. My moderator counterpart had started to act like a jealous lover and I was too dense, at the time, to figure it out. It all culminated with a bizarre accusation from my girlfriend’s mother (also in a very abusive relationship) using the unique semantics of my moderator counterpart. I knew the source and confronted the source. But I was met with denials, they straight up lied to me about their attempt to sabotage my relationship and claimed to not know what I was talking about. However, eventually, keeping up the pressure, they did confess to the nasty gossip they spread and that could have been the end of it.
Unfortunately, that I had caught them did not improve our relationship. If anything, it made them more determined to undermine me. They had the ear of the site founder (someone who was not frequently on the forum and missed much of the ebbs and flows of things) and, over a moderation technicality, playing the victim, petitioned to have me removed. He obliged the request and I was livid. Had I kept my wits and been a bit more coniving or even just explained my side in more measured tones, I would likely have done better. Still, she had far more practice at her gambit and had been behind the scenes undermining me as well.
Now I had a grievance too. I had always taken the role of feeding controversy to help keep up traffic to the forum. It was all harmless fun for the most part, bantering back and forth. But this time I was not in a playing mood, this person had attempted (and failed) to destroy my new relationship, now they retaliated against me for exposing them (in private) by “having my head” as a moderator and so I took it up with the newly minted replacements. It was in this discussion where an accusation came out, from her, that left me completely aghast.
She accused me, on the basis of my goodwill visit to her years ago, of being a “cheap date” because, out of an abundance of caution and as not to mislead about my intentions, I did not pay for her Big Mac!!!
The insane part is that none of these new moderators called her out for this insanity and it would not have gone over well if I too directly explained why she had absolutely no appeal to me. The designated victim always gets special protection. I suppose it would be cruel to say that this bitter, self-pity consumed and misandristic woman was one of the least attractive people I’ve ever met and had absolutely zero chance of a romantic relationship with me? However, with my help, she was able to successfully poison my relationships there and had me flailing without recourse. Little did I know that even a sincere act of kindness could be weaponized against me.
Good Faith Vs Everlasting Grievance
Good faith refers to the foundational assumptions one must make about their counterpart in a negotiation. All relationships are, to a certain extent, a negotiation and we must trust the intentions of the other person or a productive relationship is impossible. If a person always interprets everything you say or do in the most negative light possible there is no way to effectively communicate. If you express sincere intentions or do something friendly, a poisoned person will see this as an attempt to manipulate and essentially bribe them.
Most go along with the victim gambit out of misguided compassion or for fear that they may become the next target of hate if they were to speak honestly against the ‘victims’ own abuses. Many believe that if they continue to give in to demands, if they keep giving special deference to those possessed by their grievance, that over time this special niceness will somehow heal this wounded individual. But the reality is that those looking the other way and excusing the abuses of the abused are not helpful. No, in fact, they are enablers of abuse, they are allowing others to be harmed.
A grievance should always be heard. We should always be willing to address the conditions that lead to abuse and give those harmed by abuse a chance to express themselves. However, there are some with a grievance who are sincerely looking for answers and others who are merely using their bad experience as political leverage and a means to gain power over others. This latter group is faithless and cannot be satisfied.
Those in the grievance industry may claim to be interested in conversation, but are truly out for blood and the conversation is only a means to gain entry, a foot in the door tactic or Trojan horse. Whether they are trying to sell you a bill of goods or lay waste to your city, there is no good faith in their effort. When you refuse to give in to every demand, if you stand up to their abuses, the faithless aggrieved person will lash out in anger, they will make nasty and absurd personal accusations, then blame you for their hatred. You are not dealing with the person, you are dealing with their demon that will never be satiated and must be exorcized.
When even good faith efforts to bridge a gap in understanding, when the perpetually offended person refuses to see that the problem (which was set in motion by something external) is actually originating with them and how they subjectivity process, they cannot be helped before they are able to acknowledge this and there is no option left besides distance. Those who continue to dwell in their grievance, even after being heard over and over again, should be ignored.
What Would Jesus Do?
Let’s talk about Jesus. But not the milquetoast happy hippie Jesus that many superimpose over him. Let’s talk about the real Jesus who made no apologies, who spoke critically about those who harbored resentment in their hearts and are consumed by blinding hate. There is a time to test the spirits and put some distance between ourselves and those who who absolutely refuse to hear truth:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Matthew 10:14 NIV
This idea that love means infinite niceness and refusal to walk away from anyone is wrong. It is because so many coddled those with a grievance, allow them to continue in their self-deception, that these people learn to use pity and guilt as a means to get what they want. As long as there is incentive to use their grievance in this way they will never reach the end of themselves and get the help they truly need.
Again, not everyone is worth our time trying to understand:
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Matthew 7:6 NIV
Incidentally, that is preceded by this:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a 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 7:1-5 NIV
Those who are blinded by grievance are always righteous in their own mind. They are so focused on the sins against them (real or otherwise) that they cannot see that they are the same or worse than those whom they accuse. As justified, without introspection, they are free to heap condemnation on others. They, more often than not, project their own cancerous attitudes onto the imperfect actions of others and can twist even the best-intended goodwill gesture into a terrible transgression. If you open the door for them they will see it as a form of abuse.
It takes wisdom to discern between the person lashing out who can be helped with just a bit of love and those who will only use your concern for their well-being as a means to try to enslave you to their putrid grievance demon. Those who mercilessly assail a small business owner for an errant social media post even after the owner apologized and completely disavowed the message, are beyond what normal compassion can help. Don’t allow them to win, do not play their game, their aim is only to destroy you and are only using your mercy as a means to draw you in close enough to plunge their crooked grievance knife.
Leaving those absent of faith, especially those who claim to be Christian yet are unrepentant about their toxic and hateful attitudes, is sometimes the most loving thing we can do. It can be the only way that finally do reflect on their own true spiritual darkness and reach for the light and love of salvation. Or, at the very least, the distance we keep between us and them prevents us from being poisoned by them. Love never means enabling sin.
Good faith begins with living out, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and all people acknowledging their culpability in the mess as a starting point. Those clinging to an oppression narrative, enveloped in grievance culture, cannot truthfully pray that prayer and should not be considered part of the community of faith until they do. Good faith means understanding “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and forgiving our enemies.
My own family situation was unique. As many good Mennonites do, my aunts and uncles, like my grandmother, adopted and there was no child left behind. Of course what this meant is there was some additional shades of color at family reunions and it had always seemed like this wonderful idyllic thing. And it certainly did help in the regard that it gave some children the privilege of a stable home and also likely helped us other cousins to humanize those of different color from our own.
But with this also came a negative side. Believe it or not, good little Mennonite children can also be vicious racists, being of a different skin color did indeed make that a focal point of conflict and I wonder how many seeds were planted then that fed insecurities that we all deal with and yet would be felt especially acutely by those adopted? My own feelings of not belonging did not have that one focal point, that specific thing that could be identified as a source, and yet I was still the “black sheep” regardless.
Still, I had the opportunity to talk to another self-identified “black sheep” of his family, my cousin Isaac, who like me, had a foot in two different cultures. He would spend most of the year with his white family in rural Pennsylvania, his parents my first cousins, and would also spend time with his black family in the inner-city of Philadelphia during the summer. Of course this gives him a very unique perspective on racial issues and definitely a voice worth listening to. So, when we started to argue about recent events, both of us talking past each other, he called and this is the result.
My Voice Doesn’t Matter
Taking a step back, Isaac and I are a different generation. I’ve been struggling, over the past few years, with feelings of betrayal for having embraced the ideal of racial equality and all that nonsense (which isn’t actually nonsense) about judging each other by the content of character rather than the color of their skin. Racism always seemed silly to me. What did it really matter what skin a person wore so long as they treated me decently, right? And that’s just how I would assume that most rational and sane people think. Unfortunately things are more complicated than that and that is what is creating conflict across this great nation.
My grievance started years ago, with something that I witnessed over and over again and maybe is best captured in a story from my school years when a mother, black, got on to the bus and screamed in the face of our bus driver, calling him “racist” and “redneck,” nasty things. Why? Well, he had had the audacity to apply the same standard, established for the safety of her children as much as all of us, but apparently the only thing she could see was that this white man (now beet red) was somehow mistreating her perfect darling angels for trying to impose a little order. The rest of us sat in stunned silence, the poor farmer working for a pittance was not a sophisticated man nor equipped for this kind of conflict nor were the rest of us.
That was one of many similar incidents where us polite people had to simply keep our mouths shut as some other folks got a free pass for their misbehavior. Polite culture means we avoided causing a scene, that we look the other way when the impolite people fight and basically do whatever it takes to avoid conflict. Conflict over the slightest perceived insult was the realm of bullies and other insecure people. We did not wish to be browbeat and berated ourselves. Our own grievances with this mistreatment would be mocked and belittled anyways, so we kept our heads low and did whatever it took to accommodate those less polite.
A few years, during the Obama presidency, many took issue with the massive expansion of government called by the misnomer Affordable Care Act. Of course, as a consistent fiscal conservative and one keenly aware of the costs, along with unintended consequences, of expanded government power, I was opposed. Many Americans did peacefully protest and yet, almost immediately, they were branded as racist by the media. I was appalled. But at least a black friend, a progressive, with a good education, would treat my own concerns as valid, right? It ended up being one of the most disappointing conversation of my life. A man, who already intimidated me for his advantages, dismissed my points with personal insults.
It was in that conversation and several others, after Obama’s call for dialogue about race, that I found out my own voice and experience didn’t matter in this ‘conversation’ about race. If I did not accept everything on their terms then I wasn’t understanding or lacked in empathy, which is absurd and definitely not terms that I would ever agree with in any other discussion. Nevertheless, it was what was, my skin color automatically disqualified my opinion, my attempts at consistently applied principles didn’t apply to their grievance, and I’ve always left feeling unheard. That’s the experience for many who don’t go 100% along with the protest narrative. Our voice didn’t matter.
A Time When Silence Is No Longer An Option
Over the past few years I’ve become a professional (yet hopefully harmless) agitator. After years of being a polite person or at least trying, wanting to go along with the Mennonite program, and finally it had just become too much. I had been told I was respected, affirmed in many ways, followed the rules, mostly, or to the best of my abilities and felt the other side of this social contract wasn’t holding up their own end of the commitment. My grievance had become too much to bear any longer and thus began my blogging here. It eventually boiled over and led me to leave my Mennonite tribal identity behind or at least to the extent that is possible.
But this emancipation was not complete. There was one topic, given past experience and potential loss of friends, that I avoided as much as possible. The politics of race, meaning the discussion of things related to measuring out justice and governance, is a third rail for those who wish to think outside of the established and acceptable narrative. As oppressed as some claim to be, the oppressed sure do dominate conversation, they have governors breaking their own shutdown orders to march, celebrities speaking out in solidarity and big corporations affirming their message without any word about the accompanying violence. If only I could be so oppressed.
It was with cities burning, small owners being beaten for defending their livelihoods, with my polite friends seeing “animals” and a growing number people dying in the violence, that I decided to take off my own filter and say enough is enough!
Everyone up to President Trump himself had acknowledged the injustice of George Floyd’s death. We had an opportunity for solidarity against police brutality, the officer was charged, and yet, after what seemed like a full validation of the concern, the protests only picked up steam. I might be a polite person, who avoids conflict when possible, but I don’t want to be beaten to death on account of my skin color more than anyone else and certainly was not going to wait untill the violence had reach my own doorstep to speak out. No, nobody asked me to mediate or broker a conversation. I knew that those on the ‘other side’ would likely tune me out, maybe even unfriend or unfollow me, and started my own form of protest.
The racially divisive narrative was a lie. Police brutality is a problem. The death of George Floyd is, by all appearances, an injustice. I have no problem with those who, on their own time and dime, without violating the rights of others, wish to protest. I know well the reality of racism, both historically and in the current year. And yet to frame everything of what happened in Minnesota in terms of race simply ignores reality and this sort of assumption about what happened will lead to anything but justice. If we were allowed to have an intelligent discussion on matters of race, if I had a partner in that discussion willing to see another perspective, I could explain.
Anyhow, it was in the midst of speaking out that someone with connection to me since childhood decided to speak back. That being my cousin Isaac. And it went predictably, online, as one would expect, I was “missing the point” and this first round came to a stalemate, with us moral posturing and might have ended there had Isaac not reached out with a phone call. It didn’t feel, at the end of an hour or so, that we agreed on too much. We had our times of animation, talking over each other, and emotion. But the reality is that we accomplished far more in our willingness to engage and so I did want to summarize a little of what I saw as significant, what I heard, where we agreed and where as diverged.
1) Not About George Floyd
The one thing that Issac and I seemed to agree on is that that this was not about only the death of George Floyd. In his view, this is about racial unjustice and draws upon his own experience of finding out what it means to be black as a teenager. He spoke of the fear that black (presumably men in particular) have in their encounters with police, the profiling he suspects when entering into white communities and some of the racist language he has encountered.
The circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death, that being his violent criminal record, his being on drugs and passing forged currency were inconsequential in his opinion. And I agree that this doesn’t make any difference as far as the guilt or innocent of Derek Chauven and the other officers. But where I diverge from Isaac is where he claims this death makes him equally vulnerable, as a black man, whereas I believe that criminal behavior and repeat negative encounters with law enforcement are going to dramatically increase the chances of dying at the hands of police.
So we agreed that it is not about George Floyd. But I see the only reason that we are talking about this case, as a nation, is because of Floyd is black and not because of the injustice.
2) Black Lives Is Not About Black Lives, But All Lives?
Isaac took issue with me saying that this was all about black tribal identity and racial solidarity, but was actually about police brutality and justice for all people. But, while saying this, he also defended the “Black Lives Matter” description and claimed it was a movement to respect all lives.
However, if this were truly the case, I postulated, why do we only have protests, riots and looting when it is a black man involved?
Why didn’t millions of Black Lives Matter protestors take to the streets and demand instantaneous prosecution of the black officer, Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed Justine Damond, an unarmed 40-year-old white woman in July of 2017?
Timpa cried out thirty times, as officers pinned his shoulders, knees and neck down, and joked over his body as he slipped away in 2017? Why no outrage over the officers only being charged with misdemeanors and then having those charges dropped?
His killer was acquitted, even briefly reinstated as a police officer just so he could receive a pension and nothing burned. Nobody said much of anything.
I know what my own answers to that series of questions is. My answer is that these deaths did not fit a racially divisive narrative. If this were truly about making all lives matter and police brutality, then these three cases would be an excellent opportunity to bring many people into the fold. No, that doesn’t mean that Isaac is insincere, not at all, but I do think the “Black Lives Matter” moniker is alienating and, frankly, insulting to those of us who have spent our lives treating everyone of all colors and creeds as if their lives mattered.
So, my point is if this truly is about police reforms, not racial tribalism or divisive political posturing, why not find descriptive language that matches that intention? Why not “All Male Lives Matter,” since most who are killed by police happen to be men, mostly white men, not women? Or maybe “Police Brutality Must Stop,” a title that would describe the actual mission if it is about change and reform of police violence? The point is that words also matter and I would much sooner jump on board a movement that didn’t falsely present the issue.
Isaac would likely disagree with everything I just said, that’s his right.
3) Isaac Wants Change, I Do Too
The real crux of the matter comes down to a difference of perspective. Isaac (who has friends who are in law enforcement) sees a “broken criminal justice system” and wants a change. I agree that there needs to be improvement, but also that there’s an elephant in the room not often talked about and that being that we aren’t actually being honest in our discussion about race or getting to those things that lead to more violent encounters with police. And that’s not blame-shifting, we can both hold police officers accountable and also get to some of those root issues shaping black outcomes as well, but there first needs to be some acknowledgement of that difference.
As things currently stand, polite people are forbidden to talk about things like black on black crime, we are not supposed to notice when public officials, journalists and activists downplay the ongoing murder and mayhem in the name of justice. We are not supposed to believe our own eyes when we see people, many of them black, with armfuls of stolen merchandise. Sure this may be a small minority, but let’s not pretend that this is only a few “white supremacist” infiltrators. It is time to stop this racism of lower expectations and have zero tolerance for using one injustice to excuse another. Again, that would restore some credibility and help accomplish the stated goals of the protests.
And we need to talk about this double standard. The polite people are fed up with being treated like second-class citizens and silenced based on their skin color. They are tired of being villainized or ridiculed for their peaceful protests of other forms of government oppression, equated to terrorists, when actual terrorism is being ignored and criminals lionized. We need to talk about this because even polite people won’t respect those who do respect them. If the goal is to eventually achieve equality (which is my own hope) then the pandering and patronizing must end. To achieve the change we need to be the change and to be the change we need to treat others as we wish to be treated.
Ironically, I believe some of the reason why many white people tune out is because they don’t feel heard themselves. Many, like me, feel unappreciated in a system that expects them to be polite people and then celebrates when their minority counterparts act out. It’s almost as if the minstrel shows have etched in this expectation that the black folk are supposed to sing, dance and keep us entertained, riot occasionally, that black people are unable to control themselves or their emotions and thus can be exempted if they are more aggressive, etc. But this is utter nonsense, there are many sober and serious black people, many emotional and expressive white people.
I do agree with Isaac, we should not hold police to a different standard than anyone else, they must be held accountable for their actions like anybody else, and I support the push for reforms. Where we seem to diverge the most is our perception of what’s important to consider. He would prefer a more narrow focus, on the problem of police brutality, where I am more interested in doing more to address the cultural issues that lead to negative outcomes and would improve the image of black men in particular.
4) I Want Appreciation, And As An Individual
It is not fair that Isaac, as intelligent and well-rounded as an individual that he is, gets lumped in with the crimes of any other black man or is even the defined in any way by his skin color. Likewise, I don’t want to be judged or held personally accountable for sins I’ve never committed as some are trying to do. It is absolutely absurd to me that some white people are out literally kissing the boots of black men. Please stop this insanity! Let’s just all learn to appreciate each others as equally individuals, okay? Fight prejudice in all forms.
I would also rather we start from a position of appreciation for the criminal justice system that we do have. It is far from perfect and yet I know first hand what happens where it doesn’t exist. The killers of uncle Roland, in the Philippines, despite many leads, have not been brought to justice and that’s simply because there’s not the law enforcement resources to bring to bear. It is extremely easy to criticize any system and yet we should also study what is working and why as well. The key to fixing or improving any system is having an intimate knowledge of how it works or why it was designed in a particular way.
I think that’s where Isaac and I differ the most, and also why we must talk, he wants change while I’m geared for caution and constraint. He protests for justice, now, immediately and on his own terms, while I ruminate about foundational principles and think about past incidents of mob rule. Neither of us are right or wrong in our approach. I understand his orientation towards action. He probably gets more done while I brood and ponder philosophies. We make perfect sparing partners. He knows enough about me to keep me honest and I know enough about him to do the same.
I appreciate that Isaac, while passionate, did not attempt to pigeonhole and treated me with respect, like an equal. As Scripture says, “iron sharpens iron” and I felt quite evenly matched. It was definitely a conflict, yet I never felt threatened, as I have in other similar attempts at honest dialogue and efforts to bring the racial divide. We ended up expressing our love for each other, something that I don’t think we’ve even done before given there is a whole multitude of cousins on my dad’s side, and the whole experience was cathartic for someone like me who cares deeply and often feels helpless to change anything given the complexity of everything.
It also inspired me to write this and help get our combined perspectives (albeit obviously biased towards my own perspective) out there for your consideration. But the more important take away is that we not ignore uncomfortable topics, that we not shout each other down rather than hear, that we engage in there types of true conversations, with two sides given, and find our common ground. I feel strongly that God brought Isaac and I together for a reason and the reason is to be that bridge between people. But Isaac deserves most of the credit, he didn’t fire shots and run, he was willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue.
Originally, a few years ago, I had planned a multi-part series, “The People Want A King,” to discuss the establishment of rulers in the Biblical narrative and make it applicable to our own times. The short version is that God gave his people a king, while warning them of the costs, because they wanted to be like other nations.
The costs were great…
Kings demanded more and more for themselves.
The centralization of power from many to few only increased the magnitude of corruption without providing a solution.
And, ultimately, the king could not provide the protection the people had sought when they established the throne.
People then, like people now, wanted an authority figure, someone to lead them and take responsibility for their lives. They ended up with nothing but trouble: Higher taxes, more wars for the glory of the crown, and a growing number of rules that applied to them but never the ruler. Even the good kings did horrendous things with the power that had been entrusted to them and our modern-day governments not much different in that regard.
Despite this, most people can’t even imagine a world without governments and many still look to leaders to act as a wise fatherly figure in times of crisis. Some would even like the government to play a nurturing role, they fantasize about this motherly figure that gives them everything and asks nothing but love in return. It seems that a majority of people believe that government leaders (or at least those of their own political party) are imbued with special powers of discernment and serve a role that can’t be questioned.
“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
Christians are told on multiple occasions to pray for and respect civil authorities. We are told by St. Paul that the punishment of evil is for our good and therefore we should not resist. But that said, this idea that government leaders, the representatives of bureaus and bureaucracies, have some sort of god-like infallibility and superior wisdom is plain wrong. We cannot trust them to save us any more than anyone else. And if we learn anything from their mistakes we should know:
The Myth of Special Knowledge or Abilities
For the amount of faith that some seem to have in our institutions, you may think that our leaders have a near-perfect batting average. It does not take long to compile a list of huge government blunders and starting with the handling of Covid-19. The virus wasn’t even on the radar of many of our elected officials before things got bad in Italy and when they finally did respond they did in a manner that did not make sense.
For example, state governments forced nursing homes to take Covid-19 patients. They literally took Covid-19 directly to our most vulnerable populations, where 2/3rds of the deaths in my state have occurred. And, simultaneously, they prevented those least threatened by the disease from working or going to school—which resulted in an uptick of overdoses and suicides. This also at the same time Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Dr. Levine, was removed their own 95-year-old mom from a personal care home.
So, take your pick, gross incompetence, or plain evil, either way, state officials responded the exact opposite of what would actually make sense, in a way that would actually maximize the harm done, and these are the people we trust with our collective welfare?
And then there is the not so small matter of shutting down rest areas in a time when truck drivers, always essential, were as essential as ever. You would think that if the goal were to stop the spread of the virus you would want your road warriors to have clean and easily accessible restroom facilities, along with a safe place to sleep. But, to this day, many rest areas remain closed and those open have dingy unheated porta-potties rather than open their regular restrooms to travelers. In a time when health and hygiene is supposedly our focus, they have forced unsanitary and stressful conditions on essential workers. Even after being confronted on this, they continue to persist with this asinine policy with absolutely no regard for the well-being of truckers.
Sure, this could be a mistake. There certainly is no reason to assume that there is some sort of malicious intention here. But it does demonstrate that they lack a special power of discernment over the rest of us. It should make us consider that maybe their whole perspective is wrong. I mean, if their judgment of small matters is so poor, why should we take their word on large matters?
Could it be that those who were elected for their charisma and/or party affiliation and are not truly qualified to lead anything?
Could it be that various government officials were appointed for political reasons, made their careers in places where job performance didn’t actually matter too much, and are incompetent?
Yes, government leaders can get caught up in hype and hysteria just like the rest of us. No, neither they nor their advisors have a special power of discernment. This reality may be disconcerting to those who want a benevolent dictator to tell them what to do, nevertheless, it is true.
The same leaders who nonsensically force truckers to use the least sanitary option could also be blissfully unaware of the severe (and deadlier) economic impact they are inflicting on us. The same leaders who forced nursing homes to take Covid-19 patients, evidently knowing the likely outcome, could be completely calloused to the pain that they are inflicting on you.
Myth That Only Government Can Do Great Things
There are many who are skeptical of government and yet default to the idea that we need to provide us with various services. I mean, who would build the roads if it wasn’t for PennDOT, right?
Of course, never mind that PennDOT doesn’t build roads, they take our money through taxes and then subcontract the actual building to private companies. The reason for this is very simple: The government can never match private for-profit enterprises for efficient use of resources because there is simply no incentive to do so. Therefore, due to this disconnect, when the government does do anything themselves it is insanely expensive and prone to failure.
A prime example, from a century ago, was the competition between Samuel Pierpoint Langley and two brothers from Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright, to build the first powered flying machine. Langley, funded by the government and fawned over by the media, he had all the right connections and credentials, but his overwrought design ended up in the Potomac River. The Wrights, by contrast, had little to no attention, didn’t even have high school diplomas, ran a bicycle sales and repair business, and beat Langley to powered flight with a very low budget and simple design. But, despite this, it is Langley’s name that graces an Army airbase, the CIA headquarters, and a NASA center.
Speaking of NASA, the agency has, at great taxpayer expense, done some amazing things. We take for granted the satellites in orbit, the trips to the moon and back, along with the many things this government agency had pioneered that have since become integrated into our own lives. Could one person ever rival these great accomplishments?
“Between 1970 and 2000, the cost to launch a kilogram to space remained fairly steady, with an average of US$18,500 per kilogram. When the space shuttle was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kilograms for $1.5 billion, or $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the rocket used to access the ISS, the cost is just $2,720 per kilogram.”
But it isn’t just space flight that is made easier and less expensive through private innovation. No, at a time when the US Postal Service, a government entity that is supposed to be self-sustaining, can barely make ends meet, there is Jeff Bezos and Amazon making a tremendous profit while delivering tons of products. Sure, Amazon uses the Postal Service, and yet the lack of ability of the government enterprise to modernize and adapt to the current market conditions that is proving to be a fatal flaw. As they beg for another taxpayer bailout, Bezos and others will continue to prove that the same task can be done better and with lower overhead costs.
The idea that there is any worthwhile project that is beyond the reach of the brilliant innovators of the present, without it being financed directly by the government, is completely bogus. Yes, certainly, unlike the Wright Brothers, the Musks and Bezos of this generation do take every tax break or advantage offered to them by government. But you could eliminate all of that entanglement and they would still do it better than any government agency at a fraction of the cost. The government never actually does great things. No, at best it is only ever a middleman that hires people or companies, supposedly on our behalf, that does the great things.
Myth That Only Government Can Keep Us Safe
If you look at the big problems of the past couple of decades that may require government sized intervention, from the 9/11 attacks to the viral outbreak originating in Wuhan, there is a disturbing pattern that emerges. Not only did this super expensive security apparatus not stop the various events and keep us safe, but it may also have actually been the cause of these events due to their prior interventions.
There likely would not be the Islamic Republic of Iran today had it not been for the CIA’s meddling in the domestic politics of Iran. Osama Bin Laden had been an ally in our government’s proxy war against the Soviet Union before he became a threat that cost trillions. Our top US health advisor, across multiple US administrations, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is linked to the organization that funded bat and coronavirus research in a lab in none other than (drumroll, please) Wuhan, China.
No, this is not a conspiracy theory, I’m not even convinced it was malicious in intent in any of the cases above. I agree with Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” But, regardless, there is certainly a strong case to make that high-ranking government officials do not comprehend the consequences of their actions, do not account for the blowback, and their solutions often create bigger problems.
Are you sure you want the same people who created the problem, in the first place, to manage the response as well?
Maybe it is time for a second opinion…
And then there is the inconvenient truth that many in government are the actual criminals!
Well, not that those truly guilty are ever prosecuted by the same standards applied to us or others of lower political status. Case and point: General Flynn was criminally prosecuted for what amounts to a perjury trap and in the context of an investigation that had no legal basis, to begin with, but a certain prominent US politician lied under oath to Congress and never faced any real threat of punishment.
No, we are no better today than in the time of kings when it comes to equal justice. Those with real power (usually the combination of media and government agencies sympathetic) are never held accountable or to nearly the same standard that is applied to the average person. Even in Pennsylvania, where nursing homes were forced by the state government to take Covid-19 patients, guess who is being investigated by the state Attorney General for the resultant deaths? If you guessed the governor’s administration that ordered the sick into the nursing homes, then you would be wrong. Nope, instead, they will investigate the nursing homes, which is a typical “smokescreen” strategy or means to distract from those who truly should be held accountable.
The Myth of the Significant Party Difference
One of the most persistent and most blinding myths of politics is that the two parties represent something vastly different. If you are one of those Obama fanboys who still believes that his administration was scandal-free even now, because he says so, even after the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, after weaponization of the IRS against political rivals, and actually believe he didn’t know anything about the Watergate-esque spying under his watch, then you are a complete tool. Likewise, if you see Trump as being a saint because he says some Christian things and posed with some pastors, then you are an insufferable fool.
The real difference between the two men is that Obama is and expects to be catered to as one who can wax eloquent in a manner that sends shivers down the legs of other social elites, while Trump is a populist who knows how to work a crowd and is old (or rich) enough not to care what the talking heads think. If you don’t see Obama as being as narcissistic and corrupt as Trump then you probably also side against Biden’s accuser, with a corroborated allegation of sexual assault, while screaming #believewomen only a couple years ago because that is what you were told to do. Trump might be a bully, an unapologetic Twitter troll, but Obama is the popular snob who snickers behind the backs of those of lower status while knowing how to work the system in his own favor.
The only reason that I find Trump tolerable is that he offends who aren’t accustomed to being called out and is the underdog in the fight. The fact that Trump is loathed by the corporate media and political establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, is enough reason to like him. Most Trump ‘scandals’ amount to little more than elaborate misinformation campaigns. For example, when Trump suggested hydroxychloroquine had promise as a treatment option for Covid-19, something many doctors agree with, this was equated to telling people to drink poison and is still being ridiculed. Why? Well, because Trump said it and they hate him with a blinding passion. They would probably rather die than acknowledge that Trump is right.
But, in the end, I do not see Trump as a savior any more than any other politician. Sure, I am glad that he’s a challenge to the status quo. It’s fun to see his rivals become unglued and expose themselves as being as nasty under the thin veneer of their fancier, more sophisticated, language. However, the idea that any particular political party or person has all the right answers, or that Trump can be trusted with power more than anyone else, is balderdash. Trump should be mistrusted. He is as fallible as anyone else. My only complaint is that those attacking him, often for overtly political reasons, never face the same level of scrutiny nor are ever held accountable for their abuses.
The Myth of Having to Be Pro- or Anti-government
After writing all of that one might assume that I’m anti-government. I’m not. I believe that governments exist for a reason and abolishing them would not result in harmonious perfection. The same evils that plague government leaders would not simply go away because we eliminate the government and there is a moral order enforced by the state even if we do not fully agree with it. Sure, we may not like that a State Trooper gives us a speeding ticket and yet most of us are appreciative when a murderer is brought to justice in a way that we couldn’t do individually for ourselves.
In the Philippines, where the central state is relatively weak and law enforcement resources stretched thin, murderers often face no consequences. I know this from having experienced it first hand, the men who murdered uncle Roland are still free despite strong leads because the police there do not have the ability to follow up. By contrast, in the United States, even with the smallest leads, government investigators were able to find the killer of Sasha Krause recently and Marco Kauffman before that. That closure provided doesn’t bring back those loved ones taken away, but it certainly does help to take a killer off of the street and to provide some deterrence against others who would do evil.
If the United States government were to disband the relief from the tyranny we know would be extremely temporary and the peace short-lived as something would come in to fill the vacuum. A disorganized band of anarchists will do very little to stop even a Mexican cartel, let alone the People’s Republic of China, or anyone else who decided to take advantage. The peaceable folk who enjoy prosperity under the umbrella of government protection would either need to lose their disposition or learn to appreciate the taxation without representation of armed thugs who take whatever they want, including the innocence of their daughters, without ever needing to face consequences. We would be foolish not to consider the benefits of our imperfect order over the likely alternatives.
But, that said, I’m under no delusion as far as the righteousness of our social elites and governing authorities. They are as flawed and lacking in good discernment anyone else and often too often greedy for more power by any means.
Anyhow, I had sat on this post for a couple of weeks because I didn’t know how to finish. The tragic circumstances of George Floyd’s death, while in the hands of the Minneapolis Police, underscores the point of this blog quite well. No matter how intentioned or carefully formed, there is no escaping the reality that governments aren’t any better than the people that populate their nations. There is simply no escape for this reality, that no government in history or currently existing can save us from ourselves. The only hope for perfect justice is through faith in the kingdom where the fears, prejudice and greed, lust for power and lawlessness, are finally defeated in the hearts of men. Where we can govern ourselves according to the example of Jesus Christ.