The other day I was filling out a survey and came to the questions about my race and gender. I paused for a second, “what am I today?” And decided to select what applied to me in that moment, which is the answer that I would typically use when asked those questions, and yet continued to ponder this question of identities.
I understand why these categories exist, we do have tendencies and traits as a part of a demographic group. Generalities and stereotypes certainly do have some basis in reality and I won’t deny that. However, what makes me bristle a bit is what this grouping too often does to relationships across category lines. It is divisive, it robs us our uniqueness as individuals and also puts us at odds with those deemed to be different from us.
It is too black and white. Too simplistic and encourages a distorted picture of reality in emphasizing that one similarity we share in common (or one difference we have) over everything else. The labels themselves are even dumb. I’m not actually white. My skin is a shade of brown. Furthermore, I probably only ever started identifying as white because someone told me to fill in that box as a child and I mindlessly complied.
The idea of “whiteness” is a social construct and has come to mean much more than it ever did before. Now some claim that everything from work ethic and politeness to mathematics is somehow a part of being white. Which is appalling ignorance, unexcusable, given the contributions of people of all skin shades and cultural backgrounds to civilization as we know it. All people should be offended by that nonsense.
I had a classmate, a Jamaican immigrant, brilliant at math, well-spoken, very polite, the son of an engineer or university professor as I recall. And, by the current color obsessed paradigm, he’s more ‘white’ than I am. It is a backhanded insult to the many, like him, who have natural talents that don’t fit within the narrow categories or grievance culture narratives of the racially prejudiced left.
Which is the crux of the matter. I hate these categories because they lie. As Mark Twain quipped, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Sure one color group may, collectively, produce more elite athletes, another more classical musicians, and another mathematicians. But those group statistics tell you absolutely nothing about individuals nor why some individuals achieved these outcomes.
Much being attributed to color is actually culture. In Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and America, there are as many cultures as their are shades of skin color. Some European regions are known for their industriousness and superior engineering, others for their laid-back attitude and art. The same is true of Asian cultures. The same is true of African people. So how do we know color has anything to do with these differences?
The two biggest lies of our time…
1) The myth that skin color is synonymous with culture.
2) The myth that group statistics determine individual outcomes.
Yes, there may be some statistical correlations between certain behaviors and skin color categories. But that doesn’t mean that what applies to one of a certain category applies to all. For example, many women love pink, but that doesn’t mean the most or even many women are fond of that color. My younger sister defies many of those sort of feminine associated things, she’s not afraid of any critter, has reptiles for pets, and that does not make her less of a woman than those who freak out at the sight of a spider.
It is a complete farce that a coal cracker kid, raised in rural West Virginia, is advantaged over a college educated “person of color” working as a Wall Street broker. Nah, I’ve been around, I know how the cultural elites sneer at ‘deplorables’ and work overtime to make sure that they know their place. Class privilege is often misidentified as color privilege and misidentified by the very people who benefit most from spreading out the blame for their own sins.
The son or daughter of an immigrant wage-slave has more in common with the ‘black’ category than the trust fund babies of any color pointing the crooked finger. This is what grates me the most. In the real world blacks and whites work together. Out on the road, hauling commodities for the man, I swung the sledgehammer as much as that ‘black’ fellow beside me.
So do I really need my prissy, Che Guevara T-shirt wearing sociology professor cousin, son of a doctor, who could somehow afford to travel the world taking photos while I worked for $7.50 an hour, lecturing me on things that I don’t understand as a white male?
No, no I do not!
Those who associate certain outcomes or behaviors with certain colors of skin, who only ever see skin color in their analysis, are the true racists. There is a stronger correlation between fatherless homes and negative outcomes than there is between skin color and negative outcomes. In other words, things commonly categorized as a color privilege is more strongly correlated with family structure.
Think about that when discussion of privilege comes up.
Unfortunately, there is not much to be gained as far as political power in a “the fatherless unite!” campaign. Racial division, by contrast, is an easy sell. Skin color, indeed, is the low hanging fruit of human difference. Tribalism comes naturally, all you need to do is convince people that they are somehow fundamentally different because of something superficial and their confirmation bias will do the rest of the work for you.
Breaking the Bonds of Designated Identities
I’m not going to minimize the importance of life experience and family inheritance in shaping our identities. I was born into a conservative Mennonite home and that identity was very important to me. In public school it made me a religious minority, subjected me to many inquiries, what would now be called micro-aggressions, and some bullying later in life too.
The strange part is that, while being the Mennonite kid amongst my school peers, I never really felt like I fit in with my ethic church peers either. After years of rejections, both in romantic endeavors and even as far as filling offices or missionary opportunities. Finding my place, complete acceptance, within the Mennonite culture had eventually become an obsession. I desperately wanted to be the good Mennonite for reasons that I can’t fully explain.
That pursuit came to an end with a young woman who declared, “I can’t love you the way that you want to be loved.”
Mercifully, over the same time, a truly fatherly figure, Fr. Anthony, an Antiochian priest and college professor, took me under his wing to help me through this collapse of my Mennonite identity that had left me with a meaningless existence and suicidal.
I had to break from my ethnic and religious identity because I had no other choice. It was not pleasant. I loved, and still do love, many parts of the Mennonite culture. My parents are wonderful. My church was not one of those Pharisaical nightmares all too common in that denomination. But, as Fr Anthony offered, maybe I had simply “outgrown” the tradition.
And, truly, in Christ, we are all called to a higher common identity:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
St. Paul, in the context of the tumultuous days of the early church, spent much time addressing the many competing identities within the church. He took on the religious elitists, bluntly telling them to castrate themselves in one letter, and spoke up for those being excluded on a class or ethnic basis. That’s what he’s doing in the passage above, emphasizing that in Christ we can all be “children of God” and share one identity together.
The astounding part is that the church then, like the church now, still struggles on this point. Even in the conservative Mennonite church, where we were basically all from the same ethic and cultural background, there were definitely tiers of acceptance. Some simply check more of the ‘right’ boxes, are more popular, find the beautiful adoring wife, have all the opportunities, work their way up the ranks quickly and others not so much. In short, the words to the Galatians are as relevant now as were then.
Christian Identity Makes Difference Beautiful
One of Mennonite cultural distinctives that I had rejected early on is that of uniformity as a part of Anabaptist non-conformity teaching. My own church wasn’t nearly as strict as some. But there is an undercurrent, undeniably, that if a girl talks more than average she’s a “flirt” or a motorhead guy with a nice car was somehow materialistic compared to a wealthy business owner with three farms. Pity the artistic types in those churches more traditional than mine.
By contrast, an Orthodox Christian friend, gave this wonderful description: The church is like a garden, full of different plants and plants, all watered by the same source.
That is the ideal.
Unity in Christ is not about erasing all differences. Galatians 3:28 is not turning us into an androgynous ‘multi-cultural’ blob of completely equal outcomes. Jesus was not a Communist. Having “all things in common” was not about forced wealth redistribution or reparations. Certainly not about getting mine. Rather it was about bringing our diversity of talents and abilities, bonded together as the body and blood of Christ, to the church.
Diversity can be a strength. Not talking about superficial skin deep token ‘diversity’ achieved through quotas either. Instead, what I love is those of many colors, many backgrounds and classes, working voluntarily towards a common goal, having found a shared identity that transcends all others and allows the entire group to reach full potential. Competing identities keep us in conflict, but through Christ we could create the most beautiful harmonies.
In the end we must free ourselves from identities that keep us at war with each other. However, that is not something we do ourselves. There are many misguided efforts. Many are embracing divisive political ideologies, like critical race theory, that will only produce more hate and mistrust. Condemning “whiteness” or heaping praise on “people of color” and otherwise playing favorites on those currently deemed to be victims is never going to do anything besides add to the confusion.
Only in Christ, in repentance, in faith, can our differences in gender, culture, color or class be something beautiful.
Recently I was asked, by a friend on Facebook, a Social Justice Anabaptist, to participate in a “focus group” discussion with Conservative Anabaptists who Support Trump (which they refer to as CAST) and for the stated purpose of finding common ground. I have no reason to doubt the intentions of such an effort, although there is a sort of wariness that comes from having observed these kinds of conversations, it reminds me a bit of the foot-in-the-door tactics of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries. This “having a conversation” can be code for a sort of Evangelical push of agenda.
But, my initial skepticism aside, I’m not truly part of the Anabaptist church anymore and I’m not sure how they would find common ground with me except they abandon their “former delusion,” stop dividing themselves into political categories, conservative and liberal, truly follow Christ and become Orthodox Christians. So, if they want my advice on how to heal their current schism, perhaps they should look to reconciling the much more significant division from the Apostle’s church first and leave their political disputes to a different venue?
Furthermore, I’m not sure that I “support Trump” so much as I oppose partnering with corporate elitist interests, in bed with a Chinese Communist dictatorship, against my neighbors. I did not vote for Trump in 2016 and even wrote several blogs (1,2,3) to persuade my conservative Mennonite and Amish peers to reconsider. It was only since then, since observing the viciousness of the assault against Trump and reconsidering my own perspective of the man, that I realized I had been duped by some very sophisticated propagandists.
No, that is not to say that my criticisms of the man were invalid, but understanding the other side, knowing their agenda and tactics, certainly can put him in a different light.
While I do not support those who confuse the American flag with the cross, I likewise have must warn those who are fooled into believing that the Gospel of Jesus is compatible with the divisive Social Justice narrative and grievance culture. As I’ve said in another recent blog, there is no rivalry between the kingdom of heaven and the ordained governments of this world. They are two parallel systems, one for our physical protection from evildoers and the other for our salvation from sin and death.
I don’t have a problem with voting for a leader who best fills the role of government described in Romans 13, providing some general protections for all people, but I do think it is problematic to use the government to enforce Christian morality and values. The point of Jesus saying “sell all and give to the poor” was not to express a Socialist ideal, or else he would’ve joined Judas in his rebuke of that woman’s worshipful display of pouring out expensive perfume, but rather it was to point people to the kingdom of heaven. In other words, Judas was trying to turn the words of Jesus into a political solution for social inequalities, while Jesus was primarily interested in the salvation of souls. So, unlike a leftist who looks to government as savior, I do not look to Trump (or any man) to fill the role of Christ. The President, in my view, is put in his position for a purpose different from my own. I do not look to civil authority to bring salvation to the world any more than I look to the fast-food employee flipping my burger to be my bread of life.
So, with all that in mind, here are my responses to the questions offered by the Social Justice Anabaptist:
1) What are the top three issues in ranked order you think best answer the first title question?
Rational, issues-based, voting is a myth. We make decisions based on our intuitions, our experiences, and what we know (or think we know) about the options available. Most elections come down to a choice between two candidates and are decided on the basis of their individual character or that of the ‘side’ which they represent. I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 because I had questions about his character that could not be resolved. But, that said, I certainly did prefer the risk-taking approach of Trump over that of the careful, yet seemingly dishonest and conniving words of the alternative, and was proven right when she suddenly changed her tune about accepting election results to push a relentless “resistance” campaign based upon a fictional Russian collusion narrative.
2) Would you say the Bible has much to say to guide us in our political choices?
Men look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. There are many chosen by Jesus, to lead his church, who did not measure up to the standards of the smug and sanctimonious religious leaders of that day. Trump is outwardly flawed, he wears his faults on his sleeves, he is called a narcissist and other nasty things, but the blue-collar guy (hurt by ‘progressive’ tax, trade, and border policies) saw his heart better than the truly privileged social elites who hate him. Ultimately, God is sovereign, parsing the Bible for a concrete answer or justification for every choice is foolishness, and my stating some eloquent theology in defense of my choices wouldn’t persuade a skeptic regardless.
3) If so, what Bible verse or spiritual concept guides your political thinking most?
Nothing specific. But generally, God gives us freedom and choice. God also, for our own common good, provides boundaries and divisions. Cities had walls, civilizations have laws. The kingdom of heaven, while open to all who repent, has clear entry requirements.
4) I have heard a lot of folks say that they support the platform though they don’t particularly support the man, Donald Trump, his personal behavior, rhetoric and swagger. Do you feel like that is the consensus of CAST you know?
This question reminds me of the Pharisee, whose house Jesus was visiting, and protests the blunt commentary, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” (Luke 11:45). He gets bulldozed. Jesus doesn’t lose a beat. Jesus continues to hammer his point home. There are several times when Jesus gets questioned for offending the elites and he doubles down rather than soften his tone.
The political class often hides their corruption under pious speech and pretense of righteousness. Trump is hated by these people for his crudeness of speech and swagger. But the working class is more concerned with actual substance over style, they aren’t at all offended by a little shop talk, and there’s also a reason for Trump being extremely popular in hip-hop and rap culture. Or at least Trump was popular before his political enemies poisoned this connection.
Incidentally, those who have a problem with Trump’s flamboyant style are probably also, for strategic or cynical reasons, holding back on their judgment of others of similar behavior. By saying Trump is “not Presidential” or complaining about his neglect of decorum, they may actually be implying that he’s not elite (or white) enough for the office. In other words, it is sort of a racist or classist thing. Trump, in being like an uncultured average person, offends those who feel superior to all and entitled to rule.
Anyhow, those who said that Trump would choose conservative Supreme Court Justices were proven right thrice. That will be Trump’s legacy more than his personality, that and the fact that he didn’t lead us into another war, that he brokered several peace deals, and was extremely restrained in his response to the violence of leftists. Sure, maybe Trump is a Twitter troll, but at least he cared enough about random Iranian soldiers to call off a retaliatory missile strike in response to the downing of a drone. So maybe it is time for you, who judge him, to start considering his actions over his rhetoric? Maybe he is right to stand apart from the fawning praise of John “bomb-bomb-Iran” McCain and to defy the neocon establishment? He was elected to put America first, to end endless wars, and that’s exactly what he did, yet some ‘Anabaptists’ still hate him because he isn’t a smooth warmongering liar like his predecessors?
5) Is there anything about his rhetoric, swagger or personal behavior, that does resonate with you or CAST? If so, can you explain that a bit?
Trump’s lack of a facade is a breath of fresh air compared to the lawyer-speak and “focus group” silliness of most in the political class. Psalm 55:21 could easily describe many others: “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” I prefer Trump’s recklessness and hyperbole, that he attacks others in the privileged class, over those who call common folk “deplorables” and “chumps” behind closed doors or in front of a partisan audience. I’ll not soon forget how Obama allowed his surrogates to slander the loyal opposition as “racist” for opposing his massive expansion of government power. The pretty “mean girls” may get away with their exclusive cliques and bullying because they have such sweet smiles and know how to use their outward beauty work the system, but that doesn’t make them good people or actually superior to those less sophisticated.
6) I assume one of the reasons, you support Trump is his opposition to the “liberal agenda.” Can you identify one part of the liberal agenda that is the most problematic to you?
Depending on coercion and threat of violence to take the property of one group to give to another, so that you can manipulate these others into being a loyal voting bloc? Do I really need to explain to an Anabaptist how unChristian that is?
7) Urban – rural divide. A look at the electoral map shows a dramatic difference in voting patterns based on population density. It seems that one of the things that resonates with Trump supporters is his disdain for the “urban elite.” Can you explain who that is because I might actually fit that category? Can you then explain what it is specifically that makes the urban elite so distasteful?
An elitist Social Justice Anabaptist won’t be able to see it anymore than those who condemned Jesus could understand their own need of him. There is much to say about the pride of the religious and social elites. The left seems to believe that they have all of the answers to everything, they condescend to minorities and treat them like helpless children, keep them dependent, and yet are truly full of themselves. Living in an urban environment is to be removed from the earth, what is natural and good, and is to have the privileged of not having to see the hard work that goes into putting bread on the shelf of that corner store. The exposure to the cosmopolitan world gives one a delusion of being more well-rounded and knowledgeable, yet also comes with a lack of groundedness and the humility of good discernment as well. That is why many elites rejected Trump. I mean, how dare he misspells a word on Twitter or be honest about the threat presented by open borders?
8) Trump has made negative comments about “democratic cities?” Do these comments resonate with CAST? Can you explain one or two top things about democratic cities that are negative?
Maybe you should look up Kimberly Klacik?
She said it best…
9) Trump supporters talk a lot about his defense of religious freedom. Can you help me understand that? What freedoms are we talking about specifically? Are these the sort of things: Right to post Ten Commandments in the courthouse, right to not sell wedding cakes to gay couples, right to not pay for abortive contraception for your employees? Right to worship in groups in spite of COVID?
Why do your ‘scientifically motivated’ Democrats make exceptions for their own, for violent protests and premature celebrations of a Biden win? Why do they support ending the life of a fetus, a separate living human, while claiming to be compassionate and concerned with rights? Why do they choose a fictional identity over biological evidence when it comes to X and Y chromosomes? Why is it okay to demand that someone bakes a cake celebrating a homosexual union, but then perfectly fine for a business to turn someone away people for not wearing something that invades their personal space?
Most conservative Christians simply want the tolerance to go in both directions. However, the left is constantly (like a domineering mother) imposing their own values and preferences on everyone else. Again, God gave us the freedom to follow Him. God also ordained the government to provide some basic order, keep the evildoers restrained and good people should not fear this. But, that is not and never will be a license for tyrannical rule.
10) Health outcomes of African Americans and also low income individuals of any race are substantially worse than the general population resulting in higher mortality rate for nearly every disease and almost every age group. Which responses do you think best describe the CAST response to this information: You may select more than one.
That’s sad, but it is not a government issue.
The Democrats’ efforts such as Medicare for All wouldn’t help this number anyway.
That’s fake news.
That’s sad and healthcare is an issue I disagree with Trump on.
I never heard that before I would have to think about that. Other.
Maybe the questioner hasn’t been around enough poor white people?
Anyhow, this idea that black and white are homogeneous groups, where all white people are equally ‘privileged’ and all black people are all hapless victims in need of help from white ‘progressives’ (you) is absolutely racist. Various studies show that liberals talk down to minorities, there is this racism of low expectations, and I’ve seen this first hand.
I’m quite familiar with the condescending ‘helpful’ attitude, the patronizing, and pandering behavior.
I’ve been around conservative Mennonite inner-city efforts, I know some of the players involved quite well and can tell you that many of the minorities whose cause they claim to champion are quite aware of this superior spirit amongst these ‘progressive’ types. Sure, these ‘helped’ might not confront the ‘helpers’ for this, they try to appreciate the attempt at support or understand even if it is misguided, and yet they really do not need the white savior ‘progressive’ swooping in. I’ve had some confide in me about this, some of the special sensitivity and exaggerated concern is extremely off-putting to minorities and, frankly, in my opinion, it is racist.
Anyhow, I think Social Justice Anabaptists, like their secular atheistic Marxist teachers, ask the wrong questions. That list of suggested responses above, for example, presupposes that government intervention is the answer to racial disparities (rather than the cause) and neglects the fact that billions have been spent to alleviate these problems with very little to show for it. It seems ‘progressives’ assume that disagreement with them stems from ignorance about the problem. In other words, a perspective so incredibly arrogant that it makes Trump look humble by comparison.
All but one of the options offered by the questioner suggests the ignorance or lack of compassion of those who disagree with their presumption of government as a solution. Extremely loaded, more statements than questions, and pretty much designed to trip up the person trying to answer in succinct manner. Of course, the expectation is that their conservative opposition, not as educated or articulate, will sputter something incoherent in response to this deceptive “galloping Gish” rhetorical strategy and look bad.
But, this strategy doesn’t get past me.
The Social Justice Anabaptists have nothing on me as far as compassion and desire to help others. However, what they lack and I do not, is a basic comprehension of economics and the history of these occasionally well-meaning big government efforts. Furthermore, minorities dying due to inadequate care is very personal to me. Saniyah, my little hope who died unexpectedly, was African American. And, yes, she had access to medical care despite her mother being an illegal immigrant. But the doctor? Had I known how potentially deadly her respiratory ailments were and how incompetent inner-city physicians are, I would have made sure she had a qualified physician in conservative rural Pennsylvania.
Here are some of the right questions to help get our far-leftist friends pointed in the direction of solutions that actually work:
Why has the decades-long “War on Poverty” been a dismissal failure? Could it be that the government is not positioned well to address those problems? Didn’t Jesus tell you to personally intervene on behalf of the poor rather than use government as a means to force your neighbors to do something? And, if all poor people are our personal responsibility then what are you doing for Filipinos, in the Philippines, who have less access to quality care than those in our own inner-cities?
11) In a CAST world view, what is racism and what should be done about it?
Racism is to abandon the standard of Martin Luther King, where people should be judged by “content of character” and not their skin color. Racism is to collectively blame or exempt people according to their skin color and to assume that skin color, not the difference in behavior, is the lead determiner of outcomes. Racists treat everyone differently, raising or lowering expectations, based only on skin color. In other words, if one man rapes a woman this is explained away as something in his environment or mostly ignored. But if another does the same, he is roundly condemned and his evil treated as if it is somehow reflecting upon all men of his skin color or class. Racial tribalism is as racist and bad now as it was when white supremacists had the numbers advantage and the KKK roamed at night. The conservative stands against all racially motivated violence. But Social Justice Anabaptists refuse to condemn those behind the current violence. What should be done about racism? Well, stop being racist, stop excusing racial tribalism, start treating all people as unique individuals, that’s what should be done.
12) What core Anabaptist value most drives you or CAST?
The Golden Rule.
13) If you or CAST found out your pastor voted for Biden, would you have trouble listening to his sermons or receiving counsel from him on other issues?
One of my priests, Fr. James, I suspect would be a Biden voter. But, the Orthodox, unlike most Protestants, understand that “my kingdom is not of this world” means segregation of worldly politics from the church environment and worship. One of the reasons that I left the Anabaptists is because both conservatives and their ‘progressive’ activist counterparts do not know how to keep worldly concerns separate from their worship and Communion together. I suppose this is a tendency to confuse Christian and civil duties goes all the way back to the Münster Rebellion? Wherever the case, I’ve scolded Mennonite pastors who brought their conservative anxieties into the church sanctuary, preached their fears, and also confront those who bring far-leftist political agenda in as well. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about the establishment of a Socialist state and those preaching the Social Justice message are preaching a false Gospel and heretical.
14) What do you think a church that is politically divided should do about that?
Stop pushing politics down throats and start loving as Jesus loved. Or, rather, understand that ‘progressive’ politics are as unChristian as any other politics, humble yourselves, and lead by an example of love rather than continue in the politely condescending tones. If you really want to overcome the divisiveness of Protestantism, stop being a separatist, take a step of faith towards Orthodoxy, and being in Communion with the truly kingdom oriented church of the Apostles. Repent! Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
15) What does the phrase “Make America Great Again” mean to Conservative Anabaptists that support Trump (CAST)? Is it referencing the period in the 50’s, prior to the modern socially liberal agenda that included Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, R v. W, Gay Rights, etc.?
Obviously, MAGA is not about any of those things listed. Sure, that is how the far-left controls minorities, through fear-mongering and lying about Trump’s intentions. It is also how smarmy Social Justice Anabaptists try to distinguish themselves as superior-minded and social elites. However, no Trump supporter that I know understands it to mean what the left-wing propagandists say and what it truly means is restoring the status of the United States as a world leader, building a strong middle-class (of all colors or creed) again and nothing to do with that leading question nonsense.
16) Do you think Trump’s strong economy (before COVID) is a key thing that contributes to CAST’s support of him?
Minorities did better under Trump, up until Democrat governors shut down their economies, and only a racist would not support the growing independence of minorities. Many do not realize that George Floyd had lost his job as a result of Democrat-imposed economic shutdowns. He had also been infected with Covid-19 despite these draconian measures. He may very well still be alive and well had it not been for ruinous ‘progressive’ policies. But the controlling left doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of their policies. They seem to believe that only their good intentions matter more than the actual results. Why aren’t you asking about the uptick in suicides and drug overdoses, depression, and quality of life concerns? The economy is life, conservatives intuitively understand this, they understand trade-offs, but ‘progressives’ routinely fail to recognize the folly of their utopian theories and disastrous outcomes of their solutions.
17) Is it a God-given right/responsibility for the secular government to maintain a strong military?
The common defense of a nation is the only legitimate reason why government exists, to physically defend people from evildoers within and without the borders, which is to provide for the general welfare of all citizens. One only needs to look at what happens when this God-ordained order breaks down to see how bad it can get. People need to be secure in their person and property to flourish. The weak and vulnerable suffer most from the neglect of these structures and institutions. That is why God ordained the structure of the family and church to care for our social needs, it is also why St Paul said we should not oppose this legitimate role of government to punish and protect us from evildoers.
18) All other things being equal, do you think it is more likely that a successful businessman would be Christian, or a government executive with a modest income?
Not my place to judge. Jesus had both a repentant tax collector and fishermen. As far as honest labor, certainly, the fishermen outranked a man who lived off what others produced. That’s not to say that those who truly work as public servants have no value, but they should also be appreciative that someone (often without a choice) is providing their income and needs. A business person, by contrast, cannot (outside of collusion with the corrupted government) cannot force you to buy their products and therefore must produce things of actual value or they would not be successful.
19) Is strong border security important?
Does your house have a roof, four walls, a door that can be locked?
Does your body have skin?
Of course, border security is important, President Obama articulated that on multiple occasions and echoed prior administrations about the need for secure borders. It is important for the same reasons why many people flee from other places to come here. They flee from places impoverished by corruption and unrestrained evildoers. Those who do evil would love to follow those fleeing them and many do get in as a direct result of lax enforcement of borders and immigration law. It is compassionate to let the good in and keep the bad out.
The real question is how can an intelligent and compassionate person not be in favor of vetting immigrants?
20) Do you see hunger as a moral issue?
The question is unclear. There is nothing immoral about hunger. Or maybe the question is whether or not it is moral to leave others hungry? If so, maybe we should establish some context first.
Are we talking about this:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
(James 2:15-16 NIV)
Are talking about the rich man stepping over Lazarus on his doorstep or the Priest and Levite who didn’t offer aid in the good Samaritan story?
If so, if we are talking about needs in the church and needs in our immediate physical proximity, then absolutely it is a moral issue. If God puts a need in our path then we should take care of it by the means God has given us. We are clearly instructed to provide for the needs of those in our church and extend a hand of charity to those whom we come in contact with. This is local, it is our individual duty, and not a responsibility that should be shunted off or delegated to the secular government.
If feeding the world is a Christian priority and moral prerogative, then let’s turn this around: How much food have you produced? I know farmers, conservative Mennonite, and many of them Trump supporters, who farm acres of land at a far lower cost than prior generations. They, through their labor, have done far more to feed the multitudes than anyone sitting on some ivory tower somewhere, would you dare speak down to them with this kind of inane question?
21) What are the top solutions to crime issues?
Definitely not Joe Biden’s 1994 Crime bill in light of his son still being a free man nor the zealous drug prosecutions of Kamala Harris who joked about using illegal drugs. Scripture says that crime should be punished. However, I am concerned with some crimes, because of political connections or being of the right class, being totally ignored for some and applied strictly for others. Favoritism is a sin in the church and, likewise, a legal double standard is an injustice. Equal protection under the law is ideal.
So that pretty much wraps it up.
Still, I would love to hear a Social Justice Anabaptist answer my questions scattered throughout this post and also would ask why one would believe that a political party, known for historically treating some as chattel, is actually any different today?
The big difference is that Social Justice Anabaptists, like their forebearers in Münster, believe that the role of government and church should be combined into one kingdom. Their more conservative (or traditional) counterparts have learned the hard lessons of Münster. The ‘progressives’ merge the message of the cross with a political agenda and join those who look to the government for salvation. The conservatives, by contrast, want a President that allows them to live peaceably, a government that fulfills a basic role of military defense and necessary punishment of evildoers, and they do not seek to impose religious moral obligations on their neighbors.
In conclusion, my advice to the ‘progressives’ is that they not hold their traditional counterparts hostage to their political ideologies. If they must, that they find one of the many mainline Mennonite groups (beholden to the Social Justice Agenda) to hitch their wagons to and not drag the rest of their brethren down with them into that divisive and nasty place. And my advice to the conservatives is not to engage in the conversation at all. If you must vote, do it quietly, otherwise, live out the commandments of Jesus, and don’t get sucked into the black hole of politics. For all, seek after Orthodox Christianity rather than political solutions. There is one church and it is not divided between conservatives and liberals.
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.
A week ago someone had called my grandpa and identified himself as being my younger brother. He needed to be bailed out after some kind of traffic law infraction. My grandpa, not one quick to give vast sums of money over a phone call, quizzed his ‘grandson’ and inquired as to why he did not ask his parents first. The spoof caller answered that he wasn’t getting with his parents, at which point it was obviously a scam and my grandpa hung up.
The other day my grandpa called to inform me that someone had just called claiming to be me, his eldest grandson. This time he hung up without hearing another word.
On the same day my grandpa told me about this I had a plea for help, on social media, from an orphanage in Pakistan. Their profile pictures featured a bunch of dear children and those images momentarily tugged at my heartstrings. However, there was no way to verify who they really were. So, I tried to kindly explain my brotherly assistance was required elsewhere. When continued to repeat the request for a Christmas donation, like a broken record, I blocked them. I’ll probably be slower to accept a similar friend request in the future to avoid the need to try to reason with someone only interested in my wallet.
The communication era has brought the world together in ways unimaginable a century or two ago. And, with that development, predatory hoards from around the world can now invade our personal space at any given moment. The marauders no longer need to travel in longboats over dangerous seas, they simply pick up the phone and pretend to be your grandchildren.
This is frustrating for me. There are so many legitimate needs, including that of my family in the Philippines, and these are the real victims of the scammers and schemers. Those who exploit our kindness and generosity do a great disservice to the people around the world who work hard, experience hardship, and could use a little help. It is easy to become callous and uncaring under the deluge of requests. But we must have the courage to care even when there’s a chance of being exploited.
What is the real war on Christmas?
Political activists are constantly claiming a war here or a war there. The left claims that not providing women with free stuff constitutes a “war on women” and the right, not to be left out of the grievance culture fun, whines about the words “Merry Christmas” not being on Starbucks cups—who can forget Joshua Feuerstein’s coffee cup fury and the backlash?
But the real war on Christmas has little if anything to do with corporate marketing and tit-for-tat politics.
Christmas is not about compelling others to use a particular greeting or ensuring that religious displays are allowed in public spaces.
Christmas is a celebration, for the Christian faithful, of the most incredible gift ever given, that being the incarnation of God’s logos in the person of Jesus Christ and the opportunity for our divine adoption. This miraculous birth, to a virgin mother, represents a new hope for humanity and a reason to change ourselves. The true Christmas spirit is our being filled with this same spirit of love and giving of life for the good of others that Jesus embodied.
Turning Christmas into the latest battleground of a broader culture war is to entirely miss the point. Giving Starbucks hell isn’t going to further the message of glad tidings and joy, that’s for certain, and is not likely to win any hearts or minds either. Pettiness is never going to convince a skeptic to consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a distraction at best.
The commercialization of the holiday also takes away from the true reason for the season. The birth of our Lord and Savior wasn’t really intended to inspire stampedes of shoppers hoping to wrestle a few dollars of savings from their neighbors. But Christmas has become a marketing boon for retailers and they (along with the rest of our culture) push people to spend money they don’t have for things they don’t need—things manufactured using underpaid foreign workers while the bulk of the profits enriching a few globalist elites. It is a scheme nearly as exploitative as the telephone scammers, but completely legal.
However, those two things (culture wars and commercialization) are mere symptoms of the bigger disease and the one thing that can undermine the Christmas spirit in us—the soul-eating disease called cynicism. If Christmas has a true enemy in this world it is cynicism. Cynicism is a cancerous attitude. It is natural (albeit unhealthy and inhumane) response to a world full of self-interested people and corrupt institutions. The cynical person is one who has seen behind the curtain, who may have been taken advantage of once or twice and is now too overtaken by their skepticism to truly love their neighbors.
It is often the disillusioned idealist who becomes a bitter, critical, and faithless or cynical. Cynicism is, in that sense, a product of those who exploit trust for financial gain, a result of fatigue of being hit from all angles, and a retreat to a position of disengagement. But it is not dispassionate, as it often claims to be with a shrug, nor is this retreat from personal involvement a moral high ground. No, in reality, cynicism is an excuse for being uncaring, cold-hearted and self-centered.
The clever trick of the cynic is to be uncharitable while presenting oneself as being someone concerned about morality or morally upright for being able to identify the evil intentions of others. But the reality is that cynic is a hypocrite merely using the abuses of others as a cover for their own true self-interested indifference. They might cite scams as a reason why not to care and yet will always have another excuse waiting in the wings if that one isn’t applicable. They are simply unwilling to give of themselves.
Truly the cynic is a coward. They are too cowardly to do good in the face of evil, to be vulnerable and take a chance of being exploited. They are also too cowardly, fearing the social cost of revealing the full truth of their real underlying lack of concern for others, to make a full commitment to the evil they truly envy and yet claim to despise. The irony of the cynic is that they are as selfish and as much a part of the problem as the people that they claim has caused their cynical condition.
Caring requires courage and courage requires commitment…
It takes courage to have life experience and not be cynical. I’ve held back on giving to many charitable causes because some of them did seem more like self-interested scams. There is definitely a case for good stewardship, we should be “wise as serpents” because there are “wolves” (Matthew 10:16) who would devour us and lay waste to our hard-earned savings. It does the world no good to empower criminals or encouraging laziness in those who could learn to help themselves.
However, the dividing line between a person desperately in need of love and one merely taking advantage of the generosity of others is razor-thin. In fact, in many cases, there are overlapping motives in those asking for help, some genuine and others corrupt, and knowing how to respond requires a great deal of wisdom and discernment.
For example, a single mother, raised by the system, may indeed be inclined to take advantage of the charity offered and especially the half-hearted kind that comes out of religious obligation rather than a full commitment to love. They might simply intend to get what they can get before moving on. In those cases, it is easy to dismiss such a person, to conclude that they are unwilling to make the changes necessary to be free of their current circumstance, wash our hands, and move on.
Unfortunately, while there is a time to let people learn from their mistakes, the salvation of those who are mired in generational poverty (or otherwise unable to help themselves) often requires an investment that is beyond reasonable. In other words, it takes an investment of faith rather than of mere religious obligation. It requires the courage and commitment to look beyond the risk of being exploited and to unconditionally love another person before they have proven themselves worthy of our help. Faith means being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Had God waited for us to be worthy of his love, he would not have sent his son, we would still be waiting for a Savior and be hopelessly lost in our sin forever. The true Christmas story is God showing us how to love by becoming personally involved and being completely willing to sacrifice himself as an example for us to follow:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-7)
Christianity and cynicism are completely at odds with one another. They might be similar in that both see the chance of being taken advantage of and exploited, but are completely different in how they respond to that chance. The cynical person lives based on fear and uses their knowledge of the risk as a reason to do nothing for those in need. The Christian, by contrast, makes a commitment to do good despite the strong possibility they will suffer great loss for their efforts.
A Christian must go to war with their cynicism, they must help that diseased man heaped at their doorstep, they must aid the broken traveler discarded along the path they trod and must make an unreasonable commitment to overcome evil with good. That is how soldiers win wars, they understand the risk and are still willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause. It takes courage to overcome our fears, to give ourselves as a sacrifice for the good of others, and live out the true meaning of Christmas.
Be courageous and don’t let the scammers and schemers turn your Christmas spirit into cynicism!
It was a great relief to finally meet Charlotte. We met outside the terminal in Manila and to accompany on the final part of my journey to Baguio. I had left central Pennsylvania at 4 p.m. (EST) on Christmas day for a four-hour drive to NYC, boarded the Korean Air 747 (after navigating the check-in procedures at JFK) a little after midnight, arrived in Seoul about 5 a.m. (their time) and arrived in the Philippines around noon.
It was dark when we finally arrived in Baguio, a city with an altitude of 5000 feet (nearly as high as Denver, CO) and a history tied to U.S. colonialism. Baguio, with a population of several hundred thousand, was established in 1900 by the Americans as a refuge from the searing Manila heat. It is dubbed the “summer capital of the Philippines” because of the cooler temperatures found there and remains a popular Filipino destination.
The many lights dotting the hills were a beautiful sight as we rolled around the bend. The weather was very pleasant when we waited at the bus stop for Charlotte’s uncle (Roland) to pick us up and take us to one of those houses perched on the side of the mountain. Soon I was carrying my bags up, around and through the twists and turns that led to my home of the next few days. It was strange crawling into bed that night realizing the day was just starting where I came from.
One of the best views in the city was from the apartment of Charlotte’s parents and that is where the following pictures were taken. It was truly a spectacular view, there is no camera lens in the world that can possibly capture the color and depth, you’ll have to go there if you really want to appreciate the fullness. But, for a small taste…
In the city…
We went to various locations around the city over the next few days. There are various government buildings, markets with hundreds of vendors selling all manner of things, Burnham park in the heart of the city, McDonalds (and other US franchises) and a huge mall…
Driving presents a unique challenge, given the steep grades, busy roads and lack of parking available. The roads into the residential parts of the city are too narrow at many points for two cars to comfortably pass and, in those cases, the car going down usually yields to the one climbing the hill. Adding to the required skill is that most vehicles there have manual transmissions.
Oh, and everything is diesel powered, including many of the late model Ford Rangers that I loved so much. Toyota, however, seems to be the favorite of the local population and the Tamaraw FX is everywhere. Of course, then there’s the Jeepneys for public transportation, a vehicle that resembles a Willys Jeep that got stretched and turned into a piece of mobile artwork. There was even a Ford Mustang (look closely at the last picture in this series) making its way through traffic in Baguio…
Trip to lowlands…
To celebrate New Year’s day the family loaded up and headed down to a resort in the lowlands. That took us down Kennon road, past the Lion’s head and eventually to the Hundred Islands National Park where we loaded up for the boat tour. That was a wonderful time of picnics, swimming and time together. It was also an introduction to a slightly different version of Filipino life and a place where little motorcycles with sidecars (or “tricycles” as they called them) ruled the roads…
The more fascinating parts of my visit to Baguio was learning about the local culture. The Igorot people, who make up most of the Baguio population, were farming in the mountains there long before the Europeans arrived and still celebrate this unique heritage…
There was one thing more wonderful than anything else and that being the warm welcome. I was treated as family and felt right at home. In fact, it made me think about how truly deficient we are of this kind of true connection in the U.S. Real wealth is not having an accumulation of stuff, real wealth is being a part of a family and loved…
The “culture shock” for me came upon my return to the U.S. and being alone again in Marriott room provided in Atlanta where we were diverted less than an hour from landing in NYC. Sure, I didn’t need to use a bucket and water scoop to shower or flush the toilet, but I missed being called “Tito” (uncle) by children wanting my attention.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the wide open spaces of Pennsylvania and did miss my Ford Focus too. However, I could see myself going back to Baguio. There are plenty of seats on a 747 if any of you wish to join me!
Like many other things not appreciated until they are gone, there was a time when the unique character of the church of my youth was something I had mostly taken for granted.
You see, that church, unlike some other Mennonite churches, had many surnames not typically found within the denomination. We had Cordermans, Gelnetts, Fiedlers, Schrocks, Schooleys and Rovenolts—all of them “community” people who decided to become Mennonites.
Over the years that near even split of Mennonite-borns and “community” people has slowly faded. The non-Mennonite names displaced and replaced as more transplants arrived following cheaper land prices and a better place than Lancaster County to raise their families.
The original church, started a few decades before my birth, had been the result of a Summer Bible School program. A group from Lancaster County drove several hours north and set up camp on the grounds of a small one room public school.
Eventually several young couples involved decided to move into the area where they held the summer program. They purchased the little old school house and started the “East District Mennonite Church” with Lester Miller ordained as pastor.
That church, the one with Lester at the helm, is the one that had a greater focus on the local community and was basically a family of misfits. As far as Mennonite churches go it was a very welcoming place and I believe still retain that reputation today.
However, over the years (since the time Lester moved back to Lancaster and with the influx of “cradle Mennonites” who didn’t necessarily share that original vision of outreach) there has been a subtle shift—a reverting back to a mostly ethnic church full of those who cater only to their own families.
What is an ethnic church and when is it a problem?
It used to irk me, coming from the mixed background congregation that I did, when people would describe Mennonites as being an “ethnic church” and unwelcoming to outsiders. My response would be that Mennonites aren’t the only church with a distinct ethnic flavor and that my own church was diverse.
Truth be told, ethnic diversity isn’t a necessary ingredient for a vibrant local church either. I would expect that a church in China would have mostly those of ethnic Chinese background and a church in central Pennsylvania to have mostly German or other Caucasian origin. Most historical churches were made of those who shared an ethnic identity and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of local flavor.
Unfortunately these ethnic lines, when they come at the expense of a universal and united church, become antithetical to the Christian tradition left to us by the Apostles. We are supposed to all be one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28) rather than divided up by differences of gender, social status and ethnic background.
Ethnic division, very often linked together with sectarian or denominational distinctions, is a great weakness of the North American church. Instead of local community is being unite into one church, as was the case in the early church, we hold onto our own racial and cultural identities. We put ourselves first, our own ethnic families, over unity in the Spirit.
American churches are “intellectual ghettos” as well. We separate over political ideologies, theological perspectives, traditional versus contemporary preferences and, in the case of Mennonites at least, over the most trivial bits of application. This multitude of churches all claim to Jesus as Lord and yet each prioritize preservation of their own cultural “echo chamber” and focus on insulating themselves from any real challenge of their ideas.
What would Jesus say about ethnic churches in diverse communities?
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
That might be hyperbole. It was addressing an audience that place great value on ethnic and family identity. It seemed to contradict prior teaching that put emphasis on tribe and caring for one’s own first. Nevertheless it is something Jesus said and something we ought to contemplate as it applies to our own times.
Did Jesus come to establish a church divided in so many ways? Would he approve when people living in the same geographic area drive past multiple churches to find one that suits their own personal preferences? At very least, is it appropriate to “plant” a new church in a town where there are already multiple options?
At some point there needs to be some introspection. If the church you are in does not reflect the demographics of the local community you should ask why that is. Was the true Gospel of Jesus Christ was about people congregating with people ethnically and otherwise similar to themselves? Were newly converted Greeks required to live by traditional Jewish religious standards?
I’ll let this be the answer to that last question…
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? […] Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:2-7, 11-12 NIV)
When we put our own ethnic and religious tribe above loving as Christ taught then we are like those whom Paul wished would cut themselves off completely.
Finding the universal church…
“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 4:4-6 NIV )
The divided western church does not represent the ideals expressed by Jesus or the Apostles. What it does represent is our cultural value of independence over unity in Christ. It is because we value our own ethnic groups and our own idiosyncrasies of practice over the love for the whole family of God. It is because we are unwilling to “hate” our own families in order to find greater unity together in the Spirit.
There would no doubt be a blessing for those who gave up their own religious cultural and personal hang ups in obedience to their Lord who said to put love for his church first. My own will to do that was crippled for many years by my want to feel loved, accepted and desired in my ethnic church. In had placed being Mennonite above being Christian and truly loving my neighbors despite our differences.
I’ve recently started to go to a church that has members from many denominational backgrounds. Yes, there are some of the “cradle” types who bring their own ethnic and cultural flavor to the group. And, yes, I do need to drive past a couple other churches to get there. But the mix is more representative of the surrounding community and the welcome I’ve received there reminds me of a little church that I once knew.
I would be tempted to quote entertainment mogul Shawn Carter (aka Jay Z) who once told the world about his ninety-nine problems, but he uses a word that degrades women and it shouldn’t be repeated here.
Carter’s “99 problems” came to my mind, I admit because I’ve been a consumer of his products and also that of his cohorts. Music and movies, from many producers, have been a part of my life and undoubtedly had an influence too. I can still remember listening to Eminem (Marshall Matthers III) rap about using drugs, abusing homosexuals, killing his wife, etc.
It might seem strange that a straight-edge Mennonite kid from rural Pennsylvania would find anything in common with violent and hate-filled lyrics. I could lie and pretend it was all for sake of amusement and didn’t reflect anything of my own character. But, truth be told, even knowing nothing of a rough life in the ghetto, and having no animosity towards police or Sir Elton John, the words resonated with my own deep feelings of anger and frustration at the time.
Eminem actually offered some good insight into his lyrics. He was right when he concluded a musical social commentary with the following words: “I guess there’s a Slim Shady in all of us…” That is probably what made his music so popular. People could identify with him. He gave a voice to millions, especially underprivileged young men who were tired of being told how to think and worrying about the correct political language to use and just wanted to let loose.
The Two-way Street Between Artist and Audience
Hollywood producers and musical executives often hide behind this idea that their art merely reflects what is real. That is their way of washing their hands of responsibility and it seems reasonable enough considering what I’ve just confessed about my own inner struggles. However, that is only half true, the whole truth is that their creative expression also shapes our world or we would not call it creative—what resonates or reflects can also help to shape and influence.
The entertainment industry is well-aware of their social influence. True, we reject their most heavy-handed efforts. I could care less about what Matt Damon thinks about gun violence, Brokeback Mountain didn’t tempt me in the least, and, sorry Dr. Dre, I still have no hate for police. I take full responsibility for my own less than wholesome thoughts and wrong attitudes. Nevertheless, I use the word “problems” and somehow Jay-Z comes to my mind.
Movies, music and other media are intended to influence and most definitely do have influence. Sure, watching The Matrix didn’t cause anyone to go on a murderous rampage, but is it only coincidence that a mere month after this film was released two boys wearing long dark trench coats killed 13 of their classmates in Columbine High School? Could it be they were partially inspired by a scene where two characters wearing long dark trench coats enter a building lobby and gun down everyone?
Again, individuals should be held accountable for their own actions. But the same also goes for those who create content and play a significant role in defining popular culture. Quentin Tarantino’s blood lusts might be portraying Nazis, Antebellum Southerners, or any of the others we have decided it is okay to completely dehumanize, but he can’t decide how others will apply the moral framework he presents and should probably think a bit more about unintended consequences of his violent ideations.
Writers, musicians, actors, artists, directors, executives, commentators, professional athletes, television hosts, and others employed in the entertainment industry are out to recreate this country in their own image. And, many of them, in their race to profit off of the lowest common denominator, have shown themselves lacking in good moral judgment and need to take more credit for the results of their work. Many have made their billions by promoting moral turpitude, have created an audience to consume their filth, and yet then are outraged that a vulgar man is elected President?
The entertainment media was all beside themselves recently with excitement when Eminem went off on an explicit rant parroting common accusations against Trump. In breathless headlines he become a heroic figure, a part of their resistance, and suddenly relevant again. I guess it doesn’t matter that he helped to condition a whole generation to think it is funny to degrade women and minorities? He made dirty locker room talk seem tame by comparison.
Hollywood Hypocrisy Has Been Exposed
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:2-3 NIV)
Those within the media echo chamber might not see the hypocrisy yet many Americans do and are tired of sanctimonious multi-millionaire celebrity elites telling them what to think, how to vote, or who should lead them. The rebellion is on, the plebs have started to tune out your lectures years ago when the double standard became too big to ignore, and it is time for some serious introspection.
Then we have Harvey Weinstein, a prominent figure in Hollywood, a wealthy Hillary Clinton supporter, and known sexual predator. I say known because his behavior was apparently common knowledge amongst media elites and ignored. For whatever reason, perhaps because of shared political ideology or cash payoffs and career opportunity or fear of their own sins coming to light, for years and years nobody spoke out publically against him:
“Weinstein’s behavior was reportedly an open secret in the circles in which he ran, which includes entertainment and politics. So much so, in fact, that shows like NBC’s “30 Rock” openly referenced his predatory habits. Twice. The comedian Seth McFarlane also referred to Weinstein’s abusive nature during the 2012 Oscar nominees announcements. Despite all of this, Clinton maintains she knew nothing about the producer’s appetites.”
I guess what we deem to be “deplorable” depends on who does the crime. If Joe Paterno and everyone at Penn State should be held responsible for Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of young boys, does that mean everyone in Hollywood and the media (who buried Weinstein’s transgressions) be held to the same standard? Is it time to investigate the Clinton campaign to find out what they knew and when?
Those questions will be answered in time. I personally do not know the circumstances or various actors involved well enough to render any judgment. But there are many who should probably think carefully about what they say in condemnation of others.
Weinstein, perhaps in a bid to deflect attention from his own sins (or in a failed effort to garner the support of other progressive elites) said he would target his anger at the NRA. The absurdity of this, a man in an industry that hides behind the first amendment (apparently only angry for getting caught) targeting an organization that defends the second amendment…
Maybe it is because men of his ilk have been using that script for years?
They objectify women, they glorify violence, they stir up racial animosity and then pick a scapegoat to act outraged about. Instead of admitting their own role in the problem they would rather blame an organization that existed long before the upward trend in mass shootings of the past few decades. They want to blame guns—nevermind the inconvenient truth that actual machine guns were completely legal until 1986 and long before this precipitous increase in violence. It is time they stop deflecting and blame shifting and take ownership of their part of the problem.
Trump Is the Symptom, Not the Disease
Sorry, Hollywood hypocrites, many of those who consumed your entertainment (and found their own inner Slim Shady) also voted for the candidate who spurned cultural conventions in his rise the top and waved his middle finger in the air like he just didn’t care. In other words, he is just a slightly different version of you.
Trump is merely the first politician to take full advantage of the shift in American values. He did not create the culture, he didn’t even create the character he is playing—we can thank Mike Judge, the movie Idiocracy and President Comacho for the inspiration. So, if you really want to defeat Trump, start by addressing those privileged elites who lowered our cultural standards, encouraged the abandonment of traditional values, and created an audience primed for a vulgarian to lead them.
It is time we stop privileging a few with ready-made excuses. It is time to stop lambasting only those who help our political ends and ignoring the problems of our own side. We all share some of the blame for the society we together have created, we all need to take a long hard look at where we are headed and how our own actions contribute to the problem.
The other day it occurred to me that many of my most faithful Mennonite friends married across divisions of ethnicity and race. In fact, three out of the three friends I was with yesterday are married to women who were born in foreign countries and later became US citizens.
Interracial marriage is not unusual in modern America anymore. A full 17% of newlyweds in the United States married across racial or ethnic lines according to Pew Research Center. This has been a steady trend for many decades and with this increase in interracial marriages the stigma has decreased—only a small percentage of Americans remain opposed to marriages across racial lines.
Mildred and Richard Loving who, in 1967, refused to be separated even when facing prison time.
Mennonites have tended to lag behind the general population in many regards and this is one of those areas. It was only a few years ago that my Mennonite pastor (educated at Bob Jones University where interracial relationships were banned until the 1990’s) cautioned me against this kind of relationship citing cultural differences. It is probably safe to assume that his views are not unusual in the conservative end of the Mennonite denomination.
Have Mennonites have began to catch up with the mainstream?
I know that interracial dating was unusual and even discouraged in the Mennonite church of my youth. That is why my realization about so many of my friends being married interracially was astonishing to me. I’m not sure if it is only a local anomaly or a general across-the-board trend. However, I do know that there were very few others in the conservative Mennonite church when I was in a romantic relationship with a black woman just over a decade ago.
Some of it could be explained by inner-city outreach projects. Typically Mennonites have been raised in rural parts of the country and sheltered from non-Mennonites. My own experience was slightly different due to my public school education, which likely made me more open to relationships outside of my own ethnic group (my first real crush was not a Mennonite or white girl) and yet many of my religious peers caught up with a bit of exposure to the world outside their ethnic enclaves. Followers of Jesus Mennonite Church (in Brooklyn, New York) accounts for many of the relationships across racial lines that I know about in the more traditional end of the denomination.
But, before anyone gets too excited, this does not mean attitudes have changed much with most conservative Mennonites. I have heard many young men (who likely have not met too many girls besides their sisters or cousins) state that they would not be interested in dating a girl of a different race. It is probably even less acceptable for a Mennonite female to marry outside her ethnic fold, and many of the couples in interracial relationships do not remain Mennonite.
Generally one cannot deviate too far from the Mennonite cultural norm and expect to be embraced. It was hard enough for me, a Mennonite guy with some unorthodox views, to find a girl born in a Mennonite home that would give me the time of day. I could not imagine being a convert from outside trying to get a date with someone of a popular family with an established Mennonite pedigree.
Mennonites barely have the faith to ask or date anyone—let alone someone who doesn’t meet a long list of qualifications, race and ethnicity likely included.
Why do some Mennonites marry across racial or ethnic lines?
One thing my friends have in common is that they married older. I do not see them as purposefully trying to find girls from a different ethnic group or race either. Most of them are down to earth and practical guys who found a girl who gave them a chance and connected with them. It seems that girls from non-Mennonite background are more willing to be friends first, are less driven by impossible purity culture ideals, and much more appreciative of a guy who treats them with respect—even if he is not tall, smug or otherwise full of himself…
By all appearances, those Mennonites marrying across racial lines are not trying to make a political statement. Ironically, the virtue-signaling types (the most outspoken cradle Mennonites about racial issues) seem to marry the whitest and then preach to everyone else about about being more accepting of immigrants, etc. Those actually marrying across racial lines, on the other hand, are doing it for pragmatic reasons and real love for the person they married rather than to be superior to anyone else or prove anything about themselves. And that’s not to say my friends will not defend their wives and children from racists—they might not be vocal or making a show of it, but are solid men and their loved ones not to be trifled with.
Those who married across racial lines seemed motivated truly by love. They would have likely also married someone of their own ethnicity or race had the right circumstances come along. But, that said, they are extraordinary, they married out of a love that could transcend superficial differences and therefore their relationships have a potential others do not. They were willing to go outside of the conventional ideals of their parent’s generation, even of their religious peers, and may have even faced some extra resistance along the way. That may be why they are some of the most loyal, caring and mature people that I know—they are simply willing to go in love where others have not.
My recommendation to those on the fence…
Those advising against interracial dating often don’t have a clue what they are talking about. Yes, there are differences to overcome, but that is also true of any committed relationship and it certainly is not reason to quit before you started. Go on some dates, find out if your personalities compliment or collide and then decide your next step—is that really too difficult or complicated?
It does not seem that my friends who married interracially regret their choice. I do know there are a number of those who married ethnic Mennonites who have had second thoughts. Indeed, sometimes those seemingly perfect candidates (according to Mennonite cultural ideals) are not what they appear to be at first glance and pleasing their near-impossible standards can be a real headache. So, if it is a choice between being taken for granted by some entitled brat or more fully appreciated by someone who has seen real struggle in their lives, isn’t the right choice obvious enough?
Take my advice guys. Stop pining for that girl that snubbed your first inquiry. If she didn’t see your interest in her as reason enough to go on a date or two, then she isn’t worth any more of your time. Quit being a pathetic lapdog. That will only feed her sense that you have nothing to offer her (that she can’t already have) and further convince her that she is out of your league. Be a man, go where you are needed in the world, be a real leader, move on.
For those girls who have never been asked, same deal. Broaden your horizons, stop trying to please people who don’t lift a finger on your behalf, and you might soon find there are many faithful Christians who don’t have a familiar Mennonite surname.
Godly character, not skin color or religious pedigree, is what makes a marriage work.
Jesus may have said his yoke is easy, but it is not easy for someone born and raised outside the conservative Mennonite culture to become Mennonite—especially not a woman.
Mennonites are not the only ones that demand conformity to a list of cultural expectations. Fundamentalist sects all have their fundamentals, their own special set of rules, cultural expectations, or doctrinal essentials that they use as tests for membership.
For example, a very sincere and sweet Christian friend of mine was asked about her view of “Once Saved, Always Saved” theology. Her questioner, someone who believes in eternal security, did not like her answer and now counts her as lost. To them salvation depends on our ability to parrot a theological position, a work of the mind, and no nuances are allowed.
And these false dichotomies, based on personal opinion, exist at all levels. If your hermeneutic allows for some flexibility interpreting the creation narrative of Genesis, then Ken Ham (including his partner in self-promoting pseudo-scientific dogmatism, Bill Nye) will insist that you should be an agnostic.
Nothing is further from the truth.
Jesus rebukes religious gatekeepers and damned missionaries.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:13,15)
Jesus confronts the religious elites, who had positioned themselves as the final arbiter of truth, and he rudely knocks them off their pedestal. He confronts them for shutting people out who might otherwise enter and says they make those few they do convert “twice the child of hell” as that they are. That is a shocking reproach for those who are diligently religious.
Missionary service is typically unquestioned and perhaps that is because many of us feel guilt for not doing enough ourselves? But missionaries get no free pass from Jesus; on the contrary, he rebukes them even more severely and describes them as being counterproductive. I hope, after considering that, it goes without saying that missionary service can be a false indication of sincere faith and love for God.
There are many reasons why a person might want to be a missionary other than pure love for God and other people. Traveling, in our day and age, is fun and many enjoy the adventure. There are also the duty-bound “do-gooder” religious types, motivated more by fear than love. But there is an even more insidious reason why a person may choose to be a missionary service, and that is the power over others it offers:
1) Power of peer respect: There is no question that being a missionary is considered honorable amongst religious people. It draws positive attention. Those who have served in a visible way are often given special praise and in my church it is almost a prerequisite to being ordained. It can become a basis for ranking members of the church into higher and lower tiers. When used that way, it goes directly against the admonition of Jesus to be a brotherhood of equals earlier in his sermon.
2) Power of material resources: I know missionaries who go out like Jesus sent his disciples (Mark 6:7-13) in the power of the Spirit and with little more the shirts on their backs. Unfortunately, we do not embody that kind of faith anymore. Our missionaries rely on the power of their own calculations and often with enough resources to live comfortably beyond the reach of the people they are trying to evangelize. This can create a situation where people serve the missionaries’ whims for no reason other than attaining access to their resources. Being treated as royalty can also be gratifying to those who hold this power.
3) Power to be a religious gatekeeper: Everyone, including the religious elites condemned by Jesus, believes they are right, and that sanctimonious feeling can be the basis to becoming an evangelist. Recently a friend shared the testimony of Megan Phelps-Roper who was raised in Westboro Baptist Church and joined in their protests as a child. It was through conversation with the “other side” that she realized her spirit was wrong and repented.
Unfortunately, there are many who never do get knocked off their pedestal, never do humble themselves in the light of God’s grace, and do damage to the cause of Christ. They position themselves as the final arbiters of truth, as gatekeepers to the kingdom with the licence to shut people out, and the words of Jesus apply to them just as much as they did to the religious elites in the original audience.
Knowledge can become a barrier to truth when it leads to dead religion rather than following in faith.
We shut people off from the truth when we center our faith on our own religious “knowledge” rather than on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. These “all or nothing,” black-and-white propositions are a distraction from the substance of Christian faith. Obsession on theological minutia causes confusion rather than bringing clarity, and our additional requirements take away from the simple truth of the Gospel message:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
We should remember what Jesus said to his disciples when they took issue with someone speaking in the power of Jesus name outside their exclusive club:
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)
It should be noted that in the verse just prior to this, the disciples were having an argument over who amongst them would be greatest. Jesus answers them by bringing a child beside him and declaring that whoever would be most welcoming to that child in his name would be greatest. I’m guessing that child wasn’t 100% theologically correct.
We should serve others in truth of self-sacrificial love and in humility rather than in superiority of knowledge.
There are many who go out in the strength of their own knowledge. They never do comprehend the significance of God’s grace, and are blind though they think they see:
We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3)
Some say it is the thought that counts.
It is also said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
But before we say or think too much, we should take heed of what Jesus said and consider it a warning against an idea that our salvation comes from our religious diligence or right ideas. Instead we must be an example of the grace shown to us while we were yet dead in our sins.
We need to hold the door open for those wishing to enter and lower the threshold, rather than trip them up with our own pet doctrines.
We are not called to be gatekeeper; instead, we are called to serve in love and humility.
Those who are sincerely wrong are oftentimes the hardest to convince otherwise. Those who are the most sincere are also the most emotionally invested in their own position. This investment can lead to blinding confirmation bias and prevent a person from seeing the truth when it is staring them in the face.
The problem with many people raised in religious purity cultures is that they are very sincere and yet extremely misguided. Many in these cultures are convinced that their salvation is something they earn through their diligent efforts to please God and their own righteousness. Sadly, this is a complete misunderstanding of God’s grace and a form of false religion that will leave a person lost as ever despite their sincere efforts.
People often think of purity culture as it applies to romantic ideals. (And it does wreak havoc there.) However, purity culture is a religious mindset that goes far deeper than our courtship practice. It is a perspective that hurts everything we do as a church. It makes us less effective as evangelists and missionaries. It undermines the concept of church as a family and leads to division. The purity culture has produced a bitter fruit because it is based completely in human reasoning rather than God’s word.
A bold claim?
Let’s compare and contrast purity culture to the actual example of Jesus and what his ministry established:
#1) Purity culture externalizes blame for sin, but Jesus taught that defilement comes from the inside.
Many people blame external factors for the choices they make. This can be used as an excuse for sin. It is also used as justification for a long list of safeguards and arbitrary religious standards intended to preserve or protect a form of purity. They reason that since sin is a product of outside influences, they therefore must require people conform to their own rules and shelter their children carefully for fear they will be contaminated.
Obedience to rules of outward appearance and ritual purity pleased the Pharisees who trusted their Bible based tradition, but it did not please Jesus:
“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!'”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'”
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.“ (Matthew 15:1-11)
The Pharisees, like their modern day religious purity culture counterparts, put their hope for salvation in their ability to maintain an outward distinction between themselves and others.
But Jesus was unimpressed.
First he points out their hypocrisy for neglecting weightier matters and then he goes on to explain something that many still miss today: Our defilement comes from something spiritual within us and therefore our purity cannot be preserved by external or physical means.
#2) Purity culture creates walls of separation between people, but Jesus removed barriers and bridged divides.
Purity culture teaches defilement comes from an outside physical source and it is for that reason those indoctrinated into this system are obsessed with maintaining physical separation as a means to protect themselves or their children from sin. But Jesus completely defies this kind of thinking:
“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:37-39)
This was considered scandalous by the self-righteous and sanctimious religious people then. It would also be seen as a scandal in many churches today. Even the disciples (Judas especially) found cause to question the appropriateness of Jesus allowing this kind of behavior.
Can you imagine?
A single man, a leader in the church, being touched by a woman, and a sinful woman at that!?! Outrageous, right?!?
I do not need to imagine the raised eyebrows and expressions of concern. I know them all too well. We would never allow such a thing in my own church tradition. We segregate practices like foot washing and the kiss of peace for fear of impure thoughts. It is because we believe that defilement is something that comes through our physical contact (like a grade schooler’s aversion to cooties) and do not actually follow the example of Jesus.
Ironically, those who view any meaningful relationship across gender lines outside courtship as dangerous (or see any and all physical touch as a prelude to sexual behavior) are as guilty of a the same hypersexualized view as those in the world whom they condemn. They may be outwardly pure according to an arbitrary religious standard, but they have an unhealthy obsession with sex and a fear born of their own impure thoughts. Purity cultures are fertile ground for sexual abuse.
#3) Purity culture avoids ‘the world’ as to appear righteous to religious peers, but Jesus made his place amongst the sinners.
Purity cultures build walls to physically seperate people. Those in this type of culture, not recognizing that sin originates in the heart, believe there is safety in the guard rails they create to protect themselves against sin and worldly contamination. But Jesus directly opposed this mindset, he confronted those who promoted it by exposing them as hypocrites (or only outwardly pure) and led by a completely different example:
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
Those who were influenced by the modern purity culture ought to read the book of Hosea as Jesus told their religious forebears to do.
They should look for themselves and try to determine what “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” means as applied to their own mentality. If more did take this recommendation of Jesus seriously it would make a dramatic change in their perspective. It could shift their focus from a ritual religious devotion to something altogether different.
#4) Purity culture attempts to manipulate God through religious devotion, but Jesus taught to authentic worship is showing true love to other people.
Purity culture, no matter what disguise it wears, is always an attempt to be control and manipulate rather than actually love God. It is an idea that “if I do A then God will do B” that treats God like a vending machine (where we insert our diligent religious practices then out pops a blessing) and really only an attempt to make ourselves master over God. Devotion in a purity culture is no more than a cynical calculation rather than a true commitment to love God.
This is exactly what was condemned in the book of Hosea. The charge made early in the book is “there is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.” Later on, the Israelites, after experiencing the consequences of their neglect of true worship, try to regain God’s favor through false repentance, say “come, let us return to the Lord” and think their going through the motions of will force God to take them back. But God is not fooled and asks like a disappointed parent: “What can I do with you… Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” It is at this point where the phase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” comes in and we get to the heart of the matter: The Israelites, like the Pharisees after them, and our various purity cultures today, tried to please God by a devotion expressed through religious practice. However, no amount of sacrifice, no amount of religious practice, and not even a life of poverty or missionary service can save anyone.
The message of Hosea seems to be that the mercy we show to others is the true measure of our love for God. Love for all people as expression of love for God is a theme throughout the teaching of Jesus. Jesus taught to “be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) and left his disciples with this commandment:
“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)
True love of God is expressed in our love towards each other and most especially out mercy shown to those who need it most. We are told to love everyone and not only those who we believe are deserving according to our own religious score card. Our love must be genuine or all of our worship and diligent religious works will be in vain.
#5) Purity culture is obsessed with righteous outward appearance, but Jesus focused on religious hypocrisy and the inner reality of hearts.
Purity cultures work overtime to maintain a superficial visual distinction between themselves and those outside of their own religious group. They take pride in their maintenance of dress standards and see themselves as better than others for their ability to conform to the expectations of their religious peers. But Jesus exposed their counterfeit faith and true shallowness:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28)
Some people are able to please man-made requirements and earn themselves the praise of their religious peers for this. But this righteousness of outward appearance is not evidence of an inner heart change. It is a false security established on meeting human expectations. No amount of church attendance, missionary service, or religious devotion proves a person’s heart is pure.
Jesus taught that true faith is something that transforms a person from the inside out and is something completely dependent on God’s grace. Purity cultures get things completely reversed, they put the cart ahead of the horse (put works of the flesh before God’s grace experienced through faith) and for this reason it is impossible for them to love as Jesus did.
#6) Purity culture loves selectively with a judgmental unforgiving attitude towards outsiders, but Jesus consistently showed grace to those who needed it most.
People in religious purity cultures often do the exact opposite of what Jesus did. They judge outsiders harshly and then give themselves a pass for their own grave sins of self-righteousness and pride. Jesus, by contrast, was gentle with those outside and made them feel needed, appreciated and useful:
“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ [His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.] The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ [For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.]” (John 4:7-9)
Jesus, unlike many so called ‘Christian’ evangelists today, did not try to scare the hell out of this woman. He did not condescend. But, instead Jesus made himself dependent on her (a lowly Samaritan woman) and treated her as an equal and with respect. Through this loving humility he gained opportunity explain a greater spiritual reality to her and then tactfully addressed her sin while offering forgiveness rather than condemnation.
The hellfire and brimstone Jesus preached was, without exception, reserved for the smug and sanctimious religious insiders who turned to their own righteousness for salvation. The people who had their act together according to religious standards are the ones condemed by Jesus.
Why is it that the religious can be so demeaning of those outside their tradition and yet so sensitive when criticism comes their own way?
Because they are afraid and should be, that’s why…
#7) Purity culture is motivated primarily by fear and deep down insecurity, but Jesus told us to walk steadfastly in faith and trust God with the future.
Purity cultures are negatively focused. They see only moral decay, the live in a world of slippery slopes and anxiety about the future.
“We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Anaïs Nin)
Those who live in fear are like the men described in the book of Numbers (chapter 14) who’s pessimistic faithless outlook led to a rout and years of wandering aimlessly.
People who are extremely condemning of others are often the most insecure themselves. Those in purity cultures are so sensitive to criticism because they are attempting the impossible without God’s help and do not know the true meaning of grace.
Perhaps they think if they throw enough people into the pit of hell behind them (through their words and judgments) that God’s wrath towards them will be somehow satisfied?
At a deeper level those in a purity culture may know their own inadequacy. They fear of not being able to measure up and therefore are competitive against those of lower social status rather than truly compassionate.
Whatever the case, true faith relies on God’s grace and leads us to love rather than fear:
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16-18)
True devotion to God is born of faith that comes through grace and not human effort. It is a commitment to a love that is impossible by our own standard. The love God seeks is unreasonable and irrational by human standards. It is a divine love made possible only through means of the Spirit. It is the love of Jesus who died to save us while we were yet lost in our sin and a love that takes away our fear of not measuring up.
In conclusion, we need to rid ourselves of counterfeit faith based in human ability and embrace the truth of God’s word.
Purity cultures, because they are based in human effort, do not lead to real faith or true repentance. They do little more feed obsessive compulsive disorders on one side and arrogance on the other. Those who believe that their salvation depends on reciting the right words or reading a requisite amount of Scripture daily are more hopelessly lost than their worldly counterparts.
It is what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees and also what Paul addressed as false religion in the early church:
“These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.“ (Colossians 2:22-23)
Purity cultures attempt to manipulate God rather than live in faith and genuinely love their neighbors. They are condemning rather than compassionate and are more concerned with what people may think than they are in true purity of love. For fear of being defiled or viewed as less pure they (unlike the good Samaritan) cross the street rather than address the needs right in front of them.
True faith runs like a man on fire to where the need for mercy is greatest. Those who walk in faith know the truth of God within them is always greater than the world and therefore fear no evil. Faith always rests in the adequacy of God and never in our own.
True purity of heart comes from being clothed in the righteousness of God.