Monday, February 29, 2016

The Jeffress cloud

Though many people suffer under a misconception to the contrary, there really is nothing prohibiting a pastor from taking a stand on political issues, or endorsing candidates. There is nothing legally or spiritually prohibiting it. That isn't to say that there aren't delicacies involved when a preacher ventures into the political arena. A pastor's responsibility is to be first an ambassador of Christ. In that regard it is vital that a pastor be able to point to Christian principles and doctrine as the foundation for his actions when involved in worldly affairs.

I was raised in the Southern Baptist church, and have spent most of my life as a member of Southern Baptist churches. Nothing in my fifty plus years of experience in Baptist churches has prepared me to explain the endorsement of Donald Trump by the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffress. He plays coy over not being in a position to make endorsements as a pastor, but let's be frank, it's an endorsement. Over the weekend I watched in amazement as Pastor Jeffress made the media rounds cheerfully rationalizing and encouraging evangelical support for Trump.

A statistic cited repeatedly by Jeffress is that South Carolina exit polling revealed that extremely few evangelical voters thought that Trump shared their values, but 72% thought he was the best choice to lead our nation back from the brink. This statistic, that Jeffress recites with a plucky smile, should break his heart. It represents an enormous spiritual tragedy. There is no way to put a positive spin on the fact that a significant majority of evangelical voters do not believe that Christian values are necessary, desireable, or even important in the task of setting America back on course. The fact that these Christians believe worldly values are superior to Christian values for the task at hand should cause Robert Jeffress to weep for the church. Instead he rejoices for Trump.

On Fox's Judge Pirro show, Jeffress provided his strangest contortions of reasoning. To explain the voting behavior of evangelicals he compared their behavior in the current race to what happened in the race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. His narrative equated Ted Cruz with Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan with Donald Trump. There are too many things wrong with this perversion of history and logic to bother going into. I wish that I could believe in my heart that Jeffress simply doesn't know better, but I cannot. Interestingly enough, Jimmy Carter currently agrees with Jeffress on Trump being preferable to Cruz.

Donald Trump has been a scoundrel in every aspect of his life. He has indicated no regrets or intentions to change a thing. If elected, he will almost certainly become the Bill Clinton of the Republican Party. Robert Jeffress has tied the credibility of his witness to that. Rather than cite statistics and provide irrational anecdotes equating Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, it would be interesting to hear Pastor Jeffress explain the Christian principles behind him being spiritually led to this endorsement.

The world is watching - the world of the believers and the world of the lost. How is the support of a man who, without regret, sings the praises of Planned Parenthood, is corrupt in his business life, has no fidelity in his private life, demonstrates the basest tendencies of human nature in his personal interactions, and eschews the very thought of servant leadership, not an encumbrance in the race for Christ that is set before Pastor Jeffress? How can a pastor illustrate that God's way is best while endorsing the ways of the world? The world that is watching.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing  our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Eating Trump

When I was a kid I read a book called "How to eat fried worms". The story was pretty simple. One kid bet another that he couldn't eat 50 worms. With the winning of a mini-bike at stake the protagonist of the story commences to eat a worm a day in his quest for his prize. The bulk of the story consisted of our hero finding creative ways to eat his daily worm, from nose-holding to seasoning, to frying. Though he never developed a taste for worms, the story did end happily with a mini-bike ride into the sunset.

In every election since Ronald Reagan's last campaign I have had to hold my nose to vote for President in the general election. In some elections I've had to hold it tighter than others. In some, boiling in oil might have made the candidate more palatable. You can't really know until you try. John McCain was by far the most difficult. In each of these election cycles there were plenty of folks playing the shame card to secure my vote for the RINO du jour. While I decided in every case to cast my vote for the GOP nominee, those attempts to shame me into doing so were not constructive.

The RINO parade that we've been subjected to for the better part of three decades has at least been quantifiable. I knew what John McCain was. I knew where I disagreed with him, and I knew the areas in which he held contempt for me and the principles that I hold. "Hobbit" is not the worst thing that I've ever been called. No one pretended that McCain's record was irrelevant. Conservatives didn't make excuses for him. There was an underlying consensus that grassroots conservatives would have the task of holding him accountable if he were to become President. While each vote that I cast for a RINO presidential nominee represented a compromise, I never pretended that a candidate was something that there was no evidence to support. And I never had a sense that electing one of these candidates would deal a serious blow to the conservative movement that I've invested myself in.

Donald Trump is an entirely new species of RINO. I have nothing in common with Trump. Politically, philosophically, and morally, Donald Trump represents the antithesis of everything I want to see in a presidential candidate. That's not a good starting point. I have thought more about my ability to vote for Trump in a general election than I have for any other candidate. I am astounded at the number of conservatives that accept Trump's campaign conversions on nearly every issue. Politicians never surprise me, but I have to admit to being shocked at the acceptance we've seen for Donald Trump among grassroots conservatives. A traditionally consistent idea within the conservative movement has been to not make excuses for politicians - to maintain a healthy suspicion even of candidates that we like. That has gone out the window with Trump. He requires his supporters to make excuses for him in every aspect of his life. In large numbers, conservatives and Christians are lining up to do so, and for the life of me I can not understand why.

Donald Trump's campaign is a fraud. He holds out a wall in one hand to get people excited, while holding amnesty in the other behind his back. He takes every side of an issue, and points to the most convenient position when his opponents point out another. He lies about his opponents and calls them liars. To call his statements on policy "vacuous" is an act of generosity. When pinned down on a topic that he can't defend, he attacks the questioner, or simply insults the first thing that comes to mind. And lots and lots of people lap it all up. The reason that I am so crestfallen over Donald Trump's success is that it reveals a fundamental weakness in the grassroots movement. I have long held the conviction that the grassroots conservative movement is the single best hope for correcting the course of the nation. Donald Trump's grassroots appeal has diminished that hope and driven me to my final decision regarding candidate Trump.

The #NeverTrump hashtag is apparently trending today. It's certainly trending with me. I can't participate in a fraud. I can't pretend that some good will come from putting my support behind a man that is dishonest in every aspect of his campaign, is dishonest about his opposition, holds contempt for all of us who aren't willing to excuse his shortcomings, and bullies everything that gets in his way. I'm not interested in making Donald Trump the face of a conservative movement which he has demonstrated no allegiance to, or even affinity for.

Alexander Hamilton once said: "If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible."

So we are left to seriously wonder if winning with Trump is actually in the best interest of the conservative movement. The TEA party movement has been on the scene for nearly a decade. After striking gains in 2010 and 2014, do we really want to turn the keys of the movement over to Donald Trump? Like it or not, as the "anti-establishment" candidate, the TEA party movement will own Donald Trump. In our national political dialogue, Trump's brand will stick to conservatism like stink to a skunk. Is this someone that we want to be responsible for? Will a Trump presidency add to or subtract from the state and national election gains that the movement has made in the past few years? A conservative movement that stands in unified opposition to Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, is a healthier movement than one fragmented and fundamentally re-branded over ties to a liberal anti-establishment RINO.

For me personally, this is about more than deciding to make one more political compromise. This is about making a choice to assault my own values to support someone that represents everything that I oppose in politics on the complete gamble that all of my instincts about Donald Trump are wrong. If he becomes President, how likely is it that the conservative movement will become divided between his supporters and his opposition?  How likely is it that we will see the conservative movement gerrymandered into something feckless and undefineable? The vote shamers need to understand that voting for Trump is not the same as voting for previous RINOs. This is one worm I just can't get down.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lost in the compartment department

I consider myself a connoisseur of irony in its many flavors - from sweet to bitter to undefineable. Donald Trump provides the connoisseur a feast of irony. Crowned the un-PC king of the GOP primary, Mr. Trump owes a significant portion of his success to political correctness.

The PC movement has been diabolically effective in altering the way that people live their daily lives and exercise their influence. Throughout history individuals have traditionally been viewed holistically. A person's character was expected to be a constant in politics, at work, at home, etc.. In order to avoid offending others, political correctness elevates conformity and demands that an individual's character be divided into segregated aspects and compartmentalized. We see this in the creation of modern terms such as "business ethics", replacing simply "ethics". We avoid the specter of judgement by implying it's OK to do as you please outside of work, just put on your ethics cloak when you come to work. So we collectively come to accept that an unethical person in private can be ethical in business, and to think of ethics as a behavior instead of a trait of character.

The many times we hear in jest the warnings about talking politics or religion are examples of PC compartmentalization. The underlying idea of PC is to eliminate any lifestyle influence that doesn't conform to an accepted standard. The problem is that most people readily comply with the constraints of PC. They don't want to be offensive. If you want to talk about things that don't conform to the accepted standard, well we need to set up a "free speech zone" for that (and please provide trigger warnings in advance (and hope that nobody is triggered by the trigger warnings)). Free speech in the Constitution is called out specifically to protect our individual influence. Free speech on college campuses is called out specifically to be sequestered into zones to limit individual influence.

So what does any of this have to do with Donald Trump? In South Carolina and in Nevada we have seen large percentages of evangelical voters go for Trump. In spite of the nice things that Mr. Trump has had to say about Christianity, his life is anything but an example of Christian values. Trump is an admitted serial philanderer and adulterer. He raises meanness to an art form. His language and manner are crude and worldly. He has demonstrated a willingness to make ethical compromises in his past business and political dealings. What's not for the average evangelical to love? Instead of looking at the general character of the man, many Christians have chosen to compartmentalize his life and their own to rationalize supporting him. 

Many conservatives similarly make excuses for Trump's past progressive positions, and recently shifting positions, on issues of profound importance by putting him in the non-politician box. Because it's apparently reasonable to believe that he really just started developing a value system in his mid 60s. I'm sure he'll have it all worked out before he takes office. And just a quick side note, it's been my experience that the candidates that crow the loudest about not being a politician, are the biggest politicians in the herd. Trump's unscrupulous business dealings, his buying and selling of politicians, and his assault on basic property rights were all done while he was in his businessman box. Now we're asked to accept that the general nature of businessman Donald shouldn't cause us any concern regarding politician Donald.

Once upon a time we used words like hypocrite, dishonest, or two-faced, to describe a man that acted one way under one set of circumstances, and another way under a different set of circumstances - because once upon a time we had a better collective sense of human nature. Political correctness has dulled our discernment and made us more vulnerable to the changing hues of politicians like Donald Trump. Many Christians and conservatives have demonstrated in this race that they are too willing to compartmentalize their values and principles when it comes to politics. A man who is a bully to someone that offends you (Megyn Kelly, Michelle Malkin, Jeb Bush), is a bully. That is his character. It's not situational. A man that is willing to buy and sell politicians for business advantage is unscrupulous. That is his character. It's not situational. A man that brags about committing adultery with and against multiple women is a cheater. That is his character. It's not situational. A man that calls another man a liar when he knows it is false, is a liar. That is his character. It's not situational.

Character is not situational. So if you value character, and love the un-PC nature of Donald Trump, it might just be because you are a product of a PC culture. Enjoy the irony. There is plenty more where that came from.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Grayson County Sheriff race

The Texoma Patriots conducted an excellent candidate forum(as usual) at a very crowded Buck Snort Barbecue Tuesday night. The main event was the presentation of three candidates for Grayson County Sheriff. I had not made a final choice in the sheriff's race prior to the forum. I've heard good things about David Russell, and Tom Watt. Howard Day was unknown to me prior to the event, but I knew he had the support of people I respect. All three men made compelling presentations in their own way.

Throughout most of the presentations and Q&A I had the impression that any of the three would make a fine sheriff. That impression changed dramatically toward the very end of the forum. The agent of that change was a question about the role of a sheriff in relationship to the law, the Constitution, government agencies, and the defense of liberty in Grayson County. Two of the candidates gave answers that seemed political, and troubling. One did not.

It is true that the oath of office for a sheriff in the state of Texas includes allegiance to the law and the US, and Texas constitutions. While all of us hope that Grayson County's next sheriff will never have to navigate a situation in which the law and either of these constitutions are in conflict, it is important for the residents of the county to know that their sheriff will not simply abandon them by walking away from the job in the face of such conflict. Tom Watt, and Howard Day took the position that resigning from their office would be the principled response to such a scenario.

Resigning in protest is noble at times. For the sake of these campaigns voters must determine if these are statements of principle, or the rhetoric of expedience. County sheriffs are the highest elected law enforcement officials in the United States. Whenever someone swears a dual allegiance, a potential for conflict between those loyalties is created. Every sheriff in the state of Texas must resolve in his or her own mind how to manage a situation in which their oath to uphold the law is incompatible with their oath to a constitution. The question is relevant because there have been many cases in which we've seen a sheriff's first instinct was to comply with the law - which brings into question the meaningfulness of bothering to take an oath to a constitution in the first place.

It isn't clear if the argument was that resigning from the office would somehow honor the oath, where taking sides in a constitutional conflict would not. If that was part of the argument, resigning in a time of crisis after taking an oath to "faithfully execute the duties of the office..." is still a violation of the oath. In my mind, a candidate that is willing to walk away when conflicts arise between the law and the rights of the citizens is admitting that his loyalty is to the law, and that his oath to the constitutions is ceremonial.

When the law (or simple regulation) is elevated in priority above the constitutions and the rights of constituents, the people have lost the final official bulwark between themselves and the enforcement arms of abusive government. If the sheriff that the people elect is not willing to stand as that bulwark, the people are left with a solution of only anarchy. The only inference that I can make from this is that Tom Watt and Howard Day would find themselves standing on the wrong side of a constitutional line if a conflict should arise between the law and the constitutional rights of Grayson County residents, and that we would find David Russell standing on that line between his constituents and their potential abusers.

Texas law allows for the county commissioners court to appoint a new sheriff if the office is vacated. The statements of two of the candidates indicate that they would be unwilling to accept that appointment if it were to occur due to a resignation over such conflict as described above. Perhaps it's better for us to pick the kind of man the commissioners court would have to pick, the kind that would take the job the others would walk away from in a time of crisis, a man like David Russell.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Donald's big hat

I remember a story about a gang of bank robbers in the Old West. As the story goes, the gang would put one member in a great big fancy sombrero for the robbery. When witnesses were asked to describe the gang after the robbery, the only thing any of them could remember was the big hat. Since the hat was basically a costume used only for the robberies, it provided a great distraction to help protect the identities of the gang.

I don't remember enough about the story to even remember if it was true, but it's a great illustration of misdirection. A great way to keep people from noticing one thing is to provide something else to grab their attention. Donald Trump's big hat is a wall. A big beautiful wall. It has a really nice door, but there is a wall, and it's free. Mexico will pay for it. Mexicans love Donald Trump. They want to build the wall for free for Donald. They're really nice people. They tell him he's great. If you want to discuss immigration policy with Trump or Trump supporters, there is this wall. A big beautiful wall... Don't look at his amnesty plan, there is going to be a wall. It will be great.

Donald likes to talk through his big hat, but not about immigration policy. He's so good at showing everyone his big hat that most of his supporters don't even know he supports amnesty. Donald loves to show everyone his big hat, all the time. But, that's OK because everyone enjoys seeing Donald's big hat. They tell him it's great. Donald likes to pull a lot of things out of his big hat. He says he's the first one to talk about building a wall. It sounds nice, so it doesn't have to be true. He says he's the tough guy on immigration, even though there is only one candidate that doesn't support amnesty. Too bad that candidate doesn't have a big hat like Donald.

Donald throws around a lot of nasty stuff that he pulls out of his big hat. He throws it at other candidates. He throws it at people that don't say nice things about Donald. He throws it at people that try to talk about something other than Donald's big hat. If you want to talk about his leaning toward liberal judicial picks, or his amnesty plan, or his nationalized healthcare plan, or his love of corporate bailouts, or his thoughts on nationalizing failing banks, or his use of eminent domain to line the pockets of crony capitalists, or how happy he is to bribe politicians, well you obviously just need to see a lot more of Donald's big hat, and I'm sure we will.