A response to Jesse Johnson

Today, I discovered that I’m an epistemological narcissist – I don’t even know what that means, but I don’t think it’s a compliment, and it appears that I am this thing simply because I don’t accept the “settled science” of vaccinating my children early and often.

I agree with Jesse Johnson that “much of what passes as science these days is a bowl of lies. We are aware that popular science today makes basic mistakes, has all but discarded the scientific method, and is politically and financially driven. We get that the phrase ‘most scientists agree’ means nothing except that the facts are not in.” Right on! Preach it, brother! But then he then goes on to assert, with only a single sentence that makes even a passing reference to the facts(1), that vaccination science is settled and to disagree with him is to “deny science”.

Frankly, I really don’t wish to debate the vaccination issue in all its details here or anywhere else – the time spent would likely not change anyone’s mind, and would be better spent playing with my unvaccinated children (before I put them to bed laying on their tummies). What bothers me is this change in tactics to advance the Christian pro-vaccination narrative.

To put it bluntly, I will not support the idea that Christians from either side of the debate should resort to Saul Alinsky-style tactics to shame or mock others into siding with them.

This is exactly the strategy employed by those seeking to discredit biblical creation – don’t debate whether molecule to man evolution is scientifically possible, just mock people for believing that God created it all. It’s the same strategy employed by those preaching global warming (now climate change) – don’t discuss the facts, just mock those who disagree with you as “climate change deniers” or “skeptics” or some other terms of derision.

And now it’s the same with vaccinations from our Christian brothers – we call our brothers “science deniers” and “epistemological narcissists”. We say they’re “undiscerning” and “anti-neighbor”. All because we disagree with them regarding if or when they believe it’s best to vaccinate their children?

Truth is, we just disagree about the science of vaccinations in terms of both their risks and their benefits. I remind you that the earth used to be flat before it was round. There was a time also when bloodletting was also a settled science. After that, man-made global warming almost wiped us out so that we’d have to evolve from molecules all over again. There was even a time that the sun revolved around the earth – ah, for the good old days. More recently in the realm of heath science, settled science was that we had to get rid of all the saturated fat in our diets, but now low-fat diets are being blamed for dementia and maybe even Alzheimer’s. What passes for settled science changes. Chances are, our children will one day laugh at what we think is settled science today.

In light of this, I don’t know why it’s such a stretch to say that vaccination science isn’t entirely settled. You may think it is; that’s fine. I don’t. So we disagree. But I would strongly encourage both sides not to tie their theological horse to science that often has been shown to be more unsettled than we previously thought. Maybe I’ll get into details of how I’ve come to my conclusions another time, but regardless of my logic or yours, I do think we could exercise some grace towards those that see it differently. (For the record, the militant anti-vaxxers should be gracious in their critiques as well!)

Lastly, I believe that the Scriptures apply to all of our life and we should seek to apply Scriptural principles in every area of our life. To the extent that the goal of Jesse Johnson’s article was to do this, I applaud those intentions. We need to, as Christians, do a better job of living lives that do not separate everything into either the sacred or the secular – all of our life is God’s and we should seek to glorify Him in all things, including our healthcare decisions. However, as I’ve outlined above, our disagreement here isn’t really about doing what’s best for our neighbor, or any other Scriptural argument. The reason for our disagreement is based on what we consider “settled science” – not whether or not we we’re narcissists, undiscerning, or lack love for our neighbors.

I’m not here to judge my brothers and sisters in Christ for vaccinating their kids, even though, on the basis of our limited understanding of science, we disagree. I’d appreciate the same courtesy.

– Jeremy

P.S. Interestingly, Jesse’s 4th point in respect to why Christians should vaccinate only makes sense if we accept that there might be some risk. Perhaps we’re closer to agreement than we think.

(1) The “passing reference to the facts” I mention was regarding just how much the drop in measles cases should be attributed to the vaccination. Even this “fact” is disputed. The pro-vaxxers tend to give all the credit to the vaccine. The anti-vaxxers tend to dismiss the vaccine as all but irrelevant to the drop in measles cases. Frankly, the truth seems to be somewhere in between based on my research. (Btw, in discussing this, much will depend on whether you rely on data about measles cases or measles mortality, but I digress.) As they say, you can, after all, make the data say anything you want.

The Morning After

Last night was painful.  There is no sugar-coating it, not only did Romney lose, but conservatives lost just about everything else too.

Frankly, I went to bed last night fairly despondent about the future prospects for America.  I was disappointed, even disillusioned, and troubled by what I had just witnessed.

However, the sun still rose this morning.  God was still on his throne.  And I woke up to the noise of 5 children and one incredible wife.  (She wasn’t making noise, just the children.)

None the less, I feel like a boxer who got knocked out and is just coming back to his senses while still laying on the mat.  However, as I finish my second cup of my favorite India Monsooned Malabar coffee I think I’m starting to see more clearly again.

Now I know all the right cliches that we Christians are supposed to say, and perhaps even what you’re expecting me to say right now: God is sovereign – clearly Obama’s win was His will – God is allowing Romans 1 to play out – we need to pray for our leaders – we must respect the president – America is just our temporary home, we’re citizens of God’s kingdom – etc.

But you already know all that – I know that – I believe that – I try to live that.

I am still disappointed.  The America that I love is fast becoming something that I don’t recognize.  The fact that it is only my temporary home is comforting, but it hardly eliminates all the pain.

Frankly, upon reading some facebook updates from last night and this morning, I couldn’t help but be somewhat annoyed by the well intentioned (and theologically correct) reminders of those truths mentioned above.  It struck me as something akin to sitting your child down for a talk about forgiveness when he just got punched in the nose by a bully before you’ve stopped the bleeding nose.  Or perhaps like trying to console a grieving man by pontificating about the glories of heaven when his wife died just 15 minutes ago.

Despite my thoughts on the timing of such reminders, I don’t deny that we do need the reminder on occasion, so let’s return to the substance.  In that respect, nothing about our Scriptural duties changed last night.  Nor would anything have changed if Romney had won.  (Thankfully, such is the nature of all timeless truths of Scripture.)

What did change is that we, conservative Christians, got our head handed to us on a platter.  And it seems to me that we may be eager to absolve our own responsibility as citizens by offering platitudes about trusting God.  I don’t mean to accuse anyone of intentionally doing this, but each of us ought to consider his motivation carefully.  After all, no one would deny that it is easier to “trust God” with the outcome than to actually try to impact the outcome.

Last night, American voters in states across the country said they want bigger government, less freedom (including less religious freedom), more progressive economic policies, homosexual “marriage”, recreational use of marijuana, further erosion of states rights, and they want to keep Obamacare.  (I realize some of those issues are more clearly addressed in the Bible than others, but there are biblical principles that apply to all of them.)

Just look at the data, Romney got fewer votes (57.7m) than McCain in 2008 (59.9m).  Yes, the margin was much closer because Obama got substantially fewer votes as well (60.5m instead of 69.5 in 2008), but that still doesn’t bode well for anyone who has a different vision for our country than Obama’s.  Simply put, we’re not convincing anyone else that we have the solution.

As expected, Obama did have a problem with enthusiasm – his people did not show up to vote in numbers matching last time.  The problem is that no one else was was able to communicate a compelling alternative.  My sense based on the data thus far is that many of the “undecided” voters may have just stayed home yesterday, rather than voting against the incumbent like many expected.

The Democrat’s message is clear, they are Santa Claus and will give everyone everything for free.  It sounds good.

We must figure out how to clearly communicate an alternative.  We must point out the flaws in liberal policies but do so in a way that is winsome at the same time.  The core principles espoused by conservatives today are still, generally speaking, the same principles that have made America great for the past 236 years.   Somehow, we must get that message across.  Specifically, we must:

  • Communicate this message in a way that is clear, concise, and compelling.  I realize it’s hard to take on Santa Claus, but we must point out that Santa Claus is paying for your gifts by running up a credit card using the stolen identity of your 4 year old.
  • Communicate this message in spite of the predominately liberal media.  There is virtually no objective journalism anymore – ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC are all clearly biased in favor of the left.  FOX is on the right, but a 5 to 1 skew hardly gives Americans a fair picture of the news.
  • Communicate this message in spite of an education system that has been overrun by progressives, and has indoctrinated a whole generation to be inclined toward liberal and socialist policies.
  • Communicate this message in a way that it can be embraced by minorities, especially Hispanics. Demographics are destiny, and simply winning the white vote won’t win elections anymore.

There are certainly other messaging issues as well.  And the messaging problems go beyond economics, just ask Richard Mourdock about effective messaging on the abortion issue.  I’m not asking us to sacrifice principles that have made this nation great, but we must communicate them in a way that wins elections, or else the principles do us no good.

So what does all this mean?  Yes, God is sovereign over the nations and over the hearts of men.  I don’t mean to diminish that truth in any way.  However, God’s normative method of accomplishing his purpose is to work through us in what typically appear to be fairly unremarkable ways.  And in that respect, we’ve got a lot to do.

– Jeremy

P.S. I’ve noticed a few people trying to blame last nights result on election fraud.  I’m not ignorant to the fact that there may indeed be fraud at times in elections – that is always a possibility.  But that is not what happened yesterday.   This wasn’t a couple states with inexplicable outcomes.  This was almost every state voting left of what many (on the right) expected.  Blaming yesterday on fraud is like blaming the refs for one bad call when you lost a game by 5 touchdowns.  It only makes you a sore loser.

 

 

Election Results

The following are all my favorite links for tracking the election results tonight.  Election night is the one day every two years that I appreciate the work of the New York Times – I have numerous links to their site below.  Now that you’ve voted, watch the results come in, and party like it’s 1980!

President

NYT Presidential Big Board

US Senate

NYT Senate Big Board

US House

NYT House Big Board

Colorado

Note that regarding the presidential race  – the results on this page are for Colorado ONLY.  Also, you may find it useful to change the “display” number to “20” or “all”.

Secretary of State Results

El Paso County

Note that even though some races of these races are statewide or national – the results here are for El Paso County ONLY.

Clerk and Recorder Results

Btw, if anyone is aware of a good site for tracking tonight’s results in the Colorado Legislature, leave it in the comments.  The Secretary of State has the results, but not a good way to track party control.

– Jeremy

Part 3 of 3 – The Imperative of Maintaining a Proper Christian Testimony in our Political Discourse

This post is the 3rd in a 3 part series:

Part 3 – The Imperative of Maintaining a Proper Christian Testimony in our Political Discourse

We’ve established that, as Christians, we have a responsibility to be engaged in the political process.

We have also been reminded of the importance to use the Bible as our source of authority in all situations – including what our society often deems “political issues”.

However, this may lead us to an uncomfortable place. Simply scan your Facebook stream and you’ll find plenty of well-meaning Christians offering less than edifying political commentary.  And before anyone points it out, yes, I’ve been that guy on occasion.  Next time, you can call me out on it.

I’d like to make two observations regarding the typical tenor of the political debate, even amongst Christians.

First, from a pragmatic perspective, we don’t actually change peoples mind by engaging in the typical cable news style political discussion.  Are we trying to win the argument or win the war?  We may well be right about the issue at hand, but will the vitriol convince anyone else that we are right?  Probably not.

If you’re going to engage someone about a topic, seek to change their opinion – over time, not win the argument.  Angering someone on the other side of an issue will only harden their position, not bring them to your point of view.

Typical reaction when someone insults your political party. Used by permission – click for full credit

I think all of us wish to persuade others to our various points of view, whether it’s to support your favorite sports team, vote for a particular politician, or agree with you about who has the best BBQ.  After all, it’s human nature to want others to agree with us.  So then why do we so quickly employ the yelling, sarcasm, and snark?  Quite simply, this doesn’t make sense.

Let’s keep the focus on actually persuading, instead of auditioning for CNN.

Second, and much more importantly, the Bible has much to say about our speech.  Perhaps one of the clearest, most concise commands is in Col. 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…”  This applies even when we’re talking politics!  And just a chapter earlier, “You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Col. 3:8)

No matter the topic, we must always strive to have our speech point others to Christ – both in substance and in style.  When this becomes difficult, we would do well to remind ourselves of Luke 6:45, that “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  Sinful speech starts with sin in the heart.

Let’s keep the focus on actually pointing people to Christ through the way we communicate with one another, instead of just trying to get our point across.  (For more on this topic, Russell Moore’s sermon on Crucifying your Outrage is well worth your time.)

With those two goals in mind, how much of our personal political discourse is based on *either* of these?  Most often, it seems to be based on something totally different – a desire to vent – an attempt to stake our our identity – perhaps even to mock those who disagree with us.  As with many things, much of our problem comes down to our motivation!

But, as I said yesterday, I do not believe that the antidote is for us to remain silent and tacitly cede the Bible’s authority on one issue after another.  Rather, we must crucify our anger and animosity towards those whom we disagree with, and still engage in the discussion with a spirit of kindness and of love… Love for our neighbor, love for our country, and love for our Savior.

– Jeremy

P.S. It may be time for all of us to put this exhortation to the test… next up, thoughts on the presidential race :)

Part 2 of 3 – The Imperative of Acknowledging Biblical Authority

This post is the 2nd in a 3 part series:

Part 2 – The Imperative of Acknowledging Biblical Authority

As evangelical Christians we are typically quick to affirm the truth of II Timothy 3:16 that the Word of God is applicable to every area of our life.  However, there seems to be a disconnect when we discuss politics.  We are quick to acknowledge that God’s word applies to how we treat others, but hesitant to apply it to how we vote.  We are quick to acknowledge God’s Word as authoritative in matters of morality, but hesitant to apply those principles in a broad way that would impact public policy.  We are quick to acknowledge that God gives us direction in our personal finances, but we bristle at the idea that God may have something to say about monetary policy.  Why?

I think the disconnect boils down to this – as Christians, our first inclination when some topic becomes a “political” issue, is to suddenly cede our biblical authority on the issue to the state, wash our hands of it, and claim to be focused on the “Gospel”. 

It will not be long before there is nothing left of the Gospel!  How much can we strip away from “All that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20) before we have nothing left?  By allowing society to marginalize biblical authority on matters across the spectrum of human experience we only contribute to the perspective that the Bible is just for Sunday morning.

We need to have a discussion about what qualifies as a “political issue” vs a “biblical issue”?

  • Is caring for the poor a political issue or a biblical issue?
  • Was slavery a political issue or a biblical issue?
  • Is the education of your children a political issue or a biblical issue?
  • Is homosexual “marriage” a political issue or a biblical issue?
  • Is our relationship to Israel a political issue or a biblical issue?
  • Is the punishment of criminals a political issue or a biblical issue?

All of these are biblical issues.  Just because our government asserts itself into an issue doesn’t change the fact that it is still a biblical issue.  So if these current “political issues” are actually “biblical issues”, then we need to know what the Bible has to say about them.

Unfortunately, while we might be able to produce a verse about the hot button issues of abortion or same-sex “marriage”, what about biblical environmental policy, foreign policy, private property rights, healthcare, welfare, taxes, punishment of criminals, or education?  Do we agree that the Bible speaks to these issues?  I hope we do, but I doubt if we’re prepared to present any kind of cohesive case for what the Bible has to say.

Now I would be remiss if I did not admit that when searching the Scripture, just as with certain theological questions, some issues will be clearer than others.  We can probably come to a consensus more quickly on the matter of preserving human life, than we will on matters of tax policy or often very messy questions of foreign policy.

In fact, on some issues, we will not agree.  Just as I would disagree with my Presbyterian friends on the important issue of baptism, I may disagree with other Christians the precise role government should play in assisting the unemployed or the proper way to address illegal immigration.  That is OK, but let us not disagree on the authority of Scripture to guide us in addressing these issues.

Too often, as Christians, both those on the political right and the political left, we make our arguments based on the exact same logic as the world.  Whether we agree with Barack Obama or Ayn Rand on fiscal issues, there is rarely a mention of the Bible in defense of our position.  Whether we agree with Rick Santorum or Nancy Pelosi on social issues, we rarely invoke the Sacred Word to support the position we’re so loudly advocating.

I suggest we change that, starting today.

But wait, I already hear the wails bemoaning that we are going to drag the name of Christ through the political mud for the sake of our pet issue.  Unfortunately, this is a valid fear as Christians have often slandered the reputation of Christ while genuinely seeking to advance a biblical cause.  This should never be.  However, I do not believe that the antidote is for us to remain silent and tacitly cede the Bible’s authority on one issue after another.  If indeed God has spoken, then why would we remain silent?

The answer is for us to crucify our anger and animosity towards those whom we disagree with, and to engage in the discussion with a spirit of kindness and love… Love for our neighbor, love for our country, and love for our Savior.

I’ll take up this topic again next time…

– Jeremy

Part 1 of 3 – The Imperative of Christian Participation

Before I even attempt to bring up public policy, candidates, political parties, or this 2012 election cycle, there are three foundational issues that we must come to terms with first.

Only after we have agreement on these three foundational issues will we be able to have a fruitful discussion on the finer points of our political involvement.

Part 1 – The Imperative of Christian Participation

What role, if any, should Christians have in civil government?

I would submit to you, that if you are a Christian, who also happens to be a citizen of the United States, you have at least three sets of biblical obligations as they relate to this discussion.

First, you are a Christian.

Let’s start with something we all agree on.  You and I are responsible to live a life becoming of a disciple of Christ.  As an ambassador of the kingdom of God, your first loyalty is to the heavenly kingdom. (Phil. 3:20)  And in the event this loyalty is challenged by the two following obligations, then we affirm that we must make our obedience to God’s commands the first and only priority.

I think we’re in agreement on this point, so I’ll move on.

Second, you are a Citizen.

God has providentially determined where you will be born, what country you will call home, and what government you will live under.  For those of us in the United States of America, this means we have been put here as citizens of this country and under a democratic form of government. (Though not a Democracy per se.)  This presents us with various obligations:

  • Obey the Law (Titus 3:1, Romans 13:5, I Peter 2:13-14)
  • Pay Your Taxes (Romans 13:7, Luke 20:25)
  • Pray (I Tim 2:1-2) – Specifically, we are to pray for our leaders, and that we may live and worship in peace.
  • Be Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13) – The very presence of believers in a society has a positive effect on those around them. (We see a similar dynamic in I Cor. 7:14.)
  • Make Use of the Rights Afforded by our Citizenship (Acts 22:25)

What about voting?  I would argue quite vigorously that voting should be seen as the duty of all Christians who have such a privilege.  The following points serve to draw our attention to at least some of the biblical principles that would support this view:

  • We are commanded to fulfill our civic duties. (Matthew 22:21)
  • The Bible is replete with verses emphasizing the importance of wisely choosing your leaders – it seems that the application to voting would be quite straightforward.  (Deut. 1:13, Exodus 18:17-21, I Samuel 12, Hosea 8:4)
  • Wicked leaders bring about suffering, while righteous leaders bring prosperity. (Proverbs 29:2, 11:10)
  • We are to love our neighbor, and based on the above point, a vote for righteous leaders is an expression of that.

We could unpack this further, but since I suspect that most people reading this already agree with me regarding our basic duties as citizens, I want to take this a step further.

Third, you are Caesar. 

Yes, you read that right.  You are Caesar – or at least one of the “all that are in authority” in II Tim. 2.  Now don’t get a big head.  There are, after all, millions of others who should also claim this mantle.

You see, in the American experiment, where the government is for the people and by the people we have been entrusted by God with a certain level of responsibility as not just citizens, but as leaders.  We have each been given a small measure of authority in the operation of our government.  Most of us are quick to acknowledge the privilege this is, but we are often leery to accept the responsibility that it places on us.

This means that your activity in the political realm must now be viewed, not just as that of a Christian and a citizen, but as a leader.  This would be a whole study in and of itself, so let’s just remind ourselves of some basics in regard to what biblical leadership looks like – thought this list could be ten times as long:

  • We are to serve others
  • We are to consult God and his word in decisions
  • We are held accountable for how we lead

So now I ask you, as an American, who God providentially placed in this country, and by extension, whom God ordained (Rom. 13:1) to be a small part of the government, how will you rule?  Will you rule as a despot who cares only for your own comfort?  Will you be a lazy disengaged leader who doesn’t wish to be bothered with matters of state?  Will you be a wicked leader whose choices bring about suffering to your fellow citizens?  Or will you lead in righteousness?  What does this look like?

If simply being a citizen compels us to vote, then what additional responsibility is conveyed upon us as Caesar?  I’ll leave that as an open question for now, but I think it deserves our careful consideration.

Yes, as a follower of Christ in the United States of America, you are called to be a Christian, a Citizen, and Caesar.

– Jeremy

P.S. I’d love to hear what you think!  Just be sure that your comments are examples of Christian charity, and I welcome your accountability that I do likewise!

1992, The Beginning

I still remember the election of 1992.  It was a rarity in American politics as we had a competitive 3-way race for the presidency.  And after all, why wouldn’t I have been following the election closely – just as any good citizen should?  That is, any other American boy who had just turned 10.

(Among my more vivid memories, I remember the frustration I felt with the parents of one my soccer teammates who had the audacity to spend their vote on Ross Perot even if it meant a more likely victory for our mutual opponent, Bill Clinton.  Perhaps this event in my formative years helps explain my lifelong aversion to voting for a minor party, even if I do believe they have a useful roll to play.)

What would prompt such strange behavior in a 10 year old boy?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the sphere of politics and government has always held my attention like few other topics.  More specifically, as a Christian, I’ve always been intrigued with the relationship between my Christian faith and our civil government.  How does our faith and the Bible relate to politics, to government, and to our role as Christians in this Constitutional Republic?

These are the questions I want to explore on these pages.

– Jeremy