Tag archives: Religion

Befriending Our Opponents: A Tale of Two Presidents

by Worth Loving

July 2, 2020

In the midst of the current political divisions gripping our nation, it’s difficult to find close friendships between people with opposing viewpoints. It seems we are divided on every issue, with each side digging their heels in more and more and little hope of solving America’s greatest problems.

In such times, many are asking if there is any hope of finding common ground. I have often found it difficult to form meaningful friendships with people whom I disagree with on fundamental issues like life, family, and religious freedom. But may I suggest that friendship is exactly what we need to bring us together? What if we could form genuine relationships with those on the other side to make our nation better together? Two of our most famous Founding Fathers had significant political differences that nearly ended their friendship. Yet they persevered, giving us the beautiful story of reconciliation that we have today.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson first met in Philadelphia at the Second Continental Congress of 1775. A year later, they worked together on the committee tasked with drafting the Declaration of Independence, whose 244th anniversary we celebrate this weekend. In the 1780s, Adams and Jefferson worked together on diplomatic assignments in England and France, managing to find some time for leisure during their demanding duties as ambassadors. Over the years, they became close friends, corresponding by letter often when they were separated.

On politics, however, the two could not be more opposite and frequently debated their differences. In fact, their disagreements sometimes became personal and often tested their friendship. Adams, a devout member of the Federalist Party, favored a strong central government, a national bank, and close relations with Great Britain. On the other hand, Jefferson, an ardent Democrat-Republican, favored states’ rights, reduced government spending, greater relations with France, and westward expansion. Despite their passionate political differences, their close friendship continued for many years.

However, circumstances changed in 1801. Adams was still president but had just lost his bid for reelection in a bitter battle against Jefferson. In the final hours of his presidency before Jefferson took office, Adams made a number of last-minute judicial and bureaucratic appointments—appointees who were loyal Federalists and would oppose the incoming administration, making it extremely difficult for Jefferson to govern effectively. In fact, Jefferson later wrote that they “were selected from among my most ardent political enemies.” This political disagreement proved to be the severest test of their friendship, and the two ceased correspondence for the next decade.

After Jefferson retired from the presidency in 1809, Dr. Benjamin Rush took it upon himself to act as an arbiter and rekindle the friendship between Adams and Jefferson. However, it took two years until he was able to convince the two to resume their friendship. When one of Jefferson’s neighbors visited Adams in 1811, Adams is reported to have said: “I have always loved Jefferson, and still love him.” Upon hearing this report from his neighbor, Jefferson wrote Dr. Rush: “This is enough for me. I only needed this knowledge to revive towards him all the affections of the most cordial moments of our lives.” At Dr. Rush’s persuading, he convinced Adams to renew his correspondence with Jefferson. The two continued to write each other often until their deaths 15 years later.

Reconciliation often makes broken relationships stronger than they were before, and so it did with Adams and Jefferson. In the years following their renewed friendship, a rich correspondence commenced between the two, reminiscing about the past, discussing current events, and looking forward to what lay ahead.

On July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson died at Monticello in the rolling hills of Virginia. A few hours later, John Adams passed at his home in Massachusetts. His family reported that the last dying words he spoke were “Thomas Jefferson lives,” not knowing that his dear friend had died hours earlier.  

In today’s polarizing political climate, it’s easy to see the “other side” as enemies, with the strong desire to convince those on the fence that our ideas are better. That is not to diminish our differences in worldviews. Without a doubt, liberals and conservatives both have two very different ideas for the future of America. But, on this July 4th, perhaps we can learn a lesson from two of our greatest Founding Fathers. They didn’t ignore their differences as if they didn’t exist, but they didn’t allow those differences to interfere with forming a lifelong friendship. Likewise, we don’t have to set aside our differences either because that won’t make them disappear. Being friendly isn’t abandoning your principles. Perhaps this July 4th can be different if we don’t let those differences get in the way of crossing the street and talking to our neighbor. After all, we are celebrating our nation’s independence and the freedom we have to be different.

Furthermore, as Christians, there are several biblical commands that are easy to forget in the divisive times in which we live. First, we must remember that those with whom we disagree are not the enemy. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Second, Christians are commanded to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Third, Scripture tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, whether we agree with them or not (Matthew 22:39). Last, wherever God’s spirit is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). By embracing reconciliation with others, we not only encourage freedom but we also invite God’s spirit to dwell among us. 

We often quote the first sentence of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But we miss the weight of its last sentence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” The signers of the Declaration no doubt had significant political differences and widely varying ideas for the future of the young nation. But they did not let those differences hinder them from forming friendships or from their ultimate goal—independence and freedom for all. These 56 men, firmly trusting in God, were willing to give up everything—their careers, possessions, and even their very lives—for the sake of freedom. Two of our future presidents—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—both put aside their differences when they signed their names to that sacred document.

What we need in America right now is a good dose of civility and genuine friendships. Sure, there is a time and place to discuss the future of our great republic—a discussion we will continue to have and fiercely debate. But, this weekend, maybe we can take a break from debating on social media, protesting, or grasping for the next news hit and simply focus on loving our neighbor.

Let’s remember to celebrate our independence this weekend and the freedom it gives us to debate and be different. But let’s also not forget the opportunity we have to reach across the aisle and love our neighbor.

Pete Buttigieg’s “Different Way” Is Not Biblical Christianity

by David Closson

January 15, 2020

Yesterday, six candidates participated in the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer each made their pitch for why they should be their party’s nominee to take on President Donald Trump in the general election.

Buttigieg’s repeated emphasis of his religious background is unique for his party: Democrats have been reluctant to speak about their faith on the campaign trail. While last night’s debate focused on foreign policy and the recent tensions with Iran, Buttigieg made a point (as he has throughout the election) to highlight the role of religion in politics. Responding to a question about his electability, Buttigieg highlighted his Midwestern roots, military service, and Christian faith. He said, “If a guy like Donald Trump keeps trying to use religion to somehow recruit Christianity into the GOP, I will be standing there not afraid to talk about a different way to answer the call of faith and insist that God does not belong to a political party.”

The comment received little public attention following the debate, but Christians should pay close attention to what Buttigieg is suggesting. He is arguing that President Trump’s relationship with the faith community is transactional and utilitarian. In Buttigieg’s view, President Trump is using religion to advance his political agenda, and Christians who support him are allowing their faith to be co-opted. This is the same argument Mark Galli made last month in his widely shared Christianity Today editorial. In Galli’s words, if Christians don’t oppose President Trump, the “reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the gospel” will be harmed. Buttigieg evidentially agrees with this assessment, which is why he is proposing a “different way to answer the call of faith.”

Buttigieg’s (and Galli’s) allegation deserves a response. How should Christian voters think about Buttigieg’s call for a “different way to answer the call of faith?” Is it true that Christian leaders have sacrificed their moral witness for a seat at the table of political power?

First, when it comes to evaluating the theological claims made by Buttigieg, it is important to remember that he is a member of the Episcopal Church, a theologically liberal denomination that has taken public stands against the historic teachings of Christianity on a host of social issues. For example, the Episcopal Church ordained its first clergy member who openly identified as gay in 1977 and continues to actively support LGBT causes. Also, since 1967 the Episcopal Church has opposed national or state legislation that would restrict abortion and, in 2018, called for “women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures.”

Buttigieg’s liberal politics align nicely with the liberal politics of the Episcopal Church, so it is not surprising that he finds himself at home there. Thus, when Buttigieg argues that the “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction,” it is important to realize that by “Christian faith,” Buttigieg means something very different than what Christians have taught and believed for two millennia—not only about the nature of marriage and life but also about the role of Scripture.

Buttigieg’s understanding of the Bible came up in an interview with Rolling Stone last November. When asked to respond to the charge that his progressive faith disregards the Bible’s teaching on social issues, Buttigieg said: “There’s so many things in Scripture that are inconsistent internally, and you’ve got to decide what sense to make of it. Jesus speaks so often in hyperbole and parable, in mysterious code, that in my experience, there’s simply no way that a literal understanding of the Scripture can fit into the Bible that I find in my hands.” 

A shocking admission, Buttigieg’s comments shed light on the candidate’s flawed understanding of Christianity. They also explain what he likely had in mind during last night’s debate when he referred to a “different way to answer the call of faith.” By calling the Bible “inconsistent” and insisting that Jesus spoke in “mysterious code,” Buttigieg is rejecting what theologians refer to as the perspicuity of Scripture, which says the Bible communicates the doctrines of the faith clearly.

It is worth noting that some passages in Scripture are more difficult to understand than others. In fact, when referring to the Apostle Paul’s epistles, the Apostle Peter said, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16b). But even as he acknowledges the fact that Paul’s writings could be hard to understand, Peter underscores the fact that Scripture is objective and that failure to attend to the meaning of the text is harmful. The Bible teaches elsewhere that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). While there may be portions of Scripture that require extra study and attention, the Bible is clear on the doctrines of God, man, the way of salvation, and many issues with social and political implications.

However, by rejecting the clarity of Scripture, Buttigieg is conveniently able to remake and reinterpret the Christian faith to suit his preferences and beliefs, advancing proposals and policies in the garb of Christianity that either bear little resemblance or directly contradict “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

A clear example of this is Buttigieg’s argument that “there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath.” This despite the Bible’s repeated affirmation of the personhood of the unborn (see Psalm 139:13-16, Psalm 51:5-6, Luke 1:39-45, Jeremiah 1:4-5, Job 10:8, Genesis 25:22-23, and many others). By doubling down on this demonstrably false claim, Buttigieg is showing that political talking points, not Scripture, informs his view on life. 

Finally, in response to Galli’s charge that Christian leaders have sacrificed their moral witness and are no better than Buttigieg and his supporters on the religious left, it should be conceded that some on the right are willing to trade their credibility for influence. However, to allege, as Buttigieg has, that the “credibility of Christianity” is at stake because many Christians have supported President Trump and his party after measured consideration of their voting options is both unfair and inaccurate. Far from sacrificing their values and credibility, it is largely due to Christian encouragement that President Trump has taken significant action on issues of concern for social conservatives—issues such as life, religious liberty, Israel, and a return of faith in the public square.

As the 2020 election gets underway, it will be important for Christians to submit everything to the Lord, including their political engagement. As I argue in my recent publication, Christians ought to engage, but we must engage biblically. And as Christians, this requires prayerful consideration of candidates, party platforms, and most importantly, the Bible’s teaching on moral issues. On one level, Buttigieg is right when he insists, “God does not belong to a political party.” However, God does care deeply about many issues in our politics. And if Christians are going to be faithful in a time fraught with political turmoil and confusion, it will require more, not less, commitment to God’s Word.

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