Martin Luther King Day 2020 – I Have a Dream Speech

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I link to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

 

For a transcript of the speech, you can consult the National Archives at this link.  It is fascinating to examine the draft of the speech. In particular, the phrase “I have a dream today” isn’t in the draft. He improvised the phrase.  He had used it before but it wasn’t in the prepared remarks. In the moment, inspiration came to him and he took the speech to another level. See this interview with Clarence Jones for more on that story.

Why You Should Not Listen to Dennis Prager Ever Again

I have never been a fan of Dennis Prager or Prager University. Now, I can say that sentiment has risen to a recommendation to avoid it completely. Watch this clip about the relationship between private comments and character. Specifically, Prager makes reference to Donald Trump’s vulgar comments on the Access Hollywood tape.

You can watch the whole fireside chat here.

In this video, he correctly says that humans in private say and think things that are bad. This observation follows from the Christian doctrine of sin. Private evil is also consistent with a psychoanalytic perspective, whether it stem from Freud’s id or Jung’s shadow. However, Prager’s reference to Trump’s Access Hollywood comments as “private” is deeply flawed. As a result his moral lesson is also flawed.

Trump spoke on a television set to another person about what he had done (“moved on her like a bitch”) and what he claimed to do as a matter of course (sexually assault women). His comments were not private and they were not about his private wishes. He described what he had done and claimed to do as a matter of practice.

What Trump disclosed to Billy Bush in that conversation was not normal. For Prager to attempt to excuse this or normalize it is a disgrace. Remember Trump did not say that he worried about these fantasies or that he wished he didn’t have them or that he was fighting them. He wasn’t disclosing troubling thoughts to his therapist in an effort to help himself rise above them. They weren’t even jokes or hyperbole (which would be a less reliable indicator of character). Trump boastfully described something he had done and might do again.

Prager’s general point that private talk “is not an accurate indicator of a person’s character” isn’t consistent with common sense, the Bible, or psychological work. While I agree that humans are flawed, we are not all troubled in the same ways. It is not original with me to cite the words of Jesus on this point:

Social psychological research has demonstrated several ways that we present a front. We manage our appearance and behavior to give socially advantageous impressions. The results of self-report on tests is often questionable because of social desirability bias. Even though we don’t often know ourselves well, we often put on a different persona than we really feel. Most people agree with the idiom: you can’t judge a book by its cover. Prager wants us to believe you can’t judge a book by the book.

Prager’s effort to level the moral playing field to the lowest common denominator is a transparent effort to ease the conscience of Trump supporters. If Prager is going to be consistent then he will need to tape another fire side chat to excuse the private behavior of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Prager was unprepared to speak intelligently about the matter. He didn’t even know the name of the show (he called it “Planet Hollywood”) and he tap danced around the specifics of what Trump said. Prager also revealed something about himself, saying that he engages in stereotypes about gender and ethnicity while he is driving. I can honestly say that I have had lots of road rage, but I have never attributed a person’s bad driving to their ethnicity or their religion. That information is something he probably should have kept private.

Additional point: Other Trump’s defenders want us to judge what they say is Trump’s heart and not his public words or actions. Defending Trump’s apparent ridicule of a disabled reporter, Kellyanne Conway once asked Chris Cuomo:

You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.

So if we can’t judge based on private disclosures and we can’t judge based on his public actions and words, then how may we judge him? I get the strong suspicion that Trump’s followers don’t want anyone to judge him at all.

Image via Wikipedia, taken by Gage Skidmore

Eric Metaxas Thinks He Saved Bonhoeffer from the Cultural Marxists

David Barton (Left); Eric Metaxas (Right)

Although this is entirely predictable, I want to preserve the moment. Eric Metaxas believes he saved Bonhoeffer’s legacy from the cultural Marxist academics who study Bonhoeffer for a living.

Metaxas tweeted this in response to a statement from the International Bonhoeffer Society calling for the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. An article by Jim Wallis summarized the statement and served as the trigger for Metaxas’ tweet.

It is a fine statement of objections to Trump’s term in office and Wallis offers some sobering parallels to Christian sentiment about Hitler during the 1930s and 1940s. The cultish devotion to Trump does mimic some things said about Hitler. I can understand support for certain of Trump’s policy positions, but I cannot understand the slavish fealty to Trump as a man. This is idolatrous and dangerous.  I urge you to read the IBS statement and support their work. They are fine and serious scholars.

Metaxas’ tweet exposes more about him than it does about the Bonhoeffer Society. It is one thing to believe you have a significant perspective to add to a field, it is quite another to believe you alone have the truth. Bonhoeffer scholars have documented significant omissions and problems in Metaxas’ book on Bonhoeffer.  He scoffs at their work and fails to respond in a scholarly manner. Mostly, he told journalist Jon Ward, he ignored them:

The handful of early negative reviews of my book on Bonhoeffer have not struck me as substantive, or as anything more than ideological griping, so I have labored to ignore them.

This is the way of so many Christian celebrities. Metaxas, like David Barton and Dinesh D’Souza, portrays an arrogance about his work. They are above correction and error. Any criticism is ideological and therefore beneath them.

And so it goes. Metaxas continues his labor. It must be a hard labor because these days there is so much he has to ignore.

Wayne Grudem Stewards His Gifts By Having His Students Answer His Mail

On December 30, 2019, Phoenix Seminary professor Wayne Grudem wrote a rebuttal to Christianity Today‘s call for the impeachment of Donald Trump. In that editorial, Grudem made several fact claims that were unsupported with very few sources. One of the key claims in Grudem’s piece was about the Ukraine scandal.

Here is what Grudem wrote:

The background to that comment is that a Ukrainian prosecutor named Viktor Shokin had been investigating Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company, and that company had been paying Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, around $600,000 per year to serve as a member of its board. But Joe Biden boasted that, when he was vice president and on a visit to Ukraine, he withheld $1 billion in loan guarantees in order to force the Ukrainian government to fire that prosecutor.

In fact, Joe Biden can be seen on a YouTube video from January 23, 2018 (which was subsequently reported on by The Wall Street Journal), saying this: “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b___. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”

When I understand that background, it seems to me reasonable for officials of the U.S. government to investigate whether there was any corrupt dealing connected to Hunter Biden receiving more than half a million dollars a year, the Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company that was paying him, and Joe Biden withholding $1 billion in loan guarantees until that prosecutor was fired. I do not know if there was any corruption involved or not. My point is only that the situation raises enough suspicion to warrant an investigation.

Based on several sources (here, here and here), I believe this is a misleading narrative based on a misunderstanding or deliberately false telling of several events. In fact, Shokin was not investigating corruption at Burisma at the time he was fired and had held up investigations by foreign governments of the company. Shokin was under pressure from not only Biden but the United States government, and European Union because he was not investigating corruption. Shokin was fired because he was not investigating corruption, not because he was. Grudem presents a narrative which is contradicted by the timeline and reporting at the time. In addition to that, the more that Ukraine players such as Lev Parnas reveal, the more the actual events appear to be at odds with Grudem’s presentation.

At the least, a Christian scholar should present citations and source material and give readers and his students all sides of the issue. This is a slanted narrative. While it is true that Shokin has made contradictory claims about his activities, others in Ukraine and in the U.S. besides Biden have corroborated the observation that Shokin was not investigating corruption. At the least, Grudem should have indicated that there is a plausible case to be made for presidential misconduct and that the narrative Grudem presented has been advanced principally by Shokin and the president’s defenders.

Given the seriousness of presenting errors to a public audience, I wrote to Grudem and expected that he would reply with his source material or some explanation why he believed Shokin was investigating when independent sources said he wasn’t. Also, I had hoped for a correction of the record about Biden’s actions in demanding Shokin’s ouster. Biden was not acting on his own; he based his actions on U.S. policy and was acting consistent with the policy of our allies. These are critical facts that Grudem omitted. As a scholar, he should correct the record.

However, the following response is what I got. He had a student assistant answer.

My name is J. B. I am Dr. Grudem’s assistant as well as a student here at Phoenix Seminary. One of my jobs is to facilitate correspondence on Dr. Grudem‘s behalf.

Dr. Grudem appreciates your correspondence. In an effort to best steward his gifts, Dr. Grudem has decided for the present season to prioritize research and writing. For this reason, he regrets that he is unable to respond to your comments.  Please accept Dr. Grudem’s humble apologies.

I can assure you that Dr Grudem continues to pray for our country and all our leaders, regardless of their party line, as the Bible tell us we should. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Unable? No, he is unwilling. He is unwilling to take responsibility for what he wrote. I urge readers to consult the sources I linked to above. As always, I am willing to read any sources readers provide in the comments.

Dale Partridge Liked Other People’s Work So Much He Used it as His Own

I don’t have much to say about this story but I want to link to it.

Dale Partridge, Christian ‘influencer’ and church planter, haunted by plagiarism claims

Dale Partridge is a hip social media influencer, pastor type who has been lifting other people’s words and using them to make himself look good. Cue Bob Smietana:

Discouragement, he said in a now deleted Instagram post, is a temptation that needs toughness and tenderness to overcome.

“But in any case, discouragement is not to be tolerated or wallowed in,” his post read. “It’s to be fought.”

This spiritual advice, typical of Partridge, can stand with the words of the best religious thinkers.

Perhaps because, it turns out, his advice came from two top religious thinkers.

The above sentiment about discouragement was borrowed nearly word-for-word from DesiringGod.org, a website founded by the widely read evangelical author and preacher John Piper. The “not guilty” line comes from the late author and theologian A.W. Tozer. (A post on the Relearn Church website was later updated to include the correct attribution and link to Piper’s site.)

A review of Partridge’s writings shows that the plagiarism in these posts is not a one-time mistake. According to critics who have tracked his tweets and Instagram posts, Partridge has commonly passed off quotes from celebrities, musicians, fellow entrepreneurs, authors and public figures including Ricky MartinJohn WoodenRon Finley and Martin Luther King Jr. as his own. Partridge’s habit of plagiarizing quotes even inspired a “Fake Dale Partridge” Twitter account, which reposted Partridge’s tweets from October 2014, along with the correct attribution.

Go read the rest if you want to learn more about how hip influencing is done. I just can’t see how this stuff appeals to people but since I warn folks about this kind of thing, I thought I should post it.

Eric Metaxas’ Christian Case Against the Constitution

David Barton (left); Eric Metaxas (right)

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Eric Metaxas was allowed to opine on what he called “The Christian Case for Trump.” In essence, he argued that Trump’s failings don’t matter as long as Trump opposes abortion and supports religious liberty for Christians. I argue in response that there is no distinctly Christian reason to favor one president over another when it comes to applying the law.  Assuming for a minute that we can determine what Christian public policy is, a president who holds those policies still must abide by the law or face the consequences.

Metaxas begins by faulting the editorial of Christianity Today’s Mark Galli which called for impeachment of removal of Trump from office. Galli called the president “profoundly immoral” and stipulated to his guilt in the Ukraine affair. Metaxas objected that Galli misapplied Christian doctrine:

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

I believe it is Metaxas who confuses the matter. Galli does not make a judgment about Trump’s salvation, but rather Trump’s fitness for office. Trump may or may not be a Christian but that isn’t at issue when it comes to conviction on the articles of impeachment. If we take Metaxas seriously, then no law breaking office holder could be held accountable — after all we are all sinners so who should throw stones?

Metaxas dismisses Galli’s proper comparison of Trump to Clinton. In Galli’s editorial, he noted that Clinton’s sins led many evangelicals to call for his ouster. However, many evangelicals now look the other way with Trump and excuse his actions. Metaxas’ justification for this is political:

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth. If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

The last question is really the heart of Metaxas’ argument. For good measure, he paints the Democrats as favoring open borders, socialist and Christian hating. So for Metaxas, Trump’s problems are better than the only alternative he considers which is a Democratic-socialist takeover.

Metaxas’ analysis is misleading on a key point

There are several fact based problems with Metaxas analysis. I will take just his key point. Abortion was just as divisive in the early 1990s as it is now. I am old enough to remember the absolute Republican hatred of the Clintons and the belief by pro-life advocates that Hillary was evil. I was much more involved in pro-life and Republican circles in the 1990s and I can tell you the divide is the same.

In his short op-ed, Metaxas drops fact challenged hints (refers to “socialists,” the FBI’s “J.Edgar Hoovers”) that the Democratic deep state alternative universe would be so bad that Trump is a far better alternative no matter what impeachable offense he has committed. In short, Metaxas plays the role of a demagogue, mongering fear to move people away from their critical sense.

Walk by Sight Not by Faith

Another serious problem with this kind of reasoning is that fear mongering causes people to walk by sight and not by faith. Metaxas tells Christians that they need Trump. Their world will fall apart if Trump isn’t president. Abortion will be worse, you won’t be able to pray in public, the worst will happen, the sky is falling. God will not be on His Throne.

In fact, if Trump is convicted, Mike Pence will become president. This is right now the choice. Then Christians of that persuasion can vote for Pence next November. The fear based choice offered by Metaxas is a false one. Metaxas and the president’s court evangelicals aren’t acting from faith or principle, they are reciting talking points.

The only real issue for the Christian or any citizen right now is Trump’s guilt on the articles of impeachment. Christians don’t have a political team. The Christian position on impeachment and conviction is for senators now to do impartial justice as the Senate oath specifies. To argue otherwise is to make a case against the Constitution and rule of law.

 

Crown Him with Many Crowns – Trump Upon His Throne

This speaks for itself.

Keep in mind that this is a political rally in a church. These evangelicals have political goals which are more important than their religious ones.

For more, see these posts by John Fea and Andy Rowell.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Merry Christmas 2019

This is a tradition on the blog:

Recorder artist Victoria Rigel played two recorders at once in this 2008 performance of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I accompanied her on the guitar. She adds the second recorder at the beginning of the second verse.

Thanks for reading through the year and however you celebrate I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.

Does Romans 13 Support the Case for Keeping Trump?

In response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today op-ed calling for President Trump to be removed from office, Peter Leithart at First Things appeals to Romans 13 as one reason to put up with a bad executive. I have heard this in defense of Trump, but I don’t think it is a correct application. First, here is the passage:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

It seems obvious that governing authorities involve more than the president. Congress is an authority, the Judicial branch is an authority. There are state and local authorities. Critically, the Constitution via the Supremacy clause is the law of the land. Paul did not specify a form of government. In our form of government, the authority is the Constitution. Rulers are elected by the people and are considered public servants. Citizens and rulers are subject to the Constitution which is the governing authority.

Thus, it is important for Christians to respect Congress and who God has placed in office there. Many Christian Trump supporters right now are myopically focused on the executive branch. However, I believe they have encouraged President Trump to violate Romans 13 by supporting his resistance to subpoenas and parroting his rhetoric about a witch hunt. I think a case can be made that Trump is in violation of Romans 13 since he will not bring himself under the authority of Congress and the Constitution.

Trump supporters might counter by saying he has a right to go to court to seek a favorable interpretation of the law in his resistance to Congressional oversight. While that is true, it should be noted that he has argued that the president has absolute immunity from investigation and indictment while in office. The president could commit a crime in broad daylight and according to the argument he has advanced, he could not be investigated until he leaves office. This is an extreme position and has not prevailed in any court challenge thus far. The Supreme Court will hear related cases soon.

Trump’s legal strategy aside, my main point is that current Christian Trump supporters must find a way to respect all of the authorities. I think Leithart is clearly wrong to say Christians should put up with bad behavior in our Constitutional form of government when Congressional oversight exists.

In Leithart’s article, I read no argument for why Christians must honor the executive branch more than the legislative branch. Trump Christians have shown a consistent bias on this front. The Constitution gives impeachment power to the House. Trump Christians such as Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, and Robert Jeffress blasted the impeachment procedures as biased and unfair. In fact, the House leaders had the right to conduct the business as their preexisting rules dictated. Giving Congress honor and respect as an authority was not at all what these leaders did. Instead, they left their religious callings and became partisan political players.

Now, Senate Republican leaders are threatening to dishonor the Constitution by making the trial a sham. Christians should insist on a trial which brings forward evidence. Christians should publicly call on the president to obey subpoenas and submit the authority over him — the Constitution. Christians should honor the Constitutional order for the role of the Senate. The Senators take an oath to be impartial. Christian Senators who follow Romans 13 should strive to follow that oath. Christian citizens should call on the Senate to follow their oath and honor them for doing so.

In short, governing authorities involve more than the executive branch.  Christians need to support the legitimate work of the legislative branch and insist that the president honor the Constitution. There is no reason to elevate one branch over another in our system since the law of the land isn’t a potentate but the Constitution.

UPDATE: This post at American Creation blog is a nice summary of Calvinist views of Romans 13. Gregg Frazer, Dean of The Master’s University and historian of the founding era wrote to address Calvin’s perspective on political rebellion. In short, without some governmental sanction for resistance (e.g., impeachment), Christians should not rebel. However, impeachment and removal is built in to the Constitution and therefore legitimate. Christians should not appeal to Romans 13 as a reason to oppose impeachment.