Keep your soul diligently

We’ve all seen those memes on Facebook and other places where the letters of each word are scrambled, but the first and last letters are kept unchanged. Sometimes these memes are accompanied by statements such as, “Only intelligent people are able to understand this message.” Actually, most adept readers are able to read them; as we learned to read, our brains developed shortcuts that recognize words even when the internal parts of the words have been changed.

But, by the same token, sometimes we mistake one word for another. The slip-up can be amusing, such as confusing “immorality” and “immortality.” Usually a second glance fixes the misreading. But this morning in my Bible reading, I faced a misreading that indicates just how overwhelming our current virus crisis has become.

I was reading Deuteronomy chapter four. I got to verse nine, which says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This is a trustworthy saying. But when my eyes first scanned the verse, my brain changed the beginning to, “Only take care, and keep your social distancing.”

Of course a second glance fixed the misreading. I suppose the words “take care” only added to the tendency to expect s…l d……..y to be “social distancing.” But my mildly amusing experience only shows how overwhelming this virus crisis has become, that I even expect the holy Word of God to command social distancing.

My experiences with the virus crisis are like those of most people. As an introvert, I don’t mind keeping my distance from other people. Three times a week I take a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. I do what I was taught as a child: I walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing the traffic. But now, with social distancing, if someone is coming toward me on the same side of the road, I cross to the other side to avoid that person. I’ve always wanted to do that. Now, not is it not rude to cross the road to avoid people—it’s recommended.

I’m very much blessed to have three jobs that all paid me my regular salary while I worked from home. Every week I write a sermon, and every Saturday I email it to the members of the congregation. Our church musician presents a concert of church music on Facebook every Sunday. We mail in our offerings, and my check comes in the mail. My history class was changed from classroom to online. Some students dropped out, and a couple have fallen behind on the work, but several are faithfully taking their quizzes (open book, since we don’t have the classroom discussion before the quiz) and—I expect—writing their essays that are due next week. But my full time job at the library raised the biggest concerns. How can a library function when the doors are locked and the workers are told to stay home?

The first week the library was closed, we were told that it was like snow days—we would stay home and be paid. The second week, they began encouraging us to do tasks at home that were somehow job related. Since I am an archivist, I began sorting and arranging the family pictures I brought from my father’s house several years ago. After they were arranged, I even started putting them on Facebook and tagging family members. I also explored the family genealogy. More than half the people who visit our research room in the library are doing genealogy—some in great depth, others just getting started. I’ve always been able to guide people to resources, but now I have much more experience in genealogical research and will be more helpful.

By the third week, we had a process of reporting how we were spending our time “on the clock.” But after that, the library decided that 75% of our hours had to be of direct benefit to the library system; the other 25% could be for learning and wellness activities. Some library branches began experimenting with curb-side services. Four branches are providing free meals to neighborhood children who usually get fed at school. My department remains locked up; but we are taking turns being in the building to answer the phone and help patrons.

Last week, with the phone-answering system in place, I was invited to return to my desk and continue processing archival materials. I must wear a mask everywhere in the building except at my desk; I must wash my hands frequently and wipe down surfaces often. This procedure might last for the rest of the summer.

Since it is losing some money—parking and meeting room fees, and overdue fines—the library director decided that he would reduce or eliminate some positions temporarily to save the library money. All positions will be restored when the crisis is over. People in eliminated positions retain their health insurance and other benefits but must apply for unemployment. Those who are reduced will—if the state government allows—work only part-time and receive unemployment money for the hours lost. I have been placed in the second category.

I do not feel comfortable with the likelihood that I will be receiving unemployment compensation for ten weeks or so. It’s not that I don’t need the money. It’s that every person thrown into the unemployment system is added to the financial burden that taxpayers like me and my children will be reimbursing for years to come. I disagree with the library’s decision to lower its costs by putting its workers temporarily into unemployment. In fact, I cannot help but view this as a cynical political ploy to deepen the crisis (and the feeling of crisis) at the expense of the current administration.

We will all get through this together. Stress and anxiety are high right now. (I spend little time on social media precisely because I rapidly tire of all the talk of virus and quarantine. It makes me shaky and queasy.) Meanwhile it’s important for each of us to take care, and keep our social distancing… I mean, keep our souls diligently. J.

Immigration policy

Migration is a constant element of human history. Groups of people continually move in search of a better food supply, greater security from enemies, a more comfortable climate, better jobs, more opportunities for future generations, and various other reasons. The United States was built by immigrants. Even the oldest civilizations of the western hemisphere were established by people whose ancestors crossed over from Asia. The United States is less a melting pot where all newcomers are forced into conformity and more a salad where assorted ingredients each add their distinctive flavor to the whole.

The Bible frequently urges God’s people to be compassionate and helpful to the outsider, the foreigner, the immigrant. The spirit of the poem attached to the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”) can and should continue to be the American attitude toward all the people of the world who want to join our country.

On the other hand, immigrants should enter legally. Those who first entered the United States in defiance of the law can hardly be expected to suddenly respect the law now that they are within our borders. Offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants creates problems without solving problems. The United States needs secure borders for the protection of our citizens, even while it needs to continue welcoming legal immigrants who will contribute to the richness of our combined heritage.

For that reason, I support continued measures to keep our borders secure. I support the government of the United States working with the government of Mexico to combat criminal smugglers of people and of drugs and violent crime into our country. I support projects to welcome immigrants into the United States, particularly from those countries in north Africa, west Asia, and Central America that are torn by war, rebellion, violence, and poverty. At the same time, I support actions of our government to work with other governments in those places to end the violence, reduce the poverty, and improves the lives of the people dwelling in those places.

In 1975, the United States welcomed thousands of Vietnamese immigrants. In 1980, we welcomed thousands of Cuban immigrants. These people were temporarily housed in government facilities (military bases) and given various kinds of support while sponsors arranged to welcome these newcomers into American society. The American government was able to isolate and remove the few troublemakers mixed into these large migrations, as it monitored all the families who were sponsored and helped by American groups and organizations. The same kind of help can be offered today for those fleeing trouble in other parts of the world, those seeking better lives, safety, and a new beginning within the peace, prosperity, and freedom enjoyed in the United States.

During the previous administration, conservatives joked that President Obama was solving immigration problems by making the United States less desirable of a place to live. Although our country is not flawless, it remains a beacon of freedom and hope to the rest of the world, a shining example of what can happen when people are encouraged to live freely rather than oppressed by their government. So long as we believe in the greatness of America, we can expect other people to believe the same and to seek to join us in this land. Welcoming those who come legally with compassion and encouragement remains the best policy for the United States of America. J.

Coronamageddon?

Is the worldwide pandemic called Coronavirus a sign of the impending end of the world? A complete answer would include both “yes” and “no”… or to be more accurate, “Yes, but not in the way most people understand it.”

Addressing a question about the sign of his coming and the close of the age, Jesus responded, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:4-8).

To the list of wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes, we could add many other events: terrorist attacks, powerful storms, raging fires, and the spread of diseases. All these tragedies indicate that the world faces judgment, and they remind us that a final reckoning is coming. But these events are not a countdown to the Last Day. Nowhere does Jesus say—or do the apostles and prophets say—that such events will be more common as the Last Day approaches. They remind us that the Day of the Lord will come—it is seven days closer than it was a week ago. But we cannot make any assumptions about how soon that Day will be. “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36), or even the year, decade, or century. False teachers have predicted the End on a certain date, and so far they have all been wrong.

Instead, we see creation “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). It seems presumptuous for two men—unmarried men at that—to speak of birth pains and childbirth as if they knew what they were describing. But God created all that exists; he has been present during every pregnancy and every birth. God knows how the female body prepares to give birth to a baby, making internal adjustments that are sometimes called “false labor.” The time for the baby to be born has not yet arrived, but the mother’s body is preparing for that great event. In the same way, wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and widespread diseases remind us that a Great Event is coming. Jesus will be seen in the clouds, all the dead will be raised, God’s faithful people will be welcomed into a new creation, and those who refused his grace will be sent away. Every violent and tragic event in history speaks to us of that final Day when the entire earth will be shaken and everything will be changed. Today sinners battle sinners, and all creation works against the sinners who occupy its dwellings. In a sense, we sinners are the infection and viruses are the antibodies trying to protect the world from our harmful presence. But Jesus is the great Physician who will heal creation and also who heals sinners, making us fit to live in the new world without pain and sorrow and death.

Every crisis is an opportunity. As we strive to protect our health and the health of our neighbors, we can be servants of love rather than isolated selfish sinners. We can bring groceries and other supplies to those who are quarantined for their own safety or to keep the rest of us safe. We can support those who are losing income to the shut-downs of society. (Every canceled concert, sports event, and gathering means loss of income, not merely to the performers and athletes, but to the many other people whose careers depend upon these happenings—most of whom do not have savings to carry them through this time of hardship.) We can pray to the Lord to strengthen the healers, support the suffering, comfort the sorrowing, and relieve the fears of ourselves and our neighbors. We can be shining examples of faith and love in a world that easily loses hope and gives way to fear and worry. God remains in control, and his promises never fail. Between today and the Day of the Lord, we have countless opportunities to do the work of his kingdom. Through all that happens, God’s plan will be accomplished. J.

Social Security

For as long as I can recall, every candidate for federal office has spoken about the need to rescue Social Security. I remember one Presidential debate, at least twenty years ago, in which one of the candidates referred to two unrelated opinion polls. One had asked young adult Americans whether they believed Social Security would still exist when they were ready to retire. The other had asked a similar demographic whether they believed that space aliens were visiting the Earth in UFOs. The result of the comparison was that more Americans believed in space aliens on UFOs than believed in Social Security.

Social Security was part of the New Deal enacted by Congress under President Franklin Roosevelt. Contrary to its name and to popular perceptions of the program, Social Security is a tax on working people used to pay other people—mostly the elderly and the disabled—not to work. The goal of the program, when it was created in 1935, was to open jobs for more workers and reduce unemployment by giving incentives to certain workers to leave the work force.

In 1935, the median average lifespan of Americans was seventy years. Today it is more than eighty years. This means that, when Social Security began, roughly half of the Americans who retired at age sixty-five could be expected to draw from the program for five years or less. Now, given better nutrition and health care than existed in the 1930s, more than half the Americans who retire at age sixty-five will draw from the program for fifteen years or more. No wonder many Americans doubt that Social Security can survive for another generation!

In 1935, each working American was taxed two percent of his or her income, but only up to $3000; money earned above that amount was untaxed. The tax was further hidden by requiring employers to match employee contributions, making the apparent tax only one percent. Today, the tax (including Medicare, which was added in the 1960s) is 15.3%, although it still seems less because employers are still matching employee contributions, making the tax appear to be less than eight percent (except for people who are self-employed). The ceiling of taxable income has risen from $3000 to $137,700.

Employment rates, salaries, longevity figures, and other numbers vary from year to year. Each year projections are offered to guess how long Social Security can continue to fund disabled and retired persons given current numbers. The dire prospect of running out of money for Social Security usually projects only a few more years of survival for the program, but somehow Social Security has continued to remain solvent even as some of the early years for its projected failure have passed.

The easiest way to keep a balance in Social Security are to raise the tax rate and to reduce the benefits paid. Neither of those options are popular in today’s political climate. Other questions can be addressed that might also help preserve Social Security as a government program for the foreseeable future:

  • Why place a ceiling on taxed earnings for Social Security? This practice causes Social Security to be more of a burden on low-income and middle-class taxpayers than on the wealthy. Removing the ceiling would generate more income for Social Security without adding any costs to the program.
  • Social Security earnings have never been taxed, but many recipients of Social Security are drawing more total income from various retirement programs and investments than the average American worker can earn. Replacing the ceiling on taxed earnings with an income above which Social Security is subject to withholding tax would generate income for the government without harming the average disabled or retired recipient of Social Security.
  • Retirement age needs to be reconsidered. Retirement at sixty-five (and early retirement at sixty-two) removes productive workers from their jobs while stressing the Social Security system. I plan to work full-time until I am seventy; I think most people my age are capable of doing the same. (Both my parents and all four of my grandparents lived into their eighties—two of the six into their nineties.)
  • Understand that Social Security never promised to provide a sustainable living income for retirees. Social Security is meant to supplement other investment and retirement income. Unlike life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Social Security is not a God-given right. Social Security is a government program of taxation and payment of benefits which can be adjusted by the government whenever it chooses (remembering that the members of government are subject to replacement by the voters whenever they make and enforce unpopular laws).
  • Understand that currently Social Security is generating more government income than it is costing government expense. Predictions of the collapse of Social Security always depend upon extending current trends. Adjustments made over the years have sustained Social Security well beyond earlier forecasts of shortfalls. Continued adjustments will be more significant than any massive overhaul of the system.

In short, candidates for political office often threaten the end of Social Security as a way of scaring voters. Real assessments of the program show no need for worry or fear. Like other panics over illnesses, environmental changes, technological failures, and political confrontations, news of the collapse of Social Security is largely exaggerated and used to manipulate public opinion. J.

Tertiary education

Education beyond high school was once a luxury for children of wealthy families and for those targeting well-paying careers such as medicine and law. Increasingly, tertiary education (often, puzzlingly, described as “post-secondary education”) and training is essential for a large number of jobs. Yet the cost of tertiary education has grown much faster than the rate of inflation over the past four decades. Every time federal financial aid to college students has increased, colleges and universities have increased their prices to soak up the extra money that has been made available.

Offering free college education to all Americans and forgiving all unpaid student loans sounds like an attractive proposal to many young Americans. The problem with that solution is that nothing is truly free. “Free college” simply means “taking the cost of college education and dividing it among all taxpayers.” This places an undue burden on current taxpayers, and it will also burden those who receive a college education, enter the job field, and then have to support the education of other students.

The federal government should continue to provide help for college students (both incoming and continuing) who demonstrate both academic prowess and financial need. This help includes Pell Grants, guaranteed student loans, and other ways of supporting education costs of needy and capable students. In addition, the federal government should continue its program of reducing or eliminating student loan debt of workers who are contributing to the improvement of their communities and country while earning less than average wages—teachers, other community workers, medical workers providing help to low-income citizens, and the like.

At the same time, the federal government should reduce the cost of tertiary education by rewarding colleges and universities that lower costs to their students rather than constantly raising their costs. Government research grants and other gifts to institutions of higher education should be distributed with preference to those schools that are lowering the cost of education. When schools are no longer rewarded with more money every time they raise their costs, but instead are rewarded for lowering costs, the price of a college education will be made more affordable.

Meanwhile, the government should provide more support for vocational programs in high schools and community colleges. The nation needs carpenters, electricians, plumbers, auto repairers, and many other kinds of workers who do not require a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree to become adept at their job skills (and who will earn good salaries for their work). Too many programs support the traditional four-year program of tertiary education rather than helping low-income students with interest and skill in other vocations to learn a trade that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Tertiary education in the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level will continue to be important. Teachers should be educated. Workers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) usually need advanced degrees, as do those in the GLAM fields (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums). Medicine and law will also continue to need higher education for its workers. Instead of dividing the cost of higher education among all taxpayers, though, the federal government must continue to focus its assistance on the students of greatest need, greatest potential, and largest benefit to the nation as a whole. J.

Updates and promise of a platform

First, I must say that the computer I use to access WordPress during the day seems to be malfunctioning. I am able to see posts but not to interact with them. I’m still out here, folks, but I’m not liking your posts for a reason that has nothing to do with my reaction to your posts.

Second, my analysis of Super Tuesday is this: the Democratic primary voters seem to be backing away from Bernie Sanders and his Socialist policies. But, with other candidates dropping out, the only viable choice to Senator Sanders appears to be Joseph Biden. This puts him in a place like that occupied by Walter Mondale in 1984 and Bob Dole in 1996. All three were long involved in politics (Mondale even being a former Vice President), well-known within their party, but hardly poised to overtake an incumbent President during an election year. Over the next eight months, attention will increasingly turn to the balance of Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. President Trump could win reelection but face an opposition Congress, as did President Nixon in 1972. Or, he could draw voters into the Republican column, as Democratic voters sit out the election, particularly after Candidate Biden embarrasses himself during his debates with President Trump.

Third, this week I took the time to visit the web sites of candidates Sanders, Biden, and Trump. I analyzed the issues each candidate presents, and I am drawing together my own 25-point platform on the major issues of this election. Over the coming weeks, from time to time, I will post portions of that platform. Not that I’m running for anything this year; it’s just good practice to remain informed and poised on all the issues. And, who knows? A platform created this year may be helpful as the 2022 election approaches. J.

Super Tuesday and the Presidential election

Who will win the presidential election this November? How will this week’s Super Tuesday shape the outcome of that November election? What can history tell us about the answer to those two questions?

Knowledge of history cannot provide certainty of the future. One thing history tells us is that things often change. But historic trends are helpful when preparing for future events. And historic trends say a lot about the November general election and this week’s primary elections.

On March 3, fourteen states and American Samoa will engage in selecting preferences for this summer’s national conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. Roughly one-third of those delegates for these conventions will be selected by the elections held in these fifteen places. The trend over the past several election cycles has been that the candidate for each party who gains the most delegates on Super Tuesday eventually receives the party’s nomination for president. Therefore, much attention is devoted to the results of this week’s elections.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, seventeen presidential elections have been held. In ten of those elections, the incumbent President was nominated for a second term. Incumbent Presidents have won seven of the ten elections in which they ran. Looking at those ten elections may provide insight into what to expect when votes are casted and counted this November.

1956: In the 1952 election, Republicans nominated General Dwight Eisenhower for President, and Democrats nominated Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. Eisenhower easily beat Stevenson, winning 55 percent of the popular vote and 39 of the 48 states. In 1956, the Republicans nominated President Eisenhower again, and the Democrats nominated Stevenson again. This time, Eisenhower won 57 percent of the popular vote and carried 41 of the 48 states. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE STEVENSON: Hillary Clinton, except that she is not on the ballot. Elizabeth Warren might be the closest candidate on the ballot to another Hillary Clinton.

1964: Lyndon Johnson became President less than a year before the election with the assassination of John Kennedy. With the legacy of Kennedy backing him, Johnson was nominated for a second term. Republicans chose Senator Barry Goldwater, who was a strongly conservative candidate who was unwilling to compromise his positions to attract centrist voters. As a result, Johnson won the election with 61 percent of the popular vote and 44 of 50 states, one of the most one-sided elections in recent history. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE GOLDWATER: Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist.

1972: In 1971, Richard Nixon appeared very defeatable. However, the Democrats nominated liberal Senator George McGovern, and Nixon cruised to victory in the November election, with 60.7 percent of the popular vote and 49 of 50 states, another of the most one-sided elections in recent history. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE MCGOVERN: Again, Bernie Sanders.

1976: Vice-President Agnew and President Nixon both resigned office, and Gerald Ford became President without having been on the previous ballot. He was opposed in the primary campaign by Ronald Reagan but won the nomination. The Democrats countered with Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia, a candidate outside of the national political stream, one who was presented as trustworthy and likeable, and one not as liberal as McGovern. Carter won with 50.1 percent of the popular vote and with 23 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia (giving him 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 240). CANDIDATE MOST LIKE CARTER: Pete Buttigieg, who this past weekend withdrew from the primary race.

1980: In his second try for the Republican nomination, and with his teams in place from the previous election, Ronald Reagan achieved the nomination, while Democrats nominated Jimmy Carter (although he received a significant challenge in the primaries from Senator Edward Kennedy). Some Republicans feared a repeat of 1964, given Reagan’s conservative leanings. But Carter was faced with international crises (including the hostages in Iran) and a struggling economy. Reagan won the election with 50.7 percent of the popular vote, carrying 44 of the 50 states. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE REAGAN: Bernie Sanders.

1984: Reagan easily won the nomination for reelection from the Republicans. Democrats selected Walter Mondale, who had been Vice-President under Jimmy Carter. With a strong economy and no foreign policy disasters, voters favored President Reagan, giving him 59% of the popular vote and 49 of the 50 states—the third of the most one-sided elections in recent history. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE MONDALE: Joe Biden, who was Vice-President under Barack Obama.

1992: Vice-President George Bush won the Republican nomination and the general election in 1988, only one of four sitting Vice-Presidents who ran for President and won in the modern era. (Vice-Presidents Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and Albert Gore in 2000 all won their party’s nomination but lost in close elections.) After the Persian Gulf War, Bush was seen as unbeatable for reelection, but the Democrats nominated Bill Clinton, Governor of Arkansas. Like Carter, Clinton was seen as a Washington outsider, one who was as likeable as Carter if not as trustworthy, and someone who was moderate rather than a liberal like McGovern in 1972. H. Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate. Clinton won the election with 43 percent of the popular vote, carrying 32 states and the District of Columbia. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE CLINTON: Pete Buttigieg (but see above, 1976 campaign)

1996: Clinton won the Democrat’s primary for reelection. He was opposed by Senator Bob Dole, a long-time Republican leader who was expected to appeal to moderates who had preferred Clinton to Bush. Perot also ran again. Dole’s campaign never caught the momentum that had carried candidates like Carter, Reagan, and Clinton into office. Clinton won reelection with 49.2 percent of the popular vote and 31 states plus the District of Columbia. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE DOLE: Joe Biden.

2004: Having won narrowly over Vice-President Gore in 2000, George W. Bush was nominated by the Republicans for a second term. The Democrats countered with Senator John Kerry, a war hero who challenged President Bush’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The election was close, but Bush won with 50.7 percent of the popular vote and 31 states. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE KERRY: Similarities can be drawn between Kerry and Biden, Sanders, or Warren. Whoever wins the most delegates on Super Tuesday will probably be the best candidate to compare to Kerry.

2012: Senator Barack Obama defeated Senator John McCain in the 2008 election, and Republicans felt that President Obama would be easily defeated in his campaign for reelection, viewing him as hampered as Carter had been in 1980. During the primaries, Governor Mitt Romney emerged as the Republican frontrunner, although he was challenged by several conservative candidates. Each conservative candidate prevailed in one state or another under the “anyone but Romney” umbrella, but none of them consolidated support to deny Romney the nomination. President Obama won the election with 51.1 percent of the popular vote and 26 states plus the District of Columbia. CANDIDATE MOST LIKE ROMNEY: Probably Bernie Sanders, given the “anyone but Sanders” feeling of less liberal Democrats.

Conclusion: Presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush all faced difficulties in their first terms that cost them a second term—for the most part, these difficulties involved economic weakness of the United States. The economy in 2020 is strong. While main-stream media has tried to create a sense of crisis regarding President Trump’s foreign policy decisions—most recently regarding the Coronavirus—most voters do not seem to agree with the media assessment of Trump’s performance in office. The impeachment attempt against President Trump only strengthened his support, while further dividing Democratic voters. About the only hopeful sign for the Democratic Party in this election is that Reagan was able to beat Carter in 1980 without making many compromises to capture centrist voters. Aside from that, Sanders and Biden both face uphill battles to overturn incumbent President Donald Trump, when comparing this election to previous elections.

What of Mike Bloomberg? He most resembles H. Ross Perot as a candidate, even though he has entered the Democratic primaries rather than running as a third-party candidate. While it is hard to judge whether his campaign will damage Biden or Sanders more, it is clear that he will not help either of them to win in November, and his chances of beating President Trump are even less than theirs. J.

A week of contests and division

What a busy week it has been so far! Sunday night was the Superbowl, which featured a dramatic come-from-behind victory by the Kansas City Chiefs. I was reading that evening and only checked on the game when about ten minutes were left, and San Francisco was leading 21-10. I got to see the last three touchdowns and the shorter version of the Bill Murray/Groundhog Day/Jeep commercial, so I feel my evening was well-spent.

Monday night the voters of Iowa conducted a caucus. When the results of the Democratic caucus were finally released on Wednesday, they included a few surprises but no real indication of who the nominee will be. Regarding the delay in releasing the results—evidently caused by a flaw in the ap they were using—one spokesperson for the White House quipped, “and these are the people who want to run our health care system.”

Tuesday night was President Trump’s State of the Union report to Congress. The event was marked by rudeness among the Democratic Senators and Representatives, who sat sulking and pouting through much of the speech. Their disdain for the President was capped when the Speaker of the House tore in half her copy of the President’s speech in half as soon as he was finished. Having voted to impeach the President, the Democrats were clearly continuing the theme of “not my President,” ignoring the fact that the President won the November 2016 election according to the rules set by the United States Constitution.

Wednesday the Senate voted to acquit the President rather than removing him from office. The vote was conducted almost purely among party lines. Several Republican Senators reported that they did not approve of the President’s behavior; they added that the charges against him were not significant enough to warrant removal from office. Democrats replied that, in the absence of evidence and witnesses, President Trump did not face a true trial in the Senate. The results have been predictable since the charges leading to impeachment were first filed last year. Once again, the Constitution shaped the events; no one violated the Constitution in acquitting the President.

All these events (except, I guess, the Superbowl) reveal a nation that is deeply divided and virtually at war within itself. The split is not yet as violent as that which led to a four-year Civil War in the 1860s. The division might even be less turbulent than that of the late 1960s and early 1970s—the era of Vietnam, Watergate, and Civil Rights. The United States has survived troubled times in the past, and the current sense of crisis will also pass. Christians can and should pray that citizens of the United States learn again how to respect one another despite political differences, how to talk to one another without resorting to attacks and insults, how to listen to one another and hear one another, and how to find compromises when and where they are possible.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have badly hurt themselves heading into the Presidential and Congressional elections. They have energized President Trump’s base of support while failing to change anyone’s mind about him. They have probably reduced their chances of retaining control of the House of Representatives, let alone of gaining control of the Senate. If the caucuses and primary elections lead to the nomination of one of the more liberal candidates, President Trump will have an easy campaign for reelection; all he needs to ask is, “How will you pay for free college for everyone? How will you pay for universal health care?” So long as people representing the Democratic Party continue to speak of socialism, redistributing wealth, and government control, they will continue to lose support of the voters and will fail to win elections.

During his first term, President Nixon seemed terribly unpopular. The media focused on his shortcomings without noting his accomplishments. Potential Democratic candidates led in the opinion polls throughout 1970 and 1971. But when the Democrats nominated George McGovern as their candidate, voters found him to be too liberal for the country, and Nixon won the election, carrying forty-nine of the fifty states. In his second term, though, Nixon faced a Democratic Congress determined to stymie his initiatives and weaken his power. The mistakes of Watergate, magnified by inaccurate reporting across the media, began a process of impeachment that ended when Nixon resigned. Looking at the politically-motivated impeachments of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, one wonders whether Nixon might have survived a vote in the Senate after all.

Many things can still happen over the coming weeks and months to shape the election in November. At this time, though, I am no longer wondering whether President Trump will be reelected. I suspect he will. My biggest question is whether Republicans will maintain a majority in the Senate and regain a majority in the House. I think they might. It will be interesting to watch… very interesting…. J.

Christ Jesus and President Trump

When I opened my email this morning, I saw that I had been tagged on Facebook. The tagger was a Facebook friend, someone I knew in college and have not seen since. Although we are Facebook friends, we do not comment on each other’s posts very often—far less than once a year. In this case, though, I was flattered that she chose me as one of several of her Christian friends. She wanted our reaction to a video regarding Christianity and American politics.

The video, which runs for several minutes, shows a man discussing the politics of Donald Trump and his supporters, comparing them to the teachings of Jesus Christ in an attempt to show dissonance rather than agreement. Although the speaker’s presentation is calm, he accompanies his message with stock media footage of the President—including two images of conservative Christian preachers praying with the President—interspersed with images of White Supremacist demonstrators, violent confrontations between individuals, and even the photograph of a high school student apparently smirking at a Native American speaker in Washington DC, even though that last event was quickly revealed to have contained no hostility between the student and the speaker.

The tone of the message left no doubt: the speaker believes that, because President Donald Trump is supported by racists, white supremacists, homophobes, and other deplorable people, real Christians cannot support the President, cannot vote for the President, and cannot even sit out the election if Trump is on the ballot. Jesus Christ is portrayed as loving, accepting all people, defending the rights of the poor (including immigrants), and opposed to any expression of hatred or disapproval. The other Christians who had commented were strongly supportive of this position.

I carefully considered how to respond. I wanted to be gentle. I wanted to be brief. I wanted to oppose the thought that no real Christian can support President Donald Trump. Here is what I said (as best as I remember):

“Interesting. Jesus Christ is far bigger than American politics. Sincere Christians can be right-wing, left-wing, or in the middle. There is plenty of room in Christianity for political conservatives and political liberals, for Democrats and Republicans. Jesus expressed compassion for victims of abuse, for the poor, for widows and orphans and foreigners. When he forgave sinners, he also said, “Go, and sin no more.” People on the right and people on the left have both sifted through the words of Jesus seeking support for their political positions. In both cases, this is wrong. Jesus came to be our Savior and our Redeemer, not to support our political choices.”

The speaker wanted to speak for all Christians in his disdain for President Trump. He wanted his audience to believe that Jesus would stand up today and reject President Trump. He severely undermined his case when he quoted Jesus as asking, “What is truth?” For it was a corrupt government official named Pontius Pilate who asked that question of Jesus and then did not stay around for an answer. And it was Jesus who allowed himself to be mistreated without fighting back, without calling for a change in government, without protesting what the Romans were doing in Jerusalem.

Christians have an obligation to participate in the government of nations where that privilege is granted. We should vote, and we should share our opinions with our elected leaders. Christians also have an obligation to help the needy, to defend the oppressed, and to be kind to all our neighbors. That kindness does not include approving of their sinful choices. When the occasion was right, Jesus preached against sin. He did not focus only on the sins of the elite and powerful; he condemned sin in all cases.

We Christians should oppose hatred and violence. We should not be known for what we hate; we should be known for what we love. Because we love Jesus, we will not use his name or his words to advance a political agenda or any other worldly plan. Instead, by sharing his word and by living according to his example, we will make this sin-polluted world a better place while we await the Day when Jesus will complete his work of casting out all evil and making this world his kingdom. J.

We remember

The primary national holiday of the United States of America is the Fourth of July, Independence Day. This holiday remembers, not a military battle or victory, but a document and the ideas it contains. The Declaration of Independence solemnly states that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” namely, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But a nation based upon ideas must still exist on the world stage, where wars and violent attacks are a way of life. Our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, remembers a British attack upon Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. This anthem is the first stanza of a four-stanza poem written by Francis Scott Key, who observed the shelling on September 13 and 14 of 1814 and saw that the national flag (at that time consisting of fifteen stripes and fifteen stars) was still flying at the end of the attack. Since that time, Americans have challenged one another to remember the Alamo, remember Gettysburg, remember the Maine, remember the Lusitania, remember Pearl Harbor, and remember 9-11. We also remember non-military tragedies, including the Hindenburg, the Titanic, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

These events loom in our mind as landmarks of history. We commemorate the lives lost, and we consider how our nation has responded to the attacks of our enemies. The sinking of the Lusitania and the bombing of Pearl Harbor were strategic military actions, but they drew us into World Wars. The terrorist attack of 9-11, on the other hand, was a deliberate act to oppose the ideas upon which the United States is based. Those who attacked were opposed to freedom, particularly freedom of religion and freedom of expression. They were opposed to the principles of human rights and the equality of all people. They chose the World Trade Center as a target because they fear economic opportunity which brings with it exposure to the American ideas of freedom, democracy, and liberty.

The War on Terror is different from the World Wars. In the World Wars we could identify our enemies, target their forces, and move toward victory in just a few years. Fighting the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS required different strategies and different goals. What is now America’s longest war remains a defense of liberty and freedom. We seek to preserve these ideas for ourselves, and we also offer them to all the people of the world.

We prevailed in the Cold War because our ideas were better than the ideas of the Soviet Union and its allies. We will prevail in the War on Terror because our ideas are better than those of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Military strength alone does not win wars; it provides, at best, temporary victories. The final victory belongs to those who are defending what is good and opposing what is evil.

We will not forget the three thousand victims of 9-11. We will not forget the police officers and fire fighters who fell while rushing into danger to save others. We will not forget the passengers of Flight 93 who refused to allow the airplane which held them to be used as a weapon against their country. They inspire us to continue to treasure the ideas for which our country stands. They inspire us to continue to support all those who battle to protect our nation and its principles. They inspire us to continue to pray for God’s blessings on our land and on all who live here. J.