King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (14)

King Saul and David (1 Samuel 18)

In the previous post I introduced the concept of narcissism.  Perhaps a working definition is needed prior to  proceeding:

extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

John_W._Waterhouse_-_Echo_and_Narcissus(1903)

Echo and Narcissus* – John W. Waterhouse (1903)

The Narcissism of our Present Age

The core conceit of current narcissism is this:

The evidence-less presumption that I and my like-minded comrades stand at the absolute pinnacle of human virtue.  Therefore, anyone who deviates from my worldview, regardless of if they are my contemporaries or lived centuries earlier, can be motivated only by a combination of inexcusable stupidity and evil.

man-selfieAlthough the above description is useful in a general sense, there remains a significant gap between it and a compelling explanation of its application to our particular time and place.  I finally ran across a passage, from a piece discussing the current situation in France (by Christopher Caldwell) that excellently fills this need (emphasis added):

Upwardly mobile urbanites, observes Guilluy, call Paris “the land of possibilities,” the “ideapolis.” One is reminded of Richard Florida and other extollers of the “Creative Class.” The good fortune of Creative Class members appears (to them) to have nothing to do with any kind of capitalist struggle. Never have conditions been more favorable for deluding a class of fortunate people into thinking that they owe their privilege to being nicer, or smarter, or more honest, than everyone else. Why would they think otherwise? They never meet anyone who disagrees with them. The immigrants with whom the creatives share the city are dazzlingly different, exotic, even frightening, but on the central question of our time—whether the global economic system is working or failing—they see eye to eye. “Our Immigrants, Our Strength,” was the title of a New York Times op-ed signed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo after September’s terrorist bomb blasts in New York. This estrangement is why electoral results around the world last year—from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump—proved so difficult to anticipate. Those outside the city gates in la France périphérique are invisible, their wishes incomprehensible. It’s as if they don’t exist. But they do.

Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that these “fortunate people” are deluded to a degree that is nothing short of scandalous.  That they occupy the pinnacle of power in our nations can only be explained by a monumental failure of the temporal Christian church, parenthood, government, education and media, among others.  This is what civilizational failure looks like.  In the following post I will address the central delusion that has resulted in this sorry situation.



*Echo and Narcissus is a myth from Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, a Latin mythological epic from the Augustan Age.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy? (4)

bible-bordersClosing Thoughts

While this assessment cannot be claimed to have been comprehensive I believe it has been sufficient.  That is, the following aspects of the current consensus on immigration and refugee policy have been carefully scrutinized

  1. a high profile statement by an officer of the PC(USA) on their policy positions
  2. review of one of the most commonly used Bible passages in support of the current consensus.

In both areas I have found the results to be seriously deficient.

There is, however, a general consideration that may be of use to explore as we exit this particular topic.  Although it has been indirectly referred to, it has not yet been specifically addressed.  That being Progressive Christianity’s all too common presumption of a moral, intellectual and theological superiority that excuses them from engaging as peers with those holding opposing perspectives.  I certainly am not claiming that this problem is uniformly the case as I personally know numerous members of this group who engage on the merits.

However, I believe the argument can be credibly made that, due to their undeniable success in occupying most key positions of social and organizational power, the Progressive movement has become far too dependent on intimidation at the expense of persuasion.

intimidation-doesnt-last-very-long-quote-1This strategy is pursued by never acknowledging opposition as being legitimate and by insisting that opposing points of view are motivated by moral defects.  Thus they are not seeking to persuade peers to see their point of view, but rather using social and/or organizational force to obtain submission.  Those who have been following this blog will have no trouble recalling cases where senior leaders in the PC(USA) have aggressively utilized these tactics.

John Calvin himself rebukes this leadership strategy in his commentary on Psalm 45:2.

You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.

… How manifestly does this rebuke the mean-spiritedness of kings in our day, by whom it is regarded as derogatory to their dignity to converse with their subjects, and to employ remonstrance in order to secure their submission; nay, who display a spirit of barbarous tyranny in seeking rather to compel than to persuade them …

The really bad news for Progressives is that, although victory by intimidation has always been a morally destructive strategy, it no longer is likely to be effective for a large segment of the population.  And, doubling, then tripling down, to the point of rioting and physical violence, on the same strategy is likely to diminish your credibility and influence even more.

bible-verses-about-welcoming-othersI suppose that this blog could be viewed as one long attempt to persuade Progressives to rejoin the rest of us flawed, confused humans who are attempting to find our way through the challenges of the 21st century.  Sometimes persuasion has the prerequisite of confrontation, such as when an entrenched group abuses their position and privilege to the detriment of substantive debate.

I believe that most of us would welcome you with open arms.  I certainly would. For, we need more ideas being more freely debated in good faith to meet the difficult choices and challenges that face us all.

 

 

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy? (3)

bible-bordersKey Scripture Passage

The passage to be assessed will be Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV) as it may well be one of the most frequently cited.

Leviticus 1When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

I have already confirmed both the relevance and authority of this passage as a guide for Christian understanding of immigration and refugee issues.  And yet, I intend to show that the application is not as perfectly tailored to support of the Progressive Leftist political current day positions as is assumed by far too many.

A first issue is use of unwarranted selectivity.  Sometimes pastors and laity are more than happy to cite Leviticus 19:33-34 to those with a differing perspective.  However, I can’t help but notice how verse 15 from the same chapter is not so commonly used.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

I’m well aware of the Bible’s overall teaching about the poor.  However, I wonder how some of our fellow Christians would react were someone to pluck verse 15 out of Leviticus and quote it every time the poor are considered?

The second issue that must be examined is what is meant by the word “sojourner.”  The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible explains this word as follows.

A person living in mutually responsible association with a community, or in a place, not inherently his own. …  In the basic meaning of the term, a sojourner is a person who occupies a position between that of the native-born and the foreigner.  He has come among a people distinct from him and thus lacks the protection and benefits ordinarily provided by kin and birthplace.  His status and privileges derive from the bond of hospitality, in which the guest is inviolable.  … Placing himself under the protection of a particular clan or chieftain, or a person, the sojourner in turn assumes responsibilities.

Based on this information I conclude that a “sojourner” is something very different from the formulation of the Rev. Parsons, that being someone “who find themselves within our borders.”   That is, a sojourner is someone who has entered into an explicit and bi-directional relationship with a community “not inherently his own.”  Thus, someone who illegally sneaked into a community and attempted to reside without any mutual agreement on the nature of their relationship would not be considered to be a “sojourner,” but rather an interloper.

So too, the leader of a clan or community would have to agree to the creation and continuation of this relationship.  Were a sojourner to violate the terms of agreement, the community would no longer be bound by them either.  And, that community/clan leader would be expected to use their best judgment prior to entering into such an arrangement with foreigners.  For example, if a dozen military aged Philistines showed up on the border claiming to be “sojourners,” who but the most biblically/historically illiterate would imagine that an ancient Israeli leader would be predisposed to enter into such a relationship?

Finally let’s consider the issues associated with historic and social context.  The NIV Study Bible (© 1985) estimates that the Book of Leviticus was written by Moses between c. 1446 and c. 1406 B.C.  Taking the midpoint of this period, that is 3,443 years ago from 2017.  I point this out not to attenuate the Book’s authority as Holy Scripture, but rather to suggest that it may be quite a stretch to simply conclude that any verse can be directly and thoughtlessly applied to problems facing us today.  Yes, it most definitely does speak to us and our problems today, but a responsible interpreter will carefully identify differences between c. 1426 B.C. and 2017 A.D. that could result in misapplication of God’s Word.

Nathaniel Micklem in The Interpreter’s Bible makes this point with great wisdom in his exposition on Leviticus 19:9,10 (NIV).

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Are we to say in the light of vss. 9-10 that the storekeeper must always throw in a little extra when he is serving a poor customer, that the market gardener must be quite unconcerned if a poor man helps himself to a little pickings from his fields?  It is obviously impossible to apply the rules of a simple agricultural society to the complicated conditions of modern economic society.

Such rules as these must be translated into another idiom.  But the principle remains, I am the Lord your God.  Therefore, you shall not be grasping, you shall not make every cent you can for yourself and your family; you shall share with the needy that measure of prosperity which God in his mercy may have granted you.

We must therefore ask just what are the primary societal parameters that have changed since c. 1426 B.C.?  Is it that human beings are no longer capable of ill will and/or deceit?  Is it that leaders no longer have responsibility to provide protection to their communities?  Is it that human beings no longer bleed and die?  No, no and no.

The primary thing that has changed is that the immigration/refugee issue is today debated in the United States within context of a nation of 320 million people spread over almost four-million square miles.  Thus, whereas a community/clan member in ancient Israel would have to look into the eyes (living or dead) of the victims of their poor decisions, citizens of the United States who demand no vetting of immigrants/refugees and open borders can do so safe in the knowledge that the likelihood of this outcome is vanishingly small.

Many, many people who follow the Progressive Leftist line on immigration and refugee policy do so without having carefully thought through all of the issues and implications.  However, there are the most serious of moral issues at play.  Were some of these well intentioned people to stop and really focus on these issues they might modify their words and actions.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy (2)

bible-bordersThe Reverend Gradye Parsons’ Letter

I’ll begin the careful scrutiny of this issue by discussing the PC(USA) “Stated Clerk issues letter to Trump on refugees, immigrants” (dated October 2, 2015) that was introduced in my previous post.  The value is that a high officer is here explaining the denomination’s policy positions in an official capacity.  Thus, what is said, implied and unsaid is of great significance.  The Biblical interpretative, philosophical and communication strategies utilized are also important aspects of the analysis.  All text from the letter is included in order as quotes, with my commentary inserted as regular text.

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10022

Mr. Trump,

I am the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination of the congregation in Queens, New York, where you were baptized. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) develops its policies through councils of teaching elders and ruling elders. At the national level it does that through the General Assembly. I would like to share with you the Presbyterian policies on refugees and immigrants.

There was a time in my living memory when such a preamble would have elicited an expectation of Christian profundity.  I detect a sense of chastisement here, as Rev. Parsons deigns to educate Mr. Trump on the refugee and immigration positions of his own denomination.  I must say that on this point we are in agreement.  However, whereas the issue at hand elicited this response, for me it began when Mr. Trump said “I’m Presbyterian.  Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness.”

Presbyterians profess a faith in Christ, whose parents were forced to flee with him to Egypt when he was an infant to save him from King Herod. Knowing our Lord was once a refugee, faithful Presbyterians have been writing church policy urging the welcome of refugees and demanding higher annual admissions into the United States since the refugee crisis of World War II.

Here we find the one and only Biblical reference, summarizing Matthew 2:13-20.  What startles is the unexplained logical leap from our Lord’s specific experience to an apparently general application.  Does the fact that Jesus Christ was once a refugee mean that any and all who claim that status have been automatically bestowed with His sinlessness?  Is it possible in Rev. Parsons’ ideology for someone who claims refugee status to yet harbor evil intent?  And, if this is a realistic possibility, would a sovereign nation be obliged to welcome that person into their population?  Note that these real and pressing issues don’t even warrant acknowledgment let alone serious consideration in this authoritative statement of the PC(USA)’s positions.

Presbyterians have a mission presence in many refugee-sending countries, including Syria and Lebanon, where we have been present since 1823. Our relationship with people of faith and communities in these countries gives us knowledge of the root causes of the flight of refugees and further cements a commitment to welcome.

1983-beirut-bombing-by-hezbollah-iran-e1404967583363

1983 Hezbollah Bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut Lebanon

These two sentences manage to encompass the decadence and irresponsibility that defines our national denominational leadership.  Here we have mentioned two countries, one having experienced and the other currently embroiled in bloody, brutal civil war, held up as places from which blameless refugees are guaranteed to originate.  Who, I wonder, has been doing all of the killing in Syria resulting in almost 500,000 dead?  Weren’t upwards of 150,000 killed in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) by someone?  Isn’t Syria the home of ISIS and Lebanon of Hezbollah, both vicious, genocidal Islamic terrorist groups who target the United States?  Is it not possible that someone complicit in or directly responsible for this mass murder might seek to enter the United States as a refugee?

isis-san-bernardino-terrorists

2015 San Bernardino ISIS Terrorist Murderers

And yet, in the face of this absolutely obvious set of circumstances, the Rev. Parsons bestows blanket innocence upon all refugees from these troubled countries because of the PC(USA)’s supposed “knowledge.”  What can possibly account for the existence of this level of moral blindness?  The Rev. Parsons, speaking for the PC(USA) General Assembly, is more than happy to signal their supposed superior virtue while ignoring the real and present danger to their fellow citizens from uncontrolled entry of refugees.  That is, they will happily claim all of the virtue points for their “compassionate” stance on refugees but deny any culpability for associated crime and terrorism because “their intentions were good.”  This is not virtue, it is its opposite, and, it’s long past time that we ceased allowing our national leaders to have it both ways.

Presbyterians through decades of policy have demanded humane treatment of people of all nationalities and faiths who find themselves within our borders.

This sentence is a masterpiece of obfuscation.  On the surface it appears to be undeniable.  Yes, absolutely, we in the United States should treat all within our borders humanely.  And yet, what if someone finds “themselves within our borders” because they have entered illegally?  Is it inhumane to deny them social services, welfare, work?  Is it inhumane to deport them?  If they commit a felonious crime, is it still inhumane to deport them?  All of this is left unaddressed.  One has to dig a little to uncover the true position of the PC(USA).

We have challenged our government when it neglects to acknowledge the refugee status of those fleeing persecution.

Has the PC(USA) ever supported laws or policies that ensure careful vetting of refugees?  Unless information to the contrary can be presented, their position on vetting refugees from lawless, violent nations appears to be that it shouldn’t be done at all.

We have pushed for due process at the border and we continue to petition for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented persons.

I believe that “due process” likely means that a non-citizen of the United States should be given all of the Constitutional rights as has a citizen even when outside of the country.  Were this position to be accepted then the ability of the United States to control entry of non-citizens would be at the very least severely damaged.

As a Presbyterian I acknowledge my immigrant ancestors and my new immigrant sisters and brothers. I also respect that we came uninvited to a land already occupied by people. This creates a sense of humility about my citizenship that shapes my views on those who seek a place here.

This is an excellent example of the Jonathan Gruber school of political discourse: “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”  For, obscured behind all of the virtue signaling is effectively the demand for “open borders.”  Yes, the Rev. Parsons doesn’t explicitly say this.  However, since he admits guilt for his ancestors coming “uninvited to a land already occupied by people,” the most reasonable conclusion is that anyone who seeks “a place here” should be allowed in.  Of course to say so outright would create yet another reason for members to exit the denomination.  So, the position is only tacitly communicated.  However, I have little doubt that “open borders” is both what is meant and what is being pursued by the PC(USA) leadership.

I hope you will find this helpful. I especially hope it will inform you on your policies going forward.

In Christ,

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

It certainly was helpful, but not necessarily in the way intended.  This letter helps by exposing the unsupported logical leaps, lack of theological seriousness, irresponsible virtue signaling, disdain for the safety of our citizens, obfuscation and purposeful ambiguity of the PC(USA)’s national leadership.  Only a leadership clique hermetically sealed inside an alternative-reality ideology could be capable of generating, approving and releasing such a defective statement.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy? (1)

bible-borders

Leviticus 19:33,34 and Immigration Policy Implications?

Opening Thoughts

Background

We who live in Christian community have leaders determined by various methods to whose authority we generally submit.  This hierarchical structure varies from extremely formal and rigid (e.g., the Catholic Church) to informal and fluid (e.g., some Pentecostal churches).  The existence of a leadership structure is both Biblically ordained (for example see Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; 2 Cor. 1:24) and practically necessary for effective corporate functioning.

I think that most Protestant Christians are in agreement that there is nothing absolute about a given church leader’s (or church organization’s) authority.  That is, we believe that the only head of the church is Jesus Christ and that the Bible’s testimony is the unique source of authority for the living out of our lives in Christ.  Therefore, we in the laity are empowered to test the teaching of our leadership by its fidelity to God’s Word.

Further complicating this relationship is the undeniable fact that our leaders are merely flesh and blood, with all of the possibility for frailty and folly which this implies.  Thus, our leaders live in social and organizational groups that have their own set of expectations, politics and rules.  Although there can be much that is good in these social groupings, there is also the possibility of group-think and blind adherence dominant opinion.

So, when our Christian leaders deliver teaching our default position should be respect and serious consideration.  However, due to the above discussed issues, there are cases in which we must conduct our own review of Scripture and exercise our own judgment.

The Current Issue

The current issue of most extreme political disagreement in the United States may well be that of immigration and refugee policy.  This issue divides political parties, families, churches and many other organizations.  With regard to the church, as pointed out in The Atlantic:

From religious leaders’ perspectives, backlash against Trump’s immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now. Hundreds of prominent clergy signed onto a letter condemning the “derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors,” calling on Trump to reinstate the refugee program.

Such wide agreement is often supported by a correspondingly wide set of motivating considerations, from a general political rejection to concern about practical consequences to distrust of a particular politician’s character and/or judgement, among others.

Thus, if the issue becomes more focused, an apparent consensus can quickly evaporate.  For example, if the issue is narrowed to the Christian perspective on “open borders,”  then the above agreement will likely splinter.

Although there may be general agreement among most clergy members, the laity is more evenly divided.  After all, enough people voted for Mr. Trump to elect him President. And candidate Trump was crystal clear that the current status of immigration / refugee policy was unacceptable.  It is also the case that there are prominent Christian organizations and leaders who either have chosen to remain silent or supported the proposed policy changes.

So, if most of our clergy appears to be in agreement that President Trump’s policies are undesirable and the previous administration’s policies are more so, then should we automatically accept this teaching or submit it to our own careful scrutiny?

I’m concerned by the lack of specificity, ill defined logic and superficial Biblical justification for many of the statements made by some of our clergy.  For example, when Grady Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Office of the General Assembly chose to educate candidate Trump on PC(USA) on refugees, immigrants, the policy described clearly pointed towards a Progressive Leftist political perspective.  I will deal with my numerous serious issues regarding this letter in the next post.

Likewise, we are exposed to repetitive recitations of Bible passages such as Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

without the benefit of comprehensive exegesis and exposition on the context, word definitions and other Biblical passages that may well illuminate and/or modify the meaning.

So, is this a case where our leaders have already done the theological heavy lifting and generated a conclusion that, though communicated in shorthand, is beyond reproach?  Or, is this, like the same-gender marriage argumentation, a human political position covered by a veneer of faux religiosity?  Obviously there is much room for variation between these two extremes.

Given the stakes for our nation, I conclude that careful scrutiny is necessity.