Why I’m Not Excited About Austin Petersen

As the numbing reality has set in that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, many conservatives are frantically casting about for a third choice. Google searches for libertarian party candidates have sky-rocketed, and one name in particular has been generating a lot of buzz: Austin Petersen. Like other libertarian candidates, Petersen had about zero name recognition a month ago. Now, none other than Glenn Beck has officially endorsed him (after having campaigned hard for Ted Cruz).

Historically, libertarian candidates haven’t excited social conservatives, and with good reason: The libertarian party platform is officially liberal on core issues such as abortion and marriage. Indeed, Gary Johnson, the last libertarian candidate, “supports a woman’s right to choose up to the point of viability” (translation: believes it should be legal to murder babies). So how is Petersen different? The answer is that he’s pro-life. Well, at least, more pro-life than the average libertarian.

That’s an important caveat, one that can be lost in the headlines.

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What Bono Doesn’t Get About Christian Art

Last month, The Message author Eugene Peterson filmed a short conversation with Irish rocker Bono to discuss the Psalms. I know, it sounds like a Christian satire headline, but yes, this really happened. For younger readers who may be drawing a blank on “The Message,” it’s a Bible paraphrase that uses self-consciously casual language/colloquialisms. To give a sample of what this sounds like, here’s Peterson’s paraphrase of a repeated refrain of David’s from the Psalms: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?”

The Message also softens and subtly re-glosses some Bible passages that are harsher on sexual sin, which is not a coincidence given Peterson’s leftist leanings. Similarly, while Bono often talks about his Christian faith and has made Christian news as a result, he’s planted his flag very firmly with the left on issues such as gay “marriage.”

All of this is to say that neither Bono nor Peterson is exactly the most authoritative voice when it comes to sound exegesis, which makes me kind of amused that this video created such a stir in Christian circles. I simply fail to see what special insight they’re supposed to be offering that makes their conversation newsworthy.

But, newsworthy it apparently was, and one comment of Bono’s in particular prompted a number of responses. Reflecting on the range of passions and emotions that the Psalms express, Bono criticized Christian music, by contrast, for its “dishonesty.” Instead of settling for worship tunes, he wished Christians would write songs about their bad marriages or social injustice (as Bono put it, “being p**sed off at the government” — somehow I doubt an anti-Obama song would count).

In response, a number of people, including singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson (no relation to Eugene), protested that there’s plenty of honest Christian art out there, it’s just not on the radio. This could be called push-back, but it’s not the kind of push-back I would give. I would be much more blunt. I would tell Bono that he doesn’t understand what makes great Christian art. And I say that as someone who is almost invariably bored by CCM Top 40 and finds my attention wandering during most worship songs.

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Dear Conservatives: Now Is the Appointed Time

Greetings, dear readers. This little blog hiatus turned out to be longer than I intended, but as it happens, the timing of this post seems rather apt when juxtaposed with the last one. As I write this, Ted Cruz has just suspended his presidential campaign, essentially guaranteeing Donald Trump the Republican nomination. Even a pessimist like myself must confess that as bad as I thought tonight would be, I didn’t think it would be this bad.

I could say that a lot has changed since my last post, and in one sense that would be accurate. But there is another sense in which nothing has changed. This night marks the end of many things. But for principled conservatives, it is only the beginning of the long, last battle.

It was one thing to say “Never Trump” when there was a slender but definite chance that Trump would actually fail. It’s another thing to keep saying it when half the people who were standing with you a second ago are now urging you to give in. When politicians you thought you could trust cross, one by one, to the other side. When firebrands you thought you could count on to speak the truth begin speaking for Trump instead. When perhaps some of your own friends and family scream at you for “dividing the party.” When they accuse you of handing the election to Hillary Clinton, even though they have only themselves to blame for finding the one candidate in history’s brightest Republican field that could give her a run for her money… as the worst candidate for President ever.

When all this happens, as it was already beginning to happen, it is not the time to concede. It is the time to stand. For what good is a declaration of principle when it is abandoned at the first sign of defeat? What good is a flag planted one minute only to be uprooted the next?

The Bible assures us that just when things seem to be at their darkest and most bleak, we can be certain of one thing: that it will get even darker and even bleaker. That doesn’t make a very good bumper sticker, but it’s the truth we must face in the coming days.

And yet, though the republic may fall, and our country be plunged into an abyss of corruption and despair, there is a remnant. There will always be a remnant. There will always be children to raise up, and gardens to tend, and flocks to feed. There will always be vows of holy love to take, and innocent lovers to take them. There will always be ageless saints with wrinkled hands folded in prayer, rocking wordlessly in the day’s last light.

Let us pray as they pray, as we are taught to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

This Election is Not About Beating Hillary Clinton

Despite the fact that Donald Trump is poised to sweep his home state of New York and plausibly several other New England states in its wake, the surge of Texas senator Ted Cruz has given actual conservatives reason to be cautiously optimistic. His well-oiled delegate collection machine has been cleaning Trump’s clock in recent non-primary states like Colorado and North Dakota. Furthermore, if Trump fails to clinch the nomination outright, Cruz’s team has loaded The Donald’s delegate slate with double agents who will turn on him in a contested convention once they are unbound. That Cruz, he has a very good brain. Meanwhile, Trump’s response has been the usual: Trumpertantrums and more Trumpertantrums.

Riding this wave of hope, some are daring to wonder out loud if Cruz might pull off not only the Republican nomination, but a general election victory as well. With an increasingly unpopular Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee, the Democrat party could be in for an upset. Is it possible? Could Cruz usher in a new golden age of conservatism?

As usual, in typical Puddleglum fashion, I feel compelled to throw a wet blanket on things and remind everyone that most recent polls still show Hillary beating Cruz, sometimes outside the margin of error. Moreover, this is not a bad reflection of the country’s electoral and demographic makeup, which is becoming bluer by the year. That’s just a fact. And the liberal media is already projecting their image of Cruz to the public: a creepy, crazy guy with a weird face that nobody likes. The nastiness will only intensify if he becomes the nominee. And, sad but true, it will sway far more people than any policy position.

But it doesn’t matter, because this election is not about beating Hillary Clinton. It never was.

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The Faith of Ronald Reagan

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A couple of months ago, I was inspired to dig into Ronald Reagan’s personal diary, which he kept almost daily during all eight years of his presidency. It’s a fascinating chronicle of the great and small, dull and momentous moments that make up the life of a president. It also gives real insight into Reagan’s character and personality. We get a vivid sense of his quick wit, his canniness, and his utterly sincere love for the American people. We also get a sense of his faith, sometimes in quiet, small ways that would never make it onto a Wikipedia page.

By coincidence, Summit Ministries told me they were thinking about putting together some profiles of Christian leaders. So, I’ve kicked it off with this article, which you can now read here. In it, I share some stories about Reagan’s faith and character that you might not have heard before. I hope you enjoy it!

Not Without Witness: An Easter Reflection

…[A]nd then, suddenly, we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe. — Richard Dawkins

Easter Sunday is the Christian’s yearly reminder that our faith is unlike any other. Where other religions traffic in the elusive and the intangible, Christianity is planted firmly in the concrete. No other religion places the stakes so high. The Apostle Paul wrote that if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is vain. If this physical event did not take place at this physical moment in time, when Caiaphas was the high priest, Pilate was the governor, and Tiberius was the emperor, then we are of all men most miserable.

The mundane particularity of it all must not be lost. It marks the place where our faith is anchored. We trust not in a comforting notion or a platitude, but in the most real and solid of occurrences: a man dead, and that same man alive again.

We human beings are creatures of the tangible. We invest ourselves emotionally in what we can see, touch, and embrace. When those bonds are broken, whether through betrayal, loss, or simple loneliness, maintaining faith in things beyond our grasp does not come easily to us. This is why it’s not enough to encourage a doubting friend by saying, “You just need to believe harder.” We must be prepared to answer the question, “Why should I?” Yet we have the answer. Indeed, we have the best possible answer. The gospel is a record of a real moment in real time, preserved and handed down from generation to generation. On some days we feel like believing it. Other days, we may not. It doesn’t matter. The record remains, an ever-fixed mark.

Christian, ask yourself not what you feel, but what you know. Perhaps your pastor had a profound moral failing, and perhaps the church board turned a blind eye. You feel betrayed, but what do you know? Perhaps you are caught in a vicious cycle of temptation. You feel despairing, but what do you know? Perhaps you simply can’t sense God’s presence like you used to. You feel isolated, but what do you know?

This is where our hope is found: It is found in the still-empty tomb of the One who who did not leave himself without witness. In the words of the Apostle John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

This Easter week, let us encourage ourselves and each other with this great good news: that while in this world we will have trouble, Christ has overcome the world.

What (Some) Politicians Have in Common With Southern Gospel Singers

GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio has had a rough weekend. Even before his dismal showing in Saturday’s polls, he had to slog through a taxing debate on Friday while battling a very hoarse, sore throat. After the debate, he broke tradition by giving the other candidates a fist bump instead of a handshake, to avoid spreading his cold. (Though it’s debatable that anybody would have minded had he given Donald Trump a handful of cold germs.)

It just so happened that the next day, I was chatting with my good friend Michael Booth before going to see a Booth Brothers concert. Michael told me that he had almost canceled the trio’s weekend dates, because he, too, had come down with the flu.

This coincidence led me to reflect on some of the ways that the business of politics can resemble the business of singing gospel music. Before I get attacked by ardent gospel music fans, rest assured that the comparison is not meant cynically! These are just my observations of the enormous physical and mental demands that are made on politicians and gospel music singers alike, and of how people of good will in both professions can rise to the occasion.

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A Simple Plea for Super Tuesday

My readership is largely concentrated in the South, so if that describes you, I feel moved to write something brief for your benefit on this Super Tuesday.

Donald Trump is poised to sweep the states that are casting their votes today for the Republican nominee. If neither Ted Cruz nor Marco Rubio can siphon off a sizable chunk of delegates, the race will be effectively over. Even if Cruz holds down his home state of Texas, it could well be effectively over.

It is sad but true that people have tended to categorize Ted Cruz with Donald Trump in their minds as “both outsiders,” “both insurgents,” and “both people the establishment hates.” On the other hand, particularly for people who obsess over the immigration issue, Marco Rubio is perceived as the one candidate they would never vote for.

The truth is that of these three candidates, the two who have the most in common are Cruz and Rubio, not Cruz and Trump. Yes, I have disagreements with Rubio, and yes, I was disappointed to see him dip his toe in some Trump-style smear tactics in South Carolina. But as the debate last week should have made clear, Cruz and Rubio are a united front against Trump. Some still hold out hope for a more concrete alliance to form between them, but that seems unlikely. At this point, the best we can hope for is that Trump is slowed enough for the party to limp its way to a brokered convention.

That’s where you, dear readers and voters, come in. At this point, unless you live in Texas, in which case you should hope Cruz wins as big as possible, I honestly do not care whether you prefer him to Rubio or vice versa. Flip a coin. Roll a die. But for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t sell your soul to Donald Trump. Don’t pledge your fealty to this vulturous shell of a man who despises you almost as much as he loves himself. Don’t make the same mistake so many other souls have made, some calculating and opportunistic like Gov. Chris Christie, some just simple folk who are easily duped, others consumed with rage and bitterness who positively want America to burn. Yes, I realize some of those souls include Benghazi heroes, Sarah Palin, even (alas) Phyllis Schlafly. But you still have a choice. Your own conscience still lies in your own hands. If you let it slip through your fingers now, you will never recover it.

If you do not heed this warning, then may God have mercy on your soul for what is about to happen.

And the Ones Left Standing Carry On

February 13th 2016 will go down as the day conservatism died in America. It died on a West Texas ranch. And it died on a stage in South Carolina. — Mike Adams

Justice Scalia funeral
Pall-bearers take up the casket of Justice Antonin Scalia

The results of Saturday’s South Carolina primary should break the heart of every American conservative. Yet, sadly, they should not have been unexpected. The signs were all there exactly a week before. On February 13th, as the nation reeled from the death of Justice Scalia, Donald Trump added insult to injury by dominating the Republican debate stage with childish tantrums and 9/11 conspiracy theories. One image summed it all up: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio bickering with each other across Trump, who stood between them with a satisfied smirk on his face. It foreshadowed the state primary’s final percentages all too well, as Cruz and Rubio exactly split second place, trailing Trump by double digits. Even among people who call themselves born-again Christians, Trump was regnant. His competitors will plow forward and continue to rally their supporters as best they can, but the numbers don’t lie: The death knell of American conservatism is ringing, and Donald Trump has sounded it.

Another bell tolled on Saturday, signifying another death: that of Justice Antonin Scalia. But while those present were gathered to mourn, Father Paul Scalia delivered a eulogy to his father that was anything but mournful. Full of love and light, it celebrated the legacy Scalia left for his family and his country. Yet this was not the half of Father Paul’s message. Yesterday, as I grieved the double death of Justice Scalia and the conservative principles he spent his life upholding, Father Paul reminded me, as he reminded the nation, where we must fix our gaze:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

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In Memoriam: Justice Scalia

You couldn’t have a better man at your side in a losing battle. What he’ll do if we win, I can’t imagine. — C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Justice Scalia with pipe

It would be impossible to do justice to the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a blog post, so I won’t even bother making the attempt. I am still in disbelief that he is gone. But I still felt a few words were in order to mark the passing of this legal giant and fearless warrior for Christ.

In losing Justice Scalia, we have lost a great steward of the Good. A staunch defender of life, marriage, and religious liberty, he upheld his sworn duty to interpret the Constitution as written even when other members of the Supreme Court stabbed their country in the back. In dissent after blistering dissent, he never failed to stand athwart the path of progressivism crying “Stop!” Like the character of MacPhee in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, Justice Scalia was the best man you could have at your side in a losing battle. Like Mr. Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, he understood that sometimes lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.

His last dissent, against the decision that declared gay “marriage” a constitutional right, may have been his best one yet. It is fitting and sobering that he should go out on this scathing, yet tragically true note: “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

In April, 1996, Scalia gave a speech at a Catholic prayer breakfast that closed with this profound word of wisdom: “If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” Scalia certainly suffered his share of contempt in life, and that contempt is reaching an almost demonic fever pitch in the wake of his death.

May the Church continue to take heart from the courageous legacy of Justice Scalia. The godless and the perverse may trample on his grave, but the truth will endure to all generations. We shall not see his like again.