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.

Continue reading “This Election is Not About Beating Hillary Clinton”

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.

Continue reading “What (Some) Politicians Have in Common With Southern Gospel Singers”

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.

Continue reading “And the Ones Left Standing Carry On”

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.

The Pro-Life Generation and the Soul of the GOP

Whatever the outcome of this campaign season, we are indebted to Marco Rubio for making it clear where the battle lines for the Republican Party’s soul have been drawn on the issue of abortion.

Republican Presidential candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio (L) speaks as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looks on during the Republican Presidential debate sponsored by Fox News at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa on January 28, 2016.
Left: Marco Rubio; Right: Jeb Bush

By some standards, Marco Rubio had a bad night in the New Hampshire Republican primary debate on Saturday. He was blind-sided by older establishment candidates, particularly a dangerously desperate Chris Christie. In a dog-eat-dog primary where Rubio’s star appears to be rising and theirs fading, they have one simple goal: Bring him crashing down before he is out of range. Never mind that American voters are plainly no longer interested in what Bush, Christie and their ilk are peddling. Never mind that what gets applause in New Hampshire is not likely to go over well outside their handkerchief-sized stomping ground. All that matters is that Rubio has committed the unpardonable sins of a) not waiting his turn, and b) stealing their votes after not waiting his turn. For that, the establishment is determined to make him pay, out of sheer jealous spite.

To be clear, I am personally not convinced that Rubio is the absolute best choice for the Republican nomination. And yes, on pure rhetoric, he stumbled badly under Christie’s frontal assault. (His main gaffe was continuing to repeat an anti-Obama talking point word-for-word, even while Christie was mocking him for it.)

But something else happened on Saturday night, something that far outweighs this misstep for me. There was one issue on which Rubio rose head and shoulders above the candidates who were trying to take him down. I’m talking about the issue of life. As I watched Bush and Christie attack Rubio for being “too pro-life” on the New Hampshire stage (and draw applause for it), it became clear that I was witnessing a pivotal turning-point in American politics. I was witnessing nothing less than a battle for the soul of the Republican party.

Continue reading “The Pro-Life Generation and the Soul of the GOP”

5 Principles for Christian Voters

Recently, I was commissioned to write an article for Summit Ministries on how Christians can engage thoughtfully with the political process. It was published largely as is on the official Summit website, but I wanted to share the original version with you readers. Enjoy, and join the conversation here or on Facebook!

As Christians, how now shall we engage with the political process? Here are five principles to guide your thinking as you prayerfully prepare to cast a vote.

1. Know where your identity lies.

If you are a Christian, your identity does not ultimately lie in your political affiliation, or even your citizenship. It ultimately lies in Christ. If we ground our identity in our political party, we become vulnerable to demagogues and mass manipulators who tickle our ears with what we want to hear. Our faith must inform our political engagement, not the other way around.

2. Do not be afraid to take a stand.

Some Christians mistakenly believe that there should be a sharp divide between the realm of the church and the realm of the state. If a pastor speaks his mind from the pulpit about a pressing moral issue that happens to have political ramifications, they believe he has crossed a line that should not be crossed. But this conflates taking a stand on a question of right versus wrong with making an official political endorsement. A pastor should certainly not turn his sermons into campaign advertisements, but he should not quarantine uncomfortable moral truths in a file labeled “politics” either.

3. Maintain clear priorities.

We are constantly told by other people where our voting priorities should lie. For Christians, some priorities will always be unpopular with the surrounding culture, particularly those that touch on life, death, or sexuality. Sadly, what should be non-negotiable for a Christian may become less so for the politicians in Washington who are supposed to represent our interests. As Christians, we should maintain an open mind on matters of comparatively minor importance, but on the essentials, we cannot allow our standards to be set for us. We must come to the polls with our own priorities firmly set in our minds, even if that leads us to leave parts of the ballot as blank as they were when we walked in.

4. Do not be swayed by peer pressure.

Peer pressure is powerful, and it is not limited to just one side of the political spectrum. One common refrain around voting season is that no matter how we feel about the candidate chosen to represent “our” side, we must always vote for the lesser of two evils. By this logic, a vote withheld or cast for an off-beat candidate is equivalent to a vote for “the other guy.” This is false, both mathematically and morally. The Christian voter is not duty-bound to endorse a candidate whose values do not align with his own. To withhold such an endorsement is not wasting one’s right to vote. On the contrary, it recognizes the power a vote carries.

5. Do not pin your soul to any man’s back.

Inevitably, there are leaders we look up to and trust now who will fail us badly in the future. It has happened in the past, and human nature shows no signs of changing. This is not to say that we must suddenly regard all those we admire with a jaded, cynical eye. But we would do well to heed the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons: “I’ll not pin my soul to any man’s back, no, not the best man I know.” We must hold our loyalties with an open hand, prepared to release them if and when it emerges that they were misplaced.

If there was ever a time for Christians to be passionately and prayerfully engaged in the political process, the time is now. A passive, isolationist church is the last thing our country needs. Our country needs Christian voters who understand that bluster does not equal boldness, insults do not equal honesty, and arrogance does not equal strength. It also needs voters who understand that in the end, there can be only one leader and one savior of the world. If we look for that savior in Washington, we are looking in the wrong direction. In the end, there can be only one leader and one savior. If we look for that savior in Washington, we are looking in the wrong direction.