White Nationalism, Radical Islam, and the Western Press

Nazis, racists, and white nationalists recently assembled in Charlottesville, VA and instigated a riot. Although information is still coming in, it appears that one man in particular purposefully drove his car into a crowd of people who had gathered to protest the alt right assembly. The media is, blessedly, all over this story, casting aspersions on the ideas of skinheads and other wannabe Nazis. There can be no amount of disapprobation heaped upon this movement sufficient to disparage its teachings. Of all people Christians ought to insist on the biblical truth that every person, of whatever skin color or ethnicity, is created in the image of God. The very idea of race—or of inferior or superior branches of humanity—is antithetical to the Scripture. There exist but two races on earth: the redeemed race and the fallen race.

Various strains of white nationalism have attempted to incorporate elements of Christianity, fusing these with a non-Christian ideology, evidently in an attempt to make their teachings more palatable. Racism is far more appealing if given divine sanction. That trend is increasing. Christianity, however, is an ill fit, and historically Christ had no place in the ideological roots of the moment—Nazism crushed biblical Christianity. National Socialism’s anti-religious bias helped, in fact, to secure its demise. The nations of the earth saw in Nazi ideology a belief system that was and is incompatible with civilized society, and which must never be allowed to find purchase in the competing philosophies of government and nationhood. Millions therefore died to eradicate it from the earth. While it continues to rear its ugly head, and while there will always be men attracted to its form of violence, the media response to Charlottesville, which is coming from across the political spectrum, reveals that nobody is fooled by the awkward draping of Christian rhetoric over Nazi ideas. It is still a virulently anti-social movement that is simply incompatible with the civilized nations of the earth.

The West has struggled, however, to think as clearly when confronted with the ideology of radical Islam. Radical Islamic fundamentalism is as virulently opposed to civilized society as is Nazism. Though coming from very different perspectives, each arrives at largely the same set of convictions, in which world subjugation and a stratified society—comprised of superior and inferior persons—results. Whereas Nazis attempt to divide the world by race, radical Islam purposes to do so by religion, pursuing the eradication and oppression of all those who refuse to bend the knee to their god.

The West respects religion. Religious wars in Europe fueled centuries of conflict, and it has only been relatively recently that the Western nations of the world have agreed that allowing religious liberty is a good idea. Enforced religious conformity—so far from creating national unity—fosters conflict. Religious freedom is thus a hard-earned right born of a series of costly lessons.

That very respect is, however, preventing the West from responding to radical Islam in the same way it responded and is still responding to Nazism. We are unwilling to condemn an ideology that is tangled up with a religious faith. Refusing to fight a war on radical Islam, we instead we fight a war on terror, as though terror is an opponent that can be engaged or defeated. Politicians and media outlets trip over themselves to affirm non-radical Muslims, for our leaders fear that any verbal attack on radical Muslims will somehow offend non-radical Muslims.

Contemporary alt right groups are wrong, but they are not stupid. They have seen that the media fears to cover the activities of radical Islam in the same way it covers KKK rallies. Where religion is present, the press—to a degree—backs off. The recent attempt of far right groups to paint themselves into the Christian mainstream thus makes perfect sense.
Fortunately, it does not appear that many people are buying it. These groups have no affinity with biblical Christianity, and those of us who follow Jesus should clearly repudiate their teachings and contrast their ideology with true, biblical Christianity. No matter how much they attempt to varnish their teachings with Christian rhetoric, their views are simply incompatible with Christ, and do not represent His Church.

Ideology and the Public Shaming of Christians

Recently I have read a number of articles that castigate American Christians for denying Jesus. The argument goes like this: Evangelical Christians are responsible for sending Donald Trump to the White House. Donald Trump’s policies toward the poor, the sick, and the marginalized do not reflect the compassion of Jesus. Therefore evangelical Christians functionally deny Jesus.

Common to these opinions is a failure to distinguish between personal practice and public policy. I am personally acquainted with any number of generous, compassionate, and Christ-like men and women who deny the proposition that the federal government is responsible for feeding for the poor, integrating the marginalized, and caring for the sick. Such men and women, while personally generous and kind, do not believe that the federal government offers the best answer to social ills. That conviction, rather than representing a departure from Jesus’ ethos and teaching, is in fact quite complementary to it.

Jesus never attempted to coerce the Roman Empire to alleviate poverty; He made no effort to impose government mandated healthcare on its people; He offered personal compassion to marginalized people, but did not pursue legislative means to force others to do the same. Government has its place, as does personal responsibility. The inability to distinguish between that which a government should do over against that which an individual or voluntary society of individuals—a charity—should do increasingly serves as ideological fodder for the public shaming of Christians.

Many Christians did indeed vote for Donald Trump; many others did not. Some are conservative, while others are liberal; many stand in between. Each person who identifies as Christian must decide how best to alleviate the challenges of poverty and hunger and social ostracism. For many, the federal government is not only an unappealing answer—it is an unbiblical answer, which absolves the individual of his or her responsibility to pursue Christ-like compassion, while undermining the works of faith-based charities. Others disagree.

Whatever decision each individual Christian makes, one truth is certain. The suggestion that a Christian who does not support a Big Government solution to social ills has denied Jesus is ludicrous.

On Being Judgmental

Is every act of discerning the honesty, integrity, or wisdom of a man’s words, actions, or character necessarily “judgmental?”

In Matthew 12:33-34 Jesus declared, “The tree is known by its fruit,” and turning to the Pharisees, He accused them, saying “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Was Jesus being judgmental, or was He rightly discerning—and pointing out—that the actions and words of the Pharisees stood at odds with their professed beliefs?

When James, the brother of the Lord, compared and contrasted true faith with so-called faith, he argued in James 2:17, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Was James being judgmental by pointing out the inconsistency between the stated beliefs and outward actions of those whose lives denied their supposed faith? Or was he rightly discerning—and revealing—hypocrisy?

Those who view any act of discerning between true and false, right and wrong, or wise and foolish as “judgmental” seem to believe that every act of discernment is necessarily fueled by self-righteous moral superiority. Yet neither Jesus nor James spoke out of a sinful self-righteousness or from a desire to harm the people to whom they spoke. They spoke the truth in love, which included revealing inconsistencies in the words, actions, or character of others in reference to their stated beliefs. Their stated beliefs. That is an important point.

If a man claims no affiliation to Christ, making no contention that Jesus has transformed his heart and purchased his affections, and if I insist on evaluating him according to the standards of Christian morality, then I am indeed judgmental, for I am holding the man accountable to meet a standard of conduct to which he never has committed himself. But if a man professes Christ, while at the same time his words, actions, and character deny Him, then he ought to be told that his life is failing to validate his stated faith, and that the picture he is presenting to a watching world is hypocritical. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul reprimanded the believers at Corinth, writing,

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.

American society will tell Christians that we cannot judge, by which it means that no person should make any discernment between true and false, right and wrong, or moral and immoral, and that if I dare to do so then I am “judgmental,” or even bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, or any number of other unflattering epithets. Evidently, the only allowable judgment is that there shall be no judgment.

Do not believe such inanity. Discernment is appropriate to Christians; it is, in fact, necessary. We must speak truth out of love. Like Paul, we have no business judging those outside the Church, for if I hold a man accountable to the standards of the Christian faith when he professes no such faith, then I am truly judgmental. Nor ought I to point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of my brothers and sisters in Christ out of a desire to wound them or from a sense of self-righteousness. Nevertheless, biblical discernment, springing from love and from a desire to see Christians honor Jesus through our words, actions, and character, is not merely acceptable; it is good.

Though not every act of discernment is therefore judgmental, is the Church acquitted of all charges? Hardly. Christians have often failed rightly to demonstrate the distinction between that which is discerning and that which is judgmental. Too often our “discernment” has been aimed at our culture, at those who stand outside the Church, and at those whom we believe are immoral. We have been quick to point out such immorality, as though the Church must morally police the world, while our judgments have carried a tone of self-righteousness, and we have too often spoken without love. At the same time, the moral laxity that pervades so many of our Churches testifies against us that we have not been faithful to turn our discernment inward—where it belongs—in order to promote and preserve holiness within the walls of our Churches.

Christians must hold accountable all who profess faith in Christ, and it is not judgmental to do so. It is biblical. As for those outside the Church, “God judges those outside.”

Pursuing a Better Country

What is your church equipping you to pursue?

Prosperity churches equip parishioners to pursue worldly wealth and comfort. Pastors are materially enriched; people are materially impoverished; all are spiritually bankrupt. Liberal churches equip congregants to pursue cultural respect. Pastors languish in unbelief; people go through altruistic motions; all are spiritually bankrupt. Evangelical churches equip members to pursue political and cultural influence. Pastors shill a political party; people feed on conservatism and American Civil Religion; all become spiritually bankrupt.

What is your church equipping you to pursue? What should your church be equipping you to pursue?

According to Hebrews 11:10, Abraham lived as a sojourner on earth for “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” In fact, verse 16 reveals his heart when it says that he desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Are you pursuing that city in that country? Moreover, is your church equipping you to pursue it?

Find a church in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, in which the Kingdom of God is not conflated with a political party, in which personal holiness within the walls of the church preoccupies the congregation more than does the act of morally policing society outside those walls, and in which God’s people are self-consciously sojourning together toward the city with foundations. Your church should be equipping you to pursue that.

Not societal transformation. Not moral reform. Not political control. Not material prosperity. Not a place at the cultural table. Not any of these. Pursue the city that has foundations, sojourning in community with others who love Christ, calling upon all people everywhere to leave the darkness and to join our merry band of pilgrims in the marvelous light of our God.

The journey is not easy, but in the end we will arrive at the “better country,” where the saints have gone before us, and where Christ awaits to welcome us home.

Coffee, with a Shot of Eternal Life

Published studies have recently confirmed that those who drink coffee—even lots of it—tend to live longer than those who do not. The problem is that I don’t want to live longer; I just want to drink lots of coffee.

Don’t get me wrong. I suffer no death wish, and not unlike most men, I hope to walk my daughters down the isle someday, and to enjoy vacations with my wife after our nest is empty. The Western world’s obsession with longevity is, however, something in which I cannot participate. Why? Because of sin.

The Bible teaches that the men and women who lived before the Flood lived a very long time, and I do not envy them, for the Bible also says that God looked down on the earth in those days and saw that “every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil all the time.” The world in which they lived was corrupt, and that corruption also lived within their hearts. It lives within mine too. But whereas I might suffer life lived in a world of sin and of struggle against my own heart for 80 or 90 years, they suffered it ten times as long. And that’s the rub: I love coffee, but I hate living in a world that is fallen. I long for better.

I do eventually want to live forever. I just don’t want to live forever while sin still brings war and disease and rape and ruin and suffering and death. When Jesus returns to judge, He will restore all things, purging both me and this world of sin. Then, and only then, will living forever be worth it.

Until then, I will continue to consume egregious amounts of coffee, not because I hope to live longer, but because coffee is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. More than that, Jesus is proof that God desires our eternal happiness, and He has already paid the price to secure it.

Smoke Machines and Self-Worship

Emotion is a legitimate part of worship. To define worship as emotion is, however, idolatry. Worship has far more to do with glorifying God than with how I feel when I glorify Him. The very word—worship—means to ascribe worth. When Christians gather to worship, we gather to ascribe worth to our Triune God. Fundamentally, worship is about Him, not me; it is for Him, not for my emotional satisfaction.

Broad segments of contemporary evangelical Christianity informally define worship as that which makes me feel worshipful. Not that they would ever say so, but the cultivation of an emotional buzz has become the raison d’etre of the worship service. If singing song after song after song in a darkened room, while a band rocks out under stage lights to a belching smoke machine makes me feel worshipful, then I will define such rocking out as worship. But is it? While feeling an emotional buzz during singing may be a byproduct of genuine worship, genuine worship does not aim at producing a buzz; it aims at glorifying the Lord. It is less concerned with my buzz than with doing that which God desires. And how can I know what God desires in worship? The Bible tells me so.

The heritage and history of Protestant Christianity is one that exalts the Word of God as the sole authority for the doctrines and practices of the Church. Not church councils. Not popes. Not popular movements. The Bible. But this generation of American Protestants has a different authority. Rome exalts tradition over Scripture; atheists exalt science over Scripture; and contemporary Protestants exalt their feelings over Scripture. Confession of sin is a bummer, so we don’t do that in worship, even though such confession is commanded in Scripture and ascribes worth to Jesus Christ, who is the only Savior from such sin. Singing, however—that really makes me feel good, so let’s do more of that. Only we can’t sing anything that is old or hard to sing or intellectually challenging or that doesn’t give me an emotional buzz, because when you really get down to it, I am worshipping the buzz. And the buzz gets what the buzz wants.

When the buzz becomes the idol that a given congregation worships, then that congregation is in its death throes. It may have strong attendance; it may boast stable finances; it may even enjoy committed leadership, but it is dying nonetheless. Idolatry, in the name and guise of true worship, is still idolatry. And God never blesses idolatry. Unless repented, idolatry kills. Every time.

Maybe you attend such a church, love it, and think that I’m a big doo-doo head. But do you just feel that I’m a doo-doo head, or can you show me from the Bible why you worship the way you do, and how Jesus is glorified through a smoke machine? And that’s the point: Either the Word of God is the authority for all that we believe and do, or it is not. If it is, then we have a duty to examine it, and to craft services of worship that focus on glorifying God, even if such services might not buzz me emotionally the way I like.

When it comes down to it, worship, and every element in it—including singing—is supposed to be for God and for His pleasure. I might very well be emotionally enriched while I strive to please Him, but if I strive to be emotionally enriched—to get buzzed on worship—then I’m really just worshipping an idol. In fact, I’m worshipping me.

Jesus came to rescue me from self-worship, not for it.

All or Nothing and the Death of Discernment

America is becoming infected with an all-or-nothing mentality, the result of which is the death of discernment.

We are red or blue, black or white, college educated or not college educated, pro-life or pro-choice. The list goes on, and the casualties mount. As we polarize, the center weakens; we see only extremes. We are extremes.

Abraham was a man of faith, commended as such by the authors of the New Testament. And Abraham was also a liar and a slave owner. Gideon was a man of faith, commended as such in the Book of Hebrews. And Gideon, after nominally refusing to become the king of Israel, named his son Abimelech, which means “my father is king.” David was a man of faith—a man after God’s own heart—and was commended as such in the pages of the New Testament. And David was also an adulterer and murderer. These men were worthy of admiration as examples of faith, and, at the same time, were immoral, rebellious, often blind to their sin, and wicked in very public ways. The authors of the New Testament were able to view them with discernment, praising that which was indeed noble and faithful within them, while not ignoring their very real faults. These men were both faithful and sinful.

Why have we as a society lost the ability to say that? Recently, the City of New Orleans has systematically removed public statues that commemorate various Civil War figures. The statues are being removed because the men in question fought for the Confederacy. This post is not, however, about the statues. Rather, it is about the way in which the argument over those statues reveals our eroding faculties of discernment.

Those defending the presence of the statues paint verbal halos around the heads of Lee and Jackson and others, minimizing their sins, which only infuriates those who would see the statues fall. Conversely, those who advocate for the removal of the statues vilify Lee and Jackson and others, minimizing their virtues, which only infuriates those who would see the statues remain.

It is not simply statues that testify. Trump supporters can hear no criticism of their champion; Trump haters can hear no praise. It was the same with President Obama. All Muslims are bad—terrorists waiting to happen. Or all Muslims are good, peace-loving people. I am either an LGBT advocate or a homophobic hater. If you come to speak at my university, but do not promote my agenda, I’ll riot until your visit is cancelled, for I cannot even hear you—you are bad, and only bad. Shall I refuse to acknowledge the brilliance and dignity of Martin Luther King, Jr. because he was also a serial adulterer? Great men have great faults; can we not simply acknowledge both truths?

This is nonsense, all of it. It defies common sense. Human life, and all its endeavors, is a mixture of truth and error, of honor and dishonor, of genuine piety and genuine sin, of right and wrong, and of various shades and admixtures. Only sheer folly refuses to acknowledge the tremendous faith of Abraham—which was credited to him as righteousness—because of his sin. It is a willful blindness, a chosen ignorance, and a public shame to do so. It is the death of discernment. And it is no different with Stonewall Jackson or Donald Trump or Barack Obama or MLK any other human being who has ever lived.

Except Jesus.

And that means that when Christians, who know that Jesus is the only perfect man, engage in this kind of polarizing rhetoric along with our senseless society, we leave ourselves without salt to preserve the rot, and without light to shine in the darkness. If the Church is just a reflection of the world and a shill for a socially or politically conservative viewpoint—whatever that is—then our prophetic voice is dead, and we should just be silent and mourn.

Basic discernment might be dying in the world, but it must not die in the Church. Our testimony to Jesus requires it.