I recognize the human condition. We tend to cover (sometimes erroneously) for those we approve of, and to vilify (sometimes erroneously) those we dislike. Those who support Trump’s handling of COVID would probably have vilified Obama even if his actions had been precisely the same, and vice versa. It’s simply the way we’re wired. So, we’re wise to take a step back and look at the mosaic with as much objectivity as possible….
Recall that, when Trump shut down travel between the US and China in late January, he was called a racist reactionary. His leadership was called into question. 10 weeks later, many are saying Trump didn’t do enough.
So, evidently, he was a poor leader for reacting too soon, but also a poor leader for not reacting soon enough.
Again, human condition. We’re all guilty.
We’ve been told that COVID is an unknown, which is why we’re throwing every conceivable idea at the wall to see what sticks. So, we’re submitting to government restrictions while simultaneously (and selectively) crying “poor leadership”. And, those leading us (from the top all the way down) are telling us publicly that they don’t have a precise understanding of what we’re dealing with.
The entire situation makes about as much sense as the previous paragraph.
For review: Many worried of 1918-level mortality rates. In reality, we’re nowhere near that. CA’s governor predicted that half his state would be infected (that’s around 20 million). Early alarmist predictions for the US en masse were 2 million deaths. That was then reduced to 250k, then 100k, then 60k. As I write this, we’re under 40k and some are saying that we’ve hit the peak. All of the model projections have been flawed - sometimes profoundly so. And, that’s understandable since this is a novel virus. We’ve played it safe because, again, we don’t fully understand what we’re dealing with. But, it appears that this lack of understanding may have led us to something of an overreach (and that observation may prove, in retrospect, to be a masterpiece of understatement).
I don’t mean to imply that COVID isn’t bad. It’s obviously terrible. But, in 1918, the body count was somewhere around 50 million. With COVID, we’re currently 4-6 months into it with 154k deaths worldwide. A terrible number, but not in any way commensurate with the early predictions (let alone the Spanish Flu).
Any “success” will tempt us to laud the Social Distancing movement. But, just as a “for instance”: I’ve been out a few times over the last several weeks. In my congested county, many are going about their business (despite having been encouraged not to). Traffic keeps moving. The grocery stores and take-out places are quite busy (albeit with many using the face masks that we’re told work quite well, or possibly not at all). Despite that, our total COVID diagnosis count is currently at 33 (and possibly one death, but it’s not showing up here). My state of TN has a population of almost 9 million. Thus far, the COVID mortality count in TN is 141.
Importantly, the virus has, almost without question, been in the US since last fall (consider the amount of travel between China and the US from September through January 31). That means that countless people have likely had COVID and were either asymptomatic, or were misdiagnosed. Either way, most of them are alive.
We’re wise to be circumspect before attributing blame / praise to anyone or anything. Based on current trends, I hope the over-arching question coming out of this will be: Was this virus bad enough to warrant our response to it? Will the years-long economic consequences of shutting down create more suffering than the virus ever could have? We can’t yet know the answer. But, it’s a reasonable question that thoughtful people ought to be asking.
Trump, Dr. Fauci, state Governors, and everyone else will need to be assessed in that light… which will be tough to do without the benefit of hindsight.
For its entire existence, authentic Christianity has been marginalized. We shouldn’t pretend that our current experience is a new one. It’s simply the modern (and very Western) expression of what has transpired within Christendom for 2000 years. But, we are most certainly “Western”. And, like those in every era before us, our experience is unique.
There is history here. The Scopes Trial of 1925 might be a good reference point. Then the 60’s happened, and then Roe vs. Wade. With particular emphasis on that last item, we can trace a rising public tide in opposition to Evangelical Christianity. For 45 years, many within the Church have rightly denounced abortion as one of the great evils of our time. Since many Progressives (even in the Church) see abortion rights as sacrosanct, their rhetoric against those who oppose those rights has steadily increased. And, this has provided a convenient spring-board into other points of cultural disagreement which can be exploited. This serves to push historically-minded Believers ever further into the margins.
The West has been culturally programmed to believe that Progressive thinking is pure and in-keeping with Democratic ideals. We’re taught that anyone opposing Progressivism is neanderthal, and that Tolerance is among the chief aims of the Western mind…. so long as it doesn’t include anything with which the Left disagrees. The primary enemy is anything resembling Conservatism. THAT, of course, shouldn’t be tolerated.
Those labels have traditionally been used to describe politics. But, they now accurately portray the disparate theological paradigms within the Church, and they generally coincide with one’s political persuasion. Stated differently, the labels have become somewhat interchangeable in their application to the political and the religious.
One could say that those with a Conservative worldview have simply attempted to maintain historical orthodoxy (first theologically, and then in the public square). Nonetheless, the Left has done a good job of convincing the culture that the Right is evil. And, in many circles, the Church has now fallen prey to that view. There are multiple Christian authors / bloggers (Rachel Held Evans, John Pavlovitz, Jen Hatmaker, Nadia Bolz-Weber, etc.) all decrying the evils of Conservatism, both in the political and religious sense. But, what they are criticizing is a caricature. They rightly decry the Prosperity Gospel, but then seem to equate all of Western Christendom with it (and then delve further into the domain of opinion and preference, often utilizing a novel interpretation of Biblical principle as their source, on topics too numerous to tackle here). They have grown up in a world where anything historically orthodox or "pre-modern" is deemed archaic and wrong-headed, and they’ve now superimposed that view onto Evangelicalism. As a result, they are arbitrarily deconstructing the very thing they claim to represent. They are creating a god in their own image - one that is safe, that everyone will like, and that will require them to take no culturally unpopular positions.
And, they seem pretty angry. They reveal in themselves a refusal to submit to anything beyond their own agendas, most of which are dictated by the culture in which they reside. A God that requires submission on terms other than their own is unacceptable and petty to them, as they seem to prize control over all else.
Yet, they simultaneously lay claim to the Christ who selflessly relinquished control to the point of a horrific death on a Cross, in order to pay the penalty for their egregious hubris. THAT brand of submission resonates with them…. so long as they don’t have to mimic it.
Their arrogance has led them to believe that our generation has somehow arrived at “the ultimate historic moment” (to rob from Tim Keller) - that God has decided WE are the chosen ones to whom He is finally revealing the whole Truth (as if the apostles and martyrs before us were utterly blind). They argue against a small grain of truth, and then extrapolate it into a narrative wherein the majority of historical, orthodox Christian thought needs to be seen as abusive.
And, in so doing, they defeat significant facets of their own argument. They reveal that they are neither tolerant, nor Christian (at least in the historical sense of the term).
But, because of our cultural deference to that mindset, many contemporary Christians are blindly falling for it, assuming that anyone who opposes abortion, embraces traditional sex ethics, or understands the need for a national border must be profoundly at odds with Biblical Christianity.
Oddly, one of the catalysts for Leftism within the Church was an irritation with Conservatives and their involvement in the political realm. We’re now seeing the precise opposite happening, but few seem to notice the irony. If it is wrong for the Right to be politically involved, I wonder why it’s okay for the Left.
I concede the principle of “eating the meat, and spitting out the bones”. And, in that vein, there are certainly a handful of criticisms coming from the Left that Conservatives need to hear. But, when the onion is peeled, the motives for said criticisms become highly suspect. Thus, Believers who fully embrace and advertise Progressivism may not fully understand what they’re doing.
We should remember that the most effective kind of lie is the one that is peppered with some truth. Because of our current lack of Biblical literacy within the Church, we often have a hard time seeing the lie coldly staring us in the face.
And, in that inability to discern Truth from error, we give airtime to those who are consistently antagonistic to historical orthodoxy. We do it because they are culturally relevant. They make us feel good, and they let us off the hook for having to stem the tide of public opinion. How quickly we forget that the way is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). When Believers are in lock step with the cultural whims of the day, it’s a safe bet we’re playing for the wrong team.
When I began blogging, it was never my intent to zero in on John Pavlovitz. I don’t mean to pick on him. But, he makes it so easy.
He isn’t the only problem. There is an entire movement afoot within Christendom that wants to re-write the play book. Their commentary must be addressed. And, Pavlovitz is one of the most visible among them.
With his latest offering, Pavlovitz does a particularly swell job of showcasing his self-righteous hubris. He doesn’t realize it, of course. If he did, he wouldn’t put it on display. To those who know better, it creates the appearance of a lack of piety. And, the entire narrative of Left-ist Christianity is that their piety is truly God-breathed - a lofty aim to which all of us should aspire.
But, piety and arrogance cannot coexist. Christians know this.
Pavlovitz’ article reads like an homage to his own virtue. He goes on a lengthy rant, bragging about the many ways in which he did not and does not support Trump. This evidently makes him holier than those who, based on a similar problem of conscience, could not vote for Hillary Clinton.
Pavlovitz is clear: He’s not one of THOSE miscreants. And, evidently, he is therefore more nuanced, more evolved, and perhaps more useful to the cause of Christ.
But, as I pointed out in a previous blog, what was the alternative? If Trump’s opponent had been a moral person, then Pavlovitz might have a point. But, the cries of “immoral” from the Left completely ignore the fact that Clinton is exceedingly immoral herself (not to mention her husband). And, further, while the Left extols the virtues of the outgoing Barack Obama, they ignore the fact that he enthusiastically presided over God knows how many abortions during his 8 years (to cite just one moral issue - and, yes, it still ought to be a huge issue for Christians who hold to orthodoxy).
True, Clinton and Obama are both cosmetically better-looking than Trump. But, the irony is that this seemingly immoral man may turn out to be far more moral as a president than his opponent would have been (not to mention his moral-looking predecessor). Time will tell.
Here’s the larger point: Pavlovitz’ and other neo-Evangelicals believe that they have arrived at the ultimate historical moment. They believe that “true Christianity” has finally been transmitted to.... themselves.
Not Paul. Not Peter. Not Polycarp or the other early Christian martyrs. Not Luther, Zwingli, Spurgeon, Chambers, Tozer, Chesterton or any other great orthodox Christian thinker. No, Pavlovitz and the other 21st century enlightened folks - THEY are the ones to whom God has finally given the truth. And, for them, the “truth” is that Christ-followers for 2,000 years (including every name mentioned above) have gotten almost everything wrong. Post-Enlightenment thought has, in their view, provided the correct foundation for understanding Christ and dispensing with unnecessary doctrines and dogmas.
And, this belief is leading them to some odd conclusions. The false contrast they are painting between Trump and Clinton is one example. Like so many of their other conclusions, it lacks the intellectual consistency they demand from their opponents.
Their myopia could be excused (maybe) if it wasn’t so devoid of self-appraisal.
Is it really possible that so many Christians are falling for this mindset? Is the error not patently obvious?
Emergent Christianity has gotten a stranglehold on a large sect of the Church. But, make no mistake: It isn’t the Gospel at all. I wish more of Pavlovitz’ readers could understand that they are like hogs being led to the slaughter.
My friends know that I do not defend Trump. It would help our national conversation if those on the Left would stop defending Hillary Clinton. Or, at least, stop vilifying Trump as though Clinton had been some kind of cherubic goddess. If Trump is the Hitlerian tyrant that you believe he is, it will quickly become clear to all of us.
And, I will be marching with you in protest.
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison. It was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind… It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” - C.S. Lewis
We don't usually think of ourselves as “prideful”. My own pride never truly dawned on me until I was comfortably into my 20's. It is a painful realization that usually comes through humiliating mistakes. I wish I could say I’ve finally gotten a handle on it. But, those closest to me know I still have some work to do.
Over the years, I've tried to minimize the problem by distinguishing between “good pride” and “bad pride”. Like taking pride in my work, or my sobriety. Taking pride in one’s children is healthy, isn't it?
Not so much. If we take pride in our kids, eventually, we'll judge any parent whose kids don’t meet with our approval. And, just like that, the gap between "good" and "bad" pride is bridged.
The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that "good pride" is exceedingly rare.... if it even exists at all.
Here’s an experiment for you: Log onto Facebook. Read through your newsfeed. When you get to a political post that really bothers you, live with it for a minute. Let your opposing opinion fester. Glory in your opponent’s wrong-headedness. Like the Pharisee in Luke, get on your knees and thank God “that you’re not like other men”.
Of course, no one does that. But, for the 2 or 3 readers who are like me….
….What I just described is pride. Even if our reaction to the Facebook post (or our spouse, or parent, or whatever it is) is a legitimate one - even if the thought or behavior to which we object is indeed wrong - our reaction to it is fueled in some way by pride.
Actually, it's worse than that. Even when the specific offense is someone else’s arrogance, the thing inside us that drives the offense…. is our own arrogance.
It’s insidious. This is why C.S. Lewis’ commentary is so spot-on. We cannot escape our own hubris, even when our reasons for offense are legit.
It suddenly occurs to me that my wife might read this post. That ought to be interesting, since she knows me so well.
Whenever we have marital conflict, pride is the engine that drives it. There’s the predictable “pride begets pride” sequence of events. In those moments, we’re both committed to our right-ness. Even when one of us is lodging a legitimate complaint, the “yeah, but YOU” response inevitably gets thrown in. That shuts down the discussion, and the conflict remains unresolved. So, one of us gets the satisfaction of having the last word. But, we’re both the worse for it because the problem will persist.
And, it's probably my fault more often than not.
That’s what pride does. That’s why it is the chief sin that gives birth to all others. Pride made David think he could have Bathsheba. Pride has fooled countless despotic rulers into thinking they could conquer the world. Pride creates and sustains racism, sexism, age-ism, and every other -ism. It keeps us from forgiving. It keeps relationships strained. It leaves a trail of lost opportunities in its wake.
And, I am the chief of all sinners.
I sometimes wonder about the people along my path who’ve been the recipients of my damnable pride. I can never adequately make amends. What’s worse, I can’t promise that it won’t happen again.
Even after God has (repeatedly) convicted me of my sin, how quickly I forget. How quickly I return to familiar patterns. And, sometimes when it's too late to repair the damage, I am reminded of the pain I cause others because of my rebellion.
This week, we celebrate a baby who came into the world with no honor. Eventually, He submitted to death on a cross. And the cross He died on was mine. It should have been me bleeding and dying for my arrogance. But, this Jesus we celebrate, who deserved honor - instead He spent His life forfeiting His rights, and humbly gave up His life for mine.
There is no better antidote for pride than soaking in that Truth.
John Pavlovitz is a popular Christian blogger right now. His writings are devoured by the Progressive wing of Christianity. Other bloggers who share his general worldview are Rachel Held Evans, Matthew Paul Turner, and Jen Hatmaker. Maybe you’ve heard of them.
Pavlovitz recently wrote this piece as an encouragement to those in pain after a difficult election cycle. I appreciate his spirit in writing the article. I genuinely mean that.
But, the article itself is infuriating. Among other things, Pavlovitz is suggesting (self-righteously) that Trump’s character is so bad that the Christian Right who voted for him are responsible for his actions - that we are required to put ourselves between the oppressor and the oppressed.
Using Pavlovitz’ logic, I could turn the tables and ask these questions:
1. Where was the Christian Left on abortion?
2. Where was the Christian Left on marriage?
3. Where was the Christian Left on Benghazi?
4. Where was the Christian Left when Hillary was destroying the women who accused her husband of sexual violations?
5-15. Fill in the blank.
Given the Christian Left’s views on abortion alone, it’s interesting that they now tell me I need to put myself between the oppressor and the oppressed. That is rich.
Look, Donald Trump was a horrible candidate and I never defended him. But, the cries from the Left about his character flaws are utterly hollow. If Hillary Clinton had been someone of character, I suppose we could stomach the criticism. But, that wasn’t the case.
Here’s the thing….
We gave up our right to be outraged over poor sexual ethics when our culture submitted to the sexual revolution. 20 years ago, when Bill Clinton committed *the same sins of which Trump is now accused*, those of us who cried foul were told in no uncertain terms that those things don’t matter anymore. We were told to grow up and shut up. But, now, it's suddenly "shocking" when Trump turns out to be a philanderer? That's quite a double-standard.
And, Hillary Clinton is of course married to Bill, and was complicit in trying to destroy those who accused him.
And, the Wikileaks documents bring other issues to light. If Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic primary, for instance, he might very well be the President Elect right now. But, the evidence suggests he was pushed to the side….
I’m actually shocked that more Democrats aren’t furious about that. But, self-appraisal is a lot harder than simply blaming the whole thing on the barely-quantifiable number of White Supremacists left in the country.
In short, there aren’t many remaining (even on the Left) who haven’t figured out that the Clintons are corrupt. And, that’s probably one of the reasons Donald Trump won. A guy like that shouldn’t have been able to beat Hillary Clinton. But, he did.
Here’s the point: Few Progressives actually weep over Trump’s character problems. Their outrage is feigned. Many of them (even some within the Church) have preached some version of “moral relativism” for years. So, I’m trying to understand what grounds they now use to deem ANYTHING “wrong”. It would seem they are simply mad that their candidate lost. And, believe me, I understand that. We all do. But, the charges leveled at Trump voters would be a lot more legitimate if Hillary Clinton hadn’t been such a radically flawed candidate.
So, to my Progressive friends (both within the Church and outside of it): Maybe take a look at yourselves. YOU are the ones who defended an indefensible candidate. Many Trump voters weren’t defending their candidate at all. They simply voted against Hillary because of her profound corruption.
None of us can claim the moral high ground here. Both candidates were egregiously flawed, and we’re all partly responsible for putting them on the pedestal they occupy.
Those of you sitting in judgment of Trump voters, as if you’re somehow morally better than the rest of us: Well, the arrogance is deafening. You have succumbed to the very thing to which you’ve so staunchly objected in the past: Self-righteousness.