Opposed to Injustice, Not Force

The heart of just-war moral reasoning historically has been its opposition to-and, hence a basic presumption against, injustice and oppression. Recent reinterpretations of just-war thinking however, particularly in religious circles have tended instead to proceed on the presumption against war itself. This mutation-and indeed we are justified in describing this shift as a mutation-has led to what James Turner Johnson, perhaps the foremost contemporary authority on the just-war tradition, properly calls, “the broken tradition.” What Johnson is reiterating is simply that the mainstream of classic just-war moral reasoning historically has stood first and foremost against injustice and oppression, not force per se.  Charles and Demy in War, Peace, and Christianity.

The Blow Back Theory


One of the more common theories that you hear among libertarians and other progressives is that the reason terrorist attacks happen is because of our military presence and operations in other countries. Now in and of itself that is neither here nor there. It is like saying the ice on the road caused the wreck. The statement itself does include a moral element per se. But often the underlying assumption behind this statement is that the terrorists are justified or semi-justified in attacks like Nice because of our military presence.  Even Christians tend to justify or soften the condemnation of various terrorists acts based on this line of reasoning.

But, even assuming the American military was purposely targeting civilians in a non-military zone and then killing them through acts of violence done by secret soldiers planted in that city for the express purpose of killing civilians, that does not justify the terrorists doing the same thing. There is a just way to wage war. And ISIS is not doing that. There is no justification for Nice or Paris. It was wicked and should be condemned as such.

I live in West Virginia. Imagine if a military unit from Ohio decided to set up a military or psuedo-military installation in our state. What would be the just options after all peaceful efforts at negotiation were exhausted? There are two and only two. Attack the military installation that they put in place in West Virginia or go and attack their military installations in Ohio. This would be the courageous and just thing to do. It would not be courageous or just for West Virginia to send citizens to Cincinnati and begin picking off children with a sniper rifle. That would be wicked.

This is not a justification of American foreign policy. It is terrible and we have meddled in far too many countries. We should pull out and let the nations deal with their issues. I do not think we should have military bases all over the world. Nor is this to say that the American military has not done some wicked things in her history.

But that in no way justifies ISIS and the barbaric, terrorists acts they commit against civilians. When Christians imply that it does they are buying into the idea that victims have free reign to do as they please. If you have been victimized then you are no longer bound by a moral code. This is a dark lie from the pit and does tremendous harm. If ISIS really had courage and cared about their region and people they would amass an army and seek to drive out the invaders or whatever they call us or they would negotiate for peace, which would include us leaving their countries or region.  That is just and right.

We can condemn American foreign policy and at the same time condemn the ISIS attacks. When Christians condemn the former and not the latter they show themselves to be postmodern in their thinking instead of biblical.

Trump Is Our Problem

Donald Trump

This is a slightly modified repost from March, 2016 that I did at my old blog. 

I am not a political pundit. I rely on friends for much of my political understanding. I read theology often and politics only occasionally. This post is therefore not a foray into deep political thought. It is more like the rambling thoughts a political novice. When Trump announced his candidacy I never thought he would get as far as he has. He was like a cheap firework; all flash, no substance. But somehow the inevitable did not happen. Now that he is the Republican nominee it is worth considering why. Too often we treat men like Trump and their followers like they are just stupid. But that is not true and plays into a false narrative that only feeds a candidacy like his.

The Failure of “Conservatives”

Trump’s rise is a backlash against establishment conservatives.  By conservatives, I do not mean true conservatives.  True conservatives, the hold to the Constitution, small government, less spending, low key foreign policy conservatives, are a very small minority. By conservative, I mean those who affiliate with the Republican party and generally oppose the Democrats. For most Republicans the last couple of decades have not been great. Our last two conservative presidents were weak and left a trail of wreckage.  Both the nominees against Obama were weak and impotent. Conservative appointees to the Supreme Court have voted liberal over and over again. When conservatives were in power in Congress they too often compromised. Conservative politicians have repeatedly failed the ones who voted them into power. Trump is not Romney or McCain or Jeb Bush. He is not a conservative establishment candidate. Is it any surprise that he won the nomination? Why vote in another GW or nominate another Romney?

The Disdain of the Average American

Remember Duck Dynasty? For years it was one of the highest rated shows on cable television. It was mercilessly mocked not just by the secular media, but also by many Christians, especially the more sophisticated type. They just did not understand how something so low class could be watched by millions. For years the church and the country has despised the average American. The guy who works 50 hours a week in a low paying job, mows his lawn on Saturday, goes to church on Sunday, and watches football in the afternoon. The single mom who cares for her two kids after waiting tables all day. The elderly man barely surviving as a greeter at Wal-Mart. The housewife who greets her children when they get home from school.  These are the folks Trump is appealing to. All politicians talk like they care about this group of Americans. But most Americans believe politicians care more about the elite ruling class than the factory worker, the farmer, or the school teacher.

It is odd that a millionaire businessman would get the ear of the American people before Cruz or Rubio. But one reason is that he has convinced conservative Americans that he cares about them. This is what people mean when they say, “He says it like it is.” Trump does not listen to the elite. He is not tied to the ruling class of Harvard and Yale grads who give $25,000 a plate dinners to raise support. He does not care what the media thinks of him. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He doesn’t care about polls. He is not posturing for his donors. He is not on a leash. I am not sure Trump does care about the average worker, but conservative America feels like he does. And given our current climate, that is enough. He parallels Obama’s candidacy on this point. One reason people voted for Obama is they felt he cared for them.

The Loss of True Masculinity

Many conservatives think Trump is a true man. Considering the other conservative options down through the years, that would be an easy mistake to make. Establishment conservatives has folded over and over again. They talk tough, but collapse when the pressure is on.

Trump has convinced America that he will not do that. You get the impression when Trump says he will bomb ISIS that is exactly what intends to do. You don’t get the impression that he is playing to his base to win the election. Many Americans fear Trump because they think he will do what he promises. That is what a man does. He stands up and fights for what he believes is right and defends his people. Trump supporters see him as doing that. Of course this is a false masculinity. His parade of women, support of abortion, complete lack of grace and dignity, willingness to kill children in war, etc. all show that he is not truly masculine. But it is hard to blame a people so bereft of true men when they latch on to a man like Trump. After all, the easiest people to fool with a fake are those who rarely see the real thing.

For so long in America, true masculinity has been obscured by fearful conservative Christians who don’t want to look too backwards and sentimental, sugary, feminist garbage that passes for Christianity. Until masculinity is recovered in the churches and homes we will continue to confuse blustering, bravado with what it means to be a true man.

Entertainment & Education

Our country’s true elites are not in Washington or teaching at Harvard ,Yale, or Stanford. The true elites are celebrities in the movies, sports, and music. They are the ruling class. They are the one’s who push the mind of the public. Donald Trump’s rise is a natural extension of our love of celebrities and entertainment. We love Lebron, Cam Newton, Beyonce, Brad Pitt, the Walking Dead, Scandal, Taylor Swift, Star Wars, and Avengers. For heaven’s sake, The Bachelor has been on TV for 20 seasons. 20 Seasons!!! Why not elect a celebrity to office? Do we think a country that is so immersed in this culture cares about policy? Do we think conservatives who watch Game of Thrones on TV are going to care about Trump’s strip clubs or his mention of his “manhood” in a debate? Do we think a culture that watches torture on TV and in the movies is going to care about Trump’s promise to kill  the children of terrorists? Why not elect a celebrity businessman? In many ways, Obama won the first time because he was a celebrity endorsed by other celebrities. He did not win because he had better policies. He won because of a slogan “Hope and Change,” because he was unique, a celebrity of sorts, and because his predecessor was so bad. Trump is doing the same.

This ties in directly with the terrible education people receive in this country. We are a people who think with our feelings. We cannot follow an argument or spot a contradiction. Logical conclusion? What’s that? We do not know history.  We don’t understand the basics of economics, law, or politics. We don’t know what our founding documents say or how government is supposed to work. We don’t even know how to define a man or woman anymore. Therefore we are easily manipulated by emotional appeals. To be fair this is not a recent phenomenon. But now it has all come to a head in Trump’s candidacy. He is all appeal, no substance. He moves back and forth from positions with no logical consistency. He does not answer questions. He makes fun of other candidates instead of addressing the issues. He is exactly what you would expect a country to nominate that was poorly educated and hooked on entertainment.


Trump can win the general election. Anyone who believes otherwise is naive. Clinton is polling higher right now versus Trump. But Hillary is awful in a debate and about as exciting as watching grass grow. More than that she is the embodiment of the political establishment, which is exactly what Trump is running against.

Trump is dangerous. He is not a social conservative. He is not a fiscal conservative. He is not foreign policy conservative. And yet…here he is winning the conservative vote in state after state, picking up delegate after delegate and winning in the eye of the voter.

Trump is not an oddity or aberration. He is the face, albeit an ugly one, of American conservatives.  Conservative Christians, politicians, leaders, and teachers have given us Trump. It might be time to stop blaming the supporters of Trump and start looking in the mirror.

Here is my appeal to pastors, conservative Christians, and Christian politicians: Take responsibility for Trump. He is here because we have failed to preach and teach as we ought to. Conservative politicians have failed to play the man. Their leadership on key issues has been weak and tepid. Conservative leadership in this country is a farce. I am not sure there is any hope for conservatives in America. Trump might be a blessing in disguise because he has pulled away the mask and exposed just how weak conservatives are. Those of us who are true conservatives might be heard in 2020 because of the Trump debacle.

Christian seminaries have failed to send their students out to preach a gospel that reaches the public sphere in any meaningful way. Decrying abortion is not enough. We need pastors who have been trained to preach the Word effectively, in such a way that it helps Christians think through political issues. We need pastors who rightly have a prophetic voice in their communities. Professors at key seminaries need to be doing the same. Christian leaders need to stop saying, “Trump supporters are fools” and start asking, ” What have we taught or not taught our seminary students that have helped create this political climate? Are our pastors prepared to lead people through this maze? What part have we played in this farce?”

Pastors, any conservative nominee to the presidency will have the vote of many evangelicals. What have we taught our people that a man who owns strip clubs, has been divorced twice, supports Planned Parenthood, flip flops on major issues with no explanation, loves to kill people, and is a power hungry jerk is somehow the presumptive conservative nominee in this country? Where have we gone wrong? Why are people in our churches voting for his man?

One of the keys to lasting change is to own the problem.  The only way forward is to own him and work to the alter the course. Conservatives, including conservative Christians, have created him. Trump is our problem.

Cruz: Defeat Disguised as Victory

Ted Cruz

See some clarifications at the bottom of the post. 

Yesterday during an interview with Glen Beck, Ted Cruz said people had a right to suicide. The whole interview is bit confusing, but here is the money quote from Senator Cruz:

GLEN BECK: I assume you’re not for assisted suicide because that’s not toward life…or do you think people have a right to…

TED CRUZ: …I think if a person chooses to take his or her own life, they have the right to do that. I don’t support doing that. But I think each of us is a free and autonomous human being. …But we should be empowering individuals. If… If you… If anyone makes the decision to end their life, they can do that. And that’s between them and their Maker.

One wonders what argument Senator Cruz would use against sodomy or transgenders? Why can’t a man have sex with another man, it is after all their own body?  Why can’t I change from a man to a woman? After all  it is my own body.

A central problem in America and in American politics is the view that each of us  is a “free and autonomous human being. ” This philosophy is the foundation for almost all politics today, whether conservative, liberal, or libertarian. And that is why a Cruz presidency, while better than Trump, is not a win for conservatives.

Trump will be more painful in the short run, but better over the long haul for conservatives. Trump will expose the hypocrisy of the conservative movement. He will strip them naked. Trump is the presumptive conservative nominee. And he is not conservative at all. That tells you all you need to know about conservatives. For years conservatives have compromised on almost every issue that matters. Gender roles and the family have been destroyed  by conservatives. Postmodern ideas of individual freedom have supplanted any idea of transcendent morality.  Conservative fiscal policy has not been conservative for some time. Conservatives are notoriously hungry for war and their foreign policy has been a disaster. For years conservatives have been long on rhetoric and short on policy changes that matter. A few small wars and 9/11 kept us distracted from the actual state of conservative politics in this country. Cruz will keep up that pretense of a social, fiscal, and political conservatism, all the while his philosophy undermines it.  If Cruz is elected all this evidence of conservative compromise will be pushed aside because he will nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice and will be better than Trump on certain issues. But men like Cruz got us here.

Should we vote for Trump to hasten the demise of the “conservatives?” No, I don’t think so. This is not an encouragement to vote for Trump so much as a discouragement to see Cruz as the answer. Cruz is a better man than Trump and is solid on the key issue of our day, abortion. But his underlying philosophy is not as different from Trump as conservatives think or hope it is. Who will I vote for in the West Virginia primary? I won’t vote Trump. But will I vote Cruz? I am not sure. But I know that if I vote for him it will not be with any real hope of change or advance for conservatives under his leadership. If Cruz becomes president, which seems less and less likely, the next four years would be better than if Trump did.  But social, fiscal, and political conservatives would not actually be winning. They would just be holding off defeat for a few more years.

HT: The Bayly Blog

I just listen to the Glen Beck podcast where the Cruz interview ran. The relevant portion is 1:32-1:38. I was going off of a transcript that did not give the full interview. Cruz does say he is against doctors helping people die, which to me is what “assisted suicide” means. If you kill yourself it is not assisted. Also he notes that it is a right to kill yourself. I guess he means suicide should not be criminalized. It is all in the context of talking about cancer, using the FDA, and bringing over medical devices from Europe, which are illegal here. Glen Beck clearly felt that Cruz was not giving the standard pro-life line about assisted suicide. If all Cruz was saying is, “Suicide should not be criminal” I am not sure Beck would have responded as he did.

Part of the confusion is the term used and Beck’s response. Cruz seems to be saying, “I think people should have a right to kill themselves. I wouldn’t do it, but others should be able to if they want. I don’t think doctors should help people kill themselves, not because suicide is wrong, but because doctors are supposed to promote life.”

But can I, since I am not a doctor, help my ailing grandmother kill herself? Cruz’s position, at least as it is given in the interview, would not rule that out. Plus the context is drugs, cancer, and end of life. All in all it was confusing and the terms used by Beck added to the confusion.

My main point, however, was the reason Cruz gave: human autonomy. That philosophical underpinning is why Cruz is not as conservative as people think he is.

Silence in the Gates?

Amos is one of the lesser known prophets. He does not have the same stature among Christians as Isaiah, Jeremiah or even Hosea. Yet Amos is a fascinating book for 21st century Christians because of the intersection in the book between worship, money, politics, and the church.

Amos preached to the Northern Kingdom prior to her destruction by Assyria in 722 B.C. He is the only prophet who preached exclusively to the Northern Kingdom, also known as Israel. Amos begins his book by denouncing the sins of the nations surrounding Israel (Amos 1:1-2:5).  Of course, if you were in the North at the time this would have been wonderful news. Edom, Gaza, Moab, and even your brother to the South, Judah, were directly in the path of God’s wrath. Lots of amens from the pews for this part of the sermon. But then Amos turns his guns on the Northern Kingdom (Amos 2:6-16) and folks begin to fidget, look away, and hope the clock moves faster. Not only does Amos rebuke Israel for her sins, she gets the longest and most scathing rebuke of all. The rest of Amos from 2:6 until 9:10 is devoted to the condemnation of the Northern Kingdom and the coming judgment for her sins.

Amos focuses on several sins he sees in Israel. First, he condemns idolatry. Bethel is mentioned seven times in Amos. What was special about Bethel? That is where Jeroboam had set up one of his two golden calves for the Northern Kingdom to worship (I Kings 12:25-29). Throughout the book Amos condemns Israel’s idolatry (Amos 2:6-8, 3:13-14, 4:4-5, 5:4-5, 21-23, 7:9, 8:13-14). Israel has bent her knee to the gods of this world, not to Yahweh. Her worship is a mockery. It is not according to God’s Word. It is not sincere (Amos 8:5-6). No matter how much pomp and show there is, God hates it (Amos 5:21).

The second sin is greed, which leads to bribes, theft, oppression of the poor, luxurious living, and crooked business practices (Amos 3:10, 15, 4:1, 5:11-12, 6:4-6, 8:5-6, 10).  There is a close connection between idol worship and economic injustice in Amos.

The third sin is that of rejecting God’s Word, in particular the word of the prophet. We see in this in Amos 3:7-8 where Amos defends his ministry. We see it in Amos 7:10-17 where Amaziah the priest, on orders from Jeroboam the king, orders Amos to go prophesy somewhere else. We see it in the promise that God will remove his word because of Israel’s sins (Amos 8:11-12). We read it in the repeated use of the word “hear” (Amos 3:1, 13, 4:1, 5:1, 7:16, 8:4).

 And we see it in Amos 5:10-15. Here is the text:

They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. 

I find this text interesting because it shows how wicked men are not tolerant. They do not want equal voice for all. Wicked men hate righteous men who rebuke them in the gates. Amos is not mentioned by name, but the implication is clear, especially in light of 7:10-13. Israel does not want his public condemnation of her sins. The prophet is told to quiet down and stop creating such a fuss. Israel doesn’t want or need his speeches on the steps of capital. They don’t like his sermons that mention the sin by name and hints at those who might be engaged in it. They don’t like the letter to the editor from the local pastor or the minister who shows up at a city council meeting. The prudent are silent. They know which way the wind is blowing. Those who strive to be righteous are afflicted. The people don’t want to hear God’s anointed messenger. Amos has got to go. Therefore God will send a famine of his word. Men will wander seeking God’s word, but will not find it (Amos 8:11-12).

Justice is mentioned 4 times in Amos all between 5:7 and 6:12 (5:7, 15, 24, 6:12). In 5:7, 24 and 6:12 it is coupled with righteousness. God expects there to be justice and righteousness in the gates (c.f. Isaiah 5:7). The gate was where public business was conducted (See Genesis 23:10, 18, 34:20, Deut. 21:19, 22:15, 24, 25:7, Ruth 4:1, 10, 11, II Samuel 15:2).  In other words, God expects Israel to obey him in all spheres, including the civic one. Israel is not free to ignore Amos and his preaching. God expects his word to be honored in the courtroom, the business office, the legislative office, and city hall. Amos tells Israel that justice is not a private matter reserved for dinner table and sanctuary. It is not enough to have God’s word in the pulpit and with coffee in the morning. God’s word must take up residence in the public square.

Several points flow from this. I assuming that while the specific application might have changed from Old Testament to New Testament, God still desires righteousness and justice in the gates just as he did in Amos’ day.

  • The link between idolatry and economic injustice is often overlooked. The frequent mention of Bethel in Amos points to Israel’s idol worship as the center of her decay. Therefore our worship must be according the God’s Word.  When our worship becomes encrusted with man-made traditions we are risking judgment. We know this. But what we don’t realize is that a community, church, denomination, or country that worships idols will be a greedy culture that tramples on the poor and cares little about economic justice. Theft, from both private and public sectors will become rampant. People will begin to rob God of the tithe due to him. Like vultures the rich will strip the poor. You can be sure that where idols are worshiped money will be as well. Too many Christians want to fix economics without fixing worship. That is impossible. If we worship God as he ought to be worshiped then our economic problems will begin to heal. Without right worship economic justice is a vapor. 
  • The world expects, indeed demands, that the church is silent about wickedness in the public square. Evil men, whether in the church, government, media, the academy, or Hollywood do not like being called out publicly. Therefore any Christian who speaks to the public sins of our age, such as sodomy, fornication, adultery, abortion, corrupt business practices, politicians who can be bought, denying that Scripture is God’s Word, or female ministers, and rebukes the men and women who commit such sins can expect kickback. They will be told to never again prophesy here (Amos 7:13).
  • A pastor is not identical to an Old Testament prophet, but there are connections between the two. One of the tasks of a minister, just like the Old Testament prophet, is to confront the sins in his church and in society. He is not to be silent in the face of evil and wickedness.  This does not mean every sermon must be fire and brimstone or a political screed. But his head should be up and his eyes open for what is happening out there and in here. If the sins in his congregation or the sins of the culture are never addressed with clarity and calls to repent then what exactly is he doing up there? If no one ever says to him, “Sit down and shut up. We are sick of hearing about our sin” then perhaps he is not doing his job.
  • Despite some clamor that God has no place in politics and ignoring some unhelpful ideas about Christian political engagement, Amos does teach us that God expects holiness in the civic realm. The courts, the laws, the rules about businesses, how money should impact elections, and care for the weak and poor among us are all legitimate concerns for Christians, including Christian ministers. All our questions will not be answered by simply saying we need to seek Biblical justice and righteousness in the city gates. Nor am I saying Christian ministers should develop economic policies. But just admitting that God expects holiness in the civic realm is a good start. Too many Christians, jaded perhaps by past failures or influenced by bad theology, believe that politics, economics, law, and similar subjects are unworthy of our attention. Amos, and indeed all the prophets, tell us this cannot be. Christians must work for justice and righteousness in the gates.
  • Finally, looking at Amos 7:10-13 we can see that sometimes prophetic preaching will also be treasonous. Amos is preaching to Israel not America. America does not stand in the same relationship with God as Israel did. Nonetheless, every country has its idols. Israel’s was a calf at Bethel. America does not set up golden calves, but she does have idols. When Amos preached to the idols in Israel he was accused of conspiring against the king (Amos 7:10). When a pastor attacks the idols in his land he can expect to not just be accused of religious intolerance, but also of conspiring against political powers. He is not just religiously out of touch, but also a traitor. We can see this unfolding already with the issue of sodomy.