On Roe and Motives

Roe v. Wade has now been overturned by the Supreme Court, and predictably, there are people who are thankful and happy that this has happened–I am among that number–and others who decry the decision. We knew this was coming, and so it’s no surprise to anyone. Some who support the decision have reacted inappropriately; I have zero desire to “in your face” my response, and any sense of gloating is completely out of place. Further, anyone supporting the decision who thinks that this is the end needs to rethink things; in many respects, it’s just the beginning, because the onus is on us to demonstrate love to those affected by this decision (more on that later).

Here’s the thing that I find annoying from some on the left: the idea that those of us who are pro-life “don’t really care about the unborn babies”, but (for many, at least) it’s “all about control”. Let’s break this down a bit, shall we?

First, it’s presumptuous to say this, because while I can judge what you do, I have no ability to say definitively what motivated you to do it: period.

Second, it’s unfair. Imagine a pro-lifer saying, “I know why you are pro-choice; you just really relish the idea of a 6-month-old fetus feeling the pain of getting torn limb from limb in a suction abortion.” That would be a grotesque, unfair, preposterous assertion to make…but why is that any different from your assuming you understand MY motives in being pro-life?

Third, about the “control” thing. This is a talking point invented by some pro-choice person decades ago to attempt to explain what they can’t (or don’t want to) understand. It conveniently ignores the fact that a significant portion of pro-lifers (and a higher percentage of pro-life leaders) are themselves women. No explanation is offered, of course, for this inconvenient truth. For my part, I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement, in various ways, for decades. Wouldn’t you think that, if it were about “controlling women”, I’d have actually had that thought (I never have). Wouldn’t you think that there’d be some discussion among us pro-lifers of that desire to control? I’ve never heard anything approaching that…not even ONCE. Sure seems to be a pretty disorganized “conspiracy” to me, based on those things.

Fourth, the idea is suggested that “if it really were about the sanctity of life, pro-lifers would…and then a list of things is given (and denied that these things take place). Except that the evidence runs completely counter to this assertion. Pro-lifers spend time, money, and effort to support crisis pregnancy centers (and now, courageous people–mainly women–man these centers, despite threats of fire-bombing from the terrorist fringe of the pro-choice movement). Pro-lifers adopt. Pro-lifers foster. Pro-lifers do many things within their power to support children, and it’s simply a canard to suggest otherwise.

When it comes down to it, though, what we are currently seeing from the left is exactly the same bad-faith thing we sometimes see from the right: it’s the idea that “if you don’t agree with me, your motives must be wrong, and/or you are a bad person.” Think about this with me…first, as I said above, it’s presumptuous; when you say things like this, you make the tacit assumption that you can read minds and know the motives of others, and that your opponents are absolutely wrong (and your side is absolutely right). Which of course makes such thinking, second, really pretty arrogant: “me and my team are right on this, and we won’t even consider the idea that we might be wrong, or even that the truth might be more complicated than as to fit neatly within my thinking”. When you think about it, it’s a bit Trumpian; “everyone who disagrees with me, or doesn’t do as I desire, is a bad or weak or worthless person.” Third, it’s lazy; it’s a lot easier to think of your opponent as a bad person than to respectfully seek to understand what he/she thinks, and then debate from a position of honesty and integrity both your opponent’s points and your own. We are awash in lazy thinking, crossing political and ideological boundaries, and this is just one example.

It’s this type of thinking that is killing decent discourse, and it’s no more acceptable when it comes from the left than when it comes from the right.

What do I, as a pro-lifer, think of pro-choice people? I think that, by-and-large (and I use that qualifier nearly every time I offer an opinion such as this), pro-choice people genuinely care about women facing problem pregnancies. I believe that pro-choice people genuinely want to help. I believe that they are capable of showing great compassion and sacrificial concern. In other words, it’s not their motives I question.

Where we differ is our understanding of what it means to really help, and particularly, of what abortion entails. And if I believed that the issue only involved women’s bodies, as pro-choicers do, I would agree with them. But the fact that I believe that there are two lives involved (not counting the father) changes the equation for me–and no amount of “choicesplaining” can deny the fact that the pro-life movement exists because we share this belief.

I promised “more on that later” regarding the importance of demonstrating love. One of my (assumedly pro-choice) friends posted that if we weren’t going to have Roe as the law of the land, we needed to hold the men who impregnate women responsible for the lives they helped create. THIS SHOULD ABSOLUTELY BE THE CASE, and it provides at least one area of common ground (if we will choose to seize it). My friend appreciated me saying it, by the way. Those initiatives that Christians have been involved in for a long time (mentioned above) should be increased. And since it has been shown that one thing that clearly encourages young ladies away from abortion is the assurance that they’ll be able to have the funds to support their children. As such, I’m willing–and this is hard for me as a fiscal conservative–to consider Mitt Romney’s idea of providing payments to parents of children. If it’ll keep precious children alive, it’s worthy of strong consideration. For goodness’ sake, if we can find common ground as Americans, let’s do it.

What Can we Do?

I haven’t had anything yet to say on the recent spate of horrific mass shootings, the most recent being the killing of four in a doctor’s office in Tulsa. One main reason is that I’ve decided that since the “hot take” is often the WRONG take (which doesn’t stop many from insisting on speaking, often to their own embarrassment), I prefer taking a few days to reflect before I speak. Generally, problems such as this, which won’t be solved speedily (nor is my take likely to be that influential anyway), ought to be approached with whatever the opposite of knee-jerk reactions is. Ergo, I’m studying to not be a knee-jerker.

But of course there was knee-jerking aplenty, from zillions of the hoi polloi all the way up to the top, where as is his wont our President, in lieu of reasoned, deliberate thinking, chose to shoot from the cuff and send White House staff on their now-familiar rounds of scurrying to tidy up the mess. And one of the things that frustrates me the most are ill-considered, simplistic memes, which help little (meaning: not a-tall). One example from each side will suffice, before I move on to some thoughts I have.

First, from the Christian right, there was, “We have a sin problem, not a gun problem”. I don’t argue that we don’t have a sin problem; this is Scripturally accurate. It’s also downright unhelpful, not only because it comes off as somewhat dismissive, and/or as “business as usual is fine”, but because

A. Yes, we have a sin problem; that’s why we have laws;

B. Yes, we have a sin problem, but they also have a sin problem in every other country in the world, hardly any of which have a mass-shootings-of-innocents problem such as we have; and

C. Yes, we have a sin problem, but it doesn’t follow that the only means we employ to respond to the plethora of shootings is spiritual in nature.

Then, from the left, we have a meme that pictures the kids tragically killed in Uvalde, with the caption that “they died for your right to own guns”. This is simplistic to the max, vulgar in its conception, offensive to the 99+% of people who own guns with the intent to use them lawfully, unhelpful in actually proposing a solution (similar to the meme above), and also like the one above, will convince exactly zero people not already convinced (but for “ticking people off needlessly”, it scores pretty high).

Those things dispensed with, what might be done to actually help with this problem?

First, reality: there is no magic bullet; there is NOTHING that we can do to stop each and every one of these nightmares. That said, reality #2: we can likely do some things that will have an effect.

But before I offer a few thoughts, one perspective that some won’t want to hear, but which seems obvious to me, is that we have created societal conditions which form the context for these crimes; they are not taking place in a vacuum. And whether anyone wants to hear this or not, we are teaching our kids lies which form the aquarium in which they swim (and from which a few commit such heinous crimes):

  • We teach our children not only that they are evolved animals, but that their very existence is a cosmic accident. In such a scenario, there is, indeed can be, no basis for human dignity (save one arbitrarily assigned). If this is the case, what ultimate value does human life actually have? We kid ourselves if we think that this doesn’t come across to our kids.
  • We treat human life carelessly, from the way we slaughter unborn babies in the womb (often, though certainly not always, out of some type of convenience to the would-be parents), to the violence we watch on TV and in movies, to the video games where blood splatters freely, to the cheapened nature of life that is reflected in our art and music. I see these things as flowing directly, even inexorably, from the idea that we’re evolved apes.

In other words, we teach our children that they are animals, and then we are shocked when they take us seriously and act like it. If that sounds like a sermon, sorry-not-sorry, because it forms the roots from which this ugly tree has grown. I continue to support Christian education and homeschooling, in no small part because these provide the opportunity for our children to be taught what I believe is not only true, but which forms the only basis for human dignity: that our children are created in the express image of God.

With that as prologue, what might we do to mitigate at least as much of this problem as possible, to save at least some from this awful scourge? The issue should be framed this way: what can we do right now, which would both fit within the strictures of the United States Constitution, one, and two, would actually WORK (as opposed to laws which might be passed that make people FEEL like we’ve done something, when in effect they do little-to-nothing to actually solve problems)?

  1. I believe we should implement so-called “Red Flag” laws. If you’re not familiar with them, here’s an excerpt from David French’s longer piece explaining why we should pass Red Flag Laws now: ” if a person exhibits behavior indicating that they might be a threat to themselves or others (such as suicidal ideation or violent fantasies), a member of his family, a school official, or a police officer can go to court to secure an order that permits police to seize his weapons and prohibit him from purchasing any additional weapons so long as the order lasts.” Now, as French explains, the wording of such laws should be precise, and the parameters drawn as narrowly as we reasonably can, such that there’s no danger that a law-abiding citizen, from whom there is no reason to suspect an imminent threat, has his Second Amendment rights abridged. Draft the laws wisely and carefully, yes…but common sense should lead us to agree that people who have, by their words or actions, given us reason to believe that they pose an imminent threat to the lives of others, should not be allowed access to the means to commit such crimes.
  2. I believe we should raise the age at which people are eligible to purchase certain types of guns to 21. Now, I will be the first to admit that while I am a defender of the Second Amendment, I am not a “gun guy”, and am not qualified to make the call as to which weapons should be included in this list. Though hunting isn’t my thing, every kid who wants to go hunting with his dad (or mom!), to be trained properly in gun safety by them, should be able to have a gun for that purpose (and I don’t know what that age is; that’s for others to figure out). That said, an AR-15, such as used by the coward in Uvalde? Let’s think about this…18 is an arbitrary age. Frankly, you can even make the argument that age is an arbitrary measurement, but in the absence of a better one, it seems the best we can do (though I’m open to suggestions). Back to my point: 18 is arbitrary, just as 21 would be, but I know a couple things: one, the loser in Uvalde waited until his 18th birthday to purchase the gun used in the massacre. No, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have gotten it some other way in theory…but he DIDN’T. Two, kids have to wait (legally, at least!) until they are 21 to buy a beer. Maybe having them wait until they’re 21 to buy an AR-15 isn’t a bad idea? Maybe those three years of growth will mature these immature individuals? Again, no guarantees and no perfect solutions, but if we can set 18 arbitrarily for access to certain guns, we can change it to 21 and do zero damage to the Second Amendment. Does anyone seriously doubt that the average 18-year-old today is significantly less mature than an average 18-year-old a generation ago? Good luck convincing ANYONE that kids are MORE mature these days when they graduate high school.
  3. The networks can reach an agreement not to publicize the names of these twisted losers. How much will that help? Who knows! But I’m not a twisted loser, and neither are you, and the notoriety that is gained by these people getting their “names up in lights”–even if it’s for doing heinous deeds–might be enough to persuade some to act on their fantasies. Sure, the names would get out, at least locally, and anyone who wanted to know could find out, but that’s not the same as the rush for the networks to get those names out there. I’m not talking about censorship; I’m talking about networks doing one small thing–voluntarily–to try to help with the problem.
  4. We should NOT “arm the teachers”–that’s both simplistic and problematic on a lot of levels–but we should allow any teacher who WANTS to be armed, to be able to carry (yes, with appropriate safeguards and proper training, of course). It seems like those who argue this point choose one extreme side (“arm all the teachers”) or the other (“don’t make the teachers carry one MORE burden”), whereas there’s a common sense middle ground: leave that up to the individual teacher (and because I believe in openness with regard to parents–unlike way too many educators today…and that’s all I’m going to say about THAA-AT–let parents know which teachers are choosing to carry and which aren’t, so that they can make choices with regard to their own kids).
  5. This is sad to say, but a concession to the times, we need to make schools safer. Since we learned that the shooter in Uvalde entered unsupervised through an unlocked door, it’s obvious that things in some places aren’t like they are in others. Here in Cobb County, for instance, a person wanting to gain entrance to an elementary school has to be “buzzed in” by someone in the office who can both see and speak to the person desiring entrance (and that person had better have a good reason!). Now, this of course only pertains to school shootings; it won’t do anything to protect a supermarket or a doctor’s office, but while all human life is sacred, even as we are repulsed and sickened by any mass shooting, we are just a tad more so when it involves innocent school kids, and it seems that taking a long look at school security–such that these people cannot enter open doors unseen–is worth doing.
  6. Finally, every law enforcement official, in view of the failings in Uvalde, needs to be looked in the eye and asked the simple question: in the event of such a situation, do you solemnly swear to intervene with all appropriate speed to take down the criminal? If the answer is “no”, have them surrender their badge. Period. Wearing a uniform is an honor, and entails a willingness to lay down one’s life, if necessary; that’s why we lift these folks up, rightly, as heroes. We must simply demand that they act like it.

No, enacting some of these things will not solve all of our mass shooting problems. But might they help? I believe so.

On Sermons and Supreme Court Justices

As I write this, I am preparing to preach tomorrow, a passage from Colossians 2 on the subject, “Don’t Follow the Rules”. As always, I’m excited to dig into what the text entails, ferret out its meaning as best I can, bridge its timeless truths into the 21st century context in which we find ourselves, and apply it to the lives of my friends.

And I got to thinking about the similarity between my task and that of Supreme Court justices. What I try to do–imperfectly because I am a frail human, and sometimes because even the best of Bible scholars aren’t totally certain–is to ascertain what the authors of Scripture, whom I believe were operating under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, meant when they wrote what they wrote. I want to know the issues they were addressing in the ancient culture, and then find out exactly what they were saying, in context, to their audience. I remember that they were addressing a particular situation, and thus not writing TO us, but at the same time, that all Scripture was given FOR us. We, as it were, look over their shoulders as they write.

But the most basic task for me, as for any faithful preacher of the gospel, remains: what did the authors mean when they penned the text of Scripture? Get that wrong, and the whole sermon skews in any variety of different ways, none of them good. Parenthetically, and I don’t mean to pretend I am in a very scant minority, nor to disparage the good work of thousands of other faithful gospel proclaimers, but I would venture to say that getting that task wrong characterizes a significant percentage of pastors in America’s pulpits today. As the faithful Alistair Begg remarked at the beginning of his first-ever “Basics” Conference on expository preaching, “the reason a conference on expository preaching is needed so badly is that there is so much bad preaching.”

But I digress…so where, Harv, does your job and the work of the Justices align? It is surely in this basic way: the job of a Supreme Court Justice is to ferret out the original intent of the framers of the Constitution when they wrote it, and then apply it to contemporary situations. I’m not saying that’s always easy; in the text I preach tomorrow, there’s a word or three upon which commentators are divided as to its meaning. Similarly, two Justices with the very same commitments may, on occasion, differ on a minute detail of the original meaning. They may differ on how to apply it to the situation they face. They may find it difficult sometimes to weigh two compelling-but-competing interests in the application of the law. But where they should never, ever differ is upon their basic task: interpret the law according to the intent of those who wrote it.

Sadly, this perspective is not unanimous, and it is precisely this problem that leads to aberrant rulings that disregard the plain meaning of the Constitution, substituting some manner of “new perspectives” or “experiences” or what-have-you, under the guise of the Constitution being a “living document”. Or, as the inimitable Robert Bork put it (and I paraphrase), “I’m fine with the idea that the Constitution is a living document, but it is not a mutating one.”

We see, for instance, this confounded “reasoning”, this “mutated Constitution”, in the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. People who don’t understand the function of the Constitution or the charge of Justices tend to applaud Roe (and fear its hoped-for overturning this summer) because they like the outcome. They aren’t interested in process, but merely in getting the results they want. The problem with this, of course, are many; ignoring the Constitutionally-assigned role of Justices, the Court has the authority to essentially declare whatever they deem conforms to contemporary norms to be “what the law ACTUALLY means”, and then NOBODY’s rights or protections are guaranteed. What you may love today, you may loathe tomorrow, and there’s little to stop activist judges from making of the law what they will.

So this brings us to Ketanji Brown Jackson. Much has been made of her being the first black woman nominee, and undoubtedly barring some deep dark revelation, the first black woman Justice. Anyone who makes it to the Court deserves a measure of congratulation, and she is no exception. She apparently has some impressive credentials, and even found some respect among some conservatives, at least compared to other possible choices. Though I didn’t hear it, she apparently gave a nice speech recently.

And of course, some have hailed the choice because of the “diversity” she brings, and the “different perspective” that, as a black woman, she ostensibly brings to the Court.

And therein lie the problems.

Diversity is, in the proper places, a good, even a wonderful, thing. I don’t “celebrate diversity”, because as a catch-all category, it stinks. I would not celebrate the “diversity” of an actual Nazi serving in Congress, a child-molester in the pulpit, or an unqualified person serving as president (ahem). On the other hand, we moved into our neighborhood and were happy that it can boast people of different colors, cultural heritages, belief systems, and ages, and while I would love for some of those belief systems to change–I don’t “celebrate” the existence of “diverse” religious beliefs I consider false–so long as they exist, it doesn’t bother me that people who hold them share our subdivision. And there are many, many other places and situations where diversity isn’t only valuable, it should be sought.

The Supreme Court is not one of those places, at least not per se.

Now, if everyone shared the same commitment, described above, to correct Constitutional interpretation, that’d be one thing. Sadly, they don’t, and that fact has wreaked havoc through the years of our nation’s history. It matters not the color or age or religious beliefs or cultural background of Ms. Jackson; what matters is her fidelity to the interpretation and application of the Constitution as it was understood by the framers. And no amount of “diverse experience” can atone for an absence of that.

Because here’s the truth: she’ll be replacing a man, Stephen Breyer, who did not have that commitment. Two or three current Justices did not either, nor did Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, or the “Notorious RBG”, and as such, none of them were good Justices, regardless of other fine qualities they might have had.

So what to make of Ms. Brown Jackson? Sadly, having been nominated by a President with little understanding of the critical nature of Constitutional interpretation, it’s doubtful she holds to the correct understanding of the role. And the fact that she brings a “diverse perspective” is of no more value than what type of car she drives. Now, conversely, were it to be true that she held to a right understanding of her role, I’d be thrilled. Frankly, were that the case, I would be tickled pink, had she eight sisters who held to the same Constitutionally fidelity, to have a Supreme Court made up of nine Brown siblings who interpreted the law rather than attempting to legislate from the bench; it’d be a considerable improvement over the bench’s current makeup.

And it doesn’t even matter what her personal positions are on issues; she could be pro-choice, a fan of big government, or go-down-the-list: if she rightly understood her role, the fact that her skin is brown and her gender is female is an utter irrelevance. Just interpret the Constitution as it is written.

And I’ll try my best to do the same with Colossians 2.

Of “Stolen Elections” and Christian Witness

A few weeks back, I surprised my wife with a trip to New Orleans, a trip made even more exciting by the arrival, from Colorado, of her sister and brother-in-law. The Big Easy was fun; been there now, done that, no need to really go back. I had engaged in this small conspiracy for a matter of weeks; when I say, “small”, the co-conspirators were Karen’s sister and myself, in the main (as in, the only people who might accidentally spill the beans in a conversation with her; she just doesn’t text or call Bill all that often, and the other few folks I had told were sufficiently removed from the situation such that I felt safe letting them in on the secret). As much as I was determined to keep things a secret–and I did succeed in the end–there were at least a couple of times over the course of a few weeks of suspense when I thought about saying something which would have given away the game, only to catch myself prior to opening my big mouth. Conspiracies are not easy things to pull off.

And this brings me to today’s topic, which is two-fold: one, despite the fact that, apparently, a significant percentage of my fellow Christians believe in some way that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”, I not only do not believe that, but more importantly, I simply am literally unable to believe it; more on this later. Two, and even more importantly, I want to talk about the tremendous importance of loving God with our minds, what that entails (using this narrative to illustrate), and how believers in Jesus need to be careful thinkers if we would have a needy world take our witness for Jesus seriously.

It’s pretty easy to say, “the election was stolen”, particularly if you are a Republican. In fact, if the polling is accurate, a little shy of twice as many Republicans believe that Donald Trump won the election as believe Joe Biden did. Now to be sure, it’s likely that within this group, there is a range of belief levels, from those who say (and believe) so rather casually, to those who support insurrections against the Constitution in order to “stop the steal”. Nonetheless, to say, “I believe the election was stolen” will assumedly still get a person more approval points from GOP-types than saying the opposite.

Now, if this had no ramifications beyond this, though I would consider it misguided, I likely wouldn’t take the time to write this piece. But for the follower of Jesus, it doesn’t end here; rather, any time a follower of Jesus publicly professes to believe things which are not true, the testimony of Christ suffers a bit. And thus my concern: I wouldn’t be particularly bothered by this position–people take positions with which I disagree all the time, and many of them are “no skin off my nose”–were it not for what I believe to be the problem of giving scoffers just one more reason not to take Christian faith seriously.

Christianity is a historically-grounded faith. Despite those who would misrepresent the idea of “faith” as “believing without evidence” or even “believing despite evidence”, this is not at all the Bible’s picture of faith. A few weeks past Easter, the pinnacle event of the Christian religion, believers have only recently been reminded of this fact: if Jesus Christ did not literally, bodily rise from the grave after dying a brutal death, then Christianity is a phony faith and we are fools. There’s really no middle ground on this; our faith rises or falls on the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. And the fact that Christianity is a historically-rooted faith, making claims to absolute truths, demands that we provide reasons to believe, intellectually-valid arguments that can stand up to close scrutiny. I am an evangelical Christian for just that reason: I believe that truth matters, and that the Bible is true.

This is why Christian apologetics is an important field, one highly-regarded by most evangelical believers. Prior to his spectacular fall and being exposed as a hypocrite, most evangelicals admired and trusted the work of Ravi Zacharias (and in fact, while I would no longer recommend them, the books he has written are filled with good arguments for the faith). William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Greg Koukl, and many other evangelical thinkers are highly thought-of, precisely because they offer intellectually-robust arguments for faith. But here is the irony for me: there must be a reasonably-high percentage of professing evangelical Christians who believe in the importance of apologetics, on the one hand, and yet do not employ intellectual rigor in other areas of their lives, with the result being, I believe, harm done to Christian witness.

But I’ve already said that.

So with that as prologue, let me explain why I cannot believe that the election was “stolen”, and then wrap up by urging upon all of my readers a serious consideration of the questions I raise, not so I can win a few folks over to my way of thinking, but so I can encourage upon all my evangelical friends an approach to truth and faith that digs deeper than the surface, that concerns itself with following the truth wherever it might lead, and that ultimately offers to a lost world a credible witness for the gospel.

I go back to the beginning of this piece: conspiracies are hard, even when they only involve a couple of folks for a few weeks. And thus I say that not only am I not convinced by the “evidence” that has been brought forward attempting to prove a conspiracy to steal the election (I will spend only a few words on that alleged evidence), but given what a conspiracy to steal a presidential election would entail, I simply cannot believe that it could happen; I find this implausible to the point of being impossible.

Alleged problems with Dominion Voting Systems. Fishy-looking moves being made by poll workers. Witnesses being kept from watching the ballots being counted. Election officials lying. A math equation which proved the statistical impossibility of a Biden win. Low turnouts at Biden shindigs coupled with SRO crowds at MAGA rallies. Other things. These and more were alleged to prove that the rightful winner of the election was Donald Trump. We have now known for some time that so many of these allegations have been debunked by media sources spanning the political spectrum. We have seen the Trump legal team fail miserably to convince judges that there was something amiss (sure, some of the lawsuits were thrown out on procedural grounds, from lack of standing to the doctrine of laches, but in other cases, Trump’s own attorneys admitted that they couldn’t produce evidence to back up their claims). These things are established matters of fact, and while it would be incorrect to suggest that no election fraud took place–a little bit always does, whether intentional fraud or, often, unintentional–the evidence seems clear enough for those willing to see it.

The lack of convincing evidence is why I do not believe the election was stolen, but sixty years of living and observing human behavior lead me to the conclusion that I simply cannot believe that it was. And here is where I invite intellectually-honest readers to consider the following issues that must be faced and answered if one is to continue to hold to the stolen election narrative.

  1. First, consider the sheer magnitude of the conspiracy. The first damning reality involves the size and scope of the conspiracy necessary to actually steal an election. In a word, it would have to be massive. It would have to involve officials at various different levels, from both major political parties, and across many states (not only the six contested states which Trump lost, but likely also at least a couple of states (say, North Carolina and Florida, for instance) in which the conspiracy failed. It would involve people at the ground level of counting votes. It would involve election officials, both elected and appointed. It would involve judges. It would involve politicians at various levels, rising to governorships at the state level, as well as (likely) members of Congress. With his refusal to do what he could not constitutionally, was Mike Pence even somehow a participant in this conspiracy? It’s hard to estimate the sheer number of people that a conspiracy of this magnitude would have to entail, but it would have to be numbered in the hundreds, and possibly the thousands. Does it seem plausible to you that a conspiracy this large could have been put together and maintained (even until now? More on that later…).
  2. Further, there is the question of motive. Let’s take just one individual, the much-maligned Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. This man voted for Donald Trump, contributed to Trump’s campaign, and was vocally supportive, even following the certification of the election results, when he said that he wished the former president had won. Why would a man like Brad Raffensperger–a professing Christian with reported higher ambitions–sabotage his own party’s presidential election? Then ask the same question of every Republican partisan who was “in on it”.The question, then, is not only whether or not you consider it plausible that hundreds of GOP partisans would actively sabotage their own candidate, but why?
  3. Here’s another question about the scope of the conspiracy: when it was being constructed, was there 100% sign-on? In other words, did every single person (at whatever level, from either party) willingly agree to be in on the conspiracy? Is that plausible? Assumedly, we would all agree that this is not believable, and so we are left with the question: what about those (Republicans or Democrats) who refused to be involved in what would be, in many cases, felonies (with the promise of prison time)? Why have we heard from no person who was approached to be on the inside of the conspiracy, who refused? Is there any plausible explanation for this? Perhaps the organizers of this conspiracy offered prodigious sums of money to such folks, but the taking of this would be considered bribery and would surely result in prosecution if found out. Or perhaps the conspirators issued threats to each of these non-conspirators sufficient to secure their silence. Do you find it plausible that one of these explanations (or some other of which I haven’t thought) would suffice to silence every one of these individuals?
  4. Now consider the march of time. I write in late April; it has been nearly six months since the election, and who knows how many more months since the conception of this alleged conspiracy and the beginning of its implementation. During this time period, not one conspirator has had an attack of conscience and come clean about her role in the conspiracy. No conspirator has had a falling-out with the organizers and spilled the beans. Nobody has offered to turn state’s evidence in exchange for a reduced charge. There is no one who has written a book (a sure-fire best-seller, of course) with details from the inside of the conspiracy. None of the right-wing news outlets have found evidence such as I am suggesting here would be necessary. Charles Colson famously testified that it was the failure of the Watergate conspirators–a small band of conspirators sworn to secrecy, who would each pay a tremendous price if they squealed–to conceal their conspiracy more than a few weeks, that convinced him that the resurrection of Christ could not possibly have been a conspiracy concocted by zealous disciples, given that they each were martyred; no one knowingly gives their lives to protect a lie. Do you honestly find it plausible that there has been no crack in this vast, diverse conspiracy of hundreds, yea thousands, in this many months’ time?
  5. Then there is the dysfunctionality of Washington, our elected officials, and the system. As one commentator put it, no one who has spent any significant time in D.C., seeing and understanding how it works (or better put, doesn’t) would believe such a thing as a conspiracy of this magnitude possible.
  6. Finally, there is the overwhelming disbelief of the Republican congressional caucus. Yes, there are plenty of representatives who have offered varying degrees of defense of this “stolen election” narrative, but I have heard more than one Washington insider estimate that the number of Republican congresspeople who actually believe that the election was stolen–based upon private conversations–to be in the single digits, maybe up to a dozen. Granting that this is certainly a bit weaker point than most of the others, I put it last, but do you find it plausible that, if the overwhelming majority of Trump’s Congressional supporters disbelieve in this conspiracy, it is actually true?

As I said earlier, it’s relatively easy to claim to believe that the election was stolen, but in order to argue honestly for that premise, these questions (and likely some I failed to consider) must be answered, at least with a plausible possibility of how such things could take place. If someone has attempted this project, I am not aware of it; I would welcome the reader to direct me to such an attempt.

Fellow Christian, in one very real sense, I don’t care and it doesn’t matter what you believe about this subject; I accept people as brothers and sisters in Christ who believe all manner of things with which I disagree, sometimes vehemently and including this one. But I urge you, for the sake of the gospel, to love God with your mind, to be a rigorous thinker, to follow the truth where it leads, regardless of whose ox is gored thereby. It would seem to be the least we should do.

60 Years of Blessings

Today, I turn 60 years of age. Just writing that seems surreal. I know, “60 is the new 40”, but wow. Just…wow.

And that’s all I have to say about thaaaa-aat.

I decided that the best way I could celebrate would be to “count my blessings”, in the words of the old hymn; to “name them one by one”, sixty blessings for sixty years. I have led an incredibly blessed life. Incredibly blessed, so blessed that it seems almost unreal. This is a long post; I am writing it as much for my own benefit as for anyone else, but feel free to read along.

  1. I was born in the United States of America, which gave me an automatic leg up on 95% of the world (people who were not born in this land of opportunity).
  2. I was born to parents who gave me unconditional, supportive, nurturing love, and gave me every opportunity to succeed in life.
  3. My parents are still living, soon to celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary, Lord willing, and in good health and good mind late in their 80s. For that matter, my in-laws will soon celebrate their 60th anniversary, and they too are sound in mind and body.
  4. I spent my childhood in a great neighborhood, in a wonderful city (Roanoke) in a beautiful state (Virginia).
  5. I was blessed with a good mind (OK, take it easy on me, since 60-year-olds are definitely old), and a healthy body, which enabled me to play sports.
  6. My mother took me to church as a small boy, prior to my dad ever becoming interested in the things of God. Then, when I was 8 or 9, my father became a follower of Jesus, and began to lead our family in a clear spiritual direction.
  7. When I was a little kid, a family in our neighborhood held a five-day Good News Club, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. I memorized the books of the Bible, and have never forgotten them, in order (though I think that I briefly got a little hazy in the middle of the Habakkuks and Nahums).
  8. Our family attended a church that, for whatever weaknesses it may have had, proclaimed the gospel of Christ clearly enough that a 10-year-old boy could understand and place faith in Christ. I was baptized and began to follow Jesus.
  9. I had some good Sunday School teachers in that little church, some of whose names are lost to time, but they each made an impact on my life.
  10. Mom instilled in me proper English (no thanks to Dad!), proper manners (not that I always use them), and a proper reverence for God.
  11. Dad inspired me to think for myself, rather than going along with the crowd. The ethical and moral example that he (and Mom) set were of the highest order. He taught me to mind my own business rather than meddle in that of others, and he (and Mom, again) showed me how to treat people…I have never heard my father tell or laugh at a racist joke, nor ever use racist language. Not. Even. Once.
  12. Dad particularly helped me gain a life-long love of sports. I played eight years of sandlot baseball (mainly 2nd base, but some shortstop and a little bit of catcher thrown in). I became a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan watching the ’68 World Series, the first baseball I really watched. I started out as a Colts fan in football–like my Dad–but soon found it was more fun to root against him, and the Steelers became my football team.
  13. My sister (my only sibling) and I, despite being a few years apart in age and never really living all that close to each other, get along very well, love each other, and have never had a serious argument (well, that is, after I got past the stage of calling her “fatty” or whatever juvenile things I called her as a child).
  14. When I was in junior high school, my family changed churches (to the church that is, to this day, my parents’ church, Shenandoah Baptist in Roanoke). The ministry of this church had a profound influence on my life, and on the lives of all of those in my family. When I was entering 10th grade, my parents enrolled myself and my sister in Roanoke Valley Christian Schools.
  15. I had the opportunity to serve, beginning as a sophomore in high school, in the AWANA children’s ministry at Shenandoah. My motives in beginning were incredibly noble: I was sweet on a girl who was part of the ministry, and I went so as to hang out closer to her! She, though, was not to be a long-term love interest, while AWANA has been; I’ve had the privilege of being instrumental in beginning two other AWANA clubs in churches and am in the process of another.
  16. As a young person, I had adults who saw potential in me and offered me opportunities to lead. I will always be grateful in particular to Jerry Hayden (in relation to giving me such opportunities through AWANA). Jerry asked me, as a junior, to coach the AWANA Pals Olympic team, and our team of boys brought home a state championship! He also, my senior year, asked me to be the speaker at the year-end AWANA banquet. I am thrilled to report that to my knowledge, there are no extant copies of that speech–I cringe to this day when I think of how awful it was–but nonetheless, he gave me that opportunity.
  17. Still thinking of my time as a teenager, two men came into my life who played an incredible role in my development. The first was my youth pastor, Steve Futrell, whose passion for the Lord, love for the youth, and–gotta say it–slightly zany streak at times, was a catalyst to my desire to follow Jesus more closely. The same can be said–including if not even more so the “zany” part–about a much older gentleman, Dr. Walter Craymer, who taught Bible and Spanish at Roanoke Valley Christian. Words cannot do justice to the debt I owe to those men.
  18. I had some success in sports as a young person, mainly in baseball and soccer. Highlight: in 9th grade, Lucy Addison Junior High won the Roanoke City championship, and I was All-City at 2nd base, batting .429 for the champs (and it was particularly special that we beat Ruffner Junior High, where my lifelong friend Rusty Snyder played, in the championship game.). Also was soccer MVP at Roanoke Valley Christian School in my junior year; I scored the first goal in school history (I believe it was a penalty kick during a drubbing from Lynchburg Christian Academy).
  19. I was class president of the first graduating class (1978) at Roanoke Valley Christian. This was an exceptional class of people, many of whom I still consider good friends to this day. Jim Hill, who as the years have gone by has become a much better friend than ever, has already called me this morning to sing an off-key version of “Happy Birthday”.
  20. I was able to attend Tennessee Temple University and graduate from there–in the used-to-be-standard four years–with a degree in Christian Education. I met many fine people there, and significantly through the magic of Facebook, have been able to continue some of those friendships.
  21. I met my wonderful wife (of 38 years and counting), Karen, as a junior in college, and she has been a faithful companion for all of these years. We met at Zollie’s Pizza Factory (long-since closed) at a birthday party for a mutual friend, Warren Wright.
  22. I worked for a year while she finished college for Little Debbie (yes, I have shaken the hand of the “Little Debbie”), at a wage higher (for that time) than a lot of places for which I might have worked.
  23. Moving back to Roanoke while I went to seminary at Liberty, Karen was able to work (and I had the great privilege of serving in a junior-high ministry internship at Shenandoah Baptist), such that when I graduated seminary, we had no educational debt.
  24. I was able to graduate magna cum laude from Liberty Seminary, where I sat under some great teachers. I did this by getting seminary credit–and my readers will be tempted to call me a liar here–for 36 semester hours between January and May of 1985. I don’t recommend that course of action, by the way, but I am proof it can be done. Oh, and my “formal education” was completed just a few years ago when I had the opportunity to take on class on the D. Min. level, at Reformed Seminary here in Atlanta. I made an “A”, so my final doctor’s level GPA is 4.0. For what it’s worth. Which isn’t a great deal, truth be told.
  25. God allowed me to learn some important life and ministry lessons through two short-lived ministry experiences in Colorado upon graduation from seminary. Even though neither would be considered “successful” by typical norms, I thank the Lord for friends made through those situations (ironically, I made more lifelong friends–at least by Facebook standards–in the more difficult of the two than in the “easier” one. Go figure.).
  26. While living in Colorado, our first child Anthony was born. He brought a lot of joy into our lives with his arrival; he was always the happiest little kid! He is married and living in Durham with his sweet wife, Ellery, and we look forward to seeing them both at the beach next Saturday! Still no grandkids yet, though… 🙂
  27. First Baptist of Bassett, Virginia was for Karen and myself a wonderful place of healing. The people there were–and are–some of the finest people I have ever known. They took Karen, myself, and Anthony in, and loved us and cared for us and made us feel part of the family–and we still do. I served only two-and-a-half years there, first as Minister of Education and Youth, and then, for 14 months, as Interim Pastor, but God used that time to heal us and to prepare us for other ministry opportunities.
  28. I was privileged to serve Brentwood Baptist Church in High Point, NC, as pastor for just over three years. It wasn’t all peaches-and-cream; there were some rough spots. Probably rougher on the congregation having to deal with a young (29 when I began) pastor making many dumb young pastor mistakes, but we all persevered together. Still count some of those folks as good friends to this day.
  29. During our time in High Point, our second son, Brent, was born. Brent was the absolute best little kid. He made us laugh on a daily–sometimes hourly or…minutely?…basis. He always had something silly–sometimes ingeniously funny–to say. The stories could go on for hours.
  30. In October or November of 1992, seeing that my time at Brentwood was likely drawing to a close, I contacted Chuck Byers, who was serving as the head of the search team for a little church in a place I’d never heard of–Mercer, Pennsylvania–as that little group of folks was looking for its first pastor as they were planting themselves as a new church in Mercer County. That blossomed into a thirteen-plus year pastorate, with so many wonderful things that it’d take a separate document to try to count them all. God did some great things as we tried to be faithful.
  31. Our baby girl, Chiannon, was born a little less than two years into our Pennsylvania odyssey. There’s a special bond between daddies and daughters, and there was no exception for us. She’s continued to be such a blessing, and now she has this fella Grant…no, he’s a separate post.
  32. Grant is our son-in-law, and he’s become, literally and not just in words, one of my best friends. What an absolute joy for me to be able to say that. And the cool thing is that he would say the same.
  33. Back to Fellowship Community Church in Mercer: that wonderful little church was privileged by God to work with hundreds of college students through the years, most, thought not all, from Grove City College. Many alumni and faculty from Grove City remain friends to this day; I argue with some of them on Facebook regularly (but more often, agree, and definitely on the most important things–for the most part). I love college students!
  34. In 2006, we moved to Georgia, where I was involved in attempting to replant a very small church. Ultimately, it didn’t “take”, but God is sovereign, and some good things happened for the kingdom even in this.
  35. I began working at Chick-fil-A right about the time that I left that little church. I had a wonderful (and patient) boss, Zach Thomas, who is and will remain a lifelong friend. I learned new skills at Chick-fil-A, made more great friendships, and felt like I made a real contribution. God used this time off from “vocational ministry” to help me develop in various ways.
  36. I also am very blessed that, just at seemingly the right time, opportunities in the “gig economy” became available to me. I have driven for Uber for going on six years, and for Lyft for over a year-and-a-half. I am thankful that I can make money on my time and my terms in these ways.
  37. I am grateful for Grace Community Church in Marietta, where I’ve now been on staff part-time for over two-and-a-half years, but where we’ve been attending ever since I left the church plant in Marietta. This church has been and continues to be a blessing in our lives!
  38. I have been blessed through the years–beginning with little Billy Gray while I was in high school and continuing through the present day–to be able to share the gospel in conversations with a number of people, and to see many of them decided to commit their lives and eternities to Jesus. I get to do that very thing this very evening (in a teaching format). What an incredible blessing that God allows believers to have!
  39. I have had the privilege of making some tremendous friends. What a blessing they have been throughout my life! If I were to start naming them, I’d surely leave off some that I dare not. You know who you are. Thank you.
  40. I have been incredibly blessed with the spiritual leaders I have had in my life. Specifically, four pastors: Bob Alderman, Lee Roberson, Lew Bennett, and John Harris, each of whom have played a significant long-lasting role in my spiritual development, and three of whom I consider close friends.
  41. I have had some unusual (and exceptional) experiences. I was on a game show, Scrabble with Chuck Woolery, and was the champion on the first two days. In total, I won $13,500. It’s an experience I will never forget.
  42. That wasn’t my first TV game show, though. When I was in maybe 5th grade (?), I was on the Fairview Elementary team on “1-2-3”, a math quiz show on educational TV in Roanoke where various elementary schools competed against each other in a math competition. We made the playoffs (where we were summarily bounced in the first round).
  43. I drove an actual race car in an actual race…you know how there are not a whole lot of things in life that don’t actually end up being as much fun as you thought they’d be? Yeah, this was not one of those. I drove in the “Faster Pastor” race in 2006 at Sharon Speedway in Ohio, a 3/8 mile dirt oval in Hartford, Ohio. Sliding a car through the corners on a dirt track, then picking up the throttle and flooring it in the straightaway…man, I’d do that again tomorrow.
  44. Continuing the theme, I’ve driven up Pike’s Peak, parasailed in the Carolinas, hiked up Duns River Falls in Jamaica, climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, swam in the Mediterranean, skied Keystone, and gone over Niagara Falls in a bucket. OK, I’m lying on that last one.
  45. Mom and Dad never, ever neglected to take a vacation. While my parents worked hard, they were never workaholics and understood the value of getting away…I cannot for the life of me fathom people who never take a vacation; I think that they do so to their own detriment. We were fairly routine in our choices: a lot of years we went to Myrtle Beach, while others we went to Virginia Beach (often to Seashore–now First Landing–State Park). The vacation of our family’s lifetime was a two-week jaunt down the Gulf side and back up the ocean side of Florida, with the requisite trip to Disney World; this took place in 1975, and we all still think back fondly to it.
  46. I have traveled across a lot of these United States in my sixty years. Following my parents’ lead–but expanding the parameters a good bit–we always took the family on regular vacations. Our favorite spot is Avon, on Hatteras Island, NC (where we head in just a few days, as a matter of fact!). We’ve been to the Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas (not a penny was gambled!), to Mount Rushmore, to the Great Salt Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park and the Riverwalk in San Antonio and the ocean in Santa Barbara, to Cape Cod and the Liberty Bell and NYC. We’ve been to Florida many times, to the “Redneck Riviera” (look it up), to beautiful Charleston and lovely Savannah, to the Jersey shore and the St. Louis Arch and the Windy City and Malibu and Niagara Falls and the UP. Oh, and Bonsack, of course (Roanoke friends will appreciate). And I could add a lot more places to the list!
  47. I’ve also traveled to a number of foreign countries, some via cruises and some via…not cruises. Favorite spot? Italy, hands down. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Sunset on Sugarloaf (Rio), though, ain’t bad either.
  48. Some of my overseas trips have not been for “pleasure” (mostly), though. In 1979, I was able to go to Guatemala and help build a Christian school. In 1992, I went with a Baptist group to Sao Paulo (ending up in Rio for a day-and-a-half, hence the “sunset on Sugarloaf” comment above). During the past decade, I’ve traveled to Nigeria, El Salvador, and Ecuador, all on trips to do the work of ministry and share the love and gospel of Christ.
  49. I have been privileged to become an instructor with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, teaching the Bible in various places (including Nigeria, above). Walk Thru the Bible presents the timeline of a given Testament and explains how the Bible is laid out, pointing to Christ. If you have never taken part in a Walk Thru Live Event, you must. Better yet, contact me and I will come and do it at your church!
  50. What wonderful things are pets! We’ve had three cats (Ozzie, named after Ozzie Smith, not Ozzy Osbourne; Muffin, and Smuckers, who technically is our daughter’s cat but who has remained with us since Chiannon moved to Greenville) and two dogs (Swee’Pea, a wonderful little Jack Russell–or rat–terrier, we’re not sure which, and our current little beast, Gilligan, who is part dachshund and part Jack Russell). What wonderful companions they are; Gilligan has been such a blessing during Covid lockdown!
  51. Through my friend Luke Livingston, I came to learn of Elm Street Cultural Arts in Woodstock (at that time, it was Towne Lake Arts Center), a community theater where I have been able to reignite a passion for acting that lay dormant for decades, and where I’ve also developed a new hobby, improv. I’ve also done a few things with other theatres. Favorite roles include Harold Hill in The Music Man, Putti van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Papa Murphy in Bright Star, and Buffalo Bill in Annie, Get Your Gun. What fun…time to get involved in another (once this infernal Covid thing is past).
  52. I’m incredibly blessed to have a rich diversity of Facebook friends. Being involved in the theatre is one key reason, but there are others. I want to be able to have intelligent, reasoned, respectful discussions with people of various stripes. Sometimes, it’s just…discussions…but not usually! There’s more common ground between us than a lot of us realize or will admit, and I appreciate and try to build on that. We certainly need more understanding and civility. A lot more.
  53. God has blessed us with a beautiful home to live in. We were able to pick it up 12 years ago as a foreclosure, and we’ve tried to make improvements as we’ve had money and time. It’s now a lot more house than we need, but that’s enabled us to have the blessing of
  54. Renters, to help pay bills and get us on firm financial footing. We’ve had some great ones as well, including our current tenants and, for a few years, some young Saudi students. Yahya al-Dosary…what a joy to know that goofball and consider him a friend (and if we ventured to Saudi Arabia today–and one day we might–we would be treated like absolute kings and queens).
  55. I mentioned “healthy body” early on, and on that point, I have been–to this point of my life–almost never sick. I can’t remember the last time I had the flu, and have never really had anything more serious than that in my entire life. At the risk of grossing you out…I have not thrown up since my oldest was in diapers. Literally. Oh, I get a cold occasionally–and the older I get, the more that knocks me for a loop–but if that’s the worst it’s been at age 60, I cannot complain. Yeah, I’ve got a bum knee–two surgeries on my right knee have left little to no cartilage–but I manage, and it doesn’t typically give me a lot of pain. The blessing of good health is one we should not take for granted.
  56. I’ve not often been closely touched by tragedy; with one exception, none of my closest family or friends have died young. That exception was when one of my very closest friends in life, Rusty Snyder, died suddenly at age 47. That was a hard loss. But it was the exception, not the rule.
  57. I have been in the same fantasy football league for 31 years, a league I started when I was turning 30. I’ve been in the league half my life now, and have made some great friendships through it. It’s a blessing (if not also a frustration, since I’ve only won the championship three times; it’s been 15 years since my last championship; this year doesn’t look good).
  58. I have a great library full of good books (many of which I have actually read!). My theological library isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, but that sentiment can be echoed, in almost those exact words, by every pastor in the world.
  59. Mostly, and I alluded to this earlier, I am incredibly blessed in that, being a sinner through and through as I am, God saw fit to choose to save me by His amazing grace. This is the greatest blessing of all.
  60. Finally, I am absolutely certain that I am forgetting–or failing to see–a lot of blessings that God in His grace has bestowed upon me, and I am absolutely certain that He will continue to do so in whatever remaining years He gives me. Soli Deo gloria.