How not to Speak of God in an Election Year: My Response to Wayne Grudem

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2016 at 7:21 pm

Three days ago (July 28, 2016) renowned Christian theologian Wayne Grudem publicly stated that voting for Donald Trump was “morally” a “good choice.” I do not know Dr. Grudem personally, but I found the lengthy article which he authored to be, not only in poor taste, but overtly manipulative. Although there have been several thoughtful responses by Christian thinkers (namely Jonathan Merritt), I believe I must also add my voice to the fray. I will go through his article point by point offering my own critique, commending him when possible, but demonstrating the fallacies of much of his logic. I ask for an open mind as you read this, as this is the only way we can hope to listen and learn from each other.

First of all, Grudem assumes we are all looking for a perfect candidate when we go to cast our votes. I doubt any of us are truly this naive. He calls Trump a “good flawed candidate.” Yet when he lists the flaws, he names these minor grievances:

“He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages.”

Honestly, I laughed out loud when I read some of these “flaws” which Grudem would have us overlook. You are voting for the leader of the free world, and we are to consider the lack of nuance, blurting out ill-informed ideas, and Trump’s inability and unwillingness to silence anti-Semitic and KKK rhetoric which claims to support him. If it were not so tragically serious, it would indeed be comical that Grudem would ask you to just forgive Trump these ticky-tack flaws.

Grudem goes on to say that many of the charges leveled against Trump are ill-founded, i.e. that Trump is a misogynist, racist, or poor businessman. I suppose we are not to take Trump seriously when he has demeaned women publicly and refused to honor a Muslim-American serviceman who gave his all in the line of duty. But if we should not take Trump seriously regarding these “misconceptions,” then why believe anything that comes out of his mouth? Grudem has purchased a narrative about Trump that has no need of facts or context because he decided, before he ever sat down to write this article, that he was voting for Trump and would find any means necessary to assuage his conscience to reconcile all of Trump’s flaws.

Furthermore, if we are to eschew choosing the perfect candidate, why not accept Hillary Clinton’s flaws? She has never been accused of racism nor does she demonstrate the same thin-skinned pettiness displayed early and often by Mr. Trump. The reason we are not to accept her weakness as a candidate is because, from the start, Dr. Grudem has already assumed Christians vote Republican and anything “liberal” must be perceived as evil. In a sense, we can accept the good, but flawed Trump, but the same logic does not apply to Mrs. Clinton.

My second contention with Dr. Grudem is (and I am trying to put this mildly) his very poor use of Scripture to make his point.

His first cited text comes from 1 Peter, wherein the apostle implores Christians to live as “exiles.” According to Grudem’s logic, the next logical move is to compare American Christians to the exiles of Judah in 586 BCE. He jumps straight to Jeremiah 29, in which Jeremiah tells the exiles living in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city.” The application of these two texts then leads Grudem to suggest that we should, therefore, “vote in a way that best helps our nation.”

To even compare the situation of the present-day American Christian to the audience of Peter’s persecuted Jewish churches or to connect American Christians to the Jewish exiles, who were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to serve a state against their will, is nothing short of a misappropriation of Scripture not befitting a scholar of Dr. Grudem’s caliber. The present Christian has far many more freedoms and opportunities than those afforded to the marginalized and persecuted Jews of either the 6th century BCE or those in the 1st century CE. This is a clear case of eisegesis (reading into the text) and Dr. Grudem should know better.

Should we actually choose to consult the entire book of 1 Peter, here are some of the actual commands Peter gives to the church:

Live so well among the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) that they can’t help but acknowledge your good deeds (1 Peter 2:11).

Be subject to every human institution (even a president) and do good under them (2:13-15).

Don’t use your freedom as a pretext to do evil (2:16).

Do not fear what they (other people) fear (3:14).

Keep your conscience clear (3:16).

The apostle goes on to say that Christians may end up suffering for doing good things from time to time. But Grudem doesn’t mention these passages because they do not serve his cause. Peter’s clear message to his audience maintains that believers in Jesus are to live as exiles because the goings-on of the political sphere, while important, in no way hinder the mission of Jesus. The mission goes on and should Christians have to suffer then they will count it a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Grudem’s entire conceptualization of an “exile” is in poor taste and is a misreading of Scripture.

Grudem then asks,

“Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?”

This quote is entirely disingenuous because the adjective “liberal” is meant to project a negative attitude on Mrs. Clinton from the start. This is just one of the many instances where Grudem proves himself to be anything but fair in his writing. He is intentionally manipulating his Christian audience by adding pejorative language when he mentions Hillary Clinton.

But let’s pretend we did ask that question genuinely.

Can I in good conscience vote for a person who values the lives of black people, women, Muslims, immigrants, and law enforcement officers equally?

Can I in good conscience vote for a person who thinks everyone should receive a college education and is willing to work to find a way to remove the mountains of debt which hinder so many to attain it?

Can I in good conscience vote for a person who thinks the law shouldn’t favor one faith or gender or race?

The answer to these questions is, for me, yes. I could vote for that kind of person.

Let me be clear. I do not endorse Hillary Clinton as America’s savior, nor do I think she stands on any moral high ground. Her email scandal was a perverse failure of justice, because I believe she acted carelessly. As to the rest of her character, Dr. Grudem’s argumentation should lead us to the conclusion (according to his opening paragraphs) that it really doesn’t matter how corrupt she is, because we are allowed to pick a flawed candidate. I use Grudem’s own words to show how he has contradicted himself.

For the rest of his article, Dr. Grudem elaborates on both possible future scenarios: a Trump presidency vs. a Clinton presidency.

He covers:

The Supreme Court nominations

Abortion – Overturning Roe v. Wade

Religious Liberty – prayer in public offices and schools

Christian Business – the right to refuse service

Christian Schools

Churches – losing the right to meet in school buildings

Criminalizing Dissent – making it a crime to disagree with science

I will allow Grudem one valid point within these arguments, and they may be found in his first topic. I agree with Grudem that the nominations of Supreme Court justices are important. They will make precedent-setting decisions that will impact this country. But why should we trust Donald Trump’s judgment over Hillary’s? Why should I trust Donald Trump’s judgment regarding a judge’s character when he has made disparaging remarks about a judge of Mexican descent? Although I agree that SCOTUS judges are important, I’m not ready to trust Trump to deliver the ones we need. And with a Republican controlled Senate, it’s not likely that Hillary will get a flag-burning, Constitution-trampling hippie to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Grudem believes that getting an All-Star conservative SCOTUS would overturn Roe v. Wade. Ironically it would seem, Grudem doesn’t know that Roe v. Wade was passed with conservative justices voting to approve abortion legalization! So why would Trump’s team of judges suddenly overturn a case conservative judges ended up passing in the 1970’s?

If abortion is the only reason you want to vote for Trump, you are placing your eggs in the wrong basket. If abortion is your number one concern, you should devote your life to adoption, abortion counseling, and other venues which are still legal and actually serve to put a dent in the issues which concern you. Legislation is not likely to be the process which ends abortion.

Throughout the rest of the article, Grudem tries to convince us the same thing that the RNC tried to convince us: unless we elect Trump, the world will burn. We’ll be back to partial-birth abortions just because…we will! Anyone with a public business will have to continue the degrading service of providing goods for people they think are sinful (but just a certain kind of public sin). Churches that meet in school buildings might get kicked out (even though all the churches I know who meet in schools are so valuable to the school that no legislation would convince them to give the church the boot). Christian colleges and schools might have to let people inside that do not think the same way they do. And, perhaps the greatest of all concerns, we might be federally prosecuted if we disagree with science (i.e. global warming, which we all know to be a big hoax).

If you were to go through Grudem’s article, you would notice that it is littered with the subjunctive mood. That is to say, much of the article is a big, “what if?” Grudem does not know what will happen in the event either candidate is elected and, I imagine, in four years many of his predictions will look quite silly. He is not a political expert; he is a theologian, and he would do better to stick to that discipline.

The truth is we cannot play the “what if” game. Because the future will always look a certain way depending on where you currently stand. If you think this country is a shadow of what it once was, you will see a Trump win as an American win, and a Hillary win as the end of the world. The same goes for the converse. If you liked Obama, you’ll love Hillary. Very few people are actually going to change their minds in this respect.

This leads me to my ultimate point and major contention with Grudem’s article. The essay reeks of utilitarianism. The whole idea supported by Grudem is that we must do the most good for the most people. But there are many people in this country for whom the system is not working. There are still systematic injustices against the black community. LGBTQ Americans still do not have the same rights as other Americans simply because of their sexual orientation. There are many working-class people who go to college or vocational school who will never have the same opportunities as the top 10% of America’s wealthiest families. Grudem, according to his final paragraph, suggests that these people just have to sacrifice for the “greater good.” That doesn’t work for me.

When I read my Bible and I hear Jesus talking about the Kingdom of God, I hear talk of a Kingdom that exists outside of the cogs and gears of any political infrastructure. According to the Gospels and Acts, Jesus’ Kingdom was not one that delivers promises or hopes based on what people want—the Kingdom of God gives people what they need.

As a Christian, I think we need to liberate ourselves from this election. I don’t mean we shouldn’t vote—we should. But we have to avoid the fallacy proposed by Grudem, which is that God has a moral candidate for whom you should be voting. Personally, I do not think that God’s biggest concern lies in who takes the Oval Office in January. God cares more about Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and everyone in-between alleviating poverty, stamping out injustice, creating peace, ending violence, and seeing each other as equals through the lens of love.

I get to experience and work toward that reality whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are elected in the fall.

So get out and vote. Maybe you think Trump will fix all the problems of our society, and if he’s elected, I hope you are right. But don’t quote the Bible at me and tell me that he is God’s “most moral” choice. That’s just not true. And neither is Hillary Clinton. Because this is America, and you get to vote based on who you think deserves the job. You should do that prayerfully and thoughtfully. You should take your kingdom values to the booth. But don’t pretend you’re picking God’s man or woman; because you are not. You just electing the next president. The Kingdom and Mission of Jesus will go on whichever outcome takes place.


An Open Letter to My Centerville Starbucks Crew:

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Dear Sbux crew,

Many people have no idea what being a “partner” means, but a year and half ago, I began to learn what it means.

Maybe people think this job is just “a stepping stone,” or a “pit stop” before we make our “real career.” Maybe they think we’re just a bunch of angst-filled hipsters with decent health insurance.

But being on the other side of the counter, we know better. For some of us, this is a second or third job. Many of us (including me) are trying to get an education while simultaneously trying to remember our regulars’ names and drinks. We too, like those who order Triple Skinny Vanilla Lattes with no foam, have families, budgets, sanities to maintain. While the perception may be that we just make coffee and listen to Coldplay, we know the true story about ourselves: we are a tight family that works hard and plays hard. 

I often imagine that for some of customers, we might be the most significant relationship they have. And while there may be some cappuccinos with a difficult person on the other end, we smile and stick up for one another. We laugh, get frustrated, see each other cry, support each other’s families, and often transcend the job aspect of being a partner and become friends.

That has been my experience with you all.

This was not a pit stop or a stepping stone for me. It was never just a job or a convenient source of insurance. And you were never just co-workers. You became and are some of my closest friends, the only family I have in Ohio. We’ve golfed, eaten, and drank ourselves into some really amazing relationships and I’m so glad I got to wear the apron with you.

It’s not like it’s good-bye. I know we’ll still see each other often. But it will be different not donning the green apron and throwing on a headset to get crazy with you. I will miss it. And I want to say thanks for making it a blast, even when life on the other side of the counter was hard.

So why did I make this an open letter? First of all, to let everyone else on social media know how amazing you guys are. I really do wish that every customer could know what kind of creative, funny, hardworking, and awesome people are getting them their Frappuccinos. I would hope that everyone would treat their barista with respect, giving them a simple smile and the occasional tip. I would hope that the rest of the world could know how much more fun the job is when the customers let themselves become more than a transaction, but a part of the store’s family. It’s really just what being a good human is all about, and I want that for you all.

Second, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you, each of you. I’m sorry if there was ever a day that I showed up to work with anything but complete appreciation for you. You have seen me through hard days and made them better. We’ve talked about everything from sports, family, religion, politics, and the end of the world, and I’m so glad that I had you guys to discuss those things with. You have done more for me than I could have ever hoped to do for anyone else, and I just want to say, “Thanks.” I love you guys. I have mixed feelings about becoming a “regular,” but I know you’ll always be there to make any day better.

Again, it’s not the end. Just the beginning of something else. So I’ll be seeing you all out at Archer’s, Soft Rock Karaoke, or at my place for dinner and drinks, because I couldn’t imagine living in Centerville without having you all in my life.

See you tomorrow when I come in to get my Venti Chai.

– Caleb

How to Watch (and Respond to) “Exodus: Gods and Kings

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm

The movie Exouds: Gods and Kings will soon attract all kinds of interest. For Jews and Christians, the story of God rescuing Israelite slaves from bondage is central to their theology. For Jews, it is the foundation story of their people. In the Christian tradition, the gospels do not fail to point out that much of Jesus story, both before and shortly after his birth, follow, quite markedly, an Exodus-motif. Jesus himself gave Pesach (Passover) a makeover in the Last Supper. The narrative even played a prominent role in the dismantling of American slavery. The point is: the story of Exodus has influenced individuals and communities in powerful ways throughout history. With great importance, comes heavy emotional investment.

No doubt, many will line up to watch Ridley Scott’s rendition of the Exodus story. Among these multitudes, some Christians will come to the fore with scathing criticism. Chief among these outcries, the complaint will arise that something was not “like it was in the book.” With all due respect to sacred status of Scripture, any film adaptation of a book will apply artistic interpretation. The HobbitGame of ThronesHarry Potter, and a host of other books adapted for the screen, failed to maintain absolute integrity of the original texts. If they had, they would have likely been rather boring. By definition, a film adaptation will change elements and present a unique interpretation of the narrative. This should be understood when watching any film based on pre-existing literature.

Along with the disdain for maintaining the absolute integrity of the Exodus story, others will protest that certain scenes are offensive or belittling of divine elements. Based on a little research, not having seen the film yet, God will be portrayed in one aspect as an impetuous, jealous child. The miracle of the dividing of the sea will be explained as a rare tsunami. For people of faith, the portrayal of their God and the miraculous deliverance of Israel are tantamount in the story. I guarantee your Facebook news feeds will soon be rife with protests saying, “Don’t see the movie! It doesn’t stick to the book! Ridley Scott doesn’t believe in miracles!” It is because of these anticipated postings that I am writing this piece. So I want to give some guidelines for watching the movie and talking about it after seeing it (whether in person or via social media).

  1. Read the Exodus story. Many Christians are home-blind to elements within the story. We’ve all heard the children’s version of the story, but we don’t really get into the adult content. Don’t assume you fully understand or remember every aspect of the narrative. Study it. Ask questions. Discuss it in a communal setting. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t reduce the story to: Egypt is bad, God called Moses, God sent plagues, God killed Egyptians and rescued Israel through the Red Sea. There are all kinds of whacky and disturbing scenes within the text which don’t usually get featured in cool sermon series. For instance, did you know that God tried to kill Moses before he even went to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26)? Have you ever thought it strange that the Israelites are told to remain indoors while the Angel of Death kills the firstborn at night (Exodus 12:22), and yet the account has Moses and Aaron going to Pharaoh Familiarity often breeds unfamiliarity. Go read the actual text before you criticize someone’s retelling of it.
  2. Watch and Discuss in Community. Don’t isolate yourself. Go see the movie with friends and family. Watch the movie with people who don’t share your beliefs. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t uphold the theological content of the Bible. How would you feel about a God who kills babies (whether they are Egyptian or not is beside the point), destroys economies, and gets really, really angry sometimes? You may read the story a certain way because you have a certain set of beliefs and approaches going in; not everyone possesses that worldview. Create space for dialogue with those people in a non-judgmental, open atmosphere. It will be far more productive than social media polemics which alienate and shut down (productive) conversation.
  3. Guard Social Media. Do not post inflammatory statements — especially if you have not and will not seen the film! The number one thing people don’t like about Christianity are the Christians. If you have a criticism about the movie, articulate based on the text, research, and reflection. Do not just rant about how Hollywood hates God and doesn’t believe in miracles. A better way of addressing something you think was not representative of the biblical account is by asking open, non-threatening questions to open a dialogue. Better yet, turn off your computer and get a cup of coffee. Conversations of the religious and intellectual nature are always best had in person over a fine beverage and/or meal. Finally, hold your friends accountable in regard to disrespectful posts. Gently make them aware of what image they are casting for Christians in general when they update their status with ungracious words. Jesus has bad enough PR and doesn’t need people who claim to follow him making it worse over a movie.

If you aren’t sure you can do these things, maybe you should reconsider why you would even want to see the movie in the first place. Are you looking for an argument? Do you really think that a movie is going to make or break the Christian faith? In the big picture, what will your comments regarding the movie have on human history, or even more accessible, in the lives of those in your neighborhoods, workplaces, and community? Like momma always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Wise words.