Monday, October 29, 2012

In the Catacombs


by Jim Rapp

How dark the world must have seemed
when believers huddled together
to protect themselves from those
who sought to destroy them and their faith.

How much darker when guardians of the faith
have sold their souls to deceitful politicians
while piling up riches for moths to destroy;
building kingdoms for rust to erode.

How utterly dark
when one cannot tell the servant of God
from the servant of Mammon;
When all dress, and talk, and act the same.

When the kingdom of this world
has become the kingdom of our God,
and  all  bow down to it,
with whom do you huddle then?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I am Pro Life – And How


In the early Christian church, in the city of Corinth, there appears to have been a scramble to claim the title of “most spiritual.” One of the important measures used by those claiming the honor was the ability to “speak in tongues”; to speak in an unlearned language under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul, writing to them in the epistle we now call 1Corintians, declared, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” But he went on to show that there were other marks of spirituality that were greater than the ability to speak in tongues and that those claiming great spirituality were deficient in most of them.

In our day, among some Evangelicals, one of the marks of spirituality (as well as the ultimate mark of political correctness) is to be pro-life.

Some insist that every pregnancy must be allowed to move to its natural conclusion and, if it seems that the “natural” conclusion could be less than a perfect live birth, then all measures available to modern medicine must be expended to accomplish that end. Every fertilized egg deserves to come to birth even if its birth results in the death of its mother or the birth of a severely deformed or disabled child.

Others make a few exceptions, usually not because of the ultimate health or condition of the new born, but because of the manner in which the egg was fertilized, or if the birth process endangers the life of the woman carrying the baby.  Thus some are pro-life except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Essentially, I am in that group of pro-lifers, but with some important caveats.

First, I am not God. Not omniscient, not omnipotent, not omnipresent. I cannot know all circumstances, control all events, nor be at the scene of every conception. Most theologians believe that God is all powerful, in all circumstances, at all times, in all places. And still horrible things occur that they (and we) are unwilling to attribute to the will of God. The fact that I am not God makes me hesitant to impose my understanding of what is right and wrong for every particular situation.

Second, I am neither a scientist nor a medical doctor. There are arguments offered by proponents of both sides in the abortion controversy that make sense to me but the fact that they make sense to me doesn’t mean much when I have limited means by which to judge them. I have sadly learned that, in highly emotional debates of this sort, both sides will lie to me, twist facts, demonize each other, present emotionally laden evidence to persuade me. Truth flies when emotions rise. The people who come closest to knowing the facts are those who are caught up in the situation that demands a decision for or against an abortion.

Third, I perceive that God is pro-life. In the person of His Son, we are told, he created all things and all things are sustained by him. He “breathed” into mankind (and all other living creatures) the breath of life. But to the first pair of humans He warned, “On the day that you eat [of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil] you will die. And later, when things had gone terribly wrong with mankind, He also declared, “my breath will not always abide in man; his lifespan will be 120 years.” Even later, “in the fullness of time,” God sent His Son to live, and die, and rise again bringing the promise of everlasting life to those who put their trust in Him. So God is intimately involved in this struggle of life and death that we experience on a daily basis, and He has declared Himself to be on the side of life. I can be on no other.

Fourth, though God is pro-life, he is also, pro-choice. He has given every human being a free will. It seems to have been a very bad choice on His part, if I may say so. Most humans use that free will as often as not, to do things harmful to themselves and to others. Because of that free will we have wars, crime, privation, oppression, sickness, and many other things that I have to presume God did not will to be. Even those who claim to be pro-life (even Evangelicals who claim to be pro-life) are too often, in my opinion, willing to endorse public policies that endanger or shorten the lives of others close to them and far away. It is almost impossible to separate ourselves from the machinery of death in our culture. It is tied to our government, to our economy, to our IRAs, to our employment, even to our diet. We celebrate it in our movies and on our TVs and in our video games. We embed it in our laws, and endorse it by our government.

So what does God do when He is forced to choose between those who would allow the abortion of a fetus, or those who would bring it into being but shorten its life by poisoning the environment in which it lives, by directing their armies to bombard it with drones, by consigning it to neighborhoods filled with crime and drugs, by leaving it in the care of those who may lock it in a basement and starve it to death or shake it violently to death if it cries for food, by calling it lazy and worthless if it happens to be born into poverty, and refusing the resources to help lift it to a better life?

What does God do? He grieves. But for reasons we cannot fully understand, He often does not intervene. God is pro-life, but He is also pro-choice. I will not argue that as individuals or as a society we should do nothing to reduce the number of abortions performed. We must, and if there are those who are truly pro-abortion, we must work as hard to defeat their agenda as we should to defeat all of mankind’s death-dealing enterprises. We must be pro-life to the core, even as our Father in Heaven is.

I hear these days, that Governor Mitt Romney is pro-life. I’m not sure where those who propound that theory get their evidence. On the issue of abortion he has been as hard to pin down as on any other part of his agenda. He currently claims to be pro-life. But his disparaging remarks about the lower 47% of the population for which he has no responsibility because, he says, they take none for themselves, shows that he is not for sustaining and improving the life of that portion of the population he deems worthless.

I also hear that President Obama is pro-abortion. Those who are a bit more charitable characterize him as pro-choice. But the implication is that he is in favor of abortions. I personally doubt that. In fact I have never encountered anyone who is pro-abortion. I do not doubt that some such people exist but they are few and usually engaged in profiting from the promotion of abortions.

It is my opinion that neither Mr. Romney nor Mr. Obama is pro-abortion. It is further my opinion that both are pro-choice. We have had a succession of Republican Presidents who campaigned as pro-life candidates dedicated to eliminating abortion from our society. None of them have worked to institute a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. And none of the Democratic Presidents we’ve had in my lifetime have tried to mandate abortion in any situation. By their actions (not their words) all have shown themselves to be pro-choice.

The Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade attempted to define the choices expectant mothers could have and those they could not. Roe v Wade is an imperfect rule because those who made it are not God and cannot be present in every situation. But short of playing God to every expectant mother in a difficult pregnancy it may be the best we can do.

Until we can know, with the certainty of God, all the details of every pregnancy, I am in favor of leaving the decision in the hands of those who are closest to the situation, knowing that any decision they make will be marked by the fallenness of mankind’s nature. We can only pray that in each situation we will also see the marks of the redemptive work of Christ as well.

I thank God that I am (at least) as pro-life as any of you. But as a believer in Christ I’ve concluded that my pro-life responsibilities do not end at birth. Therefore I support government policies that sustain and improve life from conception to death. And I support candidates who work to achieve such laws.

 

 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Anybody Listening?


or
Brevity – Extreme Brevity – is the Soul of Wit
by Jim Rapp
 
Have you tried to tell a tale,
an anecdote, an incident,
that requires half-a-dozen
lines to tell;

Tried to tell it quick and well,
knowing that the accident
of having two or three to cozen –
or to truthfully compel –

Is a one-time opportunity that fell
into your life coincident
with remembering a long frozen
tale that you’d like to thaw and tell;

Knew to choose your phrases well,
be brief, concise, diffident –
still your “moment in the sun”
“melted” quicker than the words
       you hoped to tell?

A yawn, an eye averted, was enough to tell
you that your story’d been short shrifted;
that as few as a half-a-dozen
was one too many lines to try to tell.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Devil and Dr. Billy Graham?

Christianity Today is raising the question of whether the quotations from Rev. Billy Graham, being used in election ads represent his views or those of his son, Franklin. CT recalls the recent words of Dr. Graham in the following quotation from its October 22, 2011 online edition: 

When asked by CT (Christianity Today) in 2011 if he would "go back and do anything differently," Graham, whose relationship with President Richard Nixon drew considerable controversy, replied: 

I also would have steered clear of politics. I'm grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now. 

It appears that Dr. Graham has had a change of heart. Or has he? Christianity Today is now asking, “Has Billy Graham  Suddenly Turned Political?”  The article, posted in the October 22, 2012 online edition, questions whether recent ads, created and sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), calling on voters to “vote for Biblical values”; and “to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms,” are authentic representations of  Dr. Graham’s beliefs and concerns. The BGEA, in defense of the ads, stresses that they: 

. . . intentionally do not mention any candidate, political party, or contest, urging instead for readers to cast votes for candidates, at all levels, based on their support for biblical values. [Billy Graham] recently expressed a desire to publicly call America back to God and to prayer, and to draw attention to moral issues that are clearly addressed in the Bible and have increasingly become part of a national political dialog. 

The Christianity Today article consists of three commentaries which address the question of the authenticity of Graham’s endorsement of the ads. They include: biographer of Billy Graham, William Martin, (author of A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story), Michael Hamilton (a historian of the evangelical movement and Graham's influence), and A. Larry Ross who has served as Graham's director of public relations since 1981.

Martin and Hamilton have serious reservations about Graham’s willing, and uncoerced, participation in the creation and dissemination of the ads. Ross, on the other hand, assures readers that they represent the views and wishes of Mr. Graham.

It may never be possible to ascertain the truth because the Graham family (or at least the BGEA) is unwilling to allow access to Mr. Graham due to his frail health. (They did, however, allow Mitt Romney a half-hour audience, followed by a press release with much the same wording as the ads now being run on his behalf. Dr. Graham is pictured, in the press release, with Mitt Romney and with Graham’s son, Franklin, by his father’s side.)

Christianity Today reports that, curiously, shortly after Mr. Graham’s meeting with Mitt Romney the BGEA removed “Mormonism” from its list of cults, which still includes, Unitarianism, Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.

It would not be surprising to find the BGEA bedding with Mormonism since its current CEO, Franklin Graham, has made no secret of his devotion to conservative politics and his strong aversion to Barack Obama, even suggesting that Mr. Obama’s profession of faith in Christ is insufficient to convince him that Obama is a fellow believer. However, Dr. Graham, as recently as last year made a point of, not only expressing regret at previous times when he “crossed the line” into politics, but clearly stated that he wouldn’t do that again. And, as if to stress that determination, he urged conservative Christian leaders not to involve themselves in partisan issues. Quoting from the recent CT article: 

After the 1984 presidential election, Graham told CT that baldly partisan political lobbying in many of America's churches has exacted a price, and explained that even the perception of partisan political activity weakens his credibility as a preacher. 

There can only be two reasons for Graham’s apparent change of mind regarding political statements and activities by him and the organization he founded and once ran. Either: 1) events in the last year have so dramatically affected his thinking on the matters of homosexuality, abortion, and religious freedom, that he forsook a strongly stated conviction and is speaking out, or 2) as Martin and Hamilton, commentators in the CT article, have suggested, he is being used by his politically motivated son, Franklin, to promote ideas he would not, of his own free volition, have endorsed.

Let’s be clear about two additional things: 1) The Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit any person of any religion, or of no religion at all, from being elected as the President of the United States. No religious test is to be applied to those seeking that (or any other) political office in the United States. So Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation is, in that sense, irrelevant in this election. 2) Further, there are numerous Biblical principles that voters may rightly choose to support in any particular election; dozens more than the three suggested in the BGEA ads. So Christians may differ in their priorities of Biblical principles leading them to support very different candidates.

The real question for the BGEA (and possibly also for Dr. Graham) is why it (or he) chose, in the name of Biblical principles, to cease to list Mormonism as a cult when Mormon doctrine explicitly violates orthodox Christian beliefs about the Bible and the Christ of the Bible. Mormons have been particularly eager in recent years to present their church as a part of the Christian family while at the same time holding to doctrines that the BGEA would, under other, non-political, circumstances hold to be heretical. Mormons do not explicitly believe in the Trinity, that Jesus Christ is therefore true man and true God. They further elevate the Book of Mormon, and even the modern declarations of their living prophet above the authority of Scripture.

So how is it “upholding Biblical principles” to quietly reverse a position BGEA has long held, that Mormonism is a cult? It seems to many to be a compact with the Devil, as in The Devil and Daniel Webster. It may well be that BGEA, and other Evangelical Christian organizations did themselves no service by branding rival religious faiths as “cults”. It may well be that God alone knows who his “sheep” are and that he can sort them out in the future. But when an organization like the BGEA combines its change of heart about a particular cult with a sleight-of-hand endorsement of a candidate who happens to be a member of that “cult”, it cannot but smell as though there is something rotten in the BGEA.

Dr. Billy Graham has been an honored and respected leader of Evangelicalism through his whole adult life. It is a shame to see his name involved in an affair as shifty as this one appears to be. It is my hope that he had nothing to do with the current attempt to sanctify a particular candidate by excusing doctrinal aberrations that the BGEA would not have excused in Mr. Obama.

It would have been far more honest to simply say, “While our organization continues to disagree with the Biblical understandings of the Mormon Church, Dr. Graham is endorsing Mr. Romney for election as President of the United States." But that would not have had the “spiritual punch” that the author of the ad seeks to deliver. So they must obfuscate.

Shame!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sticks and Stones Break Bones – Words Are Deadly


An e-mail I received today said, effectively, what I have felt since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. It came from a thoughtful and compassionate friend who is disturbed, as we all should be, by the tone of political rhetoric in our land. Here is a part of her comment: 

I’m hoping the political rhetoric will die down after the election. I am a conservative…not a member of any political party…but I believe President Obama when he says he is a Christian. Our job as brothers and sisters in Christ is to pray for whoever is in places of authority—Christian or not. Can you imagine how much grace and confidence it takes to hear these negative statements from millions of people across the country day in and day out? I don’t know how these people in positions of power can handle all that negativity when they are doing what they think is best for all of us. That is something else people don’t think about—these people have to do what is best for ALL kinds of people on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. They need our prayers, and once they have won the election; they need our support also. 

I hate politics—in the church and out there in the world. 

It has been a fact throughout the history of the Christian religion that believers in Christ are just as likely to be attacked, imprisoned, or even killed by others claiming to be Christian. It is a tribute to the faith of those under attack that they maintain their affiliation with the Church given the awful treatment they sometimes receive at its hand.

No politician can expect to escape criticism. Much of it will be unwarranted and even vicious. George W. Bush most recently endured harsh judgments by his Democratic opponents. But I would be hard-pressed to find any place where he was accused of being anti-Christian, or even anti-American. Democrats can be terribly unfair in their assessment of Republican candidates but they seldom reach the level of personal belittlement that I’ve found in the e-mails received from Evangelical Republicans. Here is an example of what I’m talking about, excerpted from an e-mail my wife received yesterday from a professing Evangelical Republican: 

With all my heart, spirit, mind, and soul; I believe him (President Obama) to be an antichrist, an imposter, a arrogant liar, extremely anti-Christian, anti-American, an extreme Muslim sympathizer, a traitor, a betrayer, and one who has evil motives and plans to carry them out. We will see. The truth will come out; I promise you that - if he is re-elected. 

His heroes are, and always have been, Stalin, Lenin, and Hitler. This comes from the mouth of people who have known him all his life, people who roomed with him in college, people who have seen his hypocrisy in the churches he attended, people he has worked with, on and on. He has an agenda that came from his extreme American-detesting father and an older black man who has deeply mentored him since he was in his mid-twenties. That agenda is extremely anti-American. This is very well known. He offered the infamous America-hating Reverend Wright, his VERY GOOD FRIEND of 22 years, $150,000 to "keep silent about their true affiliation."  Yet the liberal press never reported this. There is so much being covered up.

Wow! And this spoken by one who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It is an embarrassment to me, as a fellow Evangelical believer, to be associated with such hate-filled rhetoric. In fact I refuse to be “associated” with it. Those who speak in this way do not speak for me. Nor do I believe they speak for their Lord.

Jesus once said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” It should be obvious what is in the heart of one who would make the assertions cited above without documenting in minute detail why they are true. Of course they are NOT true and one could search for the rest of their life for any valid documentation.

It is my opinion that both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are flawed men. But neither of them is a devil. A Christian can safely vote for either one without endangering his/her soul or even imperiling the nation. No doubt one of them has better ideas regarding the ways to guide our nation but no one really knows which one that is. And no one knows that the person with the better ideas would be more successful than his opponent if elected. Too many other factors play into the affairs of nations to predict who will succeed and who will fail.

We need to tone down the rhetoric, show respect for those with whom we disagree, and pray for the peace and prosperity of our world, regardless of who is leading it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Weather Man

by Jim Rapp

The weather man is wrong again.
I have to say, I like it when
His prophecies of weather, coming in,
Veer off to left or right, and then
He’s forced, the next day, to pretend
He didn’t say just what, or where, or when.

And once again he waves his hand
Across the screen and spreads a band
Of weathered days that he’ll command;
Five days, or seven, and by slight-of-hand
Each sure as sure to send the land
The rain, or snow, or drought his prophecy demands.

But every day I tune him in again,
Because – I say – I like it when
His prophecies of weather, coming in,
Veer off to left or right, and then
I smugly smile, at his vain sin,
Look heavenward, and thank The Weather Man.

Monday, October 8, 2012


The Shape-shifter Plays "Who Wants to Be a President?"
by Jim Rapp

As I watch, the chameleon changes its color;
the shape-shifting Republicat – no longer a Tea Party ballarag –
declares deception by misdirection, a particular valor;
lies become truths, and “shifting” a reason to brag.

I blink, and I blink, as the Etch-a-Sketch changes;
a new man is made; the old, lost in this recent revision,
becoming a “shade” that the art of the “shifter” arranges.
I watch, and I wonder, “Is that your final decision?”
______________________
ballarag: v. to bully. By poetic license a noun meaning,
a bully.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Who Is Telling the Truth?


 
Politifact Truth Ratings For Obama, Romney, Biden and Ryan

TRUE

Mostly True

Half-True

Mostly False

FALSE

Pants on Fire

Ratio
True:False

Positive
Truth Factor

No

%

No

%

No

%

No

%

No

%

No

%

Obama

95

22

101

24

112

26

51

12

62

15

6

1

2.57:1

44

Romney

24

16

25

14

50

27

32

17

31

17

16

9

1.33:1

14

Biden

11

19

14

24

14

24

9

15

8

14

3

5

1.97:1

33

Ryan

3

12

5

20

6

24

7

28

2

8

2

8

1.27:1

12

 
 
 
 
 
 
 



It would be nice if we didn’t have to ask the question, “Who is telling the truth.” Unfortunately it is an essential question if one is to understand the choices before them in the current Presidential Election.

The sad thing is that none of the candidates are telling the truth all the time. But some do better than others. I thought it might be instructive to look at the truth rankings of the two Presidential candidates and their running mates generated by Politifact.org. Their system of ranking makes it easy to see, at a glance how any particular person is doing.

The number of fact statements being rated varies from person to person depending upon how long Politifact.org has been following them. Therefore, President Obama’s raw number of fact-checks is much greater than Governor Romney’s. The two Vice-Presidential candidates are each rated on relatively fewer instances than the men at the top of the ticket.

The columns in the table list the raw number of “facts” in each category and then the resulting percentage. For example, in the first row it shows that 95 of President Obama’s factual statements were rated as True. Therefore 22% of the statements Politifact.org rated for the President were considered true.

Additionally, I have added two columns to the right of the Politifact.org data. The first column gives a ratio of true statements to false statements. Again, using President Obama’s line it shows that he tells the truth (to some extent) 2.57 times for every 1 time that he misrepresents the truth (to some extent).

The column farthest to the right gives what I call a “Positive Truth Factor”. It is generated by adding all the percentages in the three “true” categories and subtracting from that number the total of the percentages in the “false” categories. Once more, using the Obama line, it shows that his percentage of true statements is 44% greater than his percentage of untrue statements.

It is important to note that, despite what our mothers told us, not all lies are equal. Some are atrocious, malicious, and dangerous. Others less so. Further, while I believe Politifact.org and its cousin fact-checking organization, FactCheck.org, try to be as objective as possible their interpretation of the truth may not always agree with the reader’s assessment of truth. It is best to go to their websites and read the rationale for any fact you wish to check on.

But for those who feel they can’t afford the time, the table produced above attempts to give a fair assessment of the truth claims of the candidates.

Who is telling the truth? It is obvious that all parties involved need to hone their facts. But there is a marked difference in the performance of the men in the matter of truth-telling.

Perhaps the important question is not, “Who is telling the truth?” but “Does it matter to you?”