A Different Endgame

I wanted to take a quick moment and relay an “in the trenches” type conversation I had this past Tuesday in Lansing with a ranking member of the Michigan House of Representatives who reached out to certain local pastors and asked for help/ideas/etc. in retaining several seats that are up for grabs in the upcoming election. According to the data he shared, several seats could be lost by a mere hundred or so votes depending upon voter turnout. In the midst of the discussion, he explained to me that one particular and somewhat liberal bill was going to be dealt with on the floor of the House very soon, and would probably pass—and it’s one that guys like me would never support—but the purpose was to garner moderate opposition support while at the same time keeping the bill off of the ballot in November because it would most likely draw out opposition voters who don’t typically participate in the larger elections. If this happens, it’s likely that the conservative majority would become the minority.

It was the purest image of political maneuvering, and while I’m well familiar with it happening, in that moment between just the two of us, it made me sick to my stomach. And I told him as much.

I reminded him that while I understand our system of government and the need to maintain certain levels of power to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, while this was the obvious intent of the conversation, simply keeping power was not the endgame for folks like me. It needed to be more. I explained that what seems to happen so often is that Christians are encouraged to do what they can support certain candidates and see that they are elected, and those candidates are sold on the platforms of Pro-Life, pro-religious liberty, and pro-sanctity of Marriage—all things that matter to the Christian church and her ability to function in a society where the Gospel is free to be preached and the Christians are able to live in peace and quietness. Big promises are made—such as defunding Planned Parenthood as soon as the elections are over and the candidates are in office, passing legislation that supports traditional marriage, and engaging with the courts to protect the Church from legal assaults against Biblical conscience. But when they do finally take to their seats for the business of governance, those thing never seem to happen—even in super-majority situations. For example, here I sit and Planned Parenthood is still having Michigan dollars directed to its coffers while at the same time receiving a cut of my Federal tax dollars—all of this even after so many conservative candidates were elected on the promise to stop this.

Anyway, the reason I share this is because I felt you needed to know that while I remain committed to engaging in this way, it really is for no other reason than to intercede with those in authority on behalf of the Church, and while doing so, to make sure that they understand that we are not seeking power, but rather faithfulness to good governance. When they fall short, they need to know. When they succeed, they need to be commended. In that particular moment, I expressed my concern and disappointment.

Nevertheless, and in the end, all of this serves to highlight that there is only One in whom trust is not wasted: Jesus Christ, the Savior of the Lord. It is by His gracious rule that we make our way in this life, humbly following His lead and seeking to remain in connection to Him and the gifts of forgiveness that He provides—gifts that preserve us for eternal life—namely Word and Sacrament.

God bless and keep you. If you have any questions, be sure to reach out and to let me know.

Standing Before Princes

The Lord be with you this day as you trust in Jesus and go forth into the world around you empowered to be His child, dearly loved and set apart from the bondage to Sin, Death, and the Devil.

The first thing I wanted to share is the prayer that I prayed before the Michigan Senate yesterday morning so that you are aware of what your pastor said publically before those in authority amidst the kingdom of the Left Hand. Note that if you would rather listen instead of read, you may do so by following this link: https://youtu.be/6K-UMmqcVO8.

This is the prayer:

In the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Almighty and most merciful God, You have made the promise by Your holy Word that You are near to all who call upon You in truth. Draw near to us this day and give ear to those who call upon you in faith.

Help us, we pray. The storm clouds of besetting sin are rolling through the stratosphere of this State and Nation. There is much evil being called good and much good being called evil.

We are plagued by the irreverent disregard for much that is simply and objectively true. We behold our own populace drowning in the high-tide of radical individualism. Self-worship is our idolatrous trade, and arrogant contempt for your natural law is our creed.

Behold, we confess that Your perfect and Holy design of male and female is being given over to the borderlands of confusion.

See for Yourself, O God, that we are complacent in the face of atrocity, that we have crossed over into the black waters of hell as we wittingly allow for the grinding into bits the most vulnerable – the unborn child. Regard with Your own eyes, O God, as we dehumanize these helpless ones – ever so prideful, and blindly gratified by our defense of the “right” to choose even as the tiniest of human hearts beats toward its last in the palm of our hand.

Where are you, Lord? Do you not hear us? The Christian Church, Your body of the redeemed throughout this nation and world, is even now being persecuted and criminalized. Here in our own cities and towns are we being forced to obey unjust laws and penalized for steadfast Christian conviction. And just beyond our nation’s borders, believers set by an unearthly courage in Jesus, are crucified or beheaded simply because they will not recant and trade their confession of Christ for Islam.

How long, O Lord? Are we all but lost? Has the course of this State and this Nation been run?

And yet, the Christian soul is steady, for you have declared, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you…” Hear our cries this day, for with You there is hope; with You there is mercy. Do not turn us away in judgement. Remember Your promises and be gracious to us, for you are slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. You heal the brokenhearted. You bind up their wounds. Your thoughtfulness is beyond measure and You lift up the humble. Look upon us and heal us. Purify and enlighten us that we would not dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, but would dwell in the righteous light of your love given perfectly and completely through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Your Son, and the only way of eternal life.

By this Gospel, give strength to our backs and vigor in our stride. Empower and convert the hearts and minds of all who serve in this place, that any efforts found straying from what is good and true would be discovered and stripped clean from the agenda. Cause the servants here to know and to do Your will, that in wisdom they would serve faithfully in the offices entrusted to them by the citizens of this great State. And through their service, establish and ordain for this government to be called “good.”

By and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, do we lift our heads and go forth in confidence knowing that all we have petitioned this day, You have heard, and all that is according to your Holy Will, indeed, will take root, sprout, and grow to the benefit of the citizens of the State of Michigan and to the glory of Your Holy name.

All of this we pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

The second thing I wanted to share is a recent article I wrote for Brothers of John the Steadfast. It is observational in nature as it deals with current events, but I think it is helpful for the Christian church to consider the view. The article is entitled “Cakes and Concerts: A Double Standard.” As you have time, take a look:

In light of recent events in North Carolina, perhaps like me, you have been struggling with what seems to be a frustratingly uncomplicated series of observations.

Take for example the following.

In January of 2013, a baker in Oregon declined to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple with the stated reason being that her personal beliefs simply would not allow for her to participate in the event. That baker, as a business proprietor providing products and services to the public, was criminally charged, and after a rather tumultuous series of judicial episodes lasting well into 2015, was ultimately found guilty and subsequently fined $135,000.

In summary, the baker preferred not to perform or provide her product due to her beliefs.

In April of 2016, Bruce Springsteen cancelled his performance in Greensboro, North Carolina because he did not agree with the state legislature and executive offices’ passage of House Bill 2 (HB2), commonly referred to as the “Bathroom Bill,” which in short requires transgender people to use public restrooms according to their biological gender as opposed to the gender with which they identify. Bruce Springsteen, a proprietor of goods and services, was lauded in the national media, and yet to my knowledge, has not been prosecuted for his actions.

In summary, the rock star preferred not to perform or provide his product due to his beliefs.

So, what’s the difference? Well, to start, I see at least two.

The first noticeable difference is that the incident with the baker really only affected two people – the lesbian couple – and in the end, they were able to secure a different baker for their event. Because of his celebritous muscle, Springsteen’s actions affected tens of thousands, and perhaps many more when you consider the economic effects to the immediate communities.

The second difference? I’ll get to that in a moment because at this point I suppose that some might be thinking that in the end there’s only one real difference and it’s that the baker was acting in an openly discriminatory manner and Springsteen was not. But I’m less interested in that argument because anyone who analyzes what has happened in light of actual discrimination cases in history while sprinkling a little bit of rationality into the mix will know that such a train heaves along in tow the boxcars of “hatred” as well as what the perpetrator might consider as objectively true – which is that the person to whom he or she is aiming the deliberate discriminating action is indeed deserving of the alacrity because the target is of a lesser class of citizenry and is therefore undeserving of the same goods and services as others of the perpetrator’s class.

Neither of these applies to the circumstances before us.

With regard to the baker, she was very clear to say on many occasions that she did not hate gays or think that they were second-class citizens in any way, but rather she preferred not to be involved because of her moral and religious convictions. From all that I’ve read, seen, and heard, she made it clear that the couple had the right to the service, but that she just didn’t want to be the one doing it. This is no different than countless cases both before and after her event where people have refused to participate with groups or in events with which they were in disagreement. I think I remember reading somewhere that a Christian church would not have cause for bringing a lawsuit against a Muslim caterer who preferred not to serve the organization’s spring luncheon. The caterer has the right according to the First Amendment to decline. And I should point out that in order to elevate the baker’s point and plea for similar understanding, she baked and sent cakes to some high profile LGBT organizations around the country with a note included which read: “We’re the bakers who declined to create a cake for a same-sex wedding and were ordered to pay $135,000. We want you to know that our actions were not motivated by hatred, and we personally baked this cake as a small token of our love.” I’m not sure how anyone can interpret that as the action of someone desiring to be discriminatory as opposed to simply abiding by a tenet of one’s faith.

In a sense, I would say the same of Springsteen. Whether he is religious or not (although he has expressed himself as an avowed agnostic), he is exercising a moral conviction which is protected by the First Amendment. Steven Van Zant, Springsteen’s lead guitarist, said as much when he spoke for Springsteen and his fellow band mates, saying, “You gotta hurt people economically to have them do the right thing morally.”

Neither the baker nor Springsteen is guilty of discrimination, and yet right here is where we see the second of the differences between these two cases.

Springsteen and his E Street Band had in mind to cause hurt, and not just by way of legitimate protest – that is, to hold the line to make a point or to stand immovable in a personal conviction – but to hold the line and then advance in attack through defamation and more in order to force someone else into their mode of thinking. No sooner than announcing that the concert was cancelled did folks directly and indirectly associated with the band proceed to publicly malign the elected officials in North Carolina who authored and successfully shepherded it through and into law. These words and actions incited others to take up the mantle of hurt and do the same, and in due time it devolved into the miry depths of death threats.

Still, I won’t say that Springsteen is being discriminatory, but I will say that he is being a bully, and bullying left unchecked is destined to follow a similar line and perhaps end in the same way as discrimination – which is that hatred produces the desire to hurt which in turn follows toward violence and quite possibly death. Now forgive me if I missed it, but I’ve not read anything about the baker calling the lesbian couple and leaving death threats. Nope. But she did make cakes and sent messages of kindness to the enemies actively seeking to utterly crush her livelihood and maul her reputation beyond repair.

And so, again, what’s the difference between the two? Well, the Christian baker, now has a debt to society of $135,000. Springsteen, the rock-n-roll icon, is a hero and will probably win some sort of an award for cultural bravery.

With that, there is a third distinction, isn’t there? Christ has pretty much already explained it for us in John 15:18-21 when He said:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”