Franklin Graham, John MacArthur, and Church-and-State

A few friends have seen this post on Facebook and asked me to re-post it here to make it easier for them to share.

Franklin Graham quotes California pastor John MacArthur ( = the dim quoting the dim) to encourage people in southern California to defy government guidelines and return to church: “It has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship.”

Let’s just say a few quick things about that:

1. It has always been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship—except in those relatively rare and modern cases in which a country’s constitution forbids it from doing so. The history of England, to pick a country not entirely foreign to American sensibilities, includes all four of those prerogatives, since it has a . . . state church. And so on.

2. It remains the prerogative of even American civil governments to enforce a variety of constraints on worship. Here are a few: (1) building codes in church structures; (2) health and safety codes governing use of those structures; (3) child protection rules governing who can be hired to care for children; (4) noise bylaws to protect the surrounding community; (5) forbiddance of hate speech, speech that incites violence, speech that endangers the public and more….

And the keen-eyed reader will note how all of these constraints have to do with safety, a concern immediately on point in this discussion.

3. Christians may well have to “obey God rather than humans,” but only literally when those human authorities forbid Christians from doing what they are directly called to do by God—not just whenever the state annoys Christians or inconveniences them.

If the state were forbidding all forms of Christian fellowship, then it would be running afoul of the Constitutional protection of freedom of assembly as well as freedom of religion. But it isn’t, so it isn’t.

4. People with no education in civics and no evident expertise in political theory, ethics, or Scriptural exegesis should refrain from opining about political theory, ethics, and Scriptural exegesis.

5. People who insist that they are “just preaching the gospel” would do well to “just preach the gospel.” Otherwise, the IRS should pay them a visit, their boards should get them back in line or remove them, and their donors should rethink their support.

Salacious Stupidity

I’d love to pile on Jerry Falwell, Jr. for engaging in, and then happily Instagramming, a yacht party (!) in which he, family members, and friends decide to emulate one of the foulest comedies of our time. (I’ve never watched “The Trailer Park Boys” because my sense of humour is set far, far above: say, at “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”)

Other evangelical leaders have recently gotten into trouble by words and deeds that they plead have been taken out of context and yet cannot be excused in any imaginable context. My current favourite (he said, lips dripping with Schadenfreude) is the college chaplain who dropped onto an associate’s desk “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Kama Sutra.” (When later challenged, he claimed it was simply in jest.)

Embarrassed by my fellow believers, I want to cry out, “Not all evangelicals!” And what I mean at the heart of that cry is, “Not me! Don’t lump me in with those guys.”

Many friends will know, however, that I, too, have told jokes I shouldn’t have, used words I shouldn’t have, gossiped, and otherwise ignored the pretty clear teachings of Holy Scripture. Here are a few that come to mind:

“There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting” (Ephesians 5:4).

“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!'” (Proverbs 26:18-19).

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

So instead of enjoying the delicious pleasure of denouncing others for sins from a presumed eminence of spiritual superiority, I confess instead my own stupidity and selfishness, my own reckless willingness to bring shame upon myself, my family, and my Lord, and my own pathetic attempts to rationalize such behaviour as somehow “cool” or “ironic” or otherwise “only joking.”

And I confess to deep sadness that I’m one of those leaders who has set a poor example.

And I will pray for that college chaplain and Jerry Falwell, Jr., as perhaps you will pray for me, too.

“War Is Over—If You Want It” . . . but Do We?

I freely confess that John Lennon is not my favourite songwriter. His best work arose in his partnership with Paul McCartney and what followed was vastly inferior.

The all-too-popular “Happy Xmas” is a case in point. Borrowing (that’s what stealing is called when you grab something from the public domain) a tune from the old folksong “Stewball” (“Stewball was a race horse/and I wish he were mine”), Lennon wrote a few ungrammatical lyrics that sound as if he were badly stoned when he scribbled them down:

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red one
Let’s stop all the fight

Nonetheless, every Yuletide dozens of artists cover this terrible song. And over and over we hear its subtitle repeated: “War is over/if you want it [to be].”

Why stop with war? one wants to ask. How about sexism, and racism, and every other form of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression?

Confronted by social unrest and injustice, our prime minister says he wants to “investigate how to fix it”—which is how starry-eyed liberals typically confront deeply rooted social problems.

But I’ve got a few progressive bones in my body, too. So I’ll tell him how each of these ills can be ended: Just stop it.

Okay, maybe we need more than that bit of sound advice. I’m a historian and thus a realist. So here in particular is how you abolish slavery: You pay off slaveowners and then make it illegal for anyone else to get into that evil game.

It wasn’t until 2015, in fact, that British taxpayers finally retired the loan required in 1833 to buy the freedom of slaves. Abolitionists back then commendably agonized over the idea of paying slaveowners to stop resisting abolition. But that’s what it took, so they swallowed hard and paid up.

The Americans took a different route to abolition. They fought a Civil War instead, a massive conflict that cost them immeasurably in lives and property. The most reliable recent estimate guesses that three-quarters of a million soldiers died, which is more than the total of all of America’s war dead put together, except for those in World War II. And if the Brits stopped paying for their slavery regime in 2015, it’s evident that the Yanks are paying for it still in 2020.

What would it take now to lift out of poverty the black underclass remaining from centuries of racist policies in the United States?

What would it cost to liberate and empower First Nations here in Canada?

What would be the bill to provide speedy pathways to citizenship for Latinx and other hard-working illegal immigrants?

How much more would we have to pay for all the goods or services currently produced or performed at unjust wages by non-Whites or non-males here and abroad?

World War II was unimaginably expensive. But when it was over, the Allies didn’t make the mistake they had made after the previous one. Instead of issuing a punishing bill of reparations as at Versailles, they offered Germany and Japan financial help on a massive scale to repair not only their war-ravaged countries, but also their war-ravaged relationships.

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