Pass the salt

Another core idea in Logic-- in general, as well as in logic for theological discussion-- is Consistency.

The fundamental definition of consistency is this: two or more ideas may be true at the same time, in the same context. If two statements can both be said to be true at the same time and in the same context, they are said to be consistent.

All of us are inconsistent. One of my philosophy professors pointed this out in a profound-- and humorous-- manner: “everyone is inconsistent; even a determinist will ask you to pass the salt!”

But our inconsistency matters the most when we attempt discourse and discussion-- particularly when there is disagreement involved. This is because our inconsistencies undermine our more salient points by causing others to question, second-guess, or even outright doubt all of our points.

A couple of recent political events demonstrate inconsistency well. For one, John McCain stood up on Monday, September 15, and declared that our economic system is “fundamentally sound” while addressing the concerns about the Lehman and AIG failures. (He has since backpedaled on that statement, which further underscores the inconsistency.) Meanwhile, Senator Obama (and the rest of the Democrats in congress) have strongly supported a bailout plan approaching $700 billion-- money which will effectively buy off the financial problems of the wealthiest of Americans-- while simultaneously demanding an increase in taxes for the wealthiest Americans. (I guess that is their plan to pay for the bailout.)

Similarly, the entire financial crisis is being blamed largely on the economic policies of President Bush, while President Clinton’s presidency and economic accomplishments have been lauded and praised. But the crisis we are facing now is the fallout of
poor policies of a decade ago, just as a significant amount of the economic prosperity of the Clinton presidency was the fruit of the presidencies that preceded him. It turns out that what we do today actually has impact on tomorrow-- go figure.

A good example from the theological discussion world covers the debates of the past decade or so in the PCA. Back in 2002, the debate du jour was over “good-faith subscription” vs. “strict subscription.” A number of guys opposed the idea of good-faith subscription because, some of them said, it would open the door for too many differing positions on various theological issues. Fast-forward to 2006, and the new debate has turned to a theological view called the “Federal Vision” position-- which was, and is, a variation on the historic position on the prominence of individual salvation. Ironically, many of those who came under fire during the Federal Vision debates, and who took cover under the “good-faith subscription” blanket, were some of the same guys who opposed the passage of the good-faith subscription amendment. In short, many of the same men who would end up benefiting the most from the good-faith subscription vote were those who spoke most vehemently against it.

The difficulty about consistency is that it can’t easily be corrected or improved. Unlike bad argument styles, for example, you cannot simply evaluate arguments by asking a set of questions that will reveal the problems of consistency. To recognize inconsistency in your own arguments, you must begin to learn how to see how ideas connect. You must also develop a memory of what you have said and done, and recognize how those things affect the next thing.

Unlike fallacies, however, defeating inconsistencies doesn’t really require strategies or counter-examples. It simply needs to be pointed out. Once you’ve shown someone to be inconsistent, they will often make things worse by disclaiming, excusing, or digging deeper.

Bad argument styles #3: you can't, but we can

When I was in college, I took a public speaking class (didn’t everyone?), and my last assignment was to present a persuasive speech. The topic had to be approved by the professor, and I wrote a proposal to deliver a speech on the topic, “Why we can trust the Bible.”

My professor denied my topic, because, as he said, in order to speak on that topic I would have to appeal to the authority of the Bible, and he wouldn’t allow that. Imagine my surprise when one of the first speeches given by one of my classmates was on the topic, “The Bible is just a bunch of myths and legends.”

(What made it worse was that the guy basically appealed to the fact that the contents of the Bible has been referred to as, “the greatest story ever told,” and we all know that a
story is fiction. Yep, that was the gist of his argument-- persuasive, right? See my forthcoming post on the fallacy of equivocation...)

This is a classic example of what I call the “you can’t, but we can” argument style. The essence of it is this: one party declares a certain topic, appeal, source of authority, term or phrase, or whatever, to be off-limits. The other side agrees. Then the first side proceeds to appeal to that topic, phrase, etc.; but when the other side brings it up, they are reprimanded for speaking on an off-limits topic.

This has plagued the political campaigns this year. Senator Clinton committed it when she castigated others for holding her gender against her, only to turn around and declare that a vote for her is a step of progress for women everywhere. Senator Obama has done something similar with regard to race (and his “youthfulness” as well). Most recently, the McCain/Palin campaign has employed it, first saying that Governor Palin’s pregnant daughter should be “out of bounds” for political discussion, then parlaying it into a mark in her favor as a Pro-Life candidate.

But it happens in the church, too-- and that’s where I’m even more concerned about it. A good example is this excerpt from one of my favorite books on the sacrament of Baptism,
William the Baptist by James M. Chaney. This is a dialogue between William, a devoted Baptist, and his wife’s Presbyterian pastor, on whether immersion is a biblical mode of administering the sacrament (from pp.30-32):

William: ...I cannot express my astonishment to learn that you regard immersion as an unscriptural mode of baptism. You will find but few who will agree with you in that extreme view.

Pastor: Immersionists are zealous in their labors to make such an impression, but it is very erroneous. The ministers of our Church, as a body, agree with me. A few, regarding it as a mere external, look upon it with such supreme indifference that they can scarcely be said to have an opinion on it; and such may sometimes make concessions which our opposers are very quick to catch up and use to their own advantage. I have know a few who would push this question of indifference to such an extreme that, while unhesitatingly declaring immersion unscriptural as a mode of baptism, would yet, on request, administer the rite in that way. The Presbytery of Lafayette, in answer to a memorial, declared by a unanimous vote that, “it is inexpedient and IMPROPER for a Presbyterian minister to administer the rite of baptism by immersion.”

William: Such facts are new to me. But are you not mistaken as to the number of those who make such concessions? I have heard many sermons on the subject by immersionists, and by their quotations and statements they succeeded in making the impression on me that all Pædo-bapists agree in concessions that would seem to render the further discussion of the question unnecessary.

Pastor: Such concessions form the burden of their books and sermons on the subject. Some years ago I put myself to some trouble to hear a Baptist minister, who proposed to discuss the subject purely from a Bible standpoint. I was anxious to know what a man could say in favor of immersion, in three sermons an hour each, who would confine himself to the Bible, and let lexicons and Pædo-baptist concessions alone.
A worthy Baptist minister introduced the services by an earnest prayer, the burden of which was praise to God for His Word, for the clearness of its revelations, and its sufficiency in all things. I was delighted with the prayer: I regarded it as a prelude to a Bible discussion, and thought that a desire, long entertained, to hear such a discussion, was about to be gratified.
A gospel song was sung, and the minister, with only the open Bible before him, began his task. For about fifteen minutes I was charmed with an eloquent eulogy on the Bible. It was in the spirit of the prayer that preceded it. The massive Book, with its pages opened, was held up to our gaze; and “
here,” said the speaker, “not in Creeds and Confessions of Faith, but here, in the Word of God, are we to look and find the mind of the Lord. TO THE LAW and the TESTIMONY if they speak not according to this word, IT IS BECAUSE THERE IS NO LIGHT IN THEM.”
What more could I desire? A Bible discussion of baptism! what I had so longed to hear.
As the sound of the speaker’s voice (in giving the quotation) was dying away, in a most reverent manner he gently closed the sacred volume, and with as much reverence as the case would admit of, he slowly pushed the source of light to his extreme left, taking one step to enable him to get it sufficiently far. The movement was inexplicable. But, in less time than it requires to tell you, the speaker was almost hidden behind books, large and small, which he piled before him, and on his right and left.
And now the Bible discussion!! For
two hours we were treated to a learned dissertation-- by one who knew nothing of the Greek language-- on the meaning of “baptidzo.” Greek lexicons and Pædo-baptist commentators and writers were the sole witnesses. The Bible was wholly ignored. It was not mentioned once. No text was quoted from it!!
If it had been but a human production, I could but pity it on account of such treatment. Sacred volume, lifted so high to fall so low!
My disappointment was great, but I went to hear the second and third discourses, “
et ab uno, disce omnes.” The discussion of the subject, in all, occupied more than five hours, and only at the close, and then only for about fifteen minutes, did the Bible receive any notice, and then all that was done was to quote a few favorite passages, taking it for granted that they were conclusive in favor of immersion, but making no attempt at proof.

William: In all the books I have read on the subject, and in all the discussions to which I have listened, I have noticed that such was their method, and I think it proper. It served to establish me in my views. with such concessions, and the plain teachings of the Bible, I have come to regard the question as removed from any debatable ground, and I cannot express to you my astonishment that you would intimate that a Pædo-baptist would undertake to uphold his views from the Bible alone! Am I correct in drawing the inference that any one would undertake such a task?

Pastor: Do you think any other method legitimate and satisfactory?

William: I certainly thing such a method best; but I see no objection to other aids, especially to the ad hominem arguments to which you have referred.

The gist: the Baptist pastor asserts “no creeds or confessions of faith” are admissible, but “the Word of God alone”-- in other words, “you can’t use your creeds or confessions” (which is convenient, since the Baptist church is ostensibly a “non-creedal” body). Yet, out come the commentators and Baptist resources-- perhaps what we might construe as the confessions of faith for a group that eschews confessions of faith.

So, here are some questions to ask to avoid this argument style:
  • What are the topics, terms, phrases, ideas, appeals to authority, etc., that I consider “off-limits?” Why do I regard them as such?
  • Is my desire for such a limitation an emotional response, or do I have reasons for it? What are the reasons?
  • Is my perspective on these topics, etc., fair and just? Do I consider them “off-limits” because I am trying to cripple my discussion partner? If I allowed them into the discussion, would I simply have more work and research to do, or would I be admitting a harmful element into the debate?
  • Am I willing to subject myself to the same (or similar) limitations? Have I represented my position and/or argument as one that IS subject to the same limitations, but have failed to fulfill that?
  • Is the limitation I am proposing a matter of vital importance, or simply a difference of opinion? Would my discussion partner categorize it in the same way? (And what is suggested by an answer of “no” to that last question?)

"In God We Trust"

A friend of mine recently posted a series of notes on his social network discussing his concern for the fact that our national motto, “In God We Trust,” is being moved from the face of coins (as is common today) to the sides, or edges, of coins in some proposed future designs.

My friend’s concern is that, once the motto is moved to the edges of coins, it won’t be long before it is removed entirely. This is a
Slippery Slope argument, but that’s not what I’m concerned about here. Instead, I’m bothered by my friend’s insistence that this bodes badly for the spiritual state of our nation.

He asserts that we see all references to God being systematically removed from the “arenas of our culture.” This, he says, is a problem because, as with the motto on coins, this removes from the consciousness of the culture the truth of the
Biblical God. I think he assumes too much in this.

We in the church are accustomed to seeing the word “God” and immediately associating it with Yahweh, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the trinitarian God. But I think the idea of “god” has become so vague and passé outside of the church that there is little or no association with the Christian God in the word itself.

For that matter, in a culture like ours-- where almost everyone has had
some exposure to more than one religious belief system-- the notion of “God” may, as often as not, conjure up an association with Allah (the god of Islam), Gaia or some other pantheistic idea, Hinduism or some eastern religious concept, or even some personally-invented idolatry or paganism. It is clear from the studies that have been done that, while a very large majority of the population of the U.S. say they “believe in God,” the idea of god that those respondents hold is frequently anything other than an orthodox understanding of God.

In stark contrast, I get the sense from my friend’s posts that he considers the presence of our national motto as a great boon for the spread of the Gospel. While this might be an interesting conversation starter that could lead to an evangelistic opportunity, I’ve never heard of anyone who actively inquired about spiritual truth because of the U.S. motto on currency. I could be dead wrong on this one, but I rank the motto on a coin as several notches below bumper stickers, t-shirts, and coffee mugs as tools for outreach.

So here’s my point: should my friend be up in arms? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it is time and energy that is misplaced, that could have been spent doing actual ministry of evangelism and outreach. (So, too, is this post-- consider me sufficiently convicted.)

Bad argument styles #2: using labels that don't work

I once worked for a church where a member of the pastoral staff and I didn’t fully agree on theological matters. He might have defined himself (in comparison to me) as more broadly evangelical, while I might have defined myself (in relation to him) as more traditionally Reformed. But when it came to him defining me, the choice was simple.

He called me a “TR”.

If you’ve never encountered the label “TR” before, it means “Totally Reformed” or “Truly Reformed”. This wasn’t the first time I had encountered the label, but it was the first time I had been called one. (And the last, as far as I know.)

When someone is called a TR, it doesn’t really define a clear meaning of who they are, what they think, or where they stand on a position. Rather, it is a judgment waged entirely on one person’s thoughts relative to another person.

So many will use the label TR as a pejorative term: “He’s such a TR” (meaning, “he’s more ‘Reformed’ than me). Others will use it with a sense of theological hubris: “I’m a TR” (meaning, “I’m more ‘Reformed’ than you”). In neither case is the term helpful.

For years, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have had clear and straightforward associations. Over that time,
they have served as categories that we might safely place ourselves (and others) within, which lends great understanding of what we (and others) think, believe, agree or disagree with, etc.

I believe that time has passed us by. I think these labels, like “TR”, are no longer helpful, but are simply used in either pejorative or haughty ways.

As I recently read a book entitled,
A Handful of Pebbles: theological liberalism and the church, this idea (that the labels no longer serve a useful purpose) kept coming to mind. It wasn’t unclear what the author meant by it, but it was clear that he supposed that what he described as “theological liberalism” was all that there was to it.

Is it possible that there are liberal ideas and ideals that (so-called) conservatives might also embrace? Or that there are conservative ideas and ideals that (so-called) liberals might embrace? Whether we are discussing theology, politics, social issues, or economics, I think the lines are blurring.

For example, we have any number of people in political office today who are called “conservatives”-- yet these people are not “conservative” in every way: some may be fiscal conservatives, but social moderates and theological liberals. Similarly, there are many who are categorized as “liberals” who are socially and theologically conservative, but are politically liberal.

And, of course, there is the matter of degree. Whether a person assumes the mantle of conservative or liberal, or more or less “Reformed”, they are doing so in comparison to others. And the problem with association by degrees was best articulated by Tim Keller:

No matter what you believe, there will always be someone to your ‘right’, as it were, who thinks you sold out the Gospel.

Keller went on to illustrate by talking about living in community. So you think you know what vulnerable community is? he asks. Look at the Amish-- they blow us away when it comes to living in an intimate community.

But, Keller says, a people-group like the Auca indians (the group that Jim and Elizabeth Elliot sought to reach as missionaries) will look at the Amish and write them off. You think you know intimate community? How can you-- you have walls! It turns out that the Aucas live in dwellings with no walls, and everything that anyone does is announced. When Elizabeth Elliot left her dwelling to go to the bathroom, someone would announce, “the white woman is going down to the river to urinate”.

We have many, many categories and labels that are quite useful-- but we have a good number (more than we should) that aren’t. So, how can we evaluate our labels? Here are a few questions to ask:
  • Am I labeling an idea, or a person? If I am labeling a person, am I being hasty in casting them into a group that they do not deserve to be in?
  • Why do I feel the need to apply a label or category to this person or idea? Will applying a label or category truly help me (and others) understand their point of view?
  • Is my use of labels or categories gracious and kind, giving credit where credit is due? Or is it something that tears another down or builds me up (or both)?
  • Is the label or category I am using an objective qualification of a particular view or idea? Or is it simply a means of comparing myself or someone else to others?
  • Does my use of labels or categories drive myself and others to Christ and to orthodoxy? Is speaking of someone or some idea in this way a credit to the Gospel?
  • Is my use of labels or categories something I would gladly say to the person I am speaking of? Could I say this to them without embarrassment or qualification? Would the feel honored and understood by my use of the label or category I am applying to them?

Fostering and Adoption: how we gave up the family a long time ago

There is an interesting overture before the legislature of Arkansas that, if it succeeds, would put a bill before the state that would outlaw adoption and foster care by unmarried people who live together.

I find it interesting because it is addressing the very problem that, I believe, ended the current debate about same-sex marriage before it started: when we (and by that I mean the “royal we”-- the culture of our nation) granted same-sex couples the right to foster and adopt orphans, we tacitly allowed them to also define themselves as a family. How, then, could we possibly deny them other similar legal rights as a family?

So the people of Arkansas have realized that-- or at least they have recognized that granting same-sex couples (and other unmarried couples as well) the right to adopt, they put the “traditional” understanding of family under threat. This is a pretty bold move, given the widespread acceptance of divorce and even co-habitation in our society.

At the same time, I have to say I’m sympathetic to the response from the “other side”-- in this case, including the social workers and others who want to see the huge numbers of orphans placed with families that can care for them better than the state. Is it not the case that ANY willing parent-- single, unmarried, homosexual-- who will offer love and care for a child is better than none, leaving children in state care?

And this is where the rubber meets the road: if the church dares to demand that such measures be taken (i.e., stripping same-sex couples of the possibility of adoption), we must step up to improve our participation in adoption and foster care ourselves. We are biblically mandated to do so (James 1:27) if we claim to take the practice of our faith seriously. How can we say that unmarried couples must not be allowed to adopt, when they are willing to do what we are not?

McCain's grim prospects

If you read very much on the internet-- especially stuff from other Christians-- then you’ve almost certainly encountered a lot of stuff about Senator Barack Obama. If you watch TV at all, or read the newspaper, he’s everywhere. Even Senator John McCain’s own ads call him the “biggest celebrity in the world.”

Even those who oppose Senator Obama, in one way or another, have given him a lot of attention. One of the blogs I read has averaged, it seems like, at least a post a week on why he’s not the guy that should be president. Plenty of Christians will offer great amounts of evidence for why Senator Obama is the worst possible future president for our country.

I almost never hear very much about Senator McCain. I don’t know anyone who is excited about his candidacy, or delighted about the president he would make. I’ve yet to read a well-written, thoroughly developed piece on why McCain SHOULD be president. (Or, for that matter, one on why he SHOULDN’T!)

In fact, the general sense I get-- even from those who strongly oppose Senator Obama-- is, in a nutshell, “I’m not that excited about [Senator] McCain either.”

No one is excited about Senator John McCain. No one is vigorously, zealously behind him. No one is concerned about zealously opposing him. At the beginning of an episode from the last season of West Wing, one of the candidates is told something like, this campaign is all yours-- you won’t even have to mention the other guy’s name. I think that pretty much sums up the status of Senator Obama’s status right now, too.

[Now, that last paragraph is all hyperbole, of course. I’m sure I’ll get some emails about it anyway...]

Senator McCain may have gained a bit of ground at Saturday’s Saddleback Civic Forum. Even there, though, many responses were that Senator McCain’s words were too “party-line” and sounded like he was appealing to that certain group of voters. Senator Obama came off as fresh and genuine to the same group, while others the same thing about him.

So, here’s how it looks from where I sit: Senator John McCain may, indeed, be exactly the man we need in the White House; Senator Barack Obama may, indeed, be the worst thing for Christians in the United States ever. Or both of those assumptions may be totally off. But unless he can get his campaign into a much higher gear (and there’s still plenty of time to do so), Senator McCain is going to become the next Walter Mondale, the next Bob Dole, and the next John Kerry: the “other candidate” who was easily forgotten, because the one who beat him was such a dominant presence. Right now, the election is Senator Barack Obama’s to lose.

Are you wit' us, or agin' us?

In light of yesterday’s post on single-issue voting, I’ll offer this post that re-covers the ideas that started it, plus the counter-points to those ideas.

I’m not throwing my support behind either candidate– and I don’t care to share who I’m voting for. I think there’s a good case to be made for a conservative on both sides, and I understand the “I’m socio-politically conservative and I’m voting for Obama” side completely.

Here’s the gist of that argument:
  1. Single-issue voting is wrong and unbiblical.
  2. Even if it were not, we’ve been told that “the next president will end legalized abortion through judicial appointments” since the 80s– has it happened yet?
  3. If that’s not reason enough to be skeptical, there is arguable evidence that abortion actually was reduced more under Clinton than Bush– so why is the default assumption that a Republican president will be better for the pro-life position? (Oh yeah: because the whole argument goes, the distant possibility of total elimination of legalized abortions is more important than the more likely possibility of reduction of legalized abortions.)
  4. A vote for McCain is a guarantee for continued waging of war that is unjust and has little possibility of ending soon or with effective outcome. A vote for Obama is at least a solid chance of ending that much sooner.
  5. The grim predictions of all who oppose Obama is that he is an extreme liberal who will be the enemy of people of faith. The last time we heard this was, of course, when President Bill Clinton was elected. But really, Clinton didn’t end up being that bad, and it is hard to argue that the U.S. suffered or got worse under his presidency. Why should we believe it this time around?
  6. Isn’t it natural to want to believe that all of the talk of change, a new tone, and truly productive political process is true? Even the most cynical among us must surely WANT it to be true.
So there is my take on the case for Obama from a conservative’s perspective. Now, here’s the argument for the other side: why should a Christian/conservative/moderate (or even liberal) vote for John McCain?
  1. Single-issue voting is wrong and unbiblical. (And just as many conservatives oppose Obama because of his position on abortion, many others oppose McCain because of his position on the Iraq War.)
  2. Even if it were not, the Iraq War is a commitment we have made as a nation-- good or ill-- and we ought to take that commitment seriously enough to see it through to completion. Yes, we’ve been involved in it for over five years; we were in Vietnam for 16 years, and our failure there was largely due to growing apathy and opposition toward the later stages, even when some evidence of success had shown up. The recent reports of the positive effects of the “surge” ought to be enough to at least slow down the urgency to pull out as soon as possible. So the next president will at least need to be open-minded to the matters at hand, and not dogmatically committed to immediate withdrawal. We may not “win” this war, but we can certainly finish well.
  3. McCain, though fairly moderate on many issues, has a solid record of “pro-life” support and congressional/senatorial voting. So if we ARE inclined toward the single-issue agenda that consumes so many Christians, he’s your guy!
  4. A vote for McCain may actually be a pretty good balance of conservative and moderate positions, appealing more to many of the younger generation of folks who don’t identify purely with a right-wing, conservative agenda.
  5. While McCain has, at best, been very tight-lipped about his personal beliefs and faith (to my knowledge he’s never gone on record stating that he considers himself a Christian or any other belief), he HAS shown himself to be friendly to Christians and other people of faith.
  6. McCain’s lack of Obama-like charisma doesn’t alter the fact that he speaks boldly of change as well; plus, his years of political and military experience bolster his claims of being able to be the leader we need to get true bi-partisan change effected.
That said, there are reasons why many believers may not wish to vote for EITHER of them! Whether it encourages you to a write-in (Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are two names I often hear about as write-ins) or to go the “none of the above” route, here are a few more thoughts on the two presumptive candidates:
  • Neither candidate is a distinctively Christian candidate; Obama, who has openly discussed his faith, recently resigned his membership from a congregation that espouses Black Liberation Theology in a denomination that is probably the most theologically liberal denomination that still considers itself to be “Christian;” now he is, I presume, an unchurched theological liberal. McCain, as I mentioned, has NO open declaration of faith or belief on record, and when asked by Christians about his faith instead refers to the inspiration he has found in the faith of others. This may not be a deal-breaker for everyone-- I would rather see the “best” man in place than an adequate Christian-- but it’s probably a factor for most Christians.
  • Both candidates talk a LOT about change-- which may be good-- but have yet to really spell out what said change would really mean, at least in a way that has gotten through to the general audiences. In other words, nothing like the “lock box” of 2000 has really emerged. Time will tell; in the historic scheme of elections, it is very early (even though it seems like it has been going on forever already, and we still have six months left).
  • While so much talk about change is bantered about, we’ve still got a growing economic crisis and an over-dependence on petroleum. We know what they’ll do about the Iraq War and the military action in Afghanistan, but what will they do about the economy? How will they solve our oil dependence problem? We’ve heard the soundbite niceties that represent, at best, short-term relief; I’m not sure if either candidate has a solid plan (or even an idea) about how they will lead the nation to true solutions over the long-term.
  • Almost everyone I know seems fairly dis-satisfied with our candidate selection. Apart from those who have really been wowed by Obama’s style and charisma, most people I’ve talked to feel like both candidates represent something of a blasé option.
There it is: my assessment of the presidential race as it stands today. I hope this is, at least, food for thought.


Why single-issue voting is unbiblical

In honor of Independence Day, I thought I would offer up a post that simultaneously speaks to our context and government, the Kingdom of God, and the current events of our political process. (I’m also taking this opportunity to respond to a question posed to me over at my friend Megan’s blog.)

Why is single-issue voting unbiblical?

I’ll work through this issue from the most practical to the most theological (but hopefully that’s a false dichotomy, and there are shades of each at the opposite ends of the spectrum).
  • Even someone with a die-hard “culture war” perspective has to begin to wonder if the culture war has been lost. If you follow principles of just war (which biblical Christians ought to feel obligated to do), and you appropriate these principles into the culture wars as well (after all, they are just a violent in many ways), the principle of “probability of success” has to give you pause. If your single issue is abortion or defining marriage, don’t you wonder if we’ve already lost those wars? (Ditto for other single issues.)
  • It is difficult to be a truly consistent single-issue voter. (Really, it’s difficult to be consistent about political issues in general; it’s just that the single-issue voter invites greater scrutiny of his or her consistency.) Most who hold up abortion as the defining issue, for example, claim (rightly, I believe) that abortion is murder. What, then, is the desired end-goal? To have would-be mothers arrested and tried for murder if they have an abortion performed? At least they should be tried as accessories to murder. Likewise, some claim that the definition of marriage as only that between a man and a woman is the ultimate issue of this year’s elections; they don’t want to allow same-sex couples to define their relationships under the terminology of marriage. But the outcries were far fewer when family courts began to grant same-sex couples the right to adopt, thereby allowing them to functionally define their relationships under the terminology of family.
  • Another difficulty in single-issue voting is the problem of which single-issue you decide is the most important. How do you decide? Even the most carefully-reasoned decision here necessarily excludes a number of vital issues. The decision will inevitably be at least shaped by your cultural context: your race, your socio-economic circumstances, your geography of origin. Morality has a role, but in the end deciding on one single issue as arbiter political decisions is a moral and ethical coin-toss. This sort of relativism is inherently contrary to biblical reasoning.
  • Whatever the single-issue is does NOT encompass the whole of any candidate’s platform or worldview. Thus, we may find that we are inadvertently supporting and aligning ourselves with a candidate with whom we utterly disagree on another issue. This is not always taboo, and there are times when we can and should join with those with differences for the sake of a particular effort; nevertheless, to do so thoughtlessly or ignorantly (because you simply weren’t paying attention to or concerned about other issues) is not being consistent to a biblical worldview of engaging and interacting with culture and world.
  • (Closely related to the third point) It is impossible for ANY single issue to be elevated as more important than others from a strictly biblical perspective. Suppose the most aggressively anti-Christian legislation were at stake-- say, making it illegal for Christians to gather for worship, punishable by death-- would that rise to the top as most important? Would defending our “right” to gather for worship (the loss of which has never stopped the Christian church from gathering over the centuries) be more important than the biblical mandate to care for the poor or evangelize the lost? Would it be consistent to have argued for these several decades that opposing abortion is the most important endeavor the church can undertake (yes, I’ve actually been told exactly that) and suddenly to switch issues?
  • Single-issue voting represents a segmentation of life into nicely compartmentalized concepts, as if they are completely unrelated. But the Bible clearly portrays a world where such things are inherently connected. Scripture shows us connections we can’t make in a segmented view, such as the value of building codes as a part of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Deut. 22:8). We can see these connections in our world today, as well. One person suggested recently that the solution to the economic crisis we’re in would be to cut governmental spending, which he fleshed out as, “get[ting] out of schooling, Social Security, and welfare.” Many Christians may agree. But the truth is that our society isn’t prepared for the fall-out for the reduction of governmental support in ANY of these areas, and until we establish a foundational structure for replacing ALL governmental education (and not just for the wealthy Christians, but for poor Christians and non-Christians as well), we ought not begin demanding that the government “get out of schooling.” Likewise, if abortion were outlawed tomorrow, the needs in adoption, health care, and social support for unwed and low-income mothers/families would go through the roof within months, and the demands on our educational, legal, and criminal systems would increase over the next two decades. We HAVE to understand the connections and obligations that each issue requires of other issues, and single-issue voting ignores that irresponsibly. After all, approximately 34% of our tax dollars go directly to supporting social programs; does YOUR church’s budget come even close to that much given toward benevolence? Let’s get our spending priorities in order in the church before we start worrying about the speck in the eye of our government.
  • Scripture covers a multitude of issues that are at play in a socio-political system. If we based our assessment of what issues are the “most important” for Christians on what the Bible teaches about social and political issues, we would have to include issues of the sanctity of life and family values, of course; but we would also have to include matters of war and peace, social care for the poor, education, and racial and ethnic equality. Furthermore, a biblical view of the sanctity of life, for example, might begin with addressing abortion, but it goes far beyond that to include care for the sick, the elderly, and a host of issues that our bio-medical advances have raised for us. Yet few “pro-life” Christians I know can truly say they are more than simply “anti-abortion”-- they simply haven’t thought through what the fullest sense of the idea of being pro-life means, nor what they implications are from a socio-political viewpoint.
  • The “greatest commandment” wasn’t “Do not murder” OR “Do not commit adultery,” though most Republican Christians I know seem to suggest that it was one (or both) by their single-issue emphases. The greatest commandment, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” at least implies a whole-life devotion to God, which effectively nullifies the justification of single-issue voting. But if the inclination for single-issue voting persists, what does the second-greatest commandment imply? Wouldn’t “love your neighbor as yourself” lend credence to a single-issue emphasis on social issues like poverty, health care, or welfare?
These are just some rambling thoughts; a fair amount of this was shooting from the hip. I’d welcome any interaction about these.

Bits & Tidbits, 6/6/08

A few links and fun stuff for the weekend:

Turning the race into a farce

If the Democratic National Committee (DNC) decides to seat some or all of the delegates from Florida and Michigan, it will simultaneously unite the party and turn itself into a political farce.

If you haven't been following along, here's the backstory: in 2006, the DNC voted to limit the states the could hold primaries or caucuses before February 5
th to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. However, in 2007 both Florida and Michigan decided to hold their primaries earlier than they historically had-- and before February 5th-- in order to increase their influence in the primary elections. Both were warned by the DNC that they must change the dates, and both refused; consequently, both were informed by the DNC that their primaries would not be nullified, as they were then stripped of their delegates. (Click here and here for more on these.)

Both states went ahead and held their primaries, in a pouty insistence that the DNC didn't have a right to its action (which it does). These primaries, however, were not given much attention in the campaigns; John Edwards and Barack Obama did not even register to be on the ballot in Michigan, for example, and almost none of the candidates spent a significant amount of time campaigning in either state-- though Hilary gave both states more attention than her counterparts, perhaps thinking it would be good ground-breaking for the general election in the fall. In one way or another, all of the candidates spoke out in support of the DNC's decision and right to make such a decision. Hilary Clinton was pronounced the winner in both states, although she only won 56% of the vote in Michigan (with a full 40% falling into a nebulous "undecided/uncommitted" category) and 50% or less in Florida. (Of course, in a primary race then those are pretty strong percentages-- but considering that neither of her stronger rivals even gave an effort, it's strikes me as a bit low).

Within a few weeks after these rogue primaries, however, it had become clear to Hilary Clinton that she wasn't the presumptive nominee that she thought herself to be. Suddenly, she changed her tune about the primaries in both Florida and Michigan, claiming that it would be wrong to deny them their voice in the election and that their delegates should be seated after all. That's convenient, since those delegates would be mainly in support of her campaign, which has continued to wash against the rocks over the ensuing months.

But frankly, it would be wrong to seat those delegates. For one thing, both states made decisions that were contrary to the rules laid out by the DNC, and they were both given an opportunity to bring themselves within conformity to those rules. So seating delegates from Florida and Michigan would send a clear message: "our rules don't count if you complain loudly enough." Or even worse: "our rules don't count if the Clintons benefit from them not counting."

Moreover, to seat those delegates would be unfair. Neither Obama or Edwards-- arguably the only other serious contenders at that point-- invested much effort or finances into campaigning there. And for good reason: they had been told that these so-called primaries would not count. They were abiding by the rules of the elections set forth by the DNC, and therefore had no reason to believe that it would ever become an issue. For the life of me I can't understand why Obama isn't shouting this from the rooftops-- unless he's too afraid that it would hurt his electability in those states this fall, which would be a sad reason to hold back.

It reminds me of a parenting philosophy one of my seminary professors espoused: he said, "in our household [a family of five] we make decisions democratically. Everyone gets a vote. But my vote counts six." That works in parenting, but not for national politics.

All of this comes together to make the DNC and the Clintons look ridiculous. Did the DNC set out to look like it was willing to let Bill and Hilary call the shots on this one? Did Barack Obama intend to appear to roll over and ignore a clear-cut situation? Did Hilary Clinton want to offer us one more example of her double-speak? Probably "no" on all counts. Yet, if things play out
like it seems they will, all of these will come to pass.

Two ironies have already come to pass: for one thing, both states would have had all the influence they could have wished had they kept their primaries when they usually had them (early March for Florida; February 5 for Michigan). This year's Democratic primary has drawn out so long that almost every state has felt like they have a large part in the process. All of the hassle and mess about Florida and Michigan was for naught.

For another irony, it turns out that Obama will end up getting a significant number of the delegates even if they ARE seated. All schemes and closed-door agreements aside, Obama scored better than 30% of the votes in both "primaries" without even campaigning there-- including what had to be write-ins in Michigan, where he wasn't even on the ballot. So for all of Hilary's whining about the need to seat these delegates, she still won't have enough delegates to win the nomination, even if they decide to grant them all a place at the table.

This whole situation is a mess; the DNC doesn't need to make it worse by opening the door to making the whole party process even more of a joke.

Brief thoughts

Here are a few ideas that don't warrant a full post in themselves.
  • C.S. Lewis' second Narnia book (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) has hit the theaters. Some have pointed out that there are some significant changes from the original story line (probably some spoilers in there for some of you). Some people think this is actually an improvement on the story line. Some feel the true meaning of the original has been adulterated. Others are somewhere in the middle. I haven't seen it-- what do YOU think?

  • Hilary's almost certain loss is striking some odd chords-- including the idea behind THIS piece from the New York Times, which argues that the advancement of women will be hurt from her loss. Apparently, Hilary has simultaneously positioned herself as NOT benefiting from the gender question while at the same time answering it. (Being a male, I was obviously ignorant of such high-level ideas.) Ironically, if she has marketed herself on the women's lib vote then she doesn't deserve to win. As my friend Sam Murrell suggested, to vote for Hilary Clinton ONLY because she is a woman (or Barack Obama ONLY because he is black) is to also undercut your own argument opposing others who vote AGAINST them for the same reason. Hilary can't say, "vote for me because it's time to have a woman in the White House" and then hold it against those who vote for her opposition because they don't want a woman President. Logical consistency at its simplest.

  • If you've been tracking with me on the stir and kerfuffle surrounding the General Assembly overture (#9) about Deacons, Deaconesses, and Women, you may be interested to know that Wayside Presbyterian Church in the Chattanooga area has posted a page that aggregates (or at least attempts to) all of the discussion from around the web. You don't have to look far to see the sort of hard-line, slippery-slope thinking I've mentioned. (WARNING: if you love the church and are discouraged by ungodly treatment of pastors and others, read with caution. Many of these discussions are not for the faint of heart.) I DO appreciate their work, especially, in their words, that they "are not making any effort... to sort the articles into 'pro,' 'con,' or neutral. These articles come from several different viewpoints. We are just providing information."

  • Along the lines of the previous item, my personal hope is that the 2009 General Assembly will appoint a study committee to consider what guidelines, if any, ought to be offered as measures of godly character and discussion for those who choose to use blogs, websites, discussion forums, and other Internet tools to debate theological and denominational matters.

  • Following up on my words about the Evangelical Manifesto,