Word Wars – How Academic Activists Manipulate Language to Win Political Battles

Who wields cultural power? Whoever tells the stories that shape the cultural imagination. Whoever creates ideas and concepts that diffuse throughout a population over a period of time. This is accomplished through language.

Language and more precisely, words are extremely powerful. Words have the ability to shape identity, reality, and the future.

Why do academic activists manipulate and distort language?

Here’s the short answer. When attaining cultural (hegemonic) and political power are the goals, distorting and weaponizing language is in the realm of options. Progressive academics who have colonized our universities and schools know that words can confuse, silence and break the will of their political enemies. But the question is, ‘How did we get here?’

All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering.

William Smith

A little set-up is necessary.
Let’s consider something familiar. The old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” seems like a good sentiment when dealing with toddlers and school bullies. However, is it a wise sentiment?

Having ministered to several people who’ve experienced childhood abuse, I have learned that while the physical injuries eventually heal, the damage inflicted by words leave deeper wounds than most of us realize.

My intention is not to diminish the horrible pain and lasting trauma caused by physical abuse. On the same token, I’m not attempting to claim that every single offensive word, disagreement or challenge to one’s political identity should carry a trigger warning. Furthermore, I’m not advocating for any censoring or silencing of free speech. I’m attempting to demonstrate that words carry more force than we recognize. Force for good or for ill.

I have met adults who, as children experienced terrible physical abuse from a parent. At the same time, the abusive parent was calling them, “worthless” and “stupid”. Uttering vitriolic statements to their child like, “I wished you were never born!” or “I wish you were dead!” Let’s STOP right here and read that again. Imagine your father, mother, or the person you trusted most saying those words to you.

Statistically, based on the numbers of readers and subscribers to this blog, some of you have experienced abuse. I am so very sorry for how you, as an image-bearer of God with intrinsic value and eternal worth, were treated. I pray you experience the grace of God to bring healing and restoration in your life – as several of you have shared with me. My intent is not to bring up past trauma but to bring insight to my readers on the power of language.

Let’s continue. The physical wounds leave lasting scars on the body and emotions. However, the verbal wounds cut deep into a child’s mind and heart. Those harmful words from an abuser potentially shape the psyche, thought-life and eventually the identity of the victim. That will extend into one’s relationships with others. If left unaddressed, the dysfunction begets dysfunction. There is a phrase that I hear from time to time, “Hurt people, hurt people.” In other words, people who have been abused often times (not always) end up abusing others. That doesn’t excuse an individual’s responsibility for wrong-doing.

While words can inflict great, sometimes irreparable harm, words can also build-up, encourage, bring order and restore.

I share this in order to demonstrate the power of words and language before addressing how language shapes the social imagination and culture.

Theologians, philosophers, poets, and academics have understood the power of language for thousands of years. Language forms the fabric of human history, relationships and cultures. Language shapes the contours of our thoughts and comprehension of reality. It’s also internal dialog and external expression of what we believe and thus, our behaviors.

As a part of my studies in anthropology, courses in linguistics were required. Through the study of linguistics, I discovered the profundity of human language. I admit, I did not fully appreciate what I was learning at the time. I do now.

Leading up to now

What I’ve discovered in the last several years is the extent to which words and language have been warped, distorted, disjointed or re-defined. We are creating new words, like “Google”, which can be a noun or verb (I “Googled” my name yesterday). 30 years ago, no one would understand what you meant if you said, “I Googled my name to see what came up.”

In 1950, the majority of people would have understood truth as being objective. What’s true about reality for me is also true for you. Truth doesn’t change, truth just is. Back then, the social order and society ordered itself around objective truth. However, with the rise of post-modernism, standpoint epistemology and obsession with individual self-expression, “truth” has been re-defined to mean what an individual wants it to mean. Truth is based on their subjective experience and how they view reality. Some academics go as far to argue that “truth” is a social construct. Today, it’s progressed to point of absurdity.

How did we get to a place as a culture where words don’t mean what they use to?

Why are we seeing a growing trend of weaponized language?

This is where we must pause and exercise discernment. I think Carl Trueman said it best, “Understanding the times in which we live is a precondition to responding appropriately to the times.” It’s vital that we have a basic understanding that there are cultural pathologies and undercurrents that led to this moment.

“Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.”

– Voltaire

For the sake of clarity and time, I will not go into great depth here. Suffice to say, philosophers and academics realized obscuring language and distorting meaning was a powerful tool to change society. We can trace this back to influential people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx and so on.

The Rise of Progressivism

At the turn of the 20th century, we begin to see the ideas of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci worm their way out of the academy into cultural institutions like the arts, elite circles, and eventually diffuse through politics in America. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, Marxian academics came to the full realization that language is a tool to attain political and cultural power and dominance. We saw the emergence of the “New Left” that would evolve into what we now call “Progressivism.”

Progressivism is one of those words that is new to the modern lexicon. It represents a philosophy and totalizing vision of life, history, and reality. In the 1940s and 1950s, most Americans repudiated Marxist ideas like socialism and Communism. So, Marxist academics in places like the Frankfurt School, began to create linguistic cloaks to conceal and camouflage their ideology in oder to make them more palatable and acceptable to the masses. Terms and concepts like “Critical Theory”, and “Social Theory”. Progressivism eventually emerged. Given, I know I am over-simplifying. But, the point is, redefined language could be used as a cloak for ideas. In the mind of the progressive academic activist, words should be both emotionally and politically charged in order to be used as weapons of revolution.

Recently, new phrases and categories employ familiar words but their meaning is obscure or totally new. You’ve probably heard words and combinations like, “white fragility“, “white privilege“, “antiracism“, “birthing person” or “transgender“.

Remember, words carry ideas that shape how people think about reality. Where did these words and ideas come from? Well, they originated in the academy (universities).

Familiar words have been re-defined. Words like, “justice”, “racism”, “tolerance”, “equity” and “truth” don’t mean what they meant just a few years ago. Fifty years ago, people would be perplexed if you told them you were transgender. No one would would understand what you meant if you told them you were fighting for “climate justice” or “equity”.

Why do academic activists manipulate and distort language?

Here’s the short answer. When attaining cultural (hegemonic) and political power are the goals, distorting and weaponizing language is in the realm of options. Progressive academics who have colonized our universities and schools know that words can confuse, silence and break the will of their political enemies.

Don’t be fooled or lulled asleep by nice-sounding words (justice, antiracist, equity). Those words don’t mean what you think they mean. No, words are their preferred weapons of war. Don’t believe me. Try to debate a progressive activist on the merit of their ideas, or logical consistency, rational coherence, or basic reason, it will not be long before they call you a name (racist, sexist, bigot, intolerant, deployable, misogynist, etc).

A word of caution, not every liberal-leaning self-described ‘progressive’ thinks this way. I have many liberal friends with whom I disagree and debate. They don’t buy into the total war of leftist progressivism bent on destroying political enemies to obtain power. So, don’t go out there attacking everyone who uses suspect words and language. Marx, Alinsky and Marcuse would love it if you responded that way (if they were alive). Instead, pause and think.

How does one respond?

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 15:1

Ask questions like, “What do you mean by that?” Help each other define terms. “What do you mean by justice?” And when you use a word or phrase in a disagreement or debate, pause and define it for the person.

For example, “When I say, “tolerance”, I mean it in the traditional sense which means I will endure or allow for disagreement. In other words, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Is that fair for you?”

Who wields cultural power?
Whoever tells the stories that shape the cultural imagination. Whoever creates ideas and concepts that diffuse throughout a population over a period of time. This is accomplished through language.

From a biblical perspective, we understand that the Word (logos) that grounds and shapes total reality in truth is found in God. In the beginning God created… He said, “let their be…” It was by His word that all creation, reality, language and culture came to be. So, God gets to define reality, not academic activists. Someone once said (using a baseball analogy), “Reality get to bat last.”  In other words, reality and truth have the last say… It doesn’t matter what you believe. If what we believe is not grounded in reality, sooner or later the world will crash in around us.

Furthermore, Christians ought to reside in the spheres of academics and art where the stories are told and concepts are argued. We bear the truth about total reality through God’s Word and His created order.

In conclusion, we must recover language and words that have been highjacked and distorted. We must ground them in their biblical meaning. Why? Because language shapes reality and how we understand the world we live in. If we do not take back language and plant it in the bedrock of truth, reality and the world around us will grow more confusing and chaotic.

All truth is God’s truth. Remember that.

Part Three: Should the Church Get Involved in Politics?

Part Three: A proper understanding of God’s word and ordering God as our first love. Fearing God, not man, the Christian has permission and a compelling reason to engage in legitimate government and political activities in ways that honor the God who created all things and instituted government.

As I have established previously. Over half a century after the Church abandoned cultural domains due to fear of man, we’re living in the results.

“The fear of man bringeth a snare.” [Proverbs 29:25a]

“Satan spreads the net and fear drives people right into it.” – John Flavel

In my previous two posts, I attempt to establish a distinctly Christian approach to culture, politics, and government. In Part One, we established that politics is downstream from culture. In Part Two, we defined the purpose behind the Christian’s Role in Culture, Politics and Government. In Part Three, I’ll attempt to give some reasons why the church should be involved in politics and government (as best I can with God’s help).

Either God is sovereign over all things, including political and government activity, or he is not. Either we fear God or we fear man.

Should the Church Get Involved in Politics?

Yes.
That said, we can do the right thing the wrong way and get politics and government wrong. As Christ-followers, we must (with God’s help) endeavor to do the right thing the right way. That is the path of obedience that honors God.

First, we must properly order our loves and allegiances:

You shall have no other gods before Me.
The primary role of a Christian is not political. However, there will be political and governmental implications flowing from our first love and primary allegiance. The first question of the Westminster Larger Catechism makes it clear. “What is the chief and highest end of man?”The answer, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”

“The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.”

Christians (who make up the church) commit the sin of idolatry when we place a politician, a political party or social cause above Jesus Christ. Christians also commit the sin of idolatry when we place our comfort, safety, family, celebrity, affluence, status, worship preference, nation, identity or ourselves above Christ. Christ is the sovereign Lord over all domains of human existence. Our job is to tell the world this truth and live in a way that reflects it so that the world may know that Jesus is Lord of all (whether they accept it or not). Our first love and allegiance is to Him. He is our King and we represent Him.

Second, we must have a biblical understanding of government:

Government was instituted by God for a purpose and resides under God’s providence [Romans 13:1-2, Daniel 2:21, 1 Peter 2:14, Isaiah 9:6]. Government is ‘built into’ reality and in to the ordering of things. Whether you are dealing with a modern first world nation or a small tribe or a company, you will find forms of government.

The institution of government is a blessing from God.

Just government restrains unbridled evil and violence from being unleashed.

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil…. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain” [Romans 13:3-4a].

“It [fear of civil governance] is necessary for the world’s peace, order, and comfort. This passion [fear] acts like a bridle, curbing our corrupt inclinations. If God had not planted it in us, our nature’s corruptions would make us incapable of any moral restraint from the most heinous and barbarous crimes. If fear did not clasp its chains and shackles upon our wild and boisterous lusts, we would suppress all milder motives and break loose from all bands of restraint; the world would be filled with disorder, tumult, theft, murder, and all manner of uncleanness and unrighteousness.

Decency would disappear from the world, No one would be safe; the capacity and opportunity to do mischief would result in the break-up of all societies, This observation is true: Whoever fears not them loss of his own life will master another person’s life. It is the law and the accompanying fear of punishment that keeps the world in order. People are afraid to do evil because they are afraid to suffer for it…. Blessed be God for law and government.” – John Flavel

Government twisted by evil men is a curse.

‘Unjust government operates outside God’s purpose when it violates, dehumanizes or exploits individual image-bearers, violates God’s moral law or good conscience. When this occurs, the Christian has two choices. Either engage or retreat (appeasement is also a retreat).

Third, we need a proper understanding of politics:

There are many definitions of politics. Merriam-Webster offers a helpful definition among several – “the art or science of government.” I try to keep things as simple as possible. So, politics basically describes the governing affairs (activities) of humans and societies. These activities create structures and forms of governance. Governance is ‘built into’ reality and the order of things. 

Politics is a distinctly human cultural enterprise.

Politics is the behavior of humans in regard to governance. Behavior is always guided by worldview. The dominant worldview of a society will shape the characteristics of that society.

For example: Societies where Christianity is the dominant worldview will look a lot different from societies where Marxism is the dominant worldview. Hindu dominant societies are very different from Muslim dominant societies. Government and politics that emerge from different worldviews will take varying forms.

Forth, we must recover the true meaning and purpose of politics:

Currently, in the West, we have a new understanding and redefinition of ‘politics’. If you take a moment to ask people what they mean when they say, ‘politics’, their definition sounds nothing like the traditional meaning.

I submit to you the modern description of ‘politics’ sounds more like what I call “sectarian tribalism” masquerading as politics. Melding the two definitions, “Sectarian Tribalism” is excessive devotion to a party or group that is marked by loyalty to one group over others expressing negative sentiments (or hatred) of outsiders.

Therefore, we must recover the true meaning and purpose of politics. Let’s focus on three teleological questions. Teleology is a fancy word that means ‘purpose’. When we know what something is for (it’s purpose), we can properly understand its relationship to reality. Chainsaws and scalpels both cut things. However, they have two very different purposes. Here are three questions that help us drill down into the purpose of government, politics, and the church.

1. What is government for?
2. What is politics for?
3. What is the Church for?

Politics describes the governing activities of humans in society for good or for ill. Either political activity cultivates, promotes and protects righteousness, justice, peace, and human flourishing or it promotes evil and death. Politics can be used for either purpose. But, politics is not an end in itself, it is merely a means. The means and the ends should be equally important to the thoughtful Christian.

Fifth, we can look to our Bibles for examples of political activity for guidance.

Legitimate political activity is legitimate cultural activity. The Bible is full of ‘political’ characters. Both good and evil. Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Nehemiah, David, Esther, Nicodemus, and Paul expressed political influence in their place and time. While not it’s primary purpose, there are strong political implications and themes running through scripture.

Sixth, we can challenge the privatization of faith and abandonment of cultural domains by the church.

Our Christian forbearers would not recognize modern privatized Christian faith. Even as it is commercialized, Christians are trained to keep their faith to themselves. Nevertheless, Christians cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts, and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love God or the people God created in his image.

Christians who decry cultural engagement or specifically engagement in politics don’t realize they are the beneficiaries of their Christian forbearers who set the conditions of their freedom (to decry cultural or political engagement in the first instance). In other words, they saw off the limb on which they sit. If it wasn’t for the Church, the Reformation would not have occurred, slavery would not have been abolished and America would not exist (neither would hospitals, orphanages or the scientific method). All these emerge from the Christian worldview.

Some say, “We shouldn’t get involved in cultural or political issues!” I’ve heard this drumbeat over and over again from Christians. The problem is that humans are cultural beings. It is impossible not to be involved in cultural issues. Culture includes politics (governing behaviors and activities).

What they are trying to say is, “We don’t want to take a public position on a controversial issue that could be seen by the watching world as ‘political.'” In other words, they desire to appeal to the world by not offending the world’s political sensibilities.

Seventh, we confront sinful fear of man by offending the world… its the loving thing to do:

Some Christians fear that taking a stand might offend some pagans. God forbid standing for righteousness creates controversy and offends someone.

Guess what? Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the Bible are controversial and offensive to the world. The unbelieving world hates God, hates the Bible, and hates Christians. In fact, there was a time when Christians were so offensive, they were thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, crucified and sawed in half. By trying NOT to offend the goats, we offend and abandon the sheep and leave them to the wolves.

Issues like, human trafficking, corruption, pornography, debt-bondage, abortion, medical euthanasia, dismantling of the nuclear family, identity confusion, etc. left unaddressed by the church bring death to society. This creates an “anti-culture” and the result is “deathworks” (topics for another time). Examples here: one, two, three, and four.

We should not confuse offending the world with being mean or hateful or bigoted. The world knows timid Christians are afraid of being called names. So, name-calling is a very effective tactic used against us. The world desires that the church not only tolerate but celebrate and promote sin. Therefore, sinful fear of man drives many pastors and well-meaning Christians into the snare of complacency, appeasement or silence.

For example: Pastors will gladly speak out against the scourge of human trafficking or poverty because the worldly culture has accepted those positions. Pastors avoid issues like abortion, pornography, ideological indoctrination, and gender confusion because the worldly culture has ordered them not to speak on those issues. Fear drives them into a snare. Meanwhile, evil is allowed flourish.

Fear of offending someone or creating controversy acts like a prison. Many rationalize, justify and defend their position by stating that the church ought not to involve itself in cultural or political issues. Leaders can cover it up with theological garb and try to proof-text congregants into submission. But, at the root is fear of man. Discerning Christians can see right through the smoke and mirrors.

What most seminarians don’t get is that theological training and resources are widely available for free or low cost for those who want it. So, the posture that many pastors take of “leave theology and understanding to the trained experts” is losing ground and status. Nowhere in the Bible does God insist that only seminary graduates are capable of the proper handling of God’s Word. Training in wisdom, public theology and cultivating an integrated Kingdom vision are hard to find in institutions. I’m not against seminary training (some of my best friends and mentors have degrees from wonderful Christ-centered institutions). Seminaries are a means, not an end. 

Furthermore, I am not saying that politics and government ought to over-shadow the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I’m not saying that at all. However, from God’s Word flows the truth about reality and a moral imperative that is undergirded and infused with the Gospel of the Kingdom. We should not confuse the Good News (proclamation – how we’re saved) with God’s commands (how to live).

We speak from the Bible about issues that affect God’s image-bearers. But, we do so carefully and fearfully to ensure that our first love is God. When we speak about cultural issues, we are discipling the nations, pointing them to Christ and commanding them to obey Him (not our political inclinations). This is extremely difficult to do because Christian leaders are under social pressure to keep silent about the deathworks and evil all around us. Nevertheless, our fear of God, love of the truth and love for the lost will offend the world. That is a biblical reality.

Eighth, we must understand that the Bible is a worldview book and God is sovereign over all things, even politics:

If our worldview is not big enough to contain politics, then our worldview is too small.

Attempting to avoid politics is a political act that will have political ramifications. At the end of the day, avoidance is a deflection and cover for fear. Again, fear is a tyrant that can drive Christians into many snares. Taken to its logical conclusion, this non-political illusion is unlivable within the Christian worldview.

When the Church abandons cultural domains like politics and government, bad ideas take root. Those ideas become laws and inflict harm on the most vulnerable in society. Do Christians not believe that we won’t be held to account for stepping aside while other image-bearers of God are harmed, violated, enslaved or killed? [Proverbs 24:11-12, Matthew 25:35-40, Micah 6:8]

“In the beginning God created…” The conditions have been set by the creator. Within those conditions God’s co-regents operate. We exercise dominion and stewardship over all which God has placed in our care. Dominion is not domination. Stewardship is not tyranny. Don’t allow the world to redefine the meaning of these biblical principles.

Loving God above all else puts our human tasks and activities in the right perspective (including politics). Our loves and allegiances must be ordered under God. He is our primary love.

Christ is King and sovereign over all things… All things means “all things.”

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” [Colossians 1:15-20]

Ninth, we must be ready for every good work and proclaim the only hope for a dying world:

We must have a proper understanding of God’s Word and ordering God as our first love. Fearing God, not man, the Christian has permission and a compelling reason to engage in legitimate political and government activities. We can joyfully and boldly enter political activities in ways that honor the God who created all things and instituted government in the first instance. In doing so, we bring a good into the lives of other humans who bear God’s image. He also calls us to be his witness, to show no partiality as we do justice. Doing justice is often a political act that is expressed in most instances through government.

The Christian engages in political activities because we love and fear God. In doing so, we love our neighbors as well. Historically, Christians shaped the societies and times in which they dwelled. Christians were different – set apart but never apathetic to the people and communities around them. As a people redeemed through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, they lived redemptive lives and cared for people. Our hope is not in the state or politics. Our hope is in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We are the bearers of hope. Hope and love can be expressed anywhere, even politics.

Tenth, Christians must be courageous in the place and time God put them:

We are not called to a “holy huddle”. We are called to disciple the nations (societies). It is no accident that we live in this place and time in this cultural moment (Act 17:26). We obey God’s commands as individuals and collectively as His Church. From the pulpits to the pews, we each have a role to play. We have a prophetic voice. We understand what is wrong with the world and the solution. We worship a God who is sovereign and is not indifferent to the evil in the world. He will hold us to account for what we say and what we don’t say.

When Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place. Jesus Christ carried out his ministry in public, therefore, we must recover a public theology and put to death our privatized faith.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16]

Every Christian has the opportunity to be courageous in their time. We are to be salt and light in the world God created that is marred and distorted by sin. We bring Hope.

When it comes to politics and government, we can celebrate what is good, contribute what is missing, fight what is evil and restore what is broken. We can rest at night knowing our God reigns and is sovereign over all.

Parting Encouragement for my fellow pilgrims from all places and times:

“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. We will cast down the powers of darkness that are in the world by our faith and zeal and holiness; we will win sinners to Jesus; we will overturn false systems; we will convert nations. For God is with us, and none shall stand against us. This evening let the Christian warrior sing the war song and prepare for tomorrow’s fight. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” – C.H. Spurgeon (adapted by Alistair Begg)

Dive Deeper: Here are resources on the Christian tradition of resistance against tyranny (click here)

*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

Nihilism, Fear, False Teaching, My Father’s World, Immanentizing the Eschaton, Voting and Real Justice

Nihilism, Fear, False Teaching, My Father’s World, Immanentizing the Eschaton, Voting and Real Justice

We live in interesting times.

Late last night I learned that President Trump and his wife tested positive for COVID-19. Apparently the Pentagon scrambled E-6 “Doomsday” planes last night as well, in the event the US is attacked. 2020 is an era within itself. Let’s continue to think deeply this week, explore and consider the world around us through the lens of a Christian worldview. Let’s not give up on praying.

Today I commend to you an idea, articles, podcasts an essay and a beautiful song…

Don’t miss the song!

Let us discern this hour like the men of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times.

[Idea]: “An SDS (Students for a Democratic Society – New Left) radical once wrote, “The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution.” In other words, the cause-whether inner city blacks or women–is never the real cause, but only an occasion to advance the real cause, which is the accumulation of power to make the revolution.” – David Horowitz.

We can disagree on our views of Mr. Horowitz but he is very perceptive here. The Marxist revolutionaries use marginalized people groups as ‘cannon fodder’ as a means to an end (the revolution). This revolution is the complete dismantling of western culture. Ultimately, they intend to undermine and destroy Christianity and the church. That’s not going to happen. All one must do is read the Book of Revelation. But, in the meantime, we must challenge this godless worldview.

[Essay] Fear as cover for False Teaching by Lance Cashion
“Fear is the cover of darkness that the enemy uses to infiltrate the church with false teaching and deception. Once inside the walls, false teachers spread a false gospel among the flock – beginning with the “least of these” children and the spiritually immature.” Read more…

[Audio] Why (and How) Christians Should Vote (Breakpoint podcast)
“If our faith should make a difference in every aspect of our lives (and it should), it should shape how we think about and live out citizenship, too. To put it bluntly, Christians have both a civic and a Christian responsibility to vote. As my friend Tim Goeglin, vice-president of external and governmental relations for Focus on the Family, put it recently, to vote is the beginning of our civic duty of Christians.” Continue on…

[Audio] Movies and Shows in a Nihilist Key: How Nihilistic Trends Have Impacted the Movie and Television Industry (Theology Pugcast)
“Tom introduces the topic by engaging Thomas Hibb’s book: Shows about Nothing. Chris and Glenn join in with many insights and rich analysis.” Listen here…

[Article] Immanentizing the Eschaton by P. Andrew Sandlin
“The loss of Christian culture after the Reformation led to a re-divinization of the world, though not of the old pagan pagan variety. Rather, the re-divinization revived the ancient Gnostic heresy — the presence of evil (defined now in secular terms) must be purged from the created world by a cultural or political revolution that molds a utopia on a secular pattern analogous to what orthodox Christian understand as the eternal state…” Read on…

[Article] Real Justice PAC (Influence Watch)
“Real Justice PAC was founded by Shaun King, Becky Bond, Zack Malitz, and Michael Kieschnick in 2017 to push left-of-center policing and criminal justice policies. Real Justice PAC supports county prosecutors or district attorneys who support limiting or eliminating cash bail, restricting policing practices that left-of-center activist groups deem abusive, and decriminalizing drug, property, assault, and resisting-arrest offenses.” Read more…

[Podcast] The Church of BLM
“In this “freestyle” episode, Darrell and Virgil (“Omaha”) discuss some of the fundamental doctrines that guide the organization Black Lives Matter and how those beliefs are more resemblant of a “church” with its own religion than a political entity seeking social justice.” List here…

[Music] “This Is My Father’s World” by Josh Bales
I’ve been listening to Josh’s music for about two years. I got to meet and chat with Josh in Denver at a Colson Fellows residency last year. He was our worship leader for the weekend. When times are dark and trials come, I believe leaders like Josh point us to our Heavenly Father who created all things good. Take a walk outside. Break away for a few hours and enjoy the world around you. Listen here…

Let’s continue to pray, feast on God’s Word and engage the world with a Christian vision that requires action.

Assignment for September 26 – October 2

6 Week Journey assignment one: A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer

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Restorative Justice – Justice That Restores

Restorative Justice – Justice That Restores

Charles ‘Chuck’ Colson, served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1970.

Once known as President Nixon’s “hatchet man”, Colson gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate scandal.”(1) He was known for being ruthless.

On March 1, 1974, Charles Colson was indicted for his role in a massive White House cover-up. After initially pleading the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid conviction, his conscience would not let him rest. Colson changed his plea to guilty. On June 21, 1974, Chuck Colson was sentenced to prison for obstruction of justice.

Why would the ruthless ‘hatchet man’ who could have walked away a free man decide to go to prison?

You see, Colson became a Christian in 1973 and his life changed. For his part in the Watergate Scandal, he willingly went to prison. Little did Colson know that God would use prison to give him a vision. That vision would reshape the justice system and transform lives of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their families worldwide.

No one has done more to reform the prison systems and justice systems in the US and around the world than the late Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship.

“But all at once I realized that it was not my success God had used to enable me to help those in this prison, or in hundreds of others just like it. My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious — all my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy. “No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure — that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation — being sent to prison — was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory.” (Chuck Colson)

Today, everywhere we turn people are crying out for justice. As I pointed out a few weeks ago in my post about our justice impulse, we all have an innate sense of justice. When we see injustice, we have a deep desire to see things made right.

As Christians, we must think deeply about justice and how to best understand it from a biblical foundation. Being emotional creatures, we must not let emotions or feelings cloud our understanding of justice. When we encounter injustice, how then should we respond as Christians?

Restorative Justice – Justice that Restores

While there are secular and pagan definitions, I believe that the Bible offers a better vision of Restorative Justice. Typically, I refrain from placing adjectives before biblical terms. For the sake of not being overly discursive, I’ll use ‘Restorative Justice’.

First, God’s justice is impartial. We are called to be impartial. To the extent that we are partial, we are distorting justice.
The Bible says, “For God shows no partiality.” [Romans 2:11] and “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” [Lev. 19:15]

Second, drawing on a biblical worldview, I put forth my working definition of ‘Restorative Justice’:

Restorative Justice is a distinctly biblical vision of (impartial) justice that seeks to uphold what is righteous and good, contribute what is missing, stop what is sinful and restore what is broken. It reflects the Christian belief in the God-given dignity, value, and potential of every human being (2). Restorative Justice offers a better vision (of justice) – bringing Biblical truth to bear in the larger society (3).

Colson Fellow and Vice President of Church Mobilization for Prison Fellowship Heather Rice-Minus says, “Restorative Justice recognizes that crime is not just an offense against a government. Crime damages the security and well-being of the victim and the entire community.”

Isaiah 32:16-18: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”

Rice-Minus says, “This passage gives us glimpse of the ancient (Jewish) concept of Shalom – peace that encompasses tranquility, wholeness, safety, prosperity, and relational harmony. Crime impairs our ability to experience shalom.”

In the book, ‘Restoring All Things’, authors Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet develop the concept further;

“Restorative Justice prioritizes participation of those who are harmed by crime, promotes accountability of those who are responsible, and cultivates community engagement.

The government becomes a facilitator of justice where the person harmed and the person responsible for the harm become the direct parties involved in the justice process… This allows for individualized restitution that personalizes the harm and illuminates human dignity and value.

Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.” (4)

Restorative Justice – The Church That Restores

The quiet work of the church raises awareness, influences local and state laws, brings criminals to justice, restores victims’ lives and works to bring justice and peace (shalom) into our community.

Jim Liske (former President of Prison Fellowship) said, “Why should justice be restorative? At its heart, crime isn’t about law-breaking; it’s about violating the peace and wholeness of the entire community.”

As Christians, we know that our sin is a crime against a good, loving and just God. Our crimes against God violate peace and wholeness in our families and communities as well. But, Jesus died on the cross on our behalf so we can be restored to Him. God’s justice is restorative in Christ Jesus. Don’t you think we should base our concepts of justice on that?

As God is redeeming and restoring brokenness in our community, we join Him in his work as a Church that Restores.

Resources:

Notations:
1. Wikipedia – Charles Colson
2. Jim Liske – Fox News article 2015
3. Ibid.
4. Restoring All Things (Smith/Stonestreet) – Heather Rice-Minus interview


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The Justice Impulse – What it means

The Justice Impulse – What it means

When I was a little boy (around 9 years old), our home was robbed twice. A few weeks prior to the first robbery, our beloved dog was hit by a car right before my eyes. He lived for a few hours before dying. In the midst of the grief of losing my dog, our house was burglarized. The thieves stole pretty much everything of value, including a gold ring in the shape of Texas my grandfather gave me. My mom was keeping it for me until I was old enough to wear it. That gold ring and a pool cue were the only things I had from my mother’s dad. I still have the pool cue.

After the robbery, I remember feeling afraid and having nightmares.

About a month later, we had replaced most of the “stuff” like the TV and VCR. We installed a security system. My parents were divorced and didn’t care too much for each other but my dad bought us a puppy. It was his way of bringing some joy back into our lives. I remember mom let me name him Ralphie and let him sleep in my room sometimes. Within a few weeks, we were robbed a second time. This time the thieves entered through the empty house next door and broke through the adjoining wall of our duplex (to avoid the new alarm system and burglar bars on the windows). They took all the new stuff that replaced the old stuff… and they stole our puppy, Ralphie.

This time anger overtook fear. It dawned on me that something is wrong with the world. This is my first memory of feeling injustice.

Fast forward to the morning of November 10, 2015. I had been selected for jury duty. Sitting in a most uncomfortable chair, we were introduced to the case. It was the worst kind of criminal case you could be assigned as a juror. It involved an older man sexually abusing a 5yr old little black girl. Nothing could take my mind from my own daughter, who was 4 at the time.

It was the one of the most heart-wrenching, sickening and traumatic situations I have ever experienced. After six days of testimony, a heroic little girl took the stand and faced her abuser. After 9 hours of deliberation, we found the man guilty on several charges. He was sentenced to what would amount to the rest of his life in prison.

I walked away knowing that justice had been served.

What do I mean by justice?
I think that defining terms is very important when we talk about ultimate issues. John Stonestreet likes to say that, “People use the same words but different dictionaries.” To put it another way, people can use the same words in a discussion but those words have different meanings. A good example is the word ‘love’. I love my wife, I love my kids, I love cheeseburgers, I love my mom and I love my best friend. However, I do not love them all the same way. Love means something different in each instance. “Justice” has multiple meanings and applications as well.

Here are a few definitions of ‘justice’ from online dictionaries:

  • the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness:
  • rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason:
  • the moral principle determining just conduct.
  • conformity to truth, fact, or reason : CORRECTNESS

The definitions above are helpful but they don’t quite point to the source of justice.

Let me put forth a deeper foundation for your consideration.

From a biblical perspective, justice is rooted in the character of a creator God. Justice, also referred to righteousness, is an attribute that flows from God’s goodness. In order to flesh this out, we must go to Genesis 1. When God created the world and everything in it, he claimed “it is good.” When God created man in His own likeness, God saw everything He created and stated, ‘it (meaning all creation) is very good.”

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Because we are created in God’s image, we carry some of his attributes. To put it another way, we have artifacts of God’s character woven into the fiber of who we are as humans. Every human life has intrinsic value and essential worth. Either this is objectively true or it is not. If it is true, then all humans have value on an individual basis no matter what and deserve dignity, protection and justice. If it is not true, then human value is arbitrary based on what those in power deem valuable – certain human-beings become expendable based on utilitarian values (usefulness). In the last instance, there can be no objective shared characteristic of justice – it evaporates in a mist of arbitrary relativism.  We need a unmovable point of reference.

We can’t say something is wrong unless we have some innate knowledge of what is right.

C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”

Genesis 1 tells us about the ‘straight line’ or goodness, rightness or correctness. However, we need to head to Genesis 3 to better understand ‘a crooked line’ or wrongness. When we juxtapose the two, we have a clearer picture of justice. Now we can reframe the dictionary definitions of justice with deeper dimension and meaning from an objective source.

In Genesis 3, the Bible tells the story of how humanity chose to reject truth, reject God and reject His goodness. This is called ‘The Fall’. Prior to this point, all things were ‘good’ and ‘just’ in the created order. When man rebelled, sin and brokenness entered the ‘very good’ created order. Disorder and injustice followed. Since that moment in time, we humans have had a sense that things are not as they should be in the world.

There is an “oughtness” that we innately know about how life should be. Because of this, we know all is not lost. Artifacts and reflections of God’s original intent – goodness and justice remain innately rooted in our being. We just know a moral law exists that informs us on the difference between good and evil – straight and crooked lines.

Where does the ‘Justice Impulse’ come from?
We’ve all experienced some form of injustice in life or at least witnessed it.  Something from deep within cries out, “That is wrong!” At the same time, from deep within we have this innate desire to make wrong things right. But, where does this feeling or impulse come from?

Some sociologists contend that it is learned behavior that is socially conditioned by our surrounding culture. I think that is partly true. Our culture can shape our conception of justice. But that does not explain the fact that even little children from various cultures have an innate knowledge of fairness and fundamental idea of justice and injustice, even if it is very elementary. When you hear a 3 year old yell “That’s not fair!”, you are hearing an impulse of justice. People have this innate sense of “thats wrong” coupled with a desire to see things made right.

You can go to any cultural setting on earth ask people if it is good to molest and murder a child. The overwhelming response will be ‘no’. Any exception will be seen as an outlier to what is normative across cultures. Everyone can agree that harming a child is wrong. To do so is unjust and evil.

When we were robbed twice, I felt pain, hurt, anger, frustration and fear. I knew what happened was wrong. At the same time, I wanted to see things made right. Justice was never served in those instances.

However, when I was on a jury that put a monster who did irreparable harm to a little girl behind bars, something was different. At the beginning of the case, I felt much the same way I did when we were robbed. By the conclusion of sentencing, I felt peace and a sense of rightness, even goodness about the situation. Given, none of my feelings change the trauma for that little girl. But, we did deliver justice to the best of our ability.

When I see a man pleading for his life, gasping for air under the knee of another man sworn to protect life and uphold justice, an impulse emerges from deep within. I see an image-bearer in agony under the boot of an image-bearer under oath to serve and protect. Both men are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity. Both are marred by brokenness and sin in the context of a fallen world. However, when the dignity of one man is discarded by another, we witness injustice. In other words, when image-bearers see fellow image-bearers attacked, we innately know that human dignity and value are being attacked. Those “artifacts” of God’s character that are woven into who we are emerge in the form of a justice impulse. That impulse can take many forms in its expression.

We could be silent, we could lash out in anger, we could protest, we could destroy, we could try to help, etc.

I have concluded that silence in the face of injustice may be the worst response. Silence basically seconds the motion. It allows, or dare I say, promotes evil. As misguided, wrong and evil as riots and destruction are in the face of injustice, silence carries with it a mixture of contempt and selfishness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

I put forth the following regarding the justice impulse we all sense.

First, the justice impulse that we feel when we see or experience something wrong is good. We need to affirm that our sense of justice is indeed, good.

Second, justice needs space to be heard, cultivated and modeled within our homes, communities, businesses and our government. We all need to be free to rightly point out injustice when we see it. We need to allow truth to shape our concept of justice and love be the root of our response.

Third, we need to realize that in this broken world, injustice and evil exist. We will not completely rid ourselves of this reality. The human heart is deceitful. However, as image-bearers we can respond to injustice and evil with justice and goodness. We stop injustice by understanding that we all have dignity and value. You are sacred, I am sacred, your ethnicity and mine are sacred. We did not choose to whom, where or when we would be born. However, together, we can stand against evil even when we disagree on other things. And remember, evil begets evil. Disfunction begets disfunction. But, perfect love casts out evil, as light casts out darkness.

Fourth, we can restore the brokenness caused by injustice by promoting goodness and protecting the dignity of all human-beings – particularly the vulnerable and disenfranchised. We restore by bringing peace into a situation and ensure justice is served.

How do we as people who love justice respond to our justice impulse?

1. Pray. When events out of our control occur that cause emotional response, we must pray and ask for God’s wisdom to discern whether our impulses are just and good. If so, what is the right action to take?

2. Listen for understanding. Bear witness to someone else’s pain and suffering without judging. Be present in someone’s pain.

3. Learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Sensible people faced with a complex situation do not need to be relegated to a tribe (or side). The “only two sides – pick one” dichotomy is elementary and childish. Remember, humans have dignity and a general sense of justice even when opinions differ on particulars.

4. Speak up in the face of injustice, even if it is unpopular. William Wilberforce is a perfect example.

5. Serve. I’ve learned the best way to restore a semblance of justice and goodness is to serve those in need. For instance, when we serve those experiencing homelessness, we are bringing goodness and restoration into their lives through relationships. We are acknowledging an individual’s dignity and value. We are saying, “I see you.”  People have value not because of their socio-economic status or ethnicity but because their imagery. All are made in the image of God. When I serve an image-bearer, I am serving the image-maker. When I lovingly raise my voice for the voiceless, I am doing justice, loving my neighbor and showing God’s mercy.

Finally, for the Christian, we must understand that all of these responses must be rooted in truth and love. We accomplish all things by grace through faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ who suffered the most significant injustice in history to justify those who trust Him. God sees injustice and will not remain silent. God’s people see injustice and we should not remain silent either.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

“He (God) has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

PS. I keep my juror badge (pictured above) taped in the back of my Bible to help me remember that I must work to stop evil and do justice.


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