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Dishonorable Evangelical Leaders

For a long time, the prevailing assumption in evangelical circles has been that you don’t call out your own. Evangelicals are the good guys, and you don’t criticize a brother. Such reticence to hold our own self-styled leaders responsible for what they say on behalf of our movement demands reconsideration.

The reputations of evangelical Christianity, and more seriously, the Christian faith itself, are being severely damaged–one fears, irrepairably–by the frequently fatuous, grossly untrue, and downright anti-Christian statements made, and attitudes espoused, by our so-called evangelical spokespersons.

Here is another example that has just gone viral. During a very recent interview, 88-year old Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), ventured to comment on the horrific torture and murder (and most likely, dismemberment) of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist, inside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul last week. The whole world is aghast at the brazen evil of the crime.

But Robertson calmly mused: “You’ve got a 100 billion dollars of arms sales . . . we’ve got to have some Arab allies . . . you don’t blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I’m sorry.”

And there you have it. What is most important? Arms sales. Political alliances. An evangelical minister of considerable influence weighing in on the relative value of an eternal soul. As late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel remarked with irony: Why would any Christian think that the death of one person should ever be a big deal?” Robertson exudes the kind of crass calculus we would expect of a ruthless leader, of a Caiaphas perhaps (see John 11:50), but surely not a pro-life follower of Jesus Christ.

Plain and simple, Pat Robertson does not speak for thoughtful, sincere evangelicals. He and those who parrot him have drifted from the tradition. He speaks only for himself and his fan base. It is unfortunate that the media, instinctively drawn to the loudest voices, do not always understand how little Robertson speaks for the rest of us. Or, for that matter, for real Christianity.

I am not calling Pat Robertson out with any malice. But if as evangelicals we are unwilling to censor ourselves, who will?

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The Supreme Court and America’s Moral Leadership

As a Canadian, I have always had the highest admiration for America, this mighty, upbeat and freedom-loving neighbor to my own country. And for the past twenty-two years (and three consecutive Green Cards), it’s been my privilege to live in this great country and to enjoy, even as an alien, a generous measure of its bounty and benefits.

In so many ways America has been and remains a beacon to the world. Through the years, this nation’s positive influence has been extended even more by the example that it has set than by the military power it has flexed. And one of the enviable foundation stones for the American way of life has been the United States Supreme Court. Its lofty front pillars, echoing ancient architectural ideals, serve as reassuring symbols of stability and even-handed judgments.

The Supreme Court is indeed the very pinnacle of the American judiciary. It is serenely accountable only to constitution and law, and thereby stands above the partisanship, corruption and injustice that embroil so many other nations of the world and now encroach upon certain other respected institutions of the United States. The Court’s integrity, and the trust that the public must be able to place in its decisions going forward, are absolutely indispensable to the continuing unity and civility of this amazing democracy.

This is why, of course, we must view the current hearings about the nomination of Judge Kavanagh to the Supreme Court as a decisive moment for America. Emotions and partisanship are running high. The scene is awash in expressions of moral outrage by both sides.

But so much more is actually at stake. Members of both political parties must be willing, therefore, to subsume their personal and party ambitions beneath the needs of the high court itself. Those who sit for life upon this lofty bench must be, and be perceived as being, entirely above the faintest hints of partisanship, suspicion or reproach. Every true patriot knows this. Only a very few judges will ever be able to meet its highest of all standards of temperament, competence, character and credibility. Yet holding to such standards, in the face of the fiercest pressures to compromise, is certainly one of the keys to keeping America strong.

Therefore, if even the faintest odor of doubt attaches to any candidate for this highest of all judicial offices, it is right for patriots to ask him or her honorably to step down for the sake of the Supreme Court’s credibility, and ultimately for the good of the whole country. By this standard even many good people will be disqualified. But there will be others in the land ready and able to step up to take their place. America is still the most richly resourced country on earth, and that includes its unparalleled resources of human leadership capital. Has this supply chain of great leaders been exhausted? Is America no longer able to demand the very best? The final verdict that is about to be given on an appointment to the Supreme Court will help decide the future of the United States of America and its role as a global moral leader.

I, for one, am cheering America on.

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A Visit to the Vatican

 

It was a great honor to be recently invited as an official observer to a conference convened by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican in Rome. Ever since Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ (also known as On Care for Our Common Home), the Vatican has been providing moral leadership in shaping global Christian response to the intensifying threats to a safe and sustainable planet—threats created largely by human activity and choices.

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Our Dear, Sweet Dad

Our dear, sweet Dad, James Taylor Scorgie, passed away on March 8, 2017 in Kelowna, British Columbia. He was 90 years old. As he breathed his last, I had the privilege of whispering in his ear the sacred words “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith . . .” and then he was gone.

Dad was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1926—during a blizzard, as he always reminded us. He grew up in the East York neighborhood of Toronto, went off to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the 1940s, fell in love with and married our mother, and embarked on his first calling as a minister of a number of churches in British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan. Dad considered it one of the great privileges of his life to have been personally mentored by the renowned Christian mystic A. W. Tozer. During the second half of his career, he worked in the employment and immigration sector of the Canadian government. Then, in the late 1980s, at the onset of retirement, he and Mom moved all the way out to Kelowna, British Columbia and with considerable courage launched a whole new life there. They excelled at hospitality. Then, after Mom died in 1999, Dad found a comforting pathway forward with another life companion in the gracious person of Rita Beitel.

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Donald Trump and the Evangelical Silent Spring

Back in 1962 Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, a book that exposed the ominous silence caused by the dearth of songbirds returning to northern climes in the Spring. Her book exposed the toxic effects of DDT on all kinds of fragile life forms, and in doing so sensitized the conscience of the nation toward our environmental peril and responsibility. Today we are experiencing another kind of silent Spring, but one that is equally ominous. It is the silence of evangelicals concerning the egregious character and conduct of the president of the United States. It is as if evangelicals have suddenly lost their capacity for moral outrage, lost touch with their purported allegiance to biblical values and virtues.

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My Bright Abyss

DSCN4959As Earth Day recedes in our rear-view mirrors for another year, I remain impressed and troubled by the following statement by American poet Christian Wiman, in his new book My Bright Abyss (2013). And thanks to daughter Sarah, by the way, for bringing this remarkable volume to my attention:

“What is poetry’s role when the world is burning? Encroaching environmental disaster and the relentless wars around the world have had, it seems, a paralyzing, sterilizing effect on much American poetry. It is less the magnitude of the crises than our apparent immunity to them, this death on which we all thrive, that is spinning our best energies into esoteric language games, or complacent retreats into nostalgias of form or subject matter, or shrill denunciations of a culture whose privileges we are not ready to renounce—or, more accurately, do not even know how to renounce. There is some fury of clarity, some galvanizing combination of hope and lament, that is much needed now, but it sometimes seems that we—and I use the plural seriously, I don’t exempt myself—are anxiously waiting for the devastation to reach our very streets, as it one day will, it most certainly will” (p. 52).

The anxious paralysis of which he speaks is surely not confined to poets.

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50th Anniversary of Vatican II

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II, the most recent and arguably among the most radical of the so-called “ecumenical” councils of the Roman Catholic Church. Now is an appropriate moment to assess the impact of the Council five decades on, and to reflect on its implications for historically-testy Roman Catholic-evangelical Protestant relations.

Eventually Vatican II generated 16 authoritative documents, each voted on by the Council and circulated by the Pope. By introducing so many radical changes to the Catholic church, and pointing in so many promising new directions, it has given everyone hope for a new beginning in the long-standing quest for greater harmony and fellowship among Christians everywhere. A few years ago Mark Noll, perhaps our top evangelical church historian, and a member of the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, coauthored a book entitled Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Roman Catholicism (2005). It is a hopeful reminder that we should never regard any church’s convictions or dispositions as etched in stone. We are all on journeys and we are all still moving toward the light.

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The Exploitation of Billy Graham

My previous blog was a warning against mixing pulpits and politics. I feel even more strongly so this week. A few days ago an aged Billy Graham allegedly came out in support of (Mormon) presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, calling all Christians (read evangelicals) to vote for him in the upcoming election. There are so many things wrong about this. Frankly, it just doesn’t sound like something the Billy Graham we have come to know and admire would do or say, especially in this final season of his very long life. I’m guessing that the 93-year old evangelist and his reputation are being exploited by right-wing politicos and certain key family members. Whatever is really going on in the backrooms, it is further proof of the Republican captivity of the contemporary evangelical church.
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Pulpits and Politics Don’t Mix

The fifth annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is coming up again this weekend. It’s organized by (mostly conservative evangelical) Christian pastors concerned that their rights to free speech from the pulpit (and, they would say, freedom of religion) may be at risk from an intrusive government and a dubious amendment back in 1954 to a pivotal section of the federal tax code.

The specific legislation in question, 501(c)(3) states that tax-exempt organizations (like churches) are prohibited from “participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization supporting these pastors, is trying to goad the government into attempting to act on this legislation. They are gunning for a showdown on freedom of religion. I confess to very mixed feelings.
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Go Green, $ave Green

I’ve got a great new book to recommend to you, but first I have to set it up. Patience, please! Here we go. We know our planet is in peril. The growing human population of the earth, combined with the consumerist habits of this ever-increasing population, means that our current way of life is unsustainable. Either we change direction or we are all going over the cliff. This assessment, while not pretty, is beyond dispute among rational people.

Against this backdrop, Christians are finally beginning to pay attention.  More of us are thinking about the environment, and wondering whether we have an obligation to do something about its ominous degradation. This is indeed worth considering carefully. After all, Christianity is the world’s largest religion. The inferences we twenty-first century Christians draw from the wellsprings of our faith will have an enormous effect, constructive or destructive, on how the global environmental crisis will play out.
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