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Proclaim Love in Word and Deed

The words “hate,” “bigotry” and “intolerance” are mis- and over-used. But that makes it more important that we speak out against the real thing when it’s there.

President Trump began his first address to Congress by citing “recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries,” and a “shooting in Kansas City.” This was his prologue to saying that the United States “stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its forms.”

I’m so glad that he spoke out.

But let me also hasten to add that we shouldn’t leave it to the President to remind us of the need to condemn hate and evil – that’s the job of the Church.

The past few months have witnessed, to borrow from Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” a “rough beast” slouching to be born. That “rough beast” is open, and sometimes violent, expressions of bigotry and intolerance.

Now Christians have ample reasons to be wary of those words “bigotry” and “intolerance,” since we’re often unjustly accused of both. But to use the medieval Latin phrase, “abusus non tollit usum,” the misuse of something does not negate its proper use. There are such things as bigotry and intolerance.

Some of it, such as Texas high school students taunting their Hispanic opponents at a basketball game with chants of “build that wall!” are easy to rationalize as youthful hi-jinks, until you put yourself, as Jesus commands us to, in the shoes of the kids being taunted.

Other examples, such as the killing of an Indian-born engineer, and the wounding of two other people by a man who had earlier yelled “get out of my country!” are impossible to ignore. The fact that the man may been under the influence of alcohol when he pulled the trigger does not make the crime less troubling.

While alcohol lowers inhibitions, it doesn’t create the impulses being inhibited in the first place. To quote another Latin phrase, “in vino veritas,” or wine brings out the truth.

Likewise, the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester, New York, along with bomb threats against 120 Jewish Community Centers across the country is nothing less than alarming.

And it’s not just Jewish Community Centers. In the past two months, four mosques have been deliberately set on fire.

The good news is that, amidst all this hate, we have seen examples of grace: Two American Muslims raised over $140,000 to repair the damage done to Jewish cemeteries, and Muslim veterans have vowed to protect Jewish cemeteries. As one veteran tweeted, “If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it.”

Strictly speaking, while I am thankful for his words, I am not sure that it does. But there is no questions about Christianity. As Paul says in Acts 17, God determines when and where we live. And as Esther so courageously demonstrated in difficult times, silence is not an option.

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I suppose you’ve noticed all the gallows humor going on regarding the presidential election. And for good reason.

John Stonestreet

So, have you heard this one? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat. Who survives? Ha! America does!

Ok, now that I’ve offended everyone: What a bizarre election year this has been. As my BreakPoint this Week co-host Ed Stetzer has said quite a few times, “When political historians look back on the early 21st century, the phrase we’ll hear the most is, ‘except for 2016’.”

Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president. The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.

Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”

Talk about prophetic!

Folks, I might as well just say it: I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.

Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly. (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book “God’s Judgments,” it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.

And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country. Why? As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”

The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior. This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture. In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve. Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter:  “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people  . . . to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”daily_commentary_08_09_16

Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not–perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations. Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.

First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.

Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones. The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.

Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church. Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.

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One Follows the Other
We’ve already witnessed the spiritual demise of Europe. Can its physical demise be far behind?

John Stonestreet

In early May, Brussels Airport finally re-opened after being closed for nearly six weeks, following the March terrorist attack that killed sixteen people.

While it will not be back at full capacity until mid-June, the Belgian government sees the re-opening as part of their effort to regain some sense of normalcy after the attacks.

Another part of their efforts is figuring out how to deal with its restive and disgruntled Muslim minority, especially in places like the now-infamous Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. This tiny municipality, measuring less than 2.5 square miles, not only produced the March 22nd attackers, it’s also the reason Belgium produces proportionately more ISIS fighters than any other European country.

In recent remarks before the European Parliament, Koen Geens, Belgium’s Minister of Justice, told parliamentarians that “In Europe, very shortly we’re going to have more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians . . . That is not because there are too many Muslims, it is because Christians are generally less practicing.”

Not surprisingly, people, and not just Muslims, took offense at his comments. Belgium’s Interior Minister said that Geens was “making an enemy of Islam” and insisted that “the overwhelming majority of [Belgian Muslims] share our values.”

Lost in the furor over Geen’s comments was the fact that he was talking primarily about secularism and the decline of Christian practice, and values.

Also lost in this conversation over Belgium’s future, Islam and its jettisoned Christian heritage, is that the nation has turned euthanasia into a fundamental right. As PBS put it, and everyone already knows, Belgium has “the world’s most liberal euthanasia laws.” Physician-assisted suicide there isn’t limited to the terminally-ill – people with psychiatric illnesses or even children can also be euthanized.

As a member of Belgium’s Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission told PBS, at the heart of the law is “a respect to individual autonomy.” Thus rather than being limited to the terminally ill, the dark practice is available to anyone who sees his or her condition as “hopeless.”

And that includes, as we’ve previously told BreakPoint listeners, children as young as twelve. All that’s needed is the approval of two doctors, three in the case of psychiatric patients.

By all accounts, Belgium’s law, which goes against everything Christianity teaches about the sanctity and dignity of human life, enjoys wide support. While Geens’ party, the Christian Democrats, has opposed Belgium’s euthanasia regime, their view is a minority one.

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In 1978, at Harvard, America heard from a prophetic voice. His comments have proven true and are worth revisiting.

John Stonestreet

Few college commencement speakers these days dare challenge our culture’s rampant political correctness and secularism.

But a generation ago, on June 8, 1978, the renowned Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave a stunning address at Harvard University that not only made those assembled there uncomfortable; it provoked many to boo.

Why would the audience boo this moral giant, who had stared down a brutal communist dictatorship’s Gulags and won the Nobel Prize in literature? Because people expected him to celebrate the West and condemn communism, but he came over and condemned communism and the West. Not only this, but Solzhenitsyn had the gall to speak of something reviled at the time by the elites on both sides of the Atlantic: truth.

“[T]ruth,” Solzhenitsyn said at the start, “eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on its pursuit. But even while it eludes us, the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”

In a classic analysis of our prevailing worldview, Solzhenitsyn said the West had exchanged belief in unchanging truth for a relentless legalism. The most tragic and significant result, he said, was the absence of “civil courage.” And he pointed to three lines of evidence: First, “destructive and irresponsible freedom had been granted boundless space.”

How a culture understands freedom – whether to virtue or for immediate gratification – determines its stability. As Os Guinness wrote in his recent book “A Free People’s Suicide,” the greatest enemy of freedom, ironically, is freedom. I would tweak that a bit—the greatest enemy of freedom is poorly defined freedom, what Chuck Colson called freedom without virtue.daily_commentary_06_09_15 2

Second, Solzhenitsyn pointed to the decadence of art and a lack of great statesmen. That line makes me think of the Rothko painting called “Untitled, (Yellow and Blue),” which basically is a blue stripe on a yellow background. That’s it… and it just sold at a New York auction for $46.5 million.

And the lack of great statesmen? While there are certainly many courageous individuals worthy of our respect, consider how our society has defined greatness down. This is evidenced by the fact that the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN, once awarded to Nelson Mandela, will this year be awarded to Bruce Jenner – not for his Olympic feats but for his announcement that he was a woman, a year after they awarded it to Michael Sam for announcing his sexual orientation.

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Fewer Christians?

Thoughts on the Pew Report

What do we make of news reports on the recent Pew report on religion in the United States? Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “Lies, darned lies, and statistics.”

John Stonestreet

The headline of the New York Times was “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian.” It was a story reporting on a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

According to the survey, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with an organized religion is growing.” More specifically, seventy-one percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, down from 79 percent in 2007.

The biggest increase and the subject of much of the media coverage was the religiously-unaffiliated, or the “nones” as they are sometimes called. They went from 16 percent of those surveyed in 2007 to 23 percent today. And among 18-to-25-year olds, the percentage of the unaffiliated rose to 34 percent.daily_commentary_05_27_15

While Pew declined to speculate on what is behind the statistical decline of self-identifying Christians, the New York Times didn’t hesitate. Clearly, they claimed, part of the reason is the “politicalization of religion by American conservatives.” The one outside expert quoted in the piece reinforced the notion of a “backlash against the association of Christianity with conservative political values.”

This so-called explanation ignores the inconvenient fact that the biggest decline noted, again, is in the liberal mainline denominations.

So what ought we to make of this report? Well, the first thing, as with all such reports, is to acknowledge its critics who call some of its findings into question. For instance, over at the Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter pointed out that the “Christianity in decline” meme ignores the fact that, according to the survey, the number of Evangelicals is growing, and the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as such remains stable.

Mark Gray of Georgetown University offered similar criticisms regarding the conclusions drawn about Catholicism.

Still, the fact remains that fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. And Russell Moore is correct to note that what the statistical decline most reflects is the demise of what he calls “Bible Belt near-Christianity.”

As Moore writes, “For much of the twentieth century, one had to at least claim to be a Christian to be ‘normal.’” But this is no longer the case. “Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office.”

And jettisoning controversial teachings, especially on what he calls “pelvic autonomy,” won’t help, Moore says, because “people who don’t want Christianity, don’t want almost-Christianity” either.

“We do not have more atheists in America,” Moore stated. “We have more honest atheists in America.” And that’s exactly right.

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When Materialism’s Promise Proves Empty

What’s with all these stories of Western defections to Islamic radicalism? Well, the answer may be more over here than over there. I’ll explain, next on BreakPoint.

John Stonestreet

News broke recently of two beautiful teenage girls from Austria, aged 15 and 16, who became burka-wearing recruiters for the terror group known as ISIS, or the Islamic State. And their journey to radicalism is not an isolated case.

In my own state of Colorado, a 19-year-old female just pled guilty to trying to join ISIS, too. And then there are the two young American men who died in Syria fighting for ISIS.

Why are young 21st-century Westerners converting to a brutal form of Islam? Why would young people, with seemingly so much to live for, leave the West for terrorism?

This question came up last month in a panel discussion with radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager, as well as Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute and myself. We all agreed that the answer was not the radicalism of Islam, but the current emptiness of Western materialism.daily_commentary_09_23_14

The idea that matter is all that matters pervades everything young people see and hear these days. They hear it in science class, from the new Cosmos television series, and even, and as I added especially, in advertising and other media messages. Nearly every commercial message tells us that we’re born to be consumers, that stuff will make us happy and save us from our misery, and that there’s nothing beyond the immediate gratification of this world to live for.

As Dennis Prager said that night, “Secular society produces a lot of bored people . . . Secular society is a curse because ultimately life is meaningless if there’s no God.” The materialistic salvation sold to us promises to fill what Pascal called the God-shaped hole in our hearts … with stuff. But many see the meaningless of secular salvation, and they become bored; others become angry, even murderous.

Remember Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 13 people at Columbine High School? They weren’t Muslims. Then there’s T.J. Lane, a 19-year-old serving three life sentences for shooting to death three high school students in 2012. At his sentencing, in which he taunted his victims’ families with expletives, Lane opened his blue dress shirt to reveal a T-shirt on which he had scrawled the word “killer.”

We’ve always had young murderers, but the nihilism of today is different. Writing in Time several years ago, Harvard’s student body president called it the “Rude Boy” culture. The tough guy of the ‘60s and ‘70s, he observed, would say, “I’m better than you, I can beat you up”—but the tough guy today says, “I flip you off; you don’t matter and neither do I.”

And that’s a whole new level of brokenness. That’s the cultural shift toward nihilism. A few years ago, the rock band Switchfoot hit the nail on the head when they sang, “We were meant to live for so much more. But we lost ourselves.”

This sort of empty pop-nihilism, to borrow a term from Baylor’s Thomas Hibbs, makes even the evil radicalism of extremist Islam look attractive to some. And parasitic ideologies like these find folks in despair easy prey.

Might it be that ISIS finds this shallow ground as fertile soil from which to harvest young souls for its deadly agenda?

Decades ago, even before the Internet and social media took over so much of our lives, Aldous Huxley warned of the capacity of the media to exploit “man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” Could it be that even ISIS looks attractive to those who, after having their fill, still feel empty inside?

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BY JOHN STONESTREET

July 23, 2013 (Breakpoint) – Fr. Thomas Vander Woude, pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Virginia, has a special place in his heart for children born with Down syndrome. His recent parish campaign to save one such life grabbed headlines. But to understand this story, and why these children are so special to Fr. Vander Woude, you need to know another story. This one blew me away.

Earlier this month, Fr. Vander Woude got wind of a young couple in another state whose unborn child had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The couple made the decision close to ninety percent of parents in their shoes make—to abort their special needs baby. Because the pregnancy was almost six months along, they had just days before the legal cutoff for abortions in their state. But Father Vander Woude had other ideas.

He contacted the parents and convinced them to hold off just a little longer, while he and a volunteer sent messages via the church’s social network accounts, pleading for a family willing to adopt the baby and save its life.

The next morning, the calls and emails began—over 900, in fact—some from as far away as England and The Netherlands, ready to make the life-changing decision to adopt a special needs child. As the torrent subsided, three of the families were placed in contact with the expectant parents and an adoption agency for interviews.

Tom Vander Woude Sr. died while saving his son, who has Down syndrome.

You would think this outpouring of love and acceptance for a child nine out of ten American couples consider unworthy of life would impress pro-choicers—especially those who repeat the tired accusation that pro-lifers care only about children in the womb, not after they’re born.

Well, I’m sad to say pro-abortion activists at the blog Jezebel wasted no time in heaping scorn on Father Vander Woude and the hundreds who responded to his call. One Jezebel blogger accused him of pressuring this woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy by “crowdsourcing an adoptive family.”

“[A]nti-abortion folks,” she cedes, “care more about fetuses with fairytale narratives than actual babies.”

Folks, these charges are simply ridiculous, especially now that pregnancy care centers designed to offer help and create options for women and children in crisis outnumber abortion clinics in the United States almost 2-to-1, and with so many families lining up to adopt.

But this particular accusation that Father Vander Woude and his Twitter followers care nothing about older children with Down syndrome rings especially hollow. You see, this priest isn’t the first person in his own family to snatch a victim of Down syndrome from certain death.

His father, Thomas, Sr., died in 2008 after leaping into a septic tank to save his youngest son, Joseph, who had fallen in. According to sources at the time, Thomas, 66, allowed himself to sink beneath the sewage while holding 20-year-old Joseph above his head until rescuers arrived. Joseph has Down syndrome. His father died so that his special needs son would live.

It seems Fr. Vander Woude, who officiated his dad’s funeral, inherited a pro-life view that is not just intellectually true, but one of action. His father would be proud.

The groundswell of families who responded to this plea for adoption are putting feet to their pro-life views, while at the same time showing how wildly out-of-touch with reality abortion apologists have become.

This story also reveals how we might hope to return what Pope Benedict called a “culture of death” to a “culture of life.” It requires doing and saying. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote to his former seminarians, “Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of the living.”

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