Stand in the Breach…

…So I have just spent the last thirty days writing political posts on a blog that was never supposed to be political.

But these last three years have left me with something that needs to be more than a month-long rant. What unsettles me the most are the reasoned, thoughtful,  pieces that discuss the loss of democracy through authoritarianism. Do you know how it happens? Good people like you and me simply tune out what is happening because: A) We can’t believe it has come to this; B) We simply zone out because of A;  C) We don’t know what we can possibly do against something so BIG; or D) We don’t talk about it because our friends voted for the other party, and we know what discussing politics has done  does to friends and families.

But this is important, friends: It is no longer Politics As Usual. We bury our heads in the sand at our country’s peril. (And believe me, I am a long-time ostrich…) And so I pulled my head out of the sand, blinked in the sunlight, and wrote some things here that might offend, but I have tried to write them in the most reasoned way I could. We do not need to add another screaming voice to this already polarized country.

I was reading my morning scriptures today — I’m in Ezekiel (!) — and I was struggling hard to understand what Chapter 22 was telling me, when I came to verse 30: “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”

No, it isn’t about building a wall. (Please read this post, if you need to hear my views on walls….) It is about being righteous, standing up for righteousness, for justice, for mercy, for love. Righteousness must be tempered by love, or else we have someone who is a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal; love must be tempered by righteousness or we have wantonness. Justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy on its own without justice makes us doormats. Love & Righteousness, Justice & Mercy–they belong on opposite sides of the same coin; one without the other is an imbalance, a lack of harmony, a breach…

These days the country is certainly imbalanced, harmony is hard to find, and perhaps the breach is miles wide, but what is democracy worth? For my entire lifetime, democracy has not needed to be fought for, and perhaps we have grown soft and complacent, thinking the United States of America was the founding of democracy, and we needn’t worry about it.

  • After all, don’t we have the Constitution?
  • Don’t we have three branches of government that balance each other?
  • Aren’t we all certain of our freedom and our voting rights?
  • Dictators and tyrants and authoritarian rulers are not our allies, are they?

If the events of the last few months have you wondering or worrying about these questions, I suggest that we remember that it  wasn’t so long ago, we needed to fight for democracy. The odd thing about now is that it seems our democracy is deteriorating from within. And we can’t agree about who is doing the crumbling as the walls fall to pieces with people on either side shouting and throwing rocks.

What we need is courageous people to stand in the breach. Courageous people to say  “Stop shouting.” “Stop Tweeting.”  Put down the ugly sign in your hand, turn to the person next to you, and offer it to them.

I’ve been reading The Case for the Psalms by N.T. Wright and there is this beautiful quote toward the end. He writes about “…a people of praise who, out of their celebration of God’s goodness in creation and out of their eager anticipation of his coming in judgment at last, speak his word and his truth to those in power, reminding them that they are answerable to the God who will one day hold them accountable.”

Can we speak truth to those in power? Will we stand in the breach, or have we gone too soft after years of easy living? Will we offer our hands to those who are different from us? Are we willing to do the hard work of reconciliation or is it just easier to keep shouting and interrupting? Jesus stands in the gap for us, and calls us to do the same. How will you stand?

thirty biblical reasons to vote democratic in 2020 # 30 Lack of Righteousness

“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”Psalm 15:1-5 (ESV)

A pastor says he is going to vote for the most righteous party….

I struggle with that statement for several reasons, but two in particular:

  • There is no righteous political party. Politics, by definition, is the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. There can be nothing righteous about that.
  • What does he actually mean when he says righteous? Decent, ethical, principled, moral, high-minded, are all synonyms, but those words don’t get at the Biblical definition.

To my mind there are two definitions of righteousness– human and Biblical. The human definition is the quality of being morally right or justifiable, followed by a listing of the synonyms above. I think we can reasonably expect our leaders to exhibit some of these characteristics–not all, of course, because no human is perfect. The trouble comes when we try to define what is morally right.

I’m old enough to remember this bumper sticker. (I might even confess to having it on one of my cars, but I’m also old enough to forget whether I actually did…)  Anyway, the point is, I get it when people start arguing about the human definition of righteousness and what it is. We can get on swampy ground. Is it more righteous to ban abortions or tear apart immigrant families? Is obedience to the law more righteous than standing up against an unfair law? Is it more moral to call people names or actually listen to what they have to say? Okay, that last one was a trick question… Sorry.

So I went to my Holman Bible Dictionary for the biblical definition of righteousness: “…For Biblical authors, righteousness is the fulfillment of the terms of a covenant between God and humanity…Human righteousness in the New Testament is absolute faith in and commitment to God.”

To be honest, we cannot expect our political leaders to fulfill that biblical definition of righteousness. No one can — no human, no political party can have a claim on righteousness. Christ came to be righteousness for us because we cannot, as humans, manage even a bit of holy righteousness (see Romans 3:21-23). As Christians, we have to choose the best imperfect person for the job, and it isn’t always easy. You might want to read this article by Tim Keller on How Do Christians Fit into the Two-Party-System? They Don’t.

Yet we can expect human leaders to fulfill some of the human expectations of good leadership traits, even if we don’t/can’t/shouldn’t call it righteousness.  In Ten Unique Perspectives on What Makes a Great Leader  from Forbes magazine, these are some of the traits mentioned: Communication skills, Honesty, Humility, Courage, Self-sacrifice, Empathy, Respect for others, and Surrounding yourself with great people…

If you remember this photo op, you’ll remember that in a controversial move, the National Park police used tear gas to disperse the crowd of peaceful protesters in front of the White House, so he could walk across the street to a church and hold up a Bible.  I’m not sure what he was trying to get across. That he believes in freedom of religion? That he believes in the Bible? That he thinks the Bible supports his ‘law and order’ ticket? That he likes his Christian supporters and wanted to pander to them? That he wasn’t hiding in the basement bunker of the White House, he was upstairs reading the Bible? Even when I try not to be cynical about this, I don’t get it. It offended many believers, including Rev. Robert Hendrickson whose words are below:

Quote by Rev. Robert Hendrickson of Tuscon, Arizona

“…the moral vacuum that is now pretending to lead.” Whew!

We are all sinners. I am not suggesting otherwise. And if Donald Trump would repent from his sins, I might reconsider him. But no matter what viewpoint he tries to address, the weight of his sins, lack of righteousness, and dearth of simple leadership skills suck him into the swamp.

The former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, (a Republican who was also the first Director of Homeland Security) just wrote an opinion article for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is voting for Joe Biden. I would highly recommend reading it in its entirety, but this sums it up:

Donald Trump has proven over these last four years he is incapable of such leadership. It is not within him. He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect, and maturity to lead. He sows division along political, racial, and religious lines. And he routinely dismisses the opinions of experts who know far more about the subject at hand than he does — intelligence, military, and public health. Our country has paid dearly in lives lost, social unrest, economic hardship, and our standing in the world….

…Vice President Biden and I both know that supporting his candidacy now certainly won’t dissuade me from speaking out later when I disagree with him. But we surely will do so with civility and respect, not with childish name-calling and Twitter tirades. Joe Biden has the experience and empathy necessary to help us navigate not only the pandemic but also other issues that have fractured our nation, including social injustice, income inequality, and immigration reform.

Please do not give this man your vote. Our democracy depends on it.

thirty biblical reasons to vote democratic in 2020: #29 Defilement and Deceit

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person, For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person… — Matthew 15:18-20a (NIV)

And in view of current events, here’s another applicable verse: The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward. –Proverbs 11:18 (ESV)

In Matthew 15, Jesus repeats this verse in several ways–but he is speaking about the purity or cleanliness that the religious leaders and Pharisees professed and contrasting it with the uncleanliness and impurity that comes from deep within everyone (religious leaders included).


The same scene is replayed in Mark 7: 20-23, where he elaborates even further, “What comes out of a person’s mouth is what makes them unclean. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  (NIV)

Can I go so far as accusing the president of murder? I’m not sure, but his lack of leadership and lies about the COVID-19 virus/crisis have caused the United States to lead the death rate in the western world. As of September 28th, the U.S. had  209,777 deaths. The rest of those adjectives are evident in his words and his actions…

Christian, can you really vote for a man who embodies these characteristics? He is the antithesis of everything righteous the Bible calls us to be.

Because of the release of the president’s tax returns, I added an additional verse for today because I simply cannot ignore the deceit that this president has lived. Here is the entire article from the New York Times: The President’s Taxes.

And in case you don’t want to read the whole article here are 5 points:

  1. The president paid $750 in taxes in 2016, and again in 2017–the first two years of his presidency. (That is equivalent to what someone who makes $20,000/year would pay. If you aren’t outraged by this, what will it take?)
  2. In 10 of the past 15 years, he paid no taxes at all, mostly because he had such large losses. (Even if he did lose that much money, it goes completely against the way he has portrayed himself as a genius businessman who has a Midas touch.)
  3. He is being audited by the IRS over a $72.9 million tax refund (!) that he claimed 10 years ago.
  4. Within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due. (The Times said the president appears to be responsible for $421 million in loans, most of which will come due within four years. On top of that, a $100 million mortgage on Trump Tower in New York will come due in 2022.) I have seen several articles that classify a president who owes that much money as a National Security Risk.
  5. His businesses lose millions. Mr. Trump has claimed $315 million in losses since 2000 on his golf courses, including the Trump National Doral near Miami, which Mr. Trump has portrayed as a crown jewel in his business empire. Some of these above statistics are from this article too: 7 Takeaways from New York Times report on President Trump’s Tax Returns

And for tomorrow–a discussion of righteousness…