Wilhelm Röpke

Forget Ayn Rand. Read this guy instead

After addressing Ayn Rand’s anti-Christian philosophy, it’s time to propose an alternative. This is particularly important for Christians who defend the free market and would like to expand economic freedom. Just because Ayn Rand is of the devil doesn’t mean that capitalism is too. They are not the same thing.

Sadly, some people seem to think so. “I think Christians would be less likely to embrace socialism if they understood that the economic philosophy of Ayn Rand is compatible with Christianity,” explains one pundit, as if those were our two choices: socialism and Randianism. Continue reading

ayn rand antichrist

Ayn Rand, antichrist

An interesting convergence of political and cultural trends has pushed Ayn Rand back into public view. But libertarians and conservatives–particularly those who profess Christian faith–should be wary of adopting Rand as their own lest they end up like the man in Aesop’s story who took the snake to his bosom. Rand’s defense of capitalism comes couched in a philosophy that is fundamentally anti-religious and, even more to the point, anti-Christian. Continue reading

Pat Robertson, 700 Club.

What Pat Robertson gets wrong about adoption

Pat Robertson, 700 Club.

Pat Robertson, 700 Club.

When a woman named Susan wrote the 700 Club looking for answers, she surely wasn’t expecting the kind she received. The mother of three adopted daughters, each from different countries, wrote to say that the men she was dating invariably got cold feet when it came to the subject of her children. “Why,” she asked, “are these men acting this way?”

Pat Robertson’s answer left audiences with their jaws hanging low. “A man doesn’t want to take on the United Nations,” he said, excusing the men, “and this woman’s got all these various children, a blended family. I mean what is it?”

Hint: The gospel.

Robertson went on to provide a reason why the men were justified in backing out. He mentioned a friend who adopted a child with “brain damage. . . . grew up weird. You just never know what’s been done to a child before you get that child.”

He’s right about that much. Adopted kids come from hard places, and you just don’t know what kind of problems they might have. Orphans are often victims of physical, psychological, sometimes even sexual abuse. They are deprived of food, starved for affection, and left to fend for themselves. That kind of maltreatment and deprivation can add up to serious social, psychological, and neurochemical problems for these kids.

Bringing kids from hard places into your home isn’t easy. As an adoptive father, I speak from some experience.

For Robertson these problems excuse the men in question. “You don’t have to take on someone else’s problems. I mean you really don’t. You can go help people. You can minister to people . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to take all the orphans around the world into my home.”

In some measure, that’s a copout. Orphans don’t need people to help them or minister to them, not primarily. They need families, especially the kids who are — in Robertson’s indelicate word — “weird.” The reason they face maltreatment and deprivation in the first place is because they don’t have mothers and fathers to protect and care for them. Families are the only solution for these kids.

If the men Susan is dating aren’t up for that, then she’s obviously dating the wrong men. And she’s also evidently asking the wrong people for advice. Robertson’s answer does’t work. If we’re going to live the gospel, it’s absurd to say that it’s really hard so it’s reasonable to disengage. You don’t have to die on every hill, but Calvary requires your life nonetheless. What else does picking up your cross mean?

When Jesus clues us into the final exam in Matthew 25, he says something that applies directly to the situation. After the Lord returns in glory, he separates the righteous from the unrighteous. He then turns to the former and says, “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me. . . .”

The righteous are amazed. “Lord,” they say, “when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?”

“Assuredly, I say to you,” answers Jesus, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

Kids from hard places bear the image of God just like any other child, and no matter their age, sex, or color they look like Jesus.

Robertson prays for folks on air all the time. Instead of his baffling screed, he should have commended Susan and prayed that she find a man who can look upon these precious daughters as sisters in Christ and take them to his heart as readily as his own.


The only solution to violence

After the shootings at the Aurora movie theater, the Milwaukee Sikh temple, and now Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., I’m hearing renewed talk about banning guns. It’s something of a ritual, and the well-known rubrics describe the basic order of events: man commits atrocity, nation stands aghast, nation looks for answers, nation comes up short, people advise the prohibition of firearms.

But Americans don’t have a corner on violence, and it’s instructive to see how such violence is handled elsewhere in the world. In Nigeria, for instance, after a string of attacks on churches, governments are moving to regulate not weapons, but words. Note this report from AllAfrica.com:

In its effort to ensure peace and mutual co-existence, the Bauchi State Government . . . said it had set in motion machineries which would help regulate preachings among Muslims and Christians clerics.

The state Commissioner for Religious Affairs and Community Relations, Hon. Salisu Ahmed Barau . . . said regulating preachings among clerics was necessary as it aimed at promoting peace and mutual co-existence among people of the state.

Likewise, at the national level talk has similarly turned to licensing not firearms, but preachers, according to the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard.

Breathe easy. For a country whose legal heritage includes the First Amendment, America is unlikely to take such a course of action. Amen, amen. But could the Nigerians have a slightly better grasp of the problem than we do?

In a roundabout way, Nigeria’s proposed policies at least address the idea of motivation. Murder does not come from something external to a person. Its composition is internal, the product of passion, hatred, contempt, envy, and/or other lesser impulses. While wrongheaded, the Nigerian policies are an attempt to curb those impulses. The desire is to prevent demagogues with a penchant for stoking animosity in the hearts of their hearers from doing so.

On the other hand, gun prohibitionists ignore the main issue entirely and recommend the removal of the means to murder. As far as policies go, the idea leaves a lot to be desired for reasons long articulated by its opponents. There’s no reason to rehearse those here, but shouldn’t we at least acknowledge its basic futility? As long as hell has its way in human hearts, legislation will avail little if anything.

“[O]ut of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander,” says Jesus. The source of the problem is not the tool. It’s the heart of its user.

The only solution to man’s evil is interior transformation. In several passages in Ezekiel God talks about transforming hearts: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them.” He says, “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” And: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

Policymakers are looking for something more concrete and measurable than a transformation of the heart by the Holy Spirit. And that’s fine. Nobody ever said policies had to be effective — just make us feel like were doing something. But those of us who know better should refrain from kidding ourselves.

The only solution to violence is the grace of God working to soften human hearts.

Rev. Jonathan Mayhew

America needs prophets

Rev. Jonathan Mayhew

Portrait of Jonathan Mayhew by John Greenwood, Congregational Library

The intense fight over Obamacare’s HHS mandate highlights a real disdain for religion in public life. Obamacare has had religious detractors from the start because of abortion concerns, but they have had their own detractors among the political and chattering classes.

While paying lip service to the right of Catholic bishops to participate in the conversation, for instance, one pundit actually said (before the bill had passed) that the hierarchs were holding America “hostage” by their refusal to back down on their antiabortion lobbying. In other words, yes, speak. But not much. And for all our sakes, shut up if you’re being effective.

Here on the Fourth of July, it’s worth noting that this sentiment would have stunned the founders. In researching the life of Paul Revere, I found time and again the active role played by church leaders in their day.

In 1754, for instance, Massachusetts legislators pushed for a new sales tax. Newspapermen and pamphleteers let the ink fly and fired off acidic squibs denouncing the measure. So did pastors. From the pulpit, ministers railed against the bill in harsh terms. Rev. Samuel Cooper of Brattle Street Church in Boston even called the lawmakers “bastards” for it. Rev. Jonathan Mayhew opposed the bill as well, pointing out the burden it would place upon the poor.

Mayhew was a force to be reckoned with in matters both ecclesial and political. He battled the imposition of an Anglican bishop in America on the one hand (he was a staunch Congregationalist), and on the other preached a stemwinding sermon against the Stamp Act, kicking off America’s decade-long protest against unjust taxation. For Mayhew, the role of the minister was to speak to any subject of weight in his community. And he did, along with most others.

The political outlook of Boston preachers was so demonstrative that as the Revolution inched closer, Paul Revere left his lifelong congregation because the minister was too supportive of the establishment. He began attending West Church, where Mayhew had previously pastored.

The prophet’s job is to confront power and hold it to account, to remind its practitioners that they answer to a greater sovereign. His job is not so much to predict when God will act in history as much as to insist that he in fact will.

That task was vital during our revolutionary beginnings. And while people can point to the cultural shift from that time to this (we’re hardly as religious as we once were), the job is arguably more important now.

As government becomes more intrusive, the role of prophet is ever-more important. Pastors need to become more active and more vocal, not less so. An interventionist government assumes the right to act in nearly any situation. It needs to be shown that such expansionist plans are not always acceptable — in fact, usually not.

Policy wonks aren’t up to that task. Neither are lobbyists. Or lawyers. Or journalists.

They’re all helpful, and they should be involved. But what America needs are more prophets who will speak truth to power, embolden their flocks, and live the gospel they preach. If personal faith means anything, it’s going to have (for better or worse, depending on the example) a public impact. It’s unavoidable. It would serve America well if that impact were more deliberate and pastors more aware of the role they can play.

This isn’t to say that pastors should get involved in every political spat, or push for new legislation. They primarily should lead their flocks. But when the state acts egregiously or proposes laws that are fundamentally unjust, they shouldn’t stand by. They should follow their forebears and speak out.

Politicians and pundits oppose preacherly meddling because they want freedom to scheme and act without regard to any authority higher than their own. Fine. But we don’t have to let them. Because of those meddling pastors in 1754, the proposed tax bill failed. What would happen today if America’s ministers took their calling more seriously?

Slightly updated from a piece published at WND.com, April 16, 2010.