Author archives: Rob Schwarzwalder

A Tale of Two (Civil) Senators

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 18, 2014

This morning, at the kind invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, I attended a Joint Session of Congress to hear courageous Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko describe Russia’s threat to his country and plead for U.S. backing of his embattled nation.

It was moving to hear President Poroshenko, and heartening to see the at least superficial unanimity of Members of Congress as they stood, repeatedly, in ovations of support.

This is, I believe, the eighth time I’ve had the privilege of attending such Joint Sessions, including two State of the Union messages by President Clinton. At all such events, there is a general if perhaps strained sense of bonhomie among the Senators and Members of Congress as they mingle on the House floor. Among some of the Senators, particularly, there is a measure of good humor unseen during testy televised debates or hearings.

Today, for example, I noticed two of the Senators, one a respected conservative, the other a recognized liberal, laughing together as if fraternity brothers who surreptitiously had stolen their professor’s tires. It was fun to see.

Three cheers for camaraderie, for friendship, for civility. But as I’ve written elsewhere, civility becomes a pretext for avoiding hard choices and acknowledging real and sometimes angering divisions when “being nice” supersedes the need for opposition and advocacy. Civility is the oil that prevents the gears of debate from becoming so dry with contention that they grind into civil strife. But it is not itself the purpose for which those gears are driven.

As a Christian, I believe in the depravity of man, for which reason I am grateful to awaken to streets empty of men fighting with knives and tire-irons. Civility is important in a fallen world, no question.

Courtesy and kindness are essential to any well-equipped arsenal of public discourse and action. They can sooth raw tempers and smooth rough discourse, thus making the pursuit and location of common ground possible.

Yet ultimately, civility cannot cover-over the deep chasms between worldviews and priorities existing in our society. The two Senators I noted above are both possible presidential candidates of their respective parties. They disagree on the critical issues of “faith, family, and freedom,” not to mention economics and foreign policy. By virtue of the positions they have taken, Americans will have to choose not just between them as persons but between the sharply different worldviews out of which they operate and the policy conclusions resulting therefrom.

Civility can prevent verbal abuse and physical violence. To decide is to lead and often to divide, and decision-making, especially in an era when the decisions to be made represent two such fundamentally opposite set of values and arguments, is unavoidable.

Memo to Evangelicals: All Marriages Are Not, Nor Ever Will Be, Biblically Equal

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 15, 2014

Evangelicals for Marriage Equality” has published a piece in TIME magazine asserting an orthodox theological case for same-sex “marriage.”

This ground has been covered so often that to write about it again seems redundant to the point of being tedious. Yet it cannot be ignored because its proponents keep raising it. Below are some responses to this new initiative whose essential argument – that “it’s possible to be a faithful Christian with a high regard for the authority of the Bible and a faithful supporter of civil marriage equality” – is simply not consistent with biblical teaching, natural law, or the quantifiable good of society.

This is not a dispute like Christian disagreements over modes of baptism or the doctrines of the end times (you say amillenial, I say premillennial, but we’re not going to call our fellowship off). It is about whether or not the clear meaning of any number of passages in the Old and New Testaments is true, and whether what the Bible teaches about human sexuality is right or wrong.

To professing Evangelical advocates of same-sex “marriage:” Stop dissembling. Reject revealed truth concerning human sexual behavior if you will. Christ does not compel faithful discipleship at the point of a gun. Just don’t pretend the Bible doesn’t say what it says or that your personal experiences and/or longings must supersede the commands of the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.

Dr. Robert Gagnon, “Jesus, Scripture, and the Myth of New-Knowledge Arguments About Homosexuality

Jesse Johnson, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage

Andrew Walker, “An Evangelical Defense of Traditional Marriage

Rev. Peter Sprigg, “Top Ten Harms of Same-Sex Marriage

Rob Schwarzwalder, “Leviticus, Jesus, and Homosexuality: Some Thoughts on Honest Interpretation

Rev. Dr. David E. Prince, “Christianity and the New Liberalism: Homosexuality and the Evangelical Church

Welcome Back to College, USA

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 10, 2014

The California State University system has booted InterVarsity from its 23 campuses because IV, an Evangelical Christian group, believes its local chapters should be led by (get ready) Evangelical Christians.

Women-only Mt. Holyoke College has announced that it is changing its gender categories, to wit:

  • Biologically born female; identifies as a woman.
  • Biologically born female; identifies as a man.
  • Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/ze.
  • Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man.
  • Biologically born male; identifies as woman.
  • Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when “other/they” identity includes woman.
  • Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman.

    The school’s policy notes one identity category still barred from admission: “Biologically born male; identifies as man.”

How about venerable Vanderbilt, which

… has decided student groups on campus cannot determine their own leadership. Consequently, a Muslim can run the Christian group, a global warming skeptic can run the Earth First group, a Republican can run the College Democrats, etc. … The rule came in part because, as you will not be surprised to learn, a Christian fraternity “had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay.” Tish Harrison Warren wrote about this at Christianity Today. Her Christian group allowed anyone to be a member, “[b]ut it asks key student leaders — the executive council and small group leaders — to affirm its doctrinal statement, which outlines broad Christian orthodoxy and does not mention sexual conduct specifically. But the university saw belief statements themselves as suspect.”

And, as of Wednesday of this week, “Rev. Bruce Shipman, the Episcopal chaplain at Yale, has resigned in the wake of controversy over a New York Times letter he wrote suggesting Jews were collectively culpable for Israel’s actions and for subsequent rises in global anti-Semitism.” Yale, founded as an explicitly Christian institution centuries ago, summons the decency to fire a nascent anti-Semite — a tiny flash of light in the gathering twilight that is the moral climate of the nation’s colleges and universities. Of course, this spasm of honor comes long after Yale jettisoned its original purpose: to train young men to “live religious, godly and blameless lives according to the rules of God’s Word, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures, the fountain of light and truth; and constantly attend upon all the duties of religion, both in public and secret … (each student was to) …consider the main end of his study to wit to know God in Jesus Christ.”

It is hard to know how to comment about the things listed above. Their stupidity and hypocrisy possess an umbra so glistening, not dissimilar to that displayed by an oil slick on a garage floor, that I will let them speak for themselves.

Truett Cathy, “Chick-fil-A Founder, a Champion of Conservatism and Chicken” — and of Christ

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 8, 2014

S. Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, has died at the age of 93. As the Wall Street Journal notes, he was a champion of “conservatism and chicken,” but it omits his other, most profound championship: The good news of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Cathy’s comments about his relationship with God shows that his faith was not an ancillary part of his life; it was at the heart of it: “I became a Christian at age 12; that’s not to say that everything I’ve done since that time is becoming to a Christian, but I believe the Lord had blessed us because we recognize Him on this special day we call Sunday … I do not condemn a person for opening on Sunday; it is just a principle I stand very firmly on for my business.”

Mr. Cathy founded the WinShape Foundation out of his deep love for children, born of his own straitened childhood. As its website describes it, “The WinShape Foundation was created by Chick-fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy, and his wife, Jeannette, in 1982. The simple vision then, as it is today, was to strengthen families and bring people closer to God and each other. Each ministry within the WinShape Foundation is committed to equipping Christ-centered servant leaders who live life on purpose; with purpose; from children to college students, families, couples, business leaders and others in need around the world.”

He never lost perspective on what’s important; “It’s OK to have wealth,” said Mr. Cathy, “but keep it in your hands, not in your heart.”

Mr. Cathy shared his testimony in his book, Eat Mor Chikin, explaining how Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus on the necessity of being born again changed his life. You can read his account in his book — or, as I’m sure Mr. Cathy would have agreed, go to the original source (the Gospel of John, chapter 3) and read it for yourself.

A wonderful life, well-lived, not just because Truett Cathy was ethical or kind or generous or successful, but because the love of Jesus infused him.

America’s Uncertain International Trumpet

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 8, 2014

A couple of days ago, President Obama commented to “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd that “There are days when I’m not getting enough sleep, because we’ve got a lot on our plate.” According to Jennifer Epstein of Politico, the President went on to say that “You know, when you’re … President of the United States, you’re not just dealing with the United States.” Citing various international military, political, and medical crises, he said, “You know, the inbox gets pretty high.”

Every President says such equally banal things, be he a Republican or a Democrat. What’s troubling is that throughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has repetitively emphasized the value of “partnerships” and international coalitions, as in comments he made during his first presidential trip overseas in 2009: “(America’s) leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.”

Aside from the rather baffling syntax of that sentence, Mr. Obama seems to miss a single, determinative point. America is unique not just because of our moral example or ability to marshal other nations into what President Bush called a “coalition of the willing.” Alliances, partnerships, coalitions, pacts, etc. can be important, even essential, in a number of contexts. Rather, America’s uniqueness is defined not by our being, as it were, first among equals, but the unique coalescence of our values, our power, and our resolve in a violent, unsteady world.

The President is a man of nuance. Nuance can be a valuable trait, insofar as it prevents one from making impulsive, reactive, or excessive decisions. But the presidency is not a graduate seminar in which to express ambivalent opinions in front of a closely-listening world, one that hungers for clear, confident American leadership. When he speaks almost simultaneously of destroying ISIS and “managing” it, the uncertainty of the trumpet Mr. Obama blows reverberates with a chilling echo around the world.

National security and vital interests should determine America’s engagement in given wars, hot-spots, and places of need. Historically, when our security has been jeopardized and our critical interests threatened, we have acted, often in tandem with friends and allies, to defend and secure them. But we have not failed to act alone when singular, bracing action has been needed. Consider Reagan at Reykjavik or Nixon’s unequivocal stand with Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War: These things inspire those who long for our leadership and give great caution to those who wish to diminish it.

One of the paradoxes of American power is that to sustain our position of unique international leadership, our country must be prepared, always, to act promptly, wisely, forcefully, and alone. We are appealing to our friends precisely because we historically have been ready to stand by ourselves, bravely and powerfully. The very independence of our resolve is what has made other countries want to ally with us. When we make partnerships a precondition of bold action, we hem ourselves into a seam of international approval and mincing diplomatic etiquette from which it is hard to disentangle ourselves.

The stance our nation takes on the world stage is not developed to win friends and be well-loved. Of course, many of our actions, such as the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan and our gifts of food and medicine to the developing world have wedded our interests and our moral convictions, which have won us friends and created loyalties from which we have benefitted greatly.

Instead, our objectives should be clear and never in doubt: We want to be respected by our friends and feared by our adversaries. Such respect is the foundation of the international affection for which some politicians seem to long as the chief end of America’s global involvement. Pursuit of “being liked” as an end in itself invites disdain from our enemies and doubt from our allies. As a result, such a pursuit creates the very acrimony and upheaval its proponents say they wish to avoid.

After the Bay of Pigs disaster, young President John F. Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev in Vienna. Kennedy was candid about Kruschev’s behavior: the latter “thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be taken. And anyone who got into it and didn’t see it through had no guts. So he just beat the h**l out of me … I’ve got a real problem.” The Cuban missile crisis was not long to follow, as Kruschev had determined Kennedy was weak.

Would Vladimir Putin have dared to venture into the Ukraine, or would Hamas dared to launch its missile assaults on Israel, if they feared the reaction of the United States? Would ISIS have become so voraciously predatory if its leaders worried about anything but a tepid, slow response from America? Would China have hacked American corporations so assiduously if it feared truly tough retaliation from Washington?

Maybe. But maybe not. Whether a conservative or a liberal, the American president must be someone who realizes that the surest way to avoid having to use our power is a willingness to use it, prudently but decisively, when and where it is needed for the sake of our security and crucial interests.

My Friends Dan and Judy

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 20, 2014

My friend Dan and his wife Judy are missionaries with SIM in Ethiopia.

Dan and Judy, a registered nurse, raised three wonderful children in the Seattle area, which is where we met. We served together for several years on the board of the Seattle-area Christian Action Council, the forerunner of what has become CareNet. Dan’s warmth, good humor, wide reading, and deeply held convictions about all the right things were marrow to my bones.

Dan retired as an engineer with Boeing a few years ago. He had retired as a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserve some time before that. Had Judy and he wanted to, they could simply have lived a prosperous and pleasure-focused life in the Pacific Northwest.

Instead, Dan went to theological seminary, earning his Master of Divinity degree, and Judy and he moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to teach at a Bible college training indigenous pastors and Christian leaders (Dan) and serve babies in desperate need of good care (Judy).

Dan is now earning his Ph.D. (from a distance) at a prestigious British university as he continues to teach in Addis. They come back to the states every couple of years to visit their children, growing number of grandchildren, and friends, among whom my family and I are privileged to be counted.

They have “pledged their heads to heaven for the Gospel,” exchanging a life of quiet ease for a foreign culture in a not always safe place, thousands of miles away from those they love best. Why? Because they love Jesus Christ and are committed to making their lives count in the most effective way possible for Him.

Does every retiree need to become a missionary? Of course not. But to whatever God calls His people, we must obey, whether in Renton, Washington or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

If ever I have the chance, I’d like to introduce Ann Coulter to Dan and Judy. Her disturbing, uninformed attack on SIM missionaries who, in service to their Lord and people, contracted the ebola virus, speaks to much that is twisted in the human heart. Christians should pray for Ann, that she would understand that when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15), He wasn’t making a suggestion but giving a command.

We can fulfill that command locally, regionally, or trans-nationally. It depends on how God leads. Dan and Judy know something about that. I hope that Ann will learn.

Children Are Always a Blessing

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 19, 2014

Here is one of the best quotes I’ve read in a long time; it’s by Courtney Reissig, writing at Christianity Today’s “Her.Meneutics” site:

Children are not a death sentence to our ambitions and goals. They may change them, postpone them, or even make them more difficult to attain—but they are always a blessing. We don’t earn the right to stay home or have children only after having done something important with our lives. We earn the benefit to have children simply by being created in God’s image.

Preach it, sister. Career dreams, professional attainments, academic achievements: All that are done for the glory of God are good and noble things. But to place children in apposition to them is a false alternative. I’ll let Mrs. Reissig have the last word:

Children also come to us — biologically or through adoption — at God’s timing. Despite my desire to start a family earlier, I didn’t give birth to my twins until I was 30. Even when we are open to having children, it doesn’t always happen right away and sometimes, they don’t come at all. But the church should be a place that welcomes expectant mothers regardless of what they have accomplished pre-pregnancy. Even if she never finishes her degree, lands a top client, or wins an Academy Award, bringing life into the world is a beautiful and God-honoring thing.

Will Rabbi Saperstein Be a True Advocate for Religious Liberty?

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 29, 2014

After a hiatus of nine months, President Obama has nominated Rabbi David Saperstein to be the next U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, an office within our State Department.

That Rabbi Saperstein is Jewish is a blessing: It is an affirmation that the United States rebukes the anti-Semitism rising in so many countries, and that we believe Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox can partner together in standing for the “unalienable rights” bestowed to us by our Creator, including what our Constitution affirms is our “first freedom,” religious liberty.

As he speaks and works on behalf of our country, Rabbi Saperstein will, I hope, prove to be an effective and assertive advocate for those persecuted for their faith. However, I fear he is entering his new role with his hands tied: Barack Obama has sought to cabin and diminish lived-out faith in our country. What our President and his administration fail to sustain and advance at home they cannot defend and encourage abroad.

The Rabbi’s predecessor, the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, left an at-best mixed legacy during her 30 months in the position, at least some of it not her fault. Dr. Tom Farr of Georgetown University, one of the nation’s most respected advocates for international religious liberty, notes that Dr. Johnson Cook was given “very few resources (by the Obama Administration) she could employ to develop strategies to advance international religious freedom.”

Additionally, Rabbi Saperstein’s well-known liberalism is troubling. For example, he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision last month in the Hobby Lobby case, endorsing the idea that the federal government has the right to tell business owners they must provide coverage of contraceptives that can cause abortion. “We believe the court was wrong in saying there are religious claims corporations can make,” he said. “Corporations don’t have souls or consciences the way that people or associations of like-minded people do.” This is nonsense: Corporations are associations of people; that they are constituted for profit makes them no less so. Thus, our legal systems recognizes their embodiment as “corpora” (bodies) – and those people who constitute corporations through direct or shareholding ownership have a right not to be coerced into providing services that conscientiously they find wrong.

Additionally, the Rabbi has been a board member of People for the American Way, whose mission statement affirms its staunch commitment to “progressive” policies. Such PAW “progressivism” includes the marginalization of faith in public life, unrestricted access to abortion-on-demand, and what it calls “dumping” the Defense of Marriage Act. Rabbi Saperstein even went out of his way to oppose the ban on “partial-birth” abortion, saying he was “dismayed” by passage of the measure in the House of Representatives.

Over the past five and one-half years, an Administration much more preoccupied with the advancement of homosexuality in law and society than concerned with protecting religious liberty, either in the United States or through American foreign policy, has failed to inspire confidence in its commitment to what Hamilton called “the sacred rights of conscience” as they are played-out in public life.

We have a deep interest in fighting for international religious liberty, as to do so advances our national security and vital interests. By standing with, and battling for, those persecuted or repressed because of their faith, we build good will toward our country in areas where such is urgently needed. That, in this case, our security and interests are coincident with our deeply cherished values makes religious liberty all the more of a priority for our diplomatic agenda.

Rabbi Saperstein once chaired the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, where I briefly worked years ago. All Americans should pray that the Rabbi will be a lion for religious liberty, and with everyone of good will, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to defending and advancing religious liberty worldwide. However, given his personal convictions and public associations, I confess to having more than a few apprehensions.

Conservatism’s Good - and Under-reported Ideas

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 24, 2014

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) today unveiled a plan designed to “expand (economic) opportunity in America—to deliver real change, real solutions, and real results” (http://paulryan.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=389081#.U9FlzkCuo7k).

It is likely there are proposals and assumptions in Ryan’s plan with which I agree, and others with which I do not. What has caught my attention is the way some of the media are covering his remarks. Here are some examples:

Ryan’s plan is substantive, far-reaching, and clear. It has much to commend it. Let’s also grant for the sake of argument that in addition to wanting to offer proposals that offer real hope, Ryan wants to dispel some of the stereotypes about Republicans not caring for the poor. That’s perfectly understandable and politically valid.

Yet with that said, why should he or anyone have to dispel a notion that is, itself, patently false?

Conservatives have long offered myriad proposals to help address issues of economic opportunity, educational failure, family collapse, and the struggles of millions of Americans wrestling with at-best modest incomes and dwindling hopes.

Yet the standard media narrative – heartless conservatives who pine for “orgiastic tax-cutting, the slashing of government programs, the championing of Wall Street” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/magazine/can-the-gop-be-a-party-of-ideas.html) – clings to the conservative movement like plastic wrap.

Why? Simply because so many in the “mainstream” media repeat it so often and, concurrently, so seldom report on the many ideas conservatives have generated that are designed to address intransigent social and economic problems. This is maddening, even if predictable, and also one of the principal reasons conservatives now operate their own print and electronic media outlets and networks.

Of course, sometimes a conservative spokesman will say something untoward or excessive. Pick a politician, Left or Right, who sometimes says things not almost immediately regretted. Do such offensive but incidental comments characterize entire movements, whole patterns of philosophy and ideas? No. Yet much too often, conservatives are portrayed as the purveyors of greed and callousness because of the few stupid statements of a few people.

Economic indicators cannot measure the values held by our children, or the suffering felt by broken families,” according to my old boss, U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN). “We have discovered that our growing GNP also includes massive prison construction to house a lost generation, drug counseling in elementary schools, suicide hotlines, teen pregnancy centers, and clinics for battered children” (https://wikis.engrade.com/morality1/morality4).

The Senator said this in a speech in 1991. Since then, at least two things haven’t changed: The media’s general stereotyping of conservatives as heartless materialists, and their failure to report conservative ideas about how best to help our fellow citizens in need.

To death and taxes, perhaps media disinterest in conservative proposals should be added as an inevitability. This is not excuse for conservatives not to “stay in there pitching,” but a reminder that the next time you’re tempted to ask, “Why don’t conservatives say something about (pick your issue)?,” in all likelihood they already have.

Barack Obama and Constitutional Originalism

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 22, 2014

According to the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism, “Originalism is the view that the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with its original meaning — that is, the meaning it had at the time of its enactment.”

Yep — that’s what conservatives believe. The written text had and has a defined meaning, alterable only by amendment. As Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has written, “The Constitution itself is not a document of convenience. It specifies an onerous process — bicameralism and presentment — to pass legislation. It imposes a system of checks and balances among the branches. Perhaps most important, it limits the types of power the federal government can exercise.”

That’s not what President Obama believes, however. In his article, “A Brief History of Obama’s Biggest Constitutional Flops,” constitutional scholar Damon Root writes, “Despite his training as a former constitutional law lecturer, President Barack Obama continues to push dubious legal theories that fail to persuade even the most liberal justices to vote in his favor.”

Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, Mr. Obama expressed great frustration with the “constraints” of the Constitution, observing of the Supreme Court under the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, “… the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn’t shifted.”

At least Mr. Obama admits, albeit grudgingly, that the Founders actually meant something definitive when they wrote the Constitution — even though the then-law school lecturer implies we need to “break free” of such limitations.

So it came as a surprise today when his spokesman cited original intent in chiding the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for issuing a ruling stating that the wording of the Affordable Care Act does not give license to the federal government to “subsidize health insurance premiums for people in three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange.”

You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their health care costs, regardless of whether it was state officials or federal officials who were running the marketplace,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “I think that was a pretty clear intent of the congressional law.”

So, now President Obama is concerned with the intention of federal law? Well, that’s great news. I wonder how that will apply to, say, the First and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution, which he has, up to now, only applied at best erratically. Their meaning, and the meaning of the Constitution generally, can be known through the Federalist Papers, James Madison’s “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention in 1787,” and the ratification debates held in the states as the early Republic wrestled with whether or not to affirm the Constitution itself.

However, the original intent of any document is expressed in its text, not in what we wish it would be. And the text of Obamacare provides no basis for the federal subsidization of health insurance premiums for, again, “people in the three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange.”

You can’t have it all ways, Mr. President — either originalism based on the clear meaning of the text matters or it doesn’t.

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