Saturday, May 19, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report 43 revisited: Further thoughts on Mr Falwell's remarks

This is indeed the hard-to-address issue that simply will not go away until it has been fully and fairly addressed!

A concerned observer (and long-standing, highly regarded friend!) has submitted some important criticisms on my just past post, which I think require a re-opening of the discussion under a new head, not a mere editing of the before.

The core concern is the issue of finger-pointing, self-defeating hypocrisy on Mr Falwell's part in his post 9/11 and similar remarks, and whether it is proper to make an onward link from what he was (apparently) trying to say, to the reflections of Lincoln and the US Founders. (Lurking beneath, is the deeper issue, how do finite, fallible, fallen, often ill-equipped sinners like us stand up in public on matters of moral import, without simply defeating ourselves through our own moral failures?)

And, if we choose instead to be silent in public, are we falling afoul of the stricture by Edmund Burke, that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to stand bay and do nothing?

In short, are we to be deservedly hanged if we do, and will we be haplessly strangled if we don't?

Let's look back at the specific remarks, noting again [cf the Tinky Winky example, and the conference with Soulforce] that sometimes, despite what his detractors often had to say, Mr Falwell was actually right.some of the time, at least on some of his points.

But, to the key case we must go, if we are to learn a lesson from a classic failure:
. . . "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this [attack] because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'" [NB on the difference in transcription here, as well as hte somewhat more extensive excerpt.]
This is, as I noted, quite literally finger-pointing rhetoric, and I described it as "clumsy and offensive," noting how it proved to be self-defeating regardless of the validity on the merits of some of what was said.

For, it invited the shift in subject from a serious matter of how nations that turn their backs on God in order to indulge their sins thereby face the consequences of such foolish decisions, to the question of Mr Falwell's obvious judgementalism and apparent hypocrisy. (And, in our day, "hypocrite!" is just about the ultimate in shut-up rhetoric. Not to mention, if we really are being hypocritical, we invite God's judgement. Going by the Gospels, the judgement on moralising hypocrisy is harsher than that of even those literally caught in the act of the most scandalous sins! [Cf the classic case in Jn 7:53 - 8:11.])

We need to add that Mr Falwell went on to attempt to clarify as follows, as we may see from a CNN report:
. . . in a phone call to CNN, Falwell said that only the hijackers and terrorists were responsible for the deadly attacks.

"I do believe, as a theologian, based upon many Scriptures and particularly Proverbs 14:23 [actually, 34], which says 'living by God's principles promotes a nation to greatness, violating those principles brings a nation to shame,'" he said.

Falwell said he believes the ACLU and other organizations "which have attempted to secularize America, have removed our nation from its relationship with Christ on which it was founded."

"I therefore believe that that created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812" . . .

The report begins:
LYNCHBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell said late Thursday he did not mean to blame feminists, gays or lesbians for bringing on the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington this week, in remarks on a television program earlier in the day . . .
In short, the core point he was evidently trying to say was the ever-unwelcome and unpalatable but sound one, that nations and leaders who turn their backs on God invite the consequences of their choices and sins. Thus, by direct implication, the road back is through repentance and reformation. Why then did he fail to make his point effectively, if that was it? And, what does that imply for the discussion in this blog over the past few days, and from now on?

The observer put his finger on the key issue very well.

Lincoln's remarks were an act of contrition, first and foremost. The US Founders, for all their interestedness and own moral challenges, were wrestling with the question of whether insurrection was warranted under God in their own situation. By contrast Falwell focussed primarily on the sins of others, and so came across as one-sided and hypocritical -- I here hesitate to judge (though I do have questions about . . .) his actual motives and attitudes, given his onward remarks, and also being sure that a far more able Judge is now addressing the case.

So, we come right back to a certain familiar scene in an imaginary carpenter's shop in which a log is being sawed the old-fashioned way: one man on top, the other down below the log in a pit, making planks with the aid of a two-man saw. Let us therefore see again, how Jesus -- himself a carpenter -- discussed the case in his famous Sermon on the Mount:
MT 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

MT 7:3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Too often we stop the story at the acid comment "you hypocrite." But that is premature, for Jesus goes on to give instructions on reformation and (by implication) reconciliation:
STEP 1: Take the plank out of your own eye, which implies looking in the mirror for a while, or maybe asking for inputs from a trusted counsellor.

STEP 2: Let your vision clear, which doubtless requires a time of healing and perhaps growth.

STEP 3: Help you brother get the sawdust out of his eye

STEP 4 (implicit . . .) : maybe, the circumstances that lead your brother to be always getting sawdust in his eye need to be changed, too. Arguably, this is an extension to steps 1 and 2.
So, we have to start from the point that we are all finite, fallen, fallible, and potentially hypocritical.

That "oops factor" also includes that even when we are patently the victims of injustice, we too may be partly guilty. We who have been the target of a finger-pointing rebuke, or even just a clumsy cry of the hurting heart, may divert attention to the sins of the one crying out for help, or out of his/her pain. Or, shifting perspective again, as we look on on such a scene, we the onlookers may also be tempted to ignore our own guilt in our quick finger-pointing on the hypocrite who cries foul. And so on . . .

Pardon the personal observation: Ouch, ouch, ouch. (Jesus' parables do have an all-around punch. This moment of penitence brought to you courtesy the Holy Spirit and concerned brothers . . .)

What is certain is that none of us can consistently live up to the obviously proper standard here, and are at best going to struggle clumsily to live up to this one -- this is indeed a classically hard saying of Jesus. But that does not excuse us from trying all our lives long, by God's grace. [Cf Rom 2:5 - 11.]

At the same time, there is the point that public leadership and advocacy, thence policy and law, have not only moral and spiritual consequences, but that apostasy and sin do indeed bring disgrace to the nations:
PR 14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a disgrace to any people.
So, while being acknowledged penitents under reformation ourselves, if we are to exert prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership, we must courageously stand up for the truth and the right, even in the face of clever objections, ridicule, slander and worse. Yes, we must first address the planks in our own eyes, but also once we see clearly, we should try to help our brothers with the sawdust in theirs. And, sometimes, that calls for strong words, like Nathan's "Thou art the man" to David, or Jesus' "Go tell that fox" to Herod's messengers.

Or, there is even the case in which an indignant Jesus knotted a whip and marched into a Temple turned into a den of thieves -- perhaps twice. (This case is one in which one and the same act confronted a hypocritical religious elite, challenged exploitation of the poor, and challenged the politically powerful but unjust. Not exactly the mild squeakings of a shy and inoffensive church-mouse, either.)

So, if we face the hanged or strangled dilemma, we must be hanged for doing, but having first taken the plank out of our own eyes.

That brings us full circle back to Messrs Falwell and Robertson, and the apostasising forces in Western culture that they tried to address, clumsily, unnecessarily offensively and perhaps even in part hypocritically. For, it is plain that powerful, hard hearted, clever and determined apostasising forces have been at work, and that they have indeed in some cases piled up unconscionable blood guilt -- the number of questionable abortions in the USA now nears 50 millions, at the rate of more than a 9/11 a day. It is plain that there is much moral confusion, decadence and perversion -- and indeed an air of defiance of God -- across Western culture, which they are exporting to the world; including the Islamic world. So, as we discussed in recent days, it is inherently credible that in part the consequences of that tidal wave of willful cultural sin are coming back to haunt the American nation and the wider West.

But equally, we the Christians of America and in the wider west have had more than a small part in the apostasy, and in failing to repent and lead in truly penitent reformation. Some Bible-based leaders have been more than clumsy and offensive, they have sometimes been finger-pointingly hypocritical, I take that correction. (NB: In the particular case in view, hypocrisy is arguable, but also it seems that clumsiness and want of good sense are major factors.) Others, have unfortunately, compromised with or been silent in the face of massive sin and injustice.

American Christians are absolutely un-exceptional in this regard: we the Christians of the Caribbean are at least as guilty, now and across time.

That means just one thing: we need to repent and seek reformation, then stand up in leadership in that reformation, always realising that on this one, we are all trainees who will stumble perhaps more often than not. That holds for me, for us, for this blog, and generally. (I guess, that is in part what it means to be fallen and to be penitent sinners under renewal and reformation from God.)

But such does not excuse us from seeking moral clarity and courage, including when we face the challenge of confronting the powerful and the clever with a message they don't want to hear and are eager to silence. In that, we need to seek the leading of God by his Spirit to give us wisdom so that we do not shoot ourselves in the foot, defeating ourselves by our folly, ineptness, clumsiness, sin and hypocrisy.

Equally, it means that those who can spot the hypocrite and throw a dismissive spotlight on such hypocrisy, equally, do not excuse themselves in sin that can in come cases amount to inviting God to shut his umbrella of protection over our communities and nations. There is more than enough guilt to go around, so let us all make sure that "today, if [we] hear his voice, [we] do not harden [our] hearts . . ."

A sobering thought.

May God help us all to seek, find, recognise, submit to and penitently do the true and the right. END

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