Gospel Coalition as Harlem Globe Trotters

One of our many southern correspondents notified me of TGC’s year-end pitch for charitable donations. At the end of Collin Hanson’s post is a link to TGC’s 2016 Annual Report. Curiously absent are the financials. The Allies encourage people to give but those people have to trust TGC staff about funds.

The similarities and differences between the Coalition and a church are striking. Since I serve on the Christian Education Committee of the OPC and am also one of the OPC’s representatives on Great Commission Publication’s board of trustees, I see strong similarities among the OPC, PCA, and TGC at least in the arena of education, curriculum development, and publication. TGC’s report on website hits, best selling books or pamphlets, and plans for 2017 titles is the sort of information I see four times a year as an OPC/GCP officer. But what I don’t see from TGC is any financial spread sheet. Since the church and parachurch both operate in a voluntary world of free-will gifts, support, and self-identification of members, you might think that giving supporters some insight into the Coalition’s funds would be not only wise but honorable.

Chalk up one for the church over the parachurch.

Another note of concern for TGC supporters may be the popularity of Jen Wilkin. According to TGC’s report:

Our all-time bestselling resource on any paid platform is Jen Wilkin’s Sermon on the Mount study with LifeWay, but it may end up topped by her 2016 TGC release, 1 Peter: A Living Hope in Christ.

Jen Wilkin may be a great lady — I’ve never heard of her though she appears to take hairstyle-advice from Ann Voskamp (not Jen Hatmaker) — but do supporters of TGC have no trouble with a non-ordained person teaching the Word of God to Christians? Maybe Ms. Wilkin is ordained. Either way, TGC’s efforts to attract support from conservative Reformed Protestants runs up against church polity that again separates the parachurch from the church (not in a good way, by the way).

But when you look at TGC’s report, you have to come away impressed with all the effort the Allies put into their labors. But what would happen if those same people put their energies into the PCA with Tim Keller or into the Southern Baptist Convention with Ms. Wilkin who goes to The Village Church (is there only one?) or into the Evangelical Free Church with D. A. Carson (does he belong to the EFC?). Where’s the efficiency? Sure, a TGC supporter could argue that the OPC or PCA or SBC are competing with TGC and these other Protestants should join forces with the Allies. But this is always what happens with “unity” projects among Christians. You form one agency to unite everyone and simply add one more organization or church to the landscape. The United Church of Canada did not unite Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. It added the United Church to the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Anglican churches.

And then there is the question of officers or pastors who hold credentials in the PCA or SBC adding their energy and resources to another Christian organization. If I play football for the Philadelphia Eagles, would the NFL allow me to play for a European football league midweek during the season (or even in the summer)? Or if I am a contributing editor to Atlantic Monthly, do I write regularly for The New Republic? These are obviously apples and oranges — publishing and sports are not ministry (though to hear some neo-Calvinists. . .). But questions about which is the primary outlet for Coalition contributors and officers is a real question that supporters of TGC should question. If I give to TGC, do I want Tim Keller spending a lot of time on committee work for his presbytery?

Chalk up another for the church.

One last observation that makes me think TGC more like an exhibition sports team (Harlem Globe Trotters) than a Major League Protestant Communion: I went to the staff page of TGC and noticed that no one works in a central office. The executive director lives in Austin, Texas (no church mentioned). The executive editor lives in Birmingham, Alabama and is part of a local community church. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the organization, payroll, accounting, general housekeeping, again staff is scattered. The director of operations lives in Austin (no church listed). The director of program development lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (no church listed). The director of advancement lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota (no church listed). The manager of operations lives in Minneapolis (no church listed). The business manager lives in Austin (no church listed). And yet, for full-time staff’s location in places far away from the Big Apple, TGC’s major publishing project for 2017 is a print version of Keller’s New City Catechism. When terrorists band together, we call them non-state actors to distinguish them from the military personnel of nation-states. Nation-states engage use coercive force legitimately (ever since 1648). Terrorist organizations do not. Does that make the Allies spiritual terrorists who have no geographical or ecclesiastical home?

The impression TGC gives overall is doing all the stuff a church does (including solicitation of funds) without many of the rules that give accountability to churches in their work of word and sacrament ministry. The Allies produce conferences and literature and a website presence that provides much of the teaching and encouragement that churches also give. And yet, the Coalition has no mechanism for discipline or oversight or even ecumenical relations. To be in TGC’s orbit is like following an exhibition basketball team instead of the National Basketball Association. I guess, when your home team is the Sixers, the Globetrotters look pretty good. But it’s not real basketball.

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The Virtue of Being Vindictive

Morning reading left me stunned with this observation about the way Americans understand recent terrorist acts:

When Muslim Americans commit acts of terrorism, we hold ISIS and Hezbollah and “radical Islam” accountable for their actions, even if they are mentally unstable, and even if there is no direct connection between them and the groups that inspired them. We call these terrorists “self-radicalized.” It is how we see Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013; and Omar Mateen, who went on a murderous rampage at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando last June; and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who killed 86 people and injured 434 at a celebration in Nice on Bastille Day. They did not go to a terrorist training camp, or join an organized cell, or attend an anti-Western madrassa. They learned to hate from a network of web sites and magazines and videotapes. Their madrassa was the media….

[Robert] Dear became radicalized in precisely the same way. But because the media he listened to advocated war in the name of a Christian god, and argued for an ideology considered “conservative,” he is portrayed as no one’s responsibility. In fact, as I learned from hours of speaking with Dear, the narratives he learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies. The right-wing media didn’t just tell him what he wanted to hear. They brought authority and detail to a world he was convinced was tormenting him. They were his shelter and his inspiration, his only real community.

The point of Amanda Robb’s piece, coincidental that it comes in New Republic’s issue on President Obama’s legacy, seems to be that right-wing media is evil (just like the party they support). The Planned Parenthood shooter received lots of ideas from radio preachers even more obscure than Jen Hatmaker:

In those days, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, major broadcast outlets were forbidden from running partisan content without providing equal time to opposing views. But on shortwave channels, right-wing broadcasts were proliferating. Dear tuned in as often as possible. “That’s what turned me on to the conspiracies and the Bible prophecies,” he recalled. His favorites included Brother Stair, a Pentecostal minister who has predicted the end of the world; William Cooper, who preached that aids was a man-made disease; Pete Peters, whom the Anti-Defamation League has called a “leading anti-Jewish, anti-minority, and anti-gay propagandist”; and Texe Marrs, leader of the Power of Prophecy Ministries, who claimed that the federal government committed the Oklahoma City bombing and framed Timothy McVeigh.

Dear also became fixated on small magazines devoted to right-wing conspiracies. He spent hours at Barnes & Noble poring over magazines like The Prophecy Club, The Spotlight, and Paranoia, obsessing over their brand of crackpot theorizing: how the Robert Bork confirmation battle was connected to the JFK assassination, how the World Trade Organization ran a secret “Codex Alimentarius,” how the government operated a series of Deep Underground Military Bases, how it was planning an “American Hiroshima.”

But you know, the Fairness Doctrine paved the way for Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly’s John the Bapist:

Those in the right-wing media who traffic in hate and conspiracy theories are quick to deny that they should be held responsible for the consequences of their words. After Waco, Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to predict that “the second violent American revolution” was imminent. Yet two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, he published an op-ed in Newsweek entitled “Why I’m Not to Blame.” After running 29 shows attacking George Tiller as “Tiller the Baby Killer” and saying there was “a special place in hell” for him, Bill O’Reilly dismissed any accountability for inciting the doctor’s murder: “I reported extensively on Tiller and after he was assassinated by a man named Scott Roeder, some far-left loons blamed me.”

So, if we blame ISIS for random acts of mass murder, why not the right-wing media? Possibly because POTUS and the Department of Justice and mainstream media have warned us from jumping to conclusions about Islam or Islamic organizations.

Here’s how the New York Times handled the Boston bombers’ religion:

While Dzhokhar’s adjustment seemed to be going smoothly as he reached his teens, Tamerlan’s disillusionment with their adopted country grew as he got older, as did his influence on his younger brother.

Baudy Mazaev, a Chechen friend of the Tsarnaevs, said that Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, “had a deep religious epiphany” involving Islam a few years before the bombing.

Initially, according to friends, Tamerlan’s new religious devotion seemed to only irritate Dzhokhar: Mr. Mazaev said that on one of his visits to the Tsarnaev house during that period, Tamerlan ordered him and Dzhokhar to read a book about the fundamentals of Islam and prayer. After that, Mr. Mazaev said, they began avoiding the apartment.

But the family’s relationship to Islam, and one another, evolved. In February 2011, roughly when the boys’ mother embraced Islam, she separated from her husband, Anzor, a tough man trained in the law in Russia who in Cambridge was reduced to fixing cars in a parking lot. The two divorced that September, and Anzor returned to Russia; his ex-wife followed later.

Tamerlan filled the void as head of the family’s American branch. On Twitter, Dzhokhar wrote that he missed his father. Days before his citizenship ceremony — on Sept. 11, 2012 — he expressed wonder at why more people did not realize that the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center “was an inside job.”

Not exactly a slam dunk link to ISIS or Hezbollah.

What about this treatment of Omar Mateen?

Other hints of a disturbed mind continued to emerge. In 2013, G4S removed Mr. Mateen from his security post at the St. Lucie County Courthouse after he had made “inflammatory comments” about being involved somehow in terrorism. Though far-fetched and even contradictory — he claimed connections to Al Qaeda, the Sunni extremist group, and ties to its near opposite, the Shiite Hezbollah — his comments were troubling enough for the county sheriff’s office to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The bureau’s subsequent inquiry was inconclusive.

The next year, Mr. Mateen again attracted federal scrutiny, after an acquaintance from his mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, carried out a suicide bombing in Syria. According to F.B.I. Director James B. Comey, federal investigators concluded that Mr. Mateen knew the bomber only casually.

The mosque’s imam, Syed Shafeeq Rahman, insisted that Mr. Mateen had never heard teachings at the mosque that would have radicalized him. “There is nothing that he is hearing from me to do killing, to do bloodshed, to do anything, because we never talk like that,” the imam said.

But if you can link an attack on Planned Parenthood to the media that opposed President Obama, well, why not?

And this was an issue of New Republic that celebrated the President’s decency, centrism, and dignity. According to Andrew Sullivan:

People will see the sheer caliber of this man [President Obama]. The grace and poise with which he conducted himself in unbelievably difficult circumstances; the way he withstood abuse and disrespect with extraordinary calm and goodwill. He will in his post-presidency become a symbol, maybe somebody we need more than when he was president, to remind us of what it is to be dignified in public life. Especially if this hideous monster who’s succeeding him continues to despoil the public culture.

So why exactly did the editors include a piece so out of sync with the President’s virtues? Maybe because they only want the other side to be virtuous?

What History is Supposed To Do (which is different from blogging)

More thoughts today on the outlook that historical knowledge cultivates.

First comes the pietist version — the past as pointer to what’s true and right:

In the introduction the authors offer five reasons to study church history: 1) It continues to record the history of God’s faithful dealings with his people and it records Christ’s ongoing work in the world. 2) We are told by God to remember what he has done and to make it known to those who follow us. 3) Church history “helps to illuminate and clarify what we believe” and in that way allows us to evaluate our beliefs and practices against historic teaching. 4) It safeguards against error by showing us how Christians have already responded to false teaching. 5) And finally it gives us heroes and mentors to imitate as we live the Christian life. In this way it promotes spiritual growth and maturation.

History as a means of grace? I’m not sure.

Second, history as perplexity:

… we developed an approach we call the “five C’s of historical thinking.” The concepts of change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency, we believe, together describe the shared foundations of our discipline. They stand at the heart of the questions historians seek to answer, the arguments we make, and the debates in which we engage. . . .

One of the most successful exercises we have developed for conveying complexity in all of these dimensions is a mock debate on Cherokee Removal. Two features of the exercise account for the richness and depth of understanding that it imparts on students. First, the debate involves multiple parties; the Treaty and Anti-Treaty Parties, Cherokee women, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, northern missionaries, the State of Georgia, and white settlers each offer a different perspective on the issue. Second, students develop their understanding of their respective positions using the primary sources collected in Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents by Theda Perdue and Michael Green.7 While it can be difficult to assess what students learn from such exercises, we have noted anecdotally that, following the exercise, students seem much less comfortable referring to “American” or “Indian” positions as monolithic identities.

Third, history as empathy:

I hope that the young adults who study history with me find themselves cultivating five interrelated values: comfort with complexity, humility, curiosity, hospitality, and empathy. I don’t think Donald Trump is unusual among Oval Office aspirants in his utter lack of humility (here’s a conservative critique of him on that point), his disinterest in learning (see his recent comments on his reading habits), or his impatience with complication and nuance. But if I’m going to tell my students that historical study exists to a significant extent to help them be more hospitable and empathetic to those of a different culture, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc., I can hardly stay silent about a candidate who has demonized immigrants and Muslims.

So I think the open letter’s authors are right to characterize the Trump candidacy as an attack not only on the “constructive, evidence-based argumentation” we try to practice in our profession, but on “our values, and the communities we serve.”

What is striking is how even professional historians can make history be what they want it to be.

But why is it that professional historians don’t recognize that the way they frame the historical enterprise winds up making not a scholarly but a political point. If the aim of history is to empathize with others (among other things), where have historians been about developments in Turkey or the real complexity of issues that inform the current discussion of police and crime in the United States? (For some academics, there’s not much complexity about cops shooting people.) I’m sorry, but to be so outspoken about a guy like Trump just doesn’t take all that much insight or courage. Most people who work outside history departments know he is egotistical, bombastic, clownish, and a jumble of assertions and passions. Even supporters see that. Are students so desperate?

Or is it that historians want to present as being on the “right” side?

The thing is, the responsibilities necessary to be president are not the same as the virtues that historical study cultivates. In the case of empathy, a president does need to be empathetic. But that’s not all. Just think back to episode 2, season 4 of West Wing where President Bartlet approves the assassination of a Qumar state official suspected of terrorism. Sometimes prudence trumps empathy. And that’s something that history actually teaches. Or it should. (Why should Aaron Sorkin get all the good lessons?)

To John Fea’s credit, he excerpts Jonathan Zimmerman’s reasons for not signing the letter:

I won’t join Historians Against Trump, which indulges in some of the same polarized, overheated rhetoric used by Trump himself. In a statement released on July 11, the new group warned that Trump’s candidacy represents “an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve.” But that claim is itself a repudiation of our professional values, which enjoin us to understand diverse communities instead of dismissing them as warped or deluded.

I speak, of course, of the millions of people who have cast ballots for Donald Trump. According to the signatories of the statement, there’s only one historically grounded opinion on Trump: their own. By that definition, then, Trump supporters are uninformed. When he accepts the Republican nomination this week, the historians’ statement concludes, the party will have succumbed to “snake oil.”

Of course, there are plenty of ignoramuses and bigots in the Trump camp. But surely there are reasoned, knowledgeable people who back him.

The “lessons of history” — to quote the historians’ manifesto — can be read in different way, by equally informed people. And it strains credulity to imagine that all Trump supporters have had the wool pulled over their eyes.

One consolation in all this: it’s not only Reformed Protestants or social conservatives who traffic in outrage.

Now More than Ever We Need Women to Shoot!

So imagine the following scenario:

You are at a holiday office party. Conversations are flowing as swimmingly as the beverages. You notice out of the corner of your eye a person who seems to be bulkier than usual. You look over and see this person taking off a back pack and removing from it an automatic hand gun. He starts to shoot. Your wife, who is registered for “open carry,” prefers to keep her Sig Sauer P220 in her purse. She proceeds to remove her handgun and shoots the gunman just as he fires his first two rounds. Her shot does not kill but it does incapacitate the assailant. You call the police. The party breaks up but no one dies.

Consider the scenario that Harry Reeder proposes so oddly close chronologically to the shootings in Southern California:

It’s late at night. I hear the glass in the door downstairs breaking, the door opening and then footsteps. I turn to my wife and say “Honey, someone is breaking into our home downstairs and since I know you are willing, why don’t you go downstairs and see if you can overpower him? By the way if he maims you or kills you don’t worry! I have two daughters who are brave enough to follow you and risk their life to protect our home while I remain here safe.”

Reeder uses this case to argue against women in the military:

The unbelievable reality is that the men of this nation now allow politically correct elected officials in general and a President in particular (along with the elite self-appointed culture-shapers pontificating while shielded in the media and the academy) to institute policies which send our wives and daughters, not into the military to use their unique skills and abilities to enhance our armed forces, but into combat units to protect our Home(land) while they (and we) remain safely tucked away in our rooms. Forget for the moment the obvious arguments of how ignoring gender differences will inevitably force the adoption of inadequate training regimens, lowered physical and combat readiness standards, the redefining of combat protocols, inevitable sexual mayhem and a loss of combat unit efficiency which will cost lives (documented by a Marine Corp. study- more on this in Pt.2). Yes, I am aware of the claim that combat zones are now defined differently. But hand to hand combat, dragging a 200+ lb. comrade to safety, carrying 85 lb. support equipment, etc. has not and will not change.

But why couldn’t the first scenario work to argue for women in the military? If women may carry weapons for self-defense, how far removed is that from defending the homeland? And if women can defend themselves and their kin here in the United States, why not overseas (one reason is that we should not have so many troops overseas, but that’s a different question)?

But arguably the biggest question of all, why do you bring up biblical arguments against women serving in the military now when many Americans feel threatened by terrorists?

Timing is everything.

The State of the Nation

Another round of travel allowed for more sustained sampling of the news and those matters that afflict our great pretty good land. A few random thoughts:

Forgiveness
Can Bill Cosby ever receive the forgiveness that Dylann Roof has found (at least from the AME church members in Charleston — the government of the United States is a whole lot more demanding)? And why is Cosby’s sexual dalliance and proclivity so despicable when the nation is celebrating a kind of sex that the same nation used to regard as deviant? At least if you want an illustration of God’s righteous standard, just look at the way the United States condemns/ed Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

Transcendent
Rachel Dolezal proves that transracial is illegitimate but Caitlyn Jenner proves that transgender is fine. But what about transnational? What if I am a Irish person trapped in an American body? Can I change my nationality? If I can’t, then don’t we have another barrier to be toppled? Or is it that the nation-state is almighty while race and gender are ephemeral?

The Nation’s Greatest Threats
I used to think that a hate crime raised the stakes of criminal activity, though I would have assumed that killing another person was hateful. After all, our Lord said that if you hate another man, you are guilty of murder. But after coverage of the the shootings in Chattanooga, I learned that terrorism is even worse than a hate crime. But the reports were not clear on the order of threats and the Department of Homeland Security has yet to rank them. Here’s an initial stab:
1. Terrorism
2. Islamism
3. The Confederate Flag
4. Hate Crimes

Blame the Victim
I’m with President Obama in trying to overturn many of the pernicious penalties associated with the War on Drugs (see, it wasn’t on the list of the nation’s greatest threats). Pardoning those sent to prison on old drug laws makes sense. But if these convicts are victims of bad legislation, is Greece also a victim of overly strict banking rules? Yet, I heard some commentators explain that Greece is truly responsible for their actions and needs to face the consequences of a bad economy and poor government. So if you can say that about a nation, why not about persons? Or might Greece plead insanity? But that didn’t work for James Holmes, who was found guilty for twelve counts of murder during his shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater.

I can only conclude that Americans are conflicted about blaming people for crimes or misdeeds, except when it comes to Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.