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Session 3- Transcript

Full Transcript of Session 3

Leading Questions:

  1.  What is your Christian understanding of the meaning of “freedom” and to what extent is President Trump facilitating, or not, your concept of freedom?
  2. What is your understanding as to the proper role of government in America, taking into account the “vision of the Founding Fathers,” and to what extent is President Trump facilitating, or not, your understanding?

 TM QUESTION A

I believe in freedom and that, through atonement for my sins, I have no bounds on the things that I should do. That is, no longer am I a slave to sin, but I have the right to do as I wish. That said, I don't believe that there is a connection necessarily between my beliefs as a Christian regarding freedom and my understanding and beliefs in the way that government interacts with my freedom. I believe that freedom comes from God, that we, especially as a society, choose what our society looks like and with societal consensus, these ideas become our norms and our laws. As a Christian, I believe my faith in God and the morality I believe in that comes out of that faith is part of my contribution to the norms of society, but that government, by its very nature, is a secular enterprise incapable of embodying truly Christian values.

As far as President Trump is concerned, I don't believe he is truly a believer. I don't know that for sure, but I'm not sure I've seen the fruit I would expect to see for him to convince me of that. That having been said, as he has opened up the economy, I believe that he has opened up some more economic prosperity to the country, and I truly believe that allows people the opportunity to take care of themselves. And that's the best way, in my opinion, to create freedom in a society. And in my view, dependence, whether that be on the government or somebody else to provide for you, is a certain level of enslavement.

 

TA QUESTION A

As a Christian, I understand that true freedom is found only in Christ, through his death and resurrection, which frees me to understand and experience brokenness, injustice, evil, even death—vandalisms of Shalom, as I heard a pastor called them recently at a funeral—as only temporary conditions. I am free to be unafraid and expansive in extending grace because in the end, Christ wins, and all that is not as it should be will eventually be made right. Because I am free, I believe I am responsible for spreading the freedom among others, and I think this may be analogous to ensuring freedom—liberty—as a central aim of our government.

Freedom, of course, is not anarchy. When my freedoms impinge on another's and I don't curb them myself, someone, or some government, must step in to ensure the most people possible enjoy as much freedom as possible. Sometimes this means governments remove restrictions to freedoms, but other times restrictions are necessary to ensure another's freedoms aren't trampled while I'm expressing mine. This gets dicey, of course, depending on what freedoms one prizes. One might value being free of air polluted by burning coal or environments degraded by mining, while another might value the freedom that comes from a secure mining job and booming local economy for a beloved community that otherwise may shrink and disappear.

One job of a president I think is to keep the story of freedom alive in our imaginations. Doing so requires a well-informed understanding of our history and the freedoms our founding fathers and mothers came here to establish and protect, as well as the course corrections—emancipation, civil rights—that we've made as a nation to ensure more freedoms for more citizens. It requires an intellect capable of understanding nuance and translating that to clear, inspiring calls to action on behalf of the common good.

In addition to frequently advocating for violating the freedom of the press, President Trump doesn't seem to understand or value concepts like the common good, because pursuing the common good requires compromise and collaboration and isn't measured in winners and losers. Trump's conception of freedom seems to be more about winning than about justice and equality. He does advocate for religious freedom for Christians, which earned some praise from evangelicals, but he seems unconcerned for the religious freedoms of those who aren't Christian and aren't as politically well organized as the religious right.

 

LS QUESTION A

I will take a little different perspective regarding the Christian idea of freedom. One verse that I think of is in First Timothy two, which also speaks about some other parts of government: "I exhort the, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men," and verse two, "for Kings and for all that are in authority." The last part of that verse is what I think of as what a Christian is looking for from freedom in the sense of what government can give. It says that, "We may lead a quiet and a peaceful life in all godliness and honesty." I think that is my view of what I look for from a government perspective of giving me the freedom that I need. 

The Reformed view on prayer for government is that we should be praying for our Kings, as this verse speaks of, but our main view is praying that we will always have the freedom to worship. That, is being taken away in many parts just to the North of us in Canada. That is a very real thing. There have been ministers that have been put in jail for speaking the truth.

The Reformed view also speaks of the three forms of unity, one of them being the Belgic Confession. I went through that in a Bible study. It's a great confession, but it is amazing when I think of how it was written in the context it was written. It was written, if you know the history, by Christians who were being severely persecuted by the Roman church in Spain. They were being put to death or being hung on crosses, their tongues screwed down, but they wrote the Belgic Confession to point out that they were not rebels.

They spoke very clearly that they wanted to and they would obey the government in all laws that they could obey, but they also said, "We offer our backs to strikes. We offer our tongues to knives. We offer our mouths to gags, and our whole bodies to fire rather than we deny the truth of God's word." So to me, that is what I think of when I speak and when I think of freedom, not in the perspective that you guys all spoke of, which is very true, but freedom in the sense of what I look for as a Christian from the government.

In light of that, I do view Trump being a very good proponent and very helpful in giving us that freedom, keeping that freedom and pushing back against what we saw in the last administration definitely taking away some of that freedom that Christians had in this land. So I would say he's doing a great job in giving that type of freedom.

 

KN QUESTION A

I guess I love scripture word studies. I've reviewed all biblical passages referring to freedom or liberty, Old and New Testaments. Not as much as I would've suspected, but it reminded me of some critical themes. First, not many Old Testament references. I suspect many more references to justice in the Old Testament, but those I found seemed rooted in the freedom from Egyptian enslavement and Assyrian/ Babylonian exile. Our God is a God of the oppressed and marginalized, liberating them in order to renew their covenant relationship with God.

Second, year of jubilee is a large theme in the Old Testament in which all types of subjugation are reset. Three, true freedom, liberty is found in relation to God as Lord. Fourth, Jesus cites Isaiah 61 and Luke 4, to announce what his anointing means, referring to this Old Testament tradition of liberation, particularly for the oppressed, through a renewed relationship to God. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion.” Luke also inserts “and recovery of sight to the blind”.

Five, it's a major theme for Paul (Romans, First and Second Corinthians, practically the whole of Galatians, and a significant one for James and Peter as well. Though word search didn't turn it up, a freedom from bondage is a clear theme in Hebrews also). A clear distinction is made between the bondage of the law versus the liberty found in God through Christ. Yet it's also clear that we are to use our freedom to serve God through our service to others, not for our own liberty alone. We are bound to Christ who has freed us from the demands of the law in order to minister to others through the spirit. This is the essence of Paul's argument about circumcision from Galatians. – “You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ. You've fallen away from grace. You were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul's discussion of liberty around food sacrificed to idols in Romans and Corinthians is distinguished by the change in motivation we have for what we do rather than our actions themselves..Freedom in Christ makes it possible to choose either action, but the grace and love compelled by the spirit flows in consideration of what will build our brother and sister up rather than cause them to stumble. It's not a me-focused legalism, but a love-powered consideration. James 2:12 sums that same ethic up nicely: “so speak, and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. I just think that's a very interesting phrase, the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

I'm inclined . . . just reflecting on those passages that I used Labor Day morning to look up . . . I'm inclined to think and act in terms of bondage to law and punishment versus freedom to pursue my self-interest, not abiding in Christ in a manner that is marked by fullness of freedom and loving neighbor with the love that I had been loved with by God. Honestly, I think it's hard to believe that God's strategy of no condemnation, Romans 8:1, and radical reliance to live in such grace and love actually works in terms of good behavior. For example, Paul was liberated from prison by a miracle and stayed put. That's hard to imagine. But I'm quite convinced the biblical vision and Christ’s call, in fact, it’s exactly what should distinguish us as “little Christs”.

To what extent is President Trump fostering or not that vision of freedom? It seems to me that he represents an exaggerated example of the human predisposition to enshrine his own interests at the cost of others. It seems he is using his power for himself, not in service to or in collaboration with most any others, and to the extent he is taking any other interest to heart (even these seem quite self-interested), it tends towards a cynical pandering to power and hate, treating the law as an expression of his own opinions and demonizing or scapegoating those who get in the way or who can be exploited.

The one exception to that that comes to mind may be his efforts to stack the Supreme Court with pro-life judges, but I find it hard to believe that he does that as a matter of moral conviction as much as a powerful political wedge. Personally, I struggle with how judgmental/unforgiving I am of President Trump. He's a fallen human being like me in need of God's transformational love and mercy. It concerns and convicts me that I lose sight of that so easily. God doesn't. But I think a Christian view of “freedom” must be about liberation more than judgment, and others as loved by God rather than tools of my own interests. On that measure, President Trump as a person and as a leader falls egregiously and woefully short, in a manner characteristic of the worst tyrants that he seems to admire.

 

LN QUESTION A

Freedom for me as a Christian means living free, without an overlord or oppressor, enjoying civil liberty, the ability and the opportunity to make choices, choices in my occupation, choice of a mate, choice of a hometown where I choose to live, enjoying political autonomy without bondage or slavery, without a caste system or royalty, everybody equal. I see liberty as a measure of freedom, but within restraints. For me as a Christian, the first limit would be the moral law or we might call God's creation ordinances. A second limitation on my freedom would be the state because it has jurisdiction of me as a person. A third set of limits that I would see myself being subject to would be the family structure as the basic economic and social structure for our life here in the states. As a fourth limit, I would see myself being limited by the social compact that we join in together as a nation state, the law of the land we might say, and that law of the land is to be obeyed as long as it doesn't violate my conscience based on scripture and as long as it's formed by the consensus in a represented democracy, the will of the people.

So, for me, freedom is living with choices between the guardrails and I suppose we even have two sets of guardrails. Usually the civil law is a broad set of guardrails. As a Christian, the moral law probably presents me with a narrower set of guardrails. I would like to think so. Otherwise, I'm going to be breaking the civil law a lot. According to 1 Corinthians 6:12, “all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but I will not be brought under the power of any..” So, I see as a Christian, the freedom to submit to authority.

Galatians 5:13 was mentioned in some of our earlier questions that were listed by Harold. It says, as brothers we're called to liberty, but not to use this as an opportunity for the flesh, but to love one another. Then verse 14 exhorts you to love your neighbor as yourself. So I think together it's our obligation to help each other to flourish and what the government's role is in that flourishing is a later discussion that we will have. How does Trump measure up? I think I admire the way he is pushing back on some things that are beyond the guardrails. I'm not sure I like the style. I don't like the timing, but I do like the backbone.

Thank you.

 

MK QUESTION A

My understanding of freedom is going to be completely different than an unbeliever, but it would be similar to you in this room because I think we're all believers. I think the current understanding of freedom, at least in a lot of our culture today, is unrestrained ability to do whatever we want. As a Christian, I would see freedom as godly restraint, the restraints set up by God's rules, the owner's manual. And so if you don't understand scripture or if you don't take scripture seriously, you don't know the owner's manual.

So for me, freedom is godly restraint. And when we study scripture, we see that the fences that God has put into place are really in good places. And so when we push up against those fences and we stop, that's freedom. When we jump over those fences, in ways that some of you have mentioned,, we move away from freedom. We move into slavery. And so the great thing that's difficult to understand, I think for unbelievers and sometimes for believers, is that the more we obey God's rules, the freer we become and the more Christ-like we become, the more freedom we experience. And that would be an almost impossible thing for the world to understand. So that for me is freedom.

Now, how does Trump fit into all of that? It's a difficult question. It's complex, but I would speak in favor of what Trump is doing in this sense. Trump has recognized that Christians have been under attack, There has been pressure. Freedoms have been eroding. And I see this administration is starting to push back that erosion a little bit, push the sand dunes back a little bit, free up the roads again, but not just here.

We also need to consider international freedom of religion. That is something that is eroding quickly. The ability for Christians to worship around the world is under attack more now than it has been in decades and it's becoming very, very difficult to be a Christian in a lot of places. And so this administration is starting to push back on that, which we haven’t seen in a while. And so in that sense, I would say Trump is doing some good things.

 

BE QUESTION A

Harold, thank you for framing this as our Christian perspective, because I think we're all going to agree that the government, for the most part, either can't or won't facilitate what we think is a Christian perspective of freedom or a Christian perspective of government or a Christian perspective of anything. But as Christians, we can agree. The idea that we all start off as slaves to sin has been handled quite well by a number of you, So, I won't go into that as I had thought I would.

But unlike those who've spoken so far, I was more pragmatic and less philosophical in my reflections. What I decided is that there's two forms of freedom as Christians. We have freedom from, and we have freedom to. I listed some of the specific examples of the things that we are free from as Christians and that we should be free from in our society, and I feel like our society and our laws have fallen very short. 

I believe that we should be free as Christians from paying taxes to kill unborn babies, I'll touch more on that when I talk about what Trump has done in that area.

I feel that a Christian who owns a bakery should be free from making a cake with a message that he thinks is wrong. Jack Phillips has been put through the wringer, and there have been multiple lawsuits formed.

I believe that we should be free from calling a boy a girl or from referring to people by their made-up labels or pronouns. Because if someone has the right to identify as whatever gender he or she chooses, that does not supplant my right to say, "I see it differently." I identify as someone who sees that there are only two genders as God created us, male and female.

I believe that as a Christian I do not have to accept any redefinition of sex or gender or marriage. The Bible makes it crystal clear, "Male and female he created them." The Bible never speaks favorably of any sexual relationship outside one man and one woman. It doesn't mean they didn't exist and still don't exist. It simply means that they were outside of his blessing.

I believe that I should be free to talk about the problems and the costs of illegal immigration without being labeled a hater or a racist or a bigot or a xenophobe; because the fact is, choices have consequences, and they put themselves and others at great risk when they come into our country illegally. There's all kinds of statistics on the costs versus benefits. It's simply unrealistic to ignore that, and it's very unfair that we can't have a conversation without name-calling.

I believe that medical professionals, and this has happened, being forced to assist in abortion is contrary to what should be allowed. Unless you work at a place where that's the primary mode of operation, it should be your right to refuse that. It should be possible to be trained in this country as a doctor and not be forced to assist in abortion if that violates your moral code. Because, by the way, abortion is not healthcare.

Now we also have freedom to. I believe that we should have the freedom to worship freely, which we do, I think. That has not really been supplanted yet. But I also believe that we should have the freedom to state a position; to be able to give reasons and arguments; and when a person disagrees, that person should be compelled to do so reasonably and with arguments and with logic and with evidence. As I've said, that is not my experience. This group is an exception, and it's facilitated by Harold's rules and simply by the fact we're sitting face-to-face, not behind a screen anonymously typing. So I don't know how you regulate that, but right now I am not given the freedom to speak without being attacked. That is interesting.

Now what has Trump done? I just came up with four quick things. These are things, I believe, that do show him facilitating Christian freedom or freedom as I would define it. When he appointed two Supreme Court justices, there's no guarantee how they will rule, and people sometimes surprise you once they're appointed. But I do believe that they will attempt to go back to what the Constitution says, which is what I think is correct. Just frankly, there's not one Democratic candidate that would not appoint judicial activists because of a different interpretation of what the Constitution is. I mean, that's a difference in philosophy. If you think it's correct to reinterpret, then, of course, that nomination of those candidates would make sense.

Going back to his State of the Union Address and frequently since, Trump has advocated strongly for the most basic freedom of all, the most important freedom of all, right to life for unborn babies. Trump has very wisely ... I know wise and Trump is not something that we think of together, but he has wisely allowed Planned Parenthood to show that they really are only about abortion. They turned down $60 million rather than give up doing abortions. They are all about blood money. They are all about killing unborn babies. That is just indisputable; because they had the option, and they gave up that money rather than give up abortion.

Last but not least, Trump, by the kinds of vitriol that he has drawn to himself, has really exposed, the slavery that people are into. I'm going to label That “Trump derangement syndrome slavery.”. There are people that are just bound by that, and that is really the only thing they can ever see when they talk about him. I find that fascinating. They are just in chains and cannot ever see anything except for that. There are numerous posts I could give that show that.

 

SE QUESTION A:

My understanding of freedom is rooted in Christ. For once I was a slave to sin, a slave to the way of the world. My understanding of belonging was rooted in performance. My understanding of success and prosperity was rooted in positions of power and material possessions, but God, who loves me, my neighbors and all of creation lowered God's self into humanity to show us a way of being in the world that brings life, not death. That brings wholeness, not destruction. That lifts up our neighbor instead of just ourselves. That creates peace, not chaos, war and violence.

My freedom is rooted in God's incarnation as Jesus, which shows us God's love for us. My freedom is in Jesus whose life shows us the way. My freedom is rooted in Christ death, which shows us what is required of us to be free. My freedom has hope because of Christ's resurrection which shows us there is life when we die to ourselves and our own desires. Because of the incarnation, I trust that I am not alone in my suffering. Because of Christ's life, I trust that the way of Christ is love. Because of Christ death, I trust that the way of Christ leads to the cross. Because of Christ's resurrection, I trust that my only freedom is to die to myself and rest all of my identity in Christ. In Christ, I am fully alive and fully loved. This to me is freedom.

As a follower of Christ, with my identity rooted fully in Christ, I am free. I'm free to be alive in the world as a lover of my neighbors. Free of judgment from the world because God is my judge and Christ intercedes for me. Free from the need to amass power and wealth because my power comes from humbling myself to love the least of these, and wealth does not matter because God provides me with everything I need. In Christ, my citizenship is to the kingdom of God, a kingdom without borders where I'm free to love whoever I encounter regardless of the human laws that say otherwise.

I do not believe Trump is fostering my concept of freedom. I do not believe Trump nor any other human is capable of offering freedom because ultimately, as a Christian, I believe what this world has to offer will rust and decay but what Jesus has to offer is like a tree that flowers forever.

Thank you.

 

TM QUESTION B

As I said before, I believe that government is the summation of the consensus of the people and the norms are what create the culture and rules, and laws are the foundation of the government. I don't believe it's possible for government to be a truly Christian institution unless all the people who comprise the government are themselves Christians. I believe that government is best when it doesn't interfere with people's lives and I don't think that the government should be in the business of providing things to individuals. I know programs like Social Security and Medicare are broadly popular, but they enslave people to the government because they create dependency.

What Donald Trump has done, which I'm grateful for, is to create a business environment where if you want a job, you can have every opportunity to find a job to fit your desires. We are in a time of unprecedented opportunity for those who want to take it. Wages are definitely rising. I've just been part of hiring somebody and we figured out that we were about a dollar an hour short on our initial offer. There's a lot of economic prosperity right now. I believe the Founding Fathers expected people to sink or swim based on their own merits and desire to succeed. Now is the greatest time to do so in the last 80 years.

 

TA QUESTION B 

This morning I happened upon an article inspired by the Broadway show “What the Constitution Means to Me.” The article asked select others for their insights on the Constitution. I resonated most with Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe who said, "To me, the Constitution is more verb than noun, less of a quest from a few inspired but flawed white men than a challenge to build a more perfect union, a fair and more equal nation."

“Build a more perfect union, a fair and more equal nation.” Ideally, I think the proper role of government is to create, as our founding fathers did, and then sustain, as those in government are now called to do, a national culture within which both individual citizens as well as whole communities of citizens can flourish. That sustenance happens through laws and policies that promote the common good as well as through public servants who, also with a goal of serving the common good, demonstrate allegiance to country above self and political party through their words, actions, and advocacy. I think the proper role of government is to define and draw our attention to the common good, to inspire us to also want the best for the most people, and to know both when to get out of the way and when to step in to ensure that as a country we're always striving toward the ideals expressed in the Constitution.

As a divisive president—ill-informed, impulsive, and seemingly unprincipled—Trump doesn’t honor the ideals of our founding fathers for a more perfect union, a fair and more equal nation. The prevailing theme of his words and actions seems to be me-first, not country-first. To be fair, this is most true of his communication, especially when it is unscripted. In cases where government actions have demonstrated a country-first aim, I credit members of Trump's administration more than him and his personal agenda for the country.

 

LS QUESTION B

I Will share my Christian understanding of the proper role of government in America and the role of Christians in government. I already spoke about the Belgic Confession in the context in which it was written. Article 36 of the Belgic Confession talks about government or the magistrates. I'll read from a portion of that.

"We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind ,hath appointed kings, princes, and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies to the end that the dissoluteness of man might be restrained and that all things carried.” This, then, is from the verse I read earlier: "and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose he, God, hath invested the magistery with the sword for the punishment of the evildoer and for the praise of the them that do well." It quotes there from I Peter 2:13,14 and then also I Timothy 2:1,3.

So, my idea of the proper role of government is very, very limited in the sense that, as our confession speaks of, the magistrate was given the sword for punishment, but also for protection. But then it also was given to the praise of them that do well.

I was reading something that I found very interesting about the rights that people have. It talked about a positive right and a negative right when we're trying to view what the Bible speaks of. A positive right is a right to have something given to you. An example would be, if healthcare is a positive right, then the state has an obligation to give healthcare to everyone. An example of a negative right would be a right to be protected from harm while someone seeks to get  healthcare; they should be protected from discrimination or unfairness.

I think if you read through the Bible, and you look at the contexts relative to the word government, It gets tricky when we separate the church from government. Obviously, in the New Testament where it's speaking about Israel, that would not be a view of government that I want. That would be a view of government that God is in control and not man. So the view of government in the Bible is very much a negative view. The government is there to keep us safe and to give us rights, but it's not there to take and to force me to give rights to other people. 

Somebody already spoke about taxation. I would say that our view of love as Christians is that it is something that we give voluntarily. So, if our view of taxation is that it enables a government or the state to care for the poor, I believe that is a coercive type of love, because it forces me through taxation to distribute what I have to help somebody else. I don't think that is a Biblical view of love. A Biblical view of love is that I would give of myself freely and not be forced into that. So, I view that as a danger of taxation; an example of government going outside its limited role. 

Another view of government is attributed to George Washington: "Government is like a fire. It is very good when it is small and it is controlled. But when fire becomes big and destructive, it is no longer a good tool." I think that is a great example of a small government. And as long as it is kept into that control, it does much good.

Maybe surprising to some of you, I do not view the United States' laws and the Constitution necessarily to have been based upon Biblical truths. If we look at what the Declaration of Independence says, we read, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." And the idea of there being self-evident natural laws is also spoken of in the Belgic Confession. The founders of America based their beliefs about government on natural laws. The Declaration of Independence does not say that these truths that are herein are grounded in the Bible. It is very clear that they did not do that. They believed that these truths were self-evident, based upon natural laws that are all around us. 

I also think the view of proper government is to be found in what we think of as the “United States of America.” It is United States, it is not the one big government that we have today, it is states' rights that the founders went after. The founders, if you study history, hated tyranny. A definition of tyranny is oppressive government. That's what they fought against. That's what the revolution was against; a government that was oppressive and made them do things. So, our Constitution and Bill of Rights are written around giving the power to the people.

Relative to how President Trump is facilitating my view as to the role of government, I believe he  has certainly supported these ideas. But I also would say that, as the gentleman before me said, he has gone in a direction of spending money in a sense that is not in the form of limited government. We are spending money on things that do not fit my view with what government should be doing.

 

KN QUESTION B

My “Christian understanding” (which I put in quotes because I think it's interesting to think about a Christian understanding of government because of reasons that may become clear), my Christian understanding of the proper role of government in America is that Christians should exercise our rights as citizens to uphold liberty and justice for all, but I don't believe that “the vision of the founding fathers” was particularly Christian. They established a constitutional system of government that is quite remarkable in the history of the world, a system of checks and balances that protects against any ruler seizing unchecked power,, actually valuing those safeguards against abuse of power more than getting things done, and ensuring the rights of citizens to freely pursue their interests without hindrance of government or other citizens. I don't personally believe that we can be good without God, so to speak. Our system itself is a good mechanism, but not virtuous in and of itself. It's the character of the people which should guide the system toward our common good (and I think for the common good of the world), yet to the extent we pursue our own individual or national “happiness”, in quotes, alone, our collective wellbeing will implode. Nevertheless, the separation of church and state is a very important constitutional principle. While I believe Christians should bring their values to bear in the political sphere, we must do it democratically with respect for other's rights as well.

The US constitutional government cannot be reasonably expected to enforce a moral standard that is religiously established, but it is just as erroneous to expect citizens to leave their religious value convictions out of the public square. As we lose the ability to reason with one another regarding the common good in our political and governmental processes (as a matter of character and conviction), our government is just as susceptible of doing wrong as of doing good, but our system of checks and balances should protect us from the abuse of any governmental power, unless the electorate chooses it.

President Trump is ... and I would add, I haven't edited this very well, but our constitution also ensures that even if the electorate chooses that we still have rights that need to be enforced. President Trump is, in my opinion, abusing his responsibility as chief executive of the USA in order to implement his fickle wishes with little attention to the welfare of others, particularly the oppressed. Rather than respect our constitutional form of government, he seeks to subvert it to his own ends, and as such, poses a threat to our form of government itself.

Under the present circumstances and what is known about how he has done this, it is the constitutional responsibility of Congress, I believe, to bring articles of impeachment so that our system can try him for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" against the U.S. I don't expect such proceedings to actually remove him from office prior to 2020 since the senate majority is too partisan in its support for him to vote for that, regardless of any evidence, but not to do so is an abdication of their constitutional responsibility for the sake of political expediency, which is a terrible erosion of our system of checks and balances.

 

LN QUESTION B

Here are my reflections on the Christian view of the proper role of government in the USA. I believe in limited government. I've said that before. I think things like national defense, the war powers, protection of boundaries, resolving disputes between the states, our common currency, mail delivery, the commerce clause, of course, the criminal law to restrain evil, and rectifying and regulating social evils are proper functions of government. I think that sometimes government needs to correct some of the things that it causes itself. Discrimination, substandard housing, helping with the curing of disease, alleviating poverty, having some role in regulating education for the common good of the country are the things that I think government should be involved with, but they should do so in a way that's compatible with the moral law of God. I see natural law as a part of God's law, as a creation ordinance.

But I think the people are sovereign in a contemporary civil nation state, not the state itself, as an institution. I think we've come to the point in the country where the state almost has a personality. It's almost a living thing. It has its tentacles into everything that we do. And I believe government should be a function, not institution, if you get the comparison. And I believe that the setting of limits should be done by the legislature, not by bureaucracies or by the Supreme Court.

In terms of how Trump is faring, my biggest problem is his use of the executive order. The founding fathers never saw the executive order as a way to override legislation. But I can see some justification for doing it because we haven't, for the last 10 to 15 years, had very much effective legislation. Basically, we're living with gridlock. And so again, as I've said before, I admire his backbone, but I detest some of his methods because the founding fathers certainly didn't see the use of an executive order to run the country. So I'm in a quandary. I see it being used sometimes for good, sometimes for ill by the last several presidents. But again, I think it's a harbinger of how stuck we are. I don't like being stuck.

 

MK QUESTION B 

I'm going to start with Abraham Kuyper’s idea about “Sphere Sovereignty.” It’s not a new idea but he may have coined those words. For Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty” means that there are different spheres where people exercise sovereignty. For example, in my role as a teacher at Dordt, I have some authority in the classroom and I can exercise that. But if I were going to go look in the dorm windows and say, "Hey, how come you're not in bed yet, it's 10:00 pm?" That's outside of my sphere; I have no sovereignty there and I shouldn't be doing that. 

What, then, are the proper spheres for church and for government? That's open for debate and we could have a good long discussion about that. I think government has certain responsibilities that are consistent with biblical teachings as to what government is all about: justice, border security, taxation, military, protection of its people.

There are other areas of responsibility where the church is supposed to be in charge, helping the poor, the widow, the least of these. What happens when one of those groups drops the ball or vacates their sphere? What happens when the family no longer cares for their own kids, no longer feeds their kids; someone has to step in and do that and I think that's the dilemma we're in.

I think a big part of the blame lies with the church. We've vacated a lot of our responsibilities. We haven't lived out our calling properly. We're not living that kingdom vision properly overall, which means there are huge gaps, and so who's going to step in and do it?

Logically, it falls to the government. So, if you have poor people who need food and if the church isn't doing their job the government's probably going to do it. I think the government has overstepped way too far, feeding breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and doing a whole lot of other things. But again, maybe it's because we're not there as the church doing our job. There's some question there in my mind about who should pick up the slack, and I think it's the church but we're not doing it.

With regard to Trump, I'm in favor of some of the things Trump is doing as I've already mentioned. I'm very much in favor of border security because I think that's a huge part of government's role, and that hasn't been done well lately. I also think limited government is very, very important, and that gets back to our discussion of sphere sovereignty of, "But where do we pull back?" I'm not in favor of Trump because he's spending even more than the last president spent and we're going into debt even more than the last president put us into debt. In that sense, I'm very much opposed to some of the things Trump is doing; government seems to be getting bigger, not smaller. 

Maybe it's a wishy-washy answer but I have a mixed bag in my view of Trump on this one. There's some things where I'm thinking, "Yes, keep going," and those other things I'm thinking, "We've got to fix this." Part of the answer of we've got to fix this is that the church has to step up, recognize its sphere, and get back to work.

 

BE QUESTION B:

Government exists because of sin. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, not only did it wreck their vertical relationship with their creator, it ruined their horizontal relationships with each other. Not only did they hide from God, they in a sense began the blame game of it's not my fault. So government exists basically to protect us from our own worst impulses, to protect us from each other, and ironically even to protect us from ourselves. The 10 Commandments were the original government long before there was a King. They set boundaries and pretty much every society that has successfully set rules has modeled itself somewhat upon them. So, I would like to review what those rules say and how laws properly reflect those in our society today and all these laws were of course made by our government at one time or another. We have laws for Commandment number six, thou shalt not kill.

I should add, there were times when the first table of the law, which deals with our relationship with God also had many prohibitions, like nothing open on Sunday, those kinds of laws we all remember, but those are kind of gone by the wayside so I won't focus on them. I'll look at the second table of the law, the Fifth Commandment, honor your father and your mother, is honored more by the breach because we understand that to mean that we should show respect for proper authority and that has been totally broken down in our society. We don't have respect for our elected leaders, starting with president Trump. We don't have respect for parents the way we used to. There's not respect for teachers. There's not respect for police officers. Think about the recent case of water balloons being thrown at police in New York City. I think respect has been lost.

Commandment number six, thou shalt not kill. We do have laws against that as we should. I think we'd all agree on that. I would like to find the common ground of us agreeing that abortion is always wrong, as was said by one of us besides me at a different meeting, because abortion is always murder and it also needs to be outlawed. But that's something I think you'll want to talk to me about or get some more information on. There used to be laws against all kinds of sexual things that would be covered by thou shalt not commit adultery. When I teach Sunday school or little kids I teach adultery is behaving as if you're married when you're not, or not behaving as if you're married when you are. Most of these laws have been taken off the books.

But one could argue that because the only God ordained sexual relationship occurs with one man and one woman in what we now call marriage, that would sort of answer how I feel about other relationships that go on. I believe they are violations of the Seventh Commandment. The eighth and tenth Commandments go together. Why do you steal? Because you covet. We do have laws against those things. Not really laws against coveting, but coveting is the thought that leads to the action. Then Commandment number nine; thou shalt not bear false witness or lie. We obviously have laws against perjury, laws against slander and libel.

Now, what has Trump done to facilitate all of this? He has spoken strongly for the right of unborn babies and as he continues to do so, he is upholding the Sixth Commandment: thou shalt not kill.

He himself has violated the Seventh Commandment. I would be interested to know to what extent he has done so while in office because we do have a God of second chances. I'm more concerned about what people have done while in the White House and there would be certain presidents that would come to mind. I do believe that the past is the past and if it didn't occur while he was president, perhaps it's not fair to make that a huge concern at this point.

In terms of Commandments eight and ten, there is a sense in which excessive taxes are stealing from the people who have worked hard and we would have to work really hard to decide which taxes are unfair or how much taxing is too unfair, but I think that's a fair thing to point out --The idea that it is okay to take as much as you can from someone by passing laws that make higher taxes.

I think that really is unjust. But on the other hand, there are programs that aren't sufficiently supported. I don't have the answer to that one at all. I think Trump is trying to reduce taxes, which all of us agree should happen until it's our favorite program that gets cut. So that one's a dilemma and then thou shalt not bear false witness. Trump calls out the fake news media. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings are an example of people wanting to believe something that fit their narrative and without really any evidence or proof. Consider also the Covington kid. He was attacked mercilessly and, basically, the thing that he did wrong was to look like a stupid teenager. I've seen rude teenagers and believe me, he was not being rude. He was just awkwardly standing there. But his three sins were: wearing a red hat, being Catholic and opposing abortion.

But the narrative that was fed was a huge lie that he was being rude and abusive to an elder who turned out to lie about all sorts of things. The media is full of lies. Politicians lie.

As you guys might guess, I conclude by saying the biggest lie of all that I believe our government needs to change and that I believe Trump is trying to change, is the lie that abortion is reproductive freedom. Abortion is my body, my choice. Abortion is healthcare, and that is not a lie without cost. I'll keep repeating that stat. A million babies a year die because people believe that lie.

 

SE QUESTION B

Within my understanding of the bible, I understand governments to be God-allowed, human-developed institutions of authority over a group of people. If all of creation is groaning for Shalom, if we are indeed crying out for our reality to be redeemed back to the garden where we commune with God, then government, as I understand it, is not and was not part of the original design of experiencing Shalom and community with God.

Before Israel had a King, God's people went where God led and structured themselves as God-structured them. In the times after the first king, God's people ordered themselves as human leaders saw fit. This led to the exploitation of labor, the neglect to the poor and idolatry. All these things led to the fall of the nation of Israel. Post-exile, we find Israel anxiously awaiting a Messiah. They anticipate a coming king, a political leader who will strike down its enemies and restore their nation to power and prosperity, but as Christians, we know that this never happens.

Christ, our Messiah, comes as a peasant baby, does his ministry outside of the political and religious institutions and is murdered because of his radical behavior and his claim to be God's son. If God saw authority on earth as needing to come from government, God would have sent a king and not a servant. But God shows us that all authority comes from God, and our role is not to amass power and wealth, but to love and serve humbly.

In the time following the Ascension, the followers of Christ busy themselves preaching hope and meeting the physical needs of others. If establishing a government order was important and if obeying the laws of the government were important, early church leaders would have directed one another to do so. Instead, we see them regularly jailed for living out the gospel and encouraging one another to cease working for the state in any capacity. This is my biblical understanding of the role of government, of the role government plays as a follower of Christ within the kingdom of God, which is here and now.

What brings me peace about God is that God creates out of order, intentionality and love. What God creates is good. What God creates is not chaos. What God creates brings life. One of the things that breaks my heart about humanity is our tendency to create systems that are not good for us or for our neighbors, systems that enslave us, systems that run us ragged, systems that do not bring us life. Often we create out of our perceived need. We create not knowing that another way is possible. We create blind to all God has already created and provided.

In my view and in my experience, this fixation on creating our own way of ordering life will leave us frustrated and lonely. Our dysfunctions have a way of giving birth to awful things. I lament our history of enslavement, exclusion and violence. It gives me deep, deep sadness. I do not see any biblical evidence, though I humbly admit that there may be arguments out there that I have not explored, but I have not personally seen biblical evidence that suggests capitalism and or operating a nation as a democratic republic are the way of bringing about prosperity and protection. Biblically, I see evidence that God provides for our needs and that the way of Jesus brings life, not necessarily protection.

So as far as our founding fathers, I see them as flawed humans like the rest of us who gathered together to create a system of being for a group of colonies inhabiting a land that was previously foreign to them. They saw the injustice inherent in a distant monarchy, but missed their own injustices they committed every day. And isn't it just like us humans to do this, to cry foul on the specs we observe while missing our own logs completely? I lament this in my own life.

This inherent inability to know what is good, to know what is just, to do what is right all the time and order these things for others is what gives me great hesitancy in addressing the proper role of government. I equate the concept of government with the concept of authority. What is the government authorized to do? Even narrowing this down to facilitating infrastructure leaves us with the opportunity to red line housing, lay pipelines through reservations and neglect regulations that protect our planet. How would Jesus, who loved his neighbor to the point of the cross, plan an interstate, transport oil or regulate an offshore drill?

And so while founding our nation, I believe the founders missed an opportunity to see folks unlike themselves as their neighbors and created founding documents and systems that neglected large groups of people that inhabit land alongside of us. The impact of their blindness is still with us today. And to this day we continue to advocate for our own vision of America with human blinders, continuing in that heartbreaking human behavior of putting ourselves before others.

As I've stated before, and it's evident in my response here that I've been leaning more and more towards the paradox of Christian anarchy. In the meantime, I live in a world with nations that have established governments, so I choose to pray, to cry out, to hope for what I do not yet see. I pray for global leaders that they may have the courage to prioritize compassion over might, justice over power, humility over material gain and peace over violence. 

When I look at the United States as a nation, my heart aches. This is not merely because of the man who sits in the office, the oval office. Donald Trump is only one man. This is an America that has not been built by the rhetoric of Donald Trump, but by 400 years of systemic exploitation and lust for power. There has not been ever, in my view, a president who rejects the foundation of America for a vision like Jesus' when he proclaimed the Jubilee in his hometown in Nazareth and was nearly thrown off a cliff, which is in Luke 4, which was mentioned earlier tonight. In my view, this is because to see your neighbors as Jesus sees them, to love as Jesus loves, to show up in the world as Jesus does, is to find yourself at the hands of the state ready to execute you. 

The bible teaches that if we love, as Jesus loves, the world will reject us. And yet we see a powerful movement of Christians calling for us to whet our visions with the visions of those who hold power in America. To me, this is an egregious heresy, one that is destroying the church and one that has always plagued the church. But as for me, I trust in the proper role of authority. In my view, authority belongs to God and God alone. Since the first king of Israel to the founding of America, human rulers and power brokers have used exploitation and violence to gain wealth and power. But I see a different vision of power and authority in the incarnation, life in ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. My only hope is in Christ, my only allegiance is to the way of Christ and my only God is God alone.