Some Thoughts About The Election

This is an email I sent to the students in my ministry the morning following the 2016 presidential election:

I would like to say something to the despondent and the jubilant: the despondent should not be too despondent and the jubilant should not be too jubilant.

To The Despondent:

You just woke up and feel as though you woke up in a different country than the one you thought you lived in. You feel as though you don’t belong. I want to encourage you: this will pass. There are rarely permanent defeats in politics. You will get another try at the presidency in four years and at the legislative branch in two years. Remember when Obama rode into office? The Democrats had the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch along with most state gubernatorial and legislative offices. The days of the Republican party seemed over, yet now the Republicans have usurped the Democrats in every one of those roles. Your turn will come again. Be patient.

A few practical pieces of advice for you in the meanwhile:

1) If you did not register to vote, do it now while you’re motivated. It will not take much time and is one of the few productive things you can actually do right now.

2) You may be tempted to blame the other side’s victory on the basest of motives. The other side is racist. The other side is misogynistic. The other side is driven by hate. Please hear this: they don’t think they are. “But they are — I know it!” Even if you are right that there are vile motives floating around inside their souls, you will not change their minds by pointing that out. Instead, you must understand your opponents in order to persuade them. If you are genuinely shocked that a large chunk of Americans are afraid of the Democratic party and what it would have done with four to eight more years of power, you need to read more widely.  Add to your reading list authors such as Mollie Hemingway, Ross Douthat, Thomas Sowell, Matthew Lee Anderson, Russell Moore, Rod Dreher, and David French. If you use Twitter, follow each of them. If you don’t, pay attention to their writings. They pop up from time to time in the Friday emails I send out — begin deliberately reading the entries you think you’ll disagree with. Also, consider watching Fox News from time to time.

3) Pray. This is something you will have a chance to do at Chi Alpha tonight. #justsaying

To The Jubilant:

It’s a good feeling when your side wins. Enjoy the moment, but recognize how ephemeral it is. Whenever one party sweeps into power across multiple branches of government, corruption and infighting ensues. Your team is likely in for a rough time two years from now in the midterm elections and will face a serious challenge four years down the road.

A few practical pieces of advice for you:

1) Recognize that some of your friends are genuinely terrified right now. People who are made in God’s image — some of whom are your brothers and sisters in Christ — are in pain. Be empathetic. Even if you think that their emotions are overblown, acknowledge that their emotions are real.

2) Prepare for disappointment. Politicians rarely deliver what you hoped for. The Democrats didn’t deliver immigration reform when Obama was in office even though the Democrats held the House and the Senate. The Republicans will almost certainly get bogged down on issues that later prove to be inconsequential and as a result will let some of your highest priorities slip out of their grasp. Two years is not that long and Republican officials will refuse to believe that’s probably all the time they have.

To Everyone:

Yesterday America elected a president for the next four years, but we know the King who reigns forever. So acknowledge the president, “but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15a).

Remember Philippians 3:20: “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Elections matter, but eternity matters more. Keep perspective today and always.

God bless and I hope to see you at worship tonight. I’ll talk more about these things there and we will pray.

Candy Is Edible Joy

November 1, 2006: Treats!Candy is a good thing. Candy is joy given caloric expression. Candy is, to twist an old saying, proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

I do not think my wife believes this in her heart. She is a mom, and there is a lot of pressure on moms to believe that candy is bad. In the land of moms, candy is a controlled substance. One, incidentally, for which medical prescriptions are not forthcoming.

And so as we were going to bed on Halloween I told her, “There’s something important we need to establish before we go to sleep tonight. The presence of leftover candy in our house is not a problem to be solved, it is a joy to be celebrated. We don’t have to give it away, throw it away, or find some creative use for it. Eating it will be sufficient.”

I felt like a Mormon knocking on Richard Dawkins’ door, but sometimes a dad has to step up. Edible joy is a rare thing and worth defending.

Evil, Thy Acronym Is NCAA

Stanford to tip off March MadnessTechnically, NCAA is an initialism rather than an acronym — but you know what I mean.

I have long been irked at the way the college sports complex abuses students, but I was absolutely floored by some of the details Taylor Branch shared in “The Shame of College Sports” (published in The Atlantic).

Two snippets to whet your appetite:

“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”

Vaccaro did not blink. “They shouldn’t, sir,” he replied. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”

And later:

But after an inquiry that took me into locker rooms and ivory towers across the country, I have come to believe that sentiment blinds us to what’s before our eyes. Big-time college sports are fully commercialized. Billions of dollars flow through them each year. The NCAA makes money, and enables universities and corporations to make money, from the unpaid labor of young athletes.

Slavery analogies should be used carefully. College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene—corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as “student-athletes” deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution—is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is colonialism: college sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with hoary sentiments about caring for the well-being of the colonized. But it is, nonetheless, unjust. The NCAA, in its zealous defense of bogus principles, sometimes destroys the dreams of innocent young athletes.

The whole thing is worth reading, so zip over to The Atlantic and read “The Shame of College Sports” now.

The Church In China

Welcome to the Great Wall of ChinaI recently listened to a Research on Religion podcast about house churches in China and learned four things.

First, I’ve known for years that the state-run Protestant church in China is called the Three Self Patriotic Movement in China, but I never realized where the name came from. Here’s a hint: think missiology. That’s right — the three selves in the Three Self Patriotic Movement are “self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating.” I am an idiot for never making that connection. I bet there’s a good story behind it.

Second, one of the unregistered churches in China (commonly called house churches) has grown to around 500,000 members. That is not a typo — this one “house church” has half a million members. Wow. That blows my mind.

Third, the unregistered rural churches are almost entirely Pentecostal/charismatic and the unregistered urban churches are more sedately evangelical. The unregistered urban churches tend to be led by university professors and other intellectuals. Interesting.

Fourth, China has largely stopped sending pastors of unregistered churches to labor camps because the pastors were too effective at planting churches in prison. Now the state uses indirect pressure to thwart churches, so that the Communist party pressures landlords to cancel leases and employers to hassle employees.

After listening to the podcast and reflecting on it for a while I realized that there’s an interesting contrast between the challenges faced by the church in China and those faced by the church in America. America seeks to seduce the Church into complacency, whereas China seeks to intimidate the Church into compliance.

These challenges correspond to the strategies Satan deploys against the Church in the book of Revelation: Babylon (seduction) and the Beast (intimidation).

No, I did not just say that China is the Beast nor did I say that America is the Great Harlot called Babylon. I merely said that China and America resemble them in certain ways.

If this intrigues you check out the free online book The Returning King by Vern Poythress. It’s one of the best introductions to the book of Revelation that I know.

All in all that was one of the more stimulating podcasts I’ve heard lately.

Poisonous Rat-Duck Day

PlatypusToday is Groundhog Day, which is hilarious to me. How did they outmaneuver the other animals and get their own holiday?

I personally would prefer Platypus Day. There’s an animal that deserves to be celebrated. It’s a furry, poisonous rat-duck. A platypus is practically a living Pokémon.

But somehow the groundhogs won out. I suspect bribery.

For the record, today I will honor platypi in my heart. Although Wikipedia tells me that platypi is incorrect and I should say platypuses or platypodes. Also, they are venomous and not poisonous (venom is injected, poison is consumed).

To which I say: poisonous rat-duck sounds better than venomous rat-duck, and platypi has a satisfying faux-intellectual ring to it. Let rhetoric prevail, and let the poisonous rat-ducks have their day on the calendar!

being a Christian in a sorority

PanhellenicA recent convert told me she’s struggling with life in her sorority, so I asked another sorority gal I know to give her some advice.

Sorority gal emailed the recent convert and, with her permission, I’ve anonymized it and present her email for your consideration. I’ve trimmed off the beginning because it’s impossible to anonymize without making it useless (she identifies a specific Christian in the recipient’s sorority for her to connect with), but the rest of her letter is more broadly applicable:

I think [your sorority and my sorority] may be different in terms of their emphasis on partying and drinking, but I will definitely try to give you my two cents, and if you want to meet up at any point, let me know and I’d love to get together to talk and/or pray with you about it.

I have always felt very at home in [my sorority] as a Christian. There are 10–15 Christian girls in [my sorority], and many more who aren’t into getting drunk/hooking up. My big is a Christian, as is my twin, and my twin’s little. I try to surround myself with these girls, rather than the partiers. I do still go out to the events where there is drinking, but I only drink moderately (if at all) and still always have a great time. Do you have a group of girls like this in [your sorority]? Are there other Christians in [your sorority] you can team up with?

Another thing that helped me ensure that there are enough events that don’t center around drinking/partying was getting involved on the sisterhood committee. If you guys have a committee like that, I would encourage you to get involved and make sure those kinds of events are happening.

If you are feeling like [your sorority] is a place where you can’t be yourself or where you are encouraged to make poor decisions, deactivating might be the right choice for you. My biggest advice to you would be to pray about it and go with your gut. I do think there is room to be a Christian in Greek life, but I also think it varies a lot depending on the frat/sorority. Many of my closest friends aren’t Christian, and I think this can definitely make it more difficult to do the right thing at times. But, I think that as long as you have that Christian community somewhere, you can make it work.

I feel like I haven’t done a very good job giving you advice here, so please let me know if you want to talk about it over coffee or something!

I think that, on the whole, it is pretty good advice. What would you have said?

Chutes To Gehenna

chutes and laddersI believe I have identified my least favorite part of parenting: playing Chutes and Ladders. My epiphany came about as I was playing the longest round that I’ve ever seen. It was all chutes and no ladders. Playing was like watching crabs in a styrofoam cooler: as soon as one character was close to escaping it was sent tumbling back down to the bottom.

While that most recent round was particularly tedious, I don’t like the game even when it takes ten minutes because it’s a game with no skill component whatsoever. I will confess to thinking — often — that we could determine victory by flipping a coin instead of through the interminable process of moving the game pieces in accordance with the dictates of the spinner and the requirements of the board.

That’s bad enough, but there is one more factor that evokes dread in my soul when asked to play. It is this: children young enough to truly enjoy the game are usually unable to move their characters properly, so I have to do it for them. This means I am playing the game against myself. A game I don’t like. A game whose two-player version is logically indistinguishable from a coin toss yet which has the potential to endure until the heat death of the universe. Even if I win, I lose. I lost as soon as I took the box down from the shelf.

And yet I will play today and I know I will play again tomorrow. It’s like a torment from a Greek myth. Aaargh!

My heart goes out to thoroughgoing determinists who necessarily regard all of life as a complicated version of Chutes and Ladders. If that’s you, I suggest you arrange to be fated not to think about it.

Look, Ma. I’m in the Stanford Review.

Stephen Colbert in IraqI was recently interviewed by the Stanford Review (a student publication) for an article analyzing the Supreme Court’s decision in CLS vs Martinez as it relates to Stanford (a case I have previously written about).

As is almost always the case with interviews, I said way more than they had space to include in the final article. Since the interview was via email, I have the full text of my remarks available. I should note that Autumn Carter, the interviewer, asked me several questions I declined to answer.

So here’s what I had to say:

SR: What is your opinion towards the Supreme Court’s ruling in general? With regard to Stanford?

Me: The Supreme Court’s logic would not apply at most public universities since the case at UC Hastings is so unique, and it will have no direct impact at all on private universities such as Stanford. And I hasten to point out that the case has been remanded back to a lower court for a closer examination of some factual issues. The Christian Legal Society alleges that UC Hastings enforced its policies unequally and in a discriminatory manner, something which the Supreme Court believes merits further investigation.

But to get bogged down in the legal maneuvering is to miss the essence of the case. For a university to force a Christian ministry to accept leaders who do not share its beliefs is as absurd as China’s plan to choose the next Dalai Lama, and I would suspect such a university of having similar motives: to control and to undermine religious belief which the authorities disapprove of.

Universities must decide what they believe tolerance looks like. Are they willing to become intolerant in the pursuit of tolerance? Are they willing to achieve their goals through coercion rather than reasoned discourse? UC Hastings appears to have decided that it is. It remains to be seen how many universities will embrace their folly.

SR: As you mentioned, Stanford is a private university and is therefore unaffected by the ruling directly. But do you anticipate any moves by Stanford to tighten its own group membership policy either independently or as a result of being lobbied? Or will Stanford likely maintain the looser policy that it currently uses?

Me: Should such lobbying arise I hope that Stanford will prove wiser than the Supreme Court.

In retrospect, I’m surprised the Stanford Review chose the quote they did. Some of my other sentences seem so much more… lively.

A Professor’s Advice to Christians

final examIn Christians in Academe: A Reply, former evangelical Adam Kotsko minimizes a very real problem (recall that one study shows that 53% of faculty disdain evangelicals), but he nonetheless says things worth listening to.

A few bits stood out to me:

Above all, parents and pastors need to stop giving a blank check to anything that professes to be “Christian.” Conservative evangelicals have long been skilled at sniffing out what they consider to be pseudo-Christian liberals — developing some discernment on the other end of the scale would be a welcome shift.

I think he and I would differ considerably on the application of this point, but I like the fact that he brings it up. The truth is that there is a ditch on both sides of the road, and it matters little whether you wreck in the ditch of being too insistent on irrelevant details (theological conservatism) or whether you wreck in the ditch of being too unconcerned about important details (theological liberalism). Both will mess you up, yet most evangelicals practically ignore the ditch of being too theologically conservative.

He goes on:

For instance, if the professor Larsen describes in his opening paragraphs didn’t realize that he would get a paper like Larsen’s student handed in when he assigned an opinion piece on “traditional marriage,” then he or she was incredibly naïve. Personally, I would never assign a paper on abortion or evolution in an intro-level class, because I know doing so would basically mean condemning conservative evangelical students to do poorly. Many of them would simply parrot the stock arguments they’d heard from their leaders with very little reflection or fresh argumentation of their own — and the inevitable bad grade would only feed the persecution complex, turning me into yet another “secular indoctrinator.”

All I have to say in response to this is that I wish more professors were as wise as he. I’d like to order that paragraph to be read to every professor in America once a year.

But the part I like best is this:

More immediately, though, if conservative evangelicals are not willing to abandon their siege mentality, I would urge them to at least adopt the practices that the New Testament authors recommended to persecuted communities: live quietly, seek to be at peace with all, respect authority, work hard — in short, keep the moral high ground. The sober advice of the Apostles has stood the test of time and will endure long after whatever radical preacher is in the ascendant now is forgotten.

This is Biblical and good advice and should be the baseline for Christians at secular universities. If a university actually prevents you from obeying Christ, then by all means take a stand and deploy every peaceful tool in your arsenal to stymie them (this is to follow the example of the apostles — Acts 5:25–32 and Acts 16:36–39). But if a university is merely teaching you things you consider to be untrue, then suck it up, master the materials, and excel academically (this is to follow the example of Daniel and his friends in Babylon — Daniel 1:17–20). In the long run you will accomplish far more for the faith by getting good grades than by causing lots of disruptions in class.

Kotsko’s essay is worth reading and pondering (and so is the piece he is responding to, No Christianity Please, We’re Academics).

As I said, he minimizes a real problem. Anyone who thinks that some professors do not seek to destroy the faith of students is simply uninformed, and anyone who doesn’t realize that huge swaths of university culture are hostile to evangelical sensibilities has not been paying attention. But Kotsko is right to point out that evangelical students often create their own problems by allowing the evangelical subculture to define their relationship to the university rather than allowing the Bible’s teaching to prevail.

Freedom of Association at Public Universities

Golden Gate bridge in the fogStanford law professor Michael McConnell recently represented the Christian Legal Society (CLS) in their case against San Francisco’s UC Hastings College of The Law before the U. S. Supreme Court. The CLS lost that case on a 5–4 vote (read the ruling). I’ve asked Professor McConnell to answer a few questions about the ruling, and he has graciously agreed to do so and to allow me to publish his answers online.

Q: The court ruled 5–4 in favor of UC Hastings “all-comers” policy. Was this a broad ruling affecting Christian groups at public universities generally or a relatively narrow ruling?

A: It was the most narrow ruling possible. The all-comers policy on which the Court ruled is exceedingly unusual. The Court declined to rule on the more typical situation, where the school applies religious nondiscrimination rules to religious organizations, thus denying to religious groups the freedom enjoyed by most expressive organizations of choosing their own leaders. The Court did not even rule on the all-comers policy as actually applied at Hastings, but only on an abstract and hypothetical version that applies across the board to all organizations.

Q: So let’s say I’m a Chi Alpha or an Intervarsity director at some public university. Should I be discouraged or alarmed?

A: You should be concerned, and try to work with your university to prevent infringements on your rights, because the Court’s decision provides no help to you.

Q: Did any parts of the ruling surprise you?

A: In the course of rejecting CLS’s argument, the Court gave a surprisingly narrow interpretation to free speech (public forum) precedents that I thought were firmly established law.

Q: You have no doubt read many blog posts, op-eds and news articles summarizing both the case and the court’s decision. Are there any misunderstandings you would like to correct?

A: Too many to list.

In case you’re wondering, this case only affects public universities. Our ministry at Stanford won’t be directly affected.

You can read lots of summaries of the verdict. A few of the more interesting ones: