Author archives: Rob Schwarzwalder

An Inescapable and Irrepressible Conflict

by Rob Schwarzwalder

October 6, 2014

The Supreme Court today has “turned away appeals from five states looking to prohibit gay marriage, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in those states and likely others — but also leaving the issue unresolved nationally.” So now same-sex “marriage” is legal in 30 states plus D.C.

My boss Tony Perkins issued a thoughtful statement about the ruling earlier today. In part, he said, “As more states are forced to redefine marriage, contrary to nature and directly in conflict with the will of millions, more Americans will see and experience attacks on their religious freedom.” Sadly, he’s dead right.

There are a number of dimensions to this issue, one of which was articulated by Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary in an article on September 24: Homosexuality is “now inescapable for every congregation, every denomination, every seminary, and every Christian organization. The question will be asked and some answer will be given. When the question is asked, any answer that is not completely consistent with the church’s historical understanding of sexual morality and the full affirmation of biblical authority will mean a full embrace of same-sex behaviors and same-sex relationships. There is no third way, and there never was.”

Two observations: First, Dr. Mohler is right with respect to the inevitability of division within the believing church over this issue. Christians will choose to be faithful to Scriptural teaching or they won’t. There is not, as he notes, nor will there ever be, any middle ground between obedience and submission to the revealed will of God and rebellion against it.

Second, I’m haunted by the memory of William Seward’s comment, immediately before the Civil War, that strife between North and South over slavery constituted “an irrepressible conflict.”

Millions of Americans simmer with resentment at the coerced redefinition of marriage the courts are imposing on them, despite referenda in dozens of states where they have affirmed the traditional definition of marriage quite explicitly. The Dred Scott decision did not decide the issue of human bondage. The Roe v. Wade decision has not decided the issue of abortion on demand. And the continued federal court confusion over same-sex unions only postpones a day of legal reckoning that could create a measure of civic sundering unwitnessed in our nation for decades.

Even if the Supreme Court has valid reasons for postponing their decision on this issue, postponement is not resolution. I fear that whatever decision the Supremes finally reach will not resolve it, either.

Robert Gates’ Boy Scouts

by Rob Schwarzwalder

October 1, 2014

In scouting, there’s a secular emphasis on values and virtue that is not found anyplace else. We don’t teach civic values in schools anymore, so where else are kids going to learn it?”

So said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, now head of the Boy Scouts of America, in an interview last month. Gates, who spearheaded the military’s renunciation of its historic policy banning homosexuality, said earlier this year that he “would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country.”

I’ve written extensively on the Scouts’ decision to allow what the BSA itself has called “open and avowed” homosexuals into the ranks of Scouting (for example, my op-ed in U.S. News and World Report), and will not revisit the many issues involving this issue. Instead, I’m intrigued by Mr. Gates’ comment wedding secularism and “values and virtue.”

According to the Cambridge University Press Dictionary, secularism is “the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country.” Fair enough. But how does this square with the mission of Scouting?

Here is an excerpt from Scouting’s membership resolution, passed last year at the BSA’s annual convention in Dallas, Texas:

The Scout Oath begins with duty to God and the Scout Law ends with a Scout’s obligation to be reverent, and that will always remain a core value of the Boy Scouts of America, and the values set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are fundamental to the BSA and central to teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes …

Let’s see, Mr. Gates: An organization that promotes secular (i.e., non-theistic) values speaks of “duty to God” as “fundamental” and a “core value.” These are contradictory assertions, and cannot be integrated with any intellectual honesty.

Here is a brief summary of the world of Scouting, according to Robert Gates:

  • A Scout is to be “reverent,” but reverence for God is a secular value. I think …
  • Virtues and values are not grounded in revealed truth or natural law but in preferences and social adaptations.
  • We need an organization like Scouts to teach values and virtues, but we can’t talk about where these values and virtues come from, since to do so would mean taking a position on final and unchanging truth, which would be decidedly un-secular.
  • Kids aren’t taught values in their families, but we can’t define family since to do so would require a position on same-sex unions, which Scouting cannot take since to do so would be divisive and upsetting and, hey, what’s a Scout if not “cheerful,” right?
  • Boy’s Life magazine will continue to have Bible stories in every issue, even though the Bible teaches non-secular values like truth and honor and sexual abstinence outside of traditional, one man-one woman, monogamous marriage, which is something Scouting neither condemns nor condones.

Robert Gates is a patriot who’s done a lot of good for our country. He is also caught between the internal knowledge of what’s right (“the works of the Law written on his heart,” Romans 2:15) and acquiescence to post-modern thinking and secularism’s arrogant condescension toward religion.

Sad way to end your career, Mr. Secretary. Sad.

Islamism and Ferguson: There is No Moral Equivalence Between Them

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 25, 2014

In his speech yesterday at the United Nations, President Obama used the shooting of an unarmed African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri to note that America indignation at evil is not self-righteousness. Here is what commentator Richard Grenell, a former American U.N. official, said about the President’s comments:

In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri: (said President Obama). Morally equating the events of Ferguson to Islamic terrorism and Russia’s annexation of Crimea gives foreign diplomats from Arab countries and Russia the excuse they need to dismiss America’s condemnation of their actions. For anyone thinking that President Obama didn’t purposefully mean to equate the world’s problems with the events in Ferguson, two sentences later Obama blamed globalization for the public’s outrage in Ferguson: “And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization.” Overstating America’s issues doesn’t make us relatable; it makes others’ issues easily dismissible.

Equating a single and widely-condemned act of violence in America’s heartland, one that drew the personal attention of the Attorney General of the United States and enough FBI agents to make Al Capone shudder, with the systematic, calculated, and extensive mass murders perpetrated by the Islamic thugs in Iraq is such poor judgment as to be almost beyond belief. I am not diminishing the seriousness of Michael Brown’s killing, but it is not analogous to what so-called “ISIS” is doing in the Middle East.

The Islamists, as a matter of ideology, political conviction, and religious commitment, are dedicated to executing an agenda of death, including the murder (and beheading) of small children. Here is what Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) says about what the Islamists are doing:

I have a picture of what I estimate to be a 6-year-old girl in a gingham party dress, white tights, a little red band around her wrist, Mary Janes [shoes], and she’s lying on the ground, and her head is gone,” Feinstein said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This could be an American child. It could be a European child. It could be a child anywhere,” the chairwoman added. “This is the mentality of the group that we are so concerned with. They have killed thousands; they are marching on; they have an army; they are well organized.”

A spasm of cruelty in Ferguson is not like a comprehensive program of genocide. The Russian invasion of Crimea and its threat to the Ukraine are the policies of a government, not the excesses of a single policeman. The President blurred the line between acknowledging America’s imperfection, in some contexts a good thing, with the outright humiliation of our country before the world.

There is no moral equivalence between America and ISIS. Mr. Obama would affirm this, surely, but in his desperate effort to discourage criticism he plays into our adversaries’ hands. Those who would highlight America’s flaws either to minimize their own evil or, out of envious hostility, to tear down rather than emulate the world’s greatest beacon of liberty, opportunity, and hope — that would be the United States of America — are wrong. President Obama seems to have internalized their criticisms, which says a lot about his approach to American foreign policy over the past nearly six years. A lot that’s disturbing.

All but a relative handful of the countries represented in the United Nations are authoritarian regimes, outright dictatorships, or hereditary (even if benevolent) monarchies. Anti-Semitism, cruel religious persecution, severe political repression, systemic policies that entrench poverty, quenching or abridging all the freedoms “endowed by their Creator” to their citizens: These things constitute the normal course of events in the majority of the world’s nations, all of which, to one degree or another, regularly castigate our country.

To allow such brutes, whether in developing countries, the Communist world, or totalitarian regimes to cow America into Uriah Heepish hand-wringing is maddening. No American, and certainly no American President, should succumb to it.

Children of the Heart

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 23, 2014

Adoption is a regular target of psycho-babbling critics, race-mongerers, ultra-nationalists in countries filled with parentless children, and those who believe children are better warehoused than loved.

In addition to rejecting all of these demonic conceptions, it’s a personal joy for me to affirm the wonder that adoption brings into countless families, including my own.

Bethany Christian Services, through which my wife and I adopted our three children, has connected thousands of moms and dads with children who need the affection and security of a family. In a moving story on how Bethany brought him together with his father and mother here in the States, Ethiopia-born Getenet Timmermans tells how his brother and he “found a family” in Illinois, and with them found love, hope, and a future.

You can read Getenet’s account here. I hope you will, and that you’ll share it with anyone you know skeptical of bearing children from the heart and not just the womb.

A Tale of Two (Civil) Senators

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Jesse Johnson, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage

Andrew Walker, “An Evangelical Defense of Traditional Marriage

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

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

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

Welcome Back to College, USA

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

How about venerable Vanderbilt, which

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

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

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

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

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

America’s Uncertain International Trumpet

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friends Dan and Judy

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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