Bigotry…Fear…Anger. When I survey the South Carolina landscape this morning, those are the words that come to mind. Those are words of emotion, not reason, but it seems very much to be emotion that is driving the vote there. Let’s face it, it has been a week best described as chaotic. Such chaos generally erupts when people are responding to circumstances out of emotion rather than reason. We need look no further than the cruise liner mess off the Italian coast to understand that fact.
These words also find traction in the fact that the polls indicate Newt Gingrich is the likely winner today. Look, polls are wrong all the time, but polling momentum generally is not and the momentum is all Gingrich’s way going into today. Consider the words of our own JMR yesterday:
…South Carolina evangelicals prepare to nominate a man cast out by the Party for his failure of leadership. We have a man who has been accused of no financial impropriety hounded for his taxes while a man known to have kited checks on the House bank floats along.
Were the momentum in Santorum’s direction, this really could be about “genuine conservatism” and “beating Obama.” But when that momentum is headed at Gingrich there is something else at play, and I think it is those three words. Let’s look at each of them.
We took a good look at this yesterday noting that most people won’t take a good look at it. That’s the nature of things. I did find this liittle anecdote from noted Catholic scholar Francis Beckwith fascinating:
During the drive from Salt Lake to Provo after I had conducted my workshop on Catholic Social Thought, my friend and host, Robert Millet (an LDS Professor at BYU), shared with me a story that I will not easily forget. He told me of a Mormon friend who in conversation with an Evangelical Protestant had asked him whether a Christian who committed adultery would lose his salvation. The Evangelical answered, “No.” The Mormon followed up with this query, “What if the Christian had murdered someone? Would he then lose his salvation?” The answer, again, was “no.” Then the Mormon asked, “Well, what if he had become a Mormon?” The Evangelical answered, “That’s a good question. I don’t know.” I joked with Bob, “Perhaps your friend should have asked what would be the state of the person’s salvation if he had murdered, or committed adultery with, a Mormon?”
I’m with Beckwith – that one is not easy to forget. I truly fail to understand how a person could perceive such heinous crimes as forgivable but not theological wrongness. That reduces God somehow from reality to idea.
But more is the fact that so many of us refuse to examine this bias within us. As Christian we believe that our journey begins with an act of self-examination and an expression of the ugliness we find. We call that confession. Catholics think it a sacrament. Protestants think it a necessity, generally expressed liturgically. Evangelicals, in some cases, have lost sight of this part of the Christian journey – but that is a discussion for another time. Bigotry against Mormonism is NOT a sin that requires confession – it’s wrong, but sinful is another category altogether. However, lying to yourself and others about it is.
The Biblical prophet Jeremiah talks quite a bit about those who teach falsehood to the point that they deceive even themselves. (Consider Jeremiah 14 and Jeremiah 23) He does not have kind words for such people. I have long said I did not begin with this blog to help Mitt Romney get elected (although that is something I deeply hope for) – I began it to try and help a portion of the church with a pretty severe problem. Here is part of that problem in spades.
I would note that we are being mocked for our choices in this matter. So, I would ask my brethren in South Carolina as they go to the polls to examine themselves closely. Vote as you will, but do not lie to yourselves or others.
Bigotry can explain the move away from Romney, but it cannot explain the move towards Gingrich – for that we need to run to the other two emotions.
Much has been written and said of late that voters generally vote for the candidate they fear less – that a candidate’s job is generally to get the message across that, “I’m not going to be anywhere near as bad as that guy.” Come to think of it, this could explain the Beckwith anecdote from above. After all, we all know sinners that have been forgiven, ourselves included, but those Mormons!
Every Republican and most independents fear another Obama term pretty seriously, and with good reason. Given what we have been subjected to for the last few years, a guy that spouts ideas and catchphrases as rapidly as Gingrich is going to be pretty comforting. That is particularly true when compared to a guy that is as deliberate as Mitt Romney.
But one has to consider the testimony of those that have worked with Gingrich. Ideas and catchphrases are the stuff of writers and professors, but presidents have to make things happen. In his interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday, Congressman John Campbell (subscription required) made it as plain as the nose on your face that if you talk to anyone in Congress that worked with the former speaker – he cannot get anything done. That is why he was chased from the speakership in disgrace. His ideas engineered one of the greatest electoral turnarounds in history – but the reality of his service as Speaker was, shall we say, “reminiscent” of the current occupant off the White House. Now that sounds scary to me.
Basketball legend Bob Knight used to say that he wanted his teams more afraid of him than the opponent. That way if they got through practice he could have confidence in their game time performance. Coach Knight came to mind when I was thinking about fear because of the many Biblical admonishments that are along these lines:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
As Christians we do fear God, and when we fear God, we have nothing else to fear, because God will handle all that. As Christians we need to set aside our fear of things like this and look at them reasonably. We need to absorb the truth.
Gingrich’s slam down of CNN Thursday night perfectly captured the anger that the electorate feels right now, both at this administration, and at the media for handing this guy to us on a silver platter. We have good reason to be angry. But anger also often leads to bad decisions – I know I have made more than my share of bad decisions when I was angry.
Anger is unbecoming the Christian. Says the apostle Paul:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
What’s more, to act in anger is unwise:
Prov 16:32 – He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
Anger, though justified, will not get us to where we need to be right now – it will in fact impede our judgement and could lead to disaster. We need our best judgement – our reason – right now and to get that we need to hold our righteous anger in check.
Yes, that anger needs expression. We have talk radio and the internet for that. Gingrich would be a welcome addition to the ranks of pundits. I would enjoy listening to him slam the media and the left on a daily basis – he does it quite well.
But that is not executive leadership – and we are picking a chief executive, not a chief cheerleader.
So, dear South Carolinian friends – As you head to the polls I ask you to examine yourselves carefully, fear the Lord greatly (and in light of that nothing else) and hold your anger in check. If you do those three things I think you will heed the words of my friends Timothy Dalrymple and Mark DeMoss and certainly not vote for Newt Gingrich and probably vote for Mitt Romney. I also pray that through that experience you will grow just a bit more in your understanding of, and relationship with, the Lord.
John Mark here:
I am a son of Appalachia. I was baptized in a river in West Virginia. I am a pastor’s son and the great-grandson of a preacher. Our roots in Virginia go back four hundred years.
I have been educated and helped in many ways by the evangelical community and Southern culture. I defend both.
I beg our readers in South Carolina today to do two things:
First, vote for any candidate but Newt Gingrich. I am a Romney man through and through, but that is not why I make this appeal. I believe Newt Gingrich unfit for office. So do you. Remember Bill Clinton? Remember the things you said? The liberal media is not attacking Newt. The facts of the case (except the phrase “open marriage”) are not in dispute.
Newt is playing with words in his denial to avoid the facts. He is no gentleman. I know that we have had bad men as president before. Some, Harding, were bad presidents and some, Franklin Roosevelt, were successful, but voters then were responsible for what they knew.
It is not true that “everyone” does it. On the Republican stage, there were three men who don’t: Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney. You don’t have to knowingly communicate that Newt’s behavior was o.k.
Vote for anybody but Newt. If you don’t trust Romney for political reasons, give Santorum or Paul, both honorable men, a vote. You have choices that do not involve a man so corrupt and inept conservatives in Congress forced him from power.
What evidence he is delusional? He says he will “Lincoln-Douglass” debate Obama. Trust me, as a person who debates, he is overrating his power. Assume, however, he is not. Do you really think an incumbent leading Mr. Gingrich in the polls will agree to these debates? No. President Obama will spend one billion dollars making the race about Newt.
Forgive Newt as you hope to be forgiven. God knows I need forgiveness. I will never run for President! But that is the point: the prodigal came home and did not demand to run the ranch in order to prove Father had forgiven him. In fact, Father left “all he had” to the elder brother . . . with all his problems!
Vote for an elder brother, forgive the prodigal. Keep the prodigal away from the snares of money and power that destroyed him last time. Newt and power are a drunk and a bottle.
Love Newt enough as a man and brother to know this makes Newt unfit for the honor of the nomination, high office, and your vote.
Second, examine your motives in avoiding Governor Romney. Surely it cannot be that it is merely that he is a Mormon? Taft was a Unitarian: he denied the Trinity. George Washington was a Free Mason: think about that one. Yet evangelicals voted for both Taft and Washington.
I live in California. We would have ruined marriage and my university would face troubles if it were not for the Mormon community. They worked hard, gave money, and supported our common cause. They bore the brunt of persecution. The nobility I saw, personally saw, was staggering. I have seen poor people fed, sick people helped, and had evangelical students at my evangelical school given charity by Mormon leaders when they were in trouble.
What about this civic record makes a Mormon unworthy of your vote?
The Lord Jesus called us to love even our enemies, but at the very least the Mormon is our ally and friend. Our Savior rebuked his disciples when they wanted to reject those doing good works in His Name that were not associated with their group. The Master said to leave them alone and that those men were “for Him.”
For what charitable work will you reject a Mormon as civic leader?
We must treat our Mormon friend and neighbor as we wish to be treated. Do you think a Mormon voter should reject you simply because you are not a Mormon? What of your atheist neighbor?
Vote your best self. Vote for an honorable man, (Paul, Romney, Santorum), and leave the repenting sinner to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. Love Newt enough to keep him from the dangers of power.