Is That What it Takes to Get a Senator to Listen?

Jeff Flake is now Arizona’s senior senator, following the death of John McCain.  His title will be short-lived, as Flake has already announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, mainly because he’s tired of the increasingly partisan, political maneuvering that has rendered the Republican-controlled Congress the most unpopular in American history.

Not that Flake hasn’t been partisan on most issues, but the Senator from my home state has, to his credit, been more of a free thinker than a staunch partisan.  He’s definitely conservative, as you would expect from his small-town, Mormon heritage and background.  He was born in Snowflake, Arizona, a community not named after snow, but after two Mormon pioneers, Lorenzo Snow and William Flake, the latter of whom is the Senator’s great-great grandfather.  But he’s also been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, disagreeing not so much with his policy, but with his lack of morals and ethics, his corrupt actions and his Machiavellian approach to just about everything.  Unlike conservative Evangelicals, Mormons have stuck to their convictions when it comes to the qualifications of moral character and behavior consistent with faith.  Flake decided to get out of the Senate rather than compromise his convictions for the sake of secular politics.

He was the one uncertain vote on the Senate judiciary committee when his fellow Republicans attempted to rush the process of recommending Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court nominee to the whole Senate.  Flake isn’t worried about re-election and so was able to make a decision based on his own perspective, and not the party line.  Of course, since the hearing, and the subsequent questioning of Kavanaugh and one of his accusers was rushed through, he announced that he would be supporting Kavanaugh.  That was until he was confronted in an elevator by a group of women who had enough, and decided to show up and speak up.

It is unfortunate that it took the combination of a passionate confrontation in an elevator by a woman who was herself a victim of sexual assault, and a Senator cut loose from any obligation to a partisan agenda to get to the point where his vote, the necessary one for Kavanaugh to move forward, could influence the committee to do what was right and what proper procedure called for, and get the FBI involved in an investigation.

The week’s delay doesn’t slow down the process enough to endanger Kavanaugh’s potential appointment, but it does allow time to gather evidence that will either put the matter to rest by supporting Kavanaugh’s claim, or confirm his involvement in what his accusers say he did.  Even at that, there will be some Republicans who have decided that it doesn’t matter, that “boys will be boys,” and will abandon the values and morals they held when they made similar accusations against Democrats just a couple of short decades back and decide that even if he did what he has been accused of doing, he’s still their guy for the Supreme Court.

If I were Kavanaugh, I’d be the leader in asking for an FBI investigation, especially if I were certain that I had not done anything of the sort of what I had been accused of doing.  I’d want a credible investigation to say that they could not find a scrap or shred of evidence that I’d ever been involved in anything that would give even the most rabid partisan any doubt about the consistency of my morals and integrity.  And I sure wouldn’t want to appear evasive, overly defensive, or opposed to a short delay and an investigation that would exonerate me.  But Kavanaugh’s reaction to the hearing and to the news that there will be an investigation and a delay isn’t one that generates hope for a finding that he is innocent.

For a state that has had more than its fair share of quirky political disasters, Arizona has produced two Senators that have set the bar high when it comes to integrity in politics, and to how someone elected to represent all the people should behave.  It is unfortunate that the country is losing the service of both of them in such a short period of time.  McCain’s replacement, John Kyl, is a hard core partisan Republican who didn’t leave behind the same kind of legacy.  Flake will be replaced by a woman, regardless of whether the Democrat or Republican wins the election, though the Democrat, current Congresswoman Kirsten Synema holds a large, double digit lead in the polls over her Republican opponent.  Synema will be a strong voice for women in the Senate.

That Flake’s integrity was pushed to the front by his decision not to run, and by being a lame duck is a great argument for term limits for Congress.  Three terms for a representative, one for a Senator.

Southern Baptists and the Social Justice Debate

I’ve spent all but the past eight years of my life worshipping, serving and being a member of a Southern Baptist church.  My undergraduate college work was done at a school affiliated with a Southern Baptist state convention, and I got a master’s degree from one of the convention’s six seminaries.  In spite of what amounts to 52 years of familiarity with the denomination, I’m still baffled by some of the things that become debates, and by the position taken by some who are involved in the debate.

In spite of an awful lot of attention paid to belief that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and completely authoritative, it seems like positions taken by many pastors and leaders in the denomination are increasingly based on the authority of right wing politics, and involve either twisting scripture to justify the position, or ignoring it altogether.  “Social justice,” because it is both a term and a domain in which those that many Southern Baptists label as “liberal” or “leftist” spend a lot of time and energy, has been something that they’ve either abandoned or re-defined, rather than face with Biblical honesty.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

That’s certainly not all there is to social justice, but the principle is definitely there.  And there isn’t anything that falls into this category that falls outside of the application of this Biblical principle.

The problem is not with “social justice” itself, or with the issues that involve inequality of treatment, racism, and the whole scope of what gets rolled into this issue.  The problem is believing that human wisdom and reason alone are where the solutions to the issues can be found.  It can’t, any more than it is possible for human wisdom, steeped in political rhetoric, to judge the thoughts and intentions of other people’s actions.

But what I read on blogs and message boards, where Southern Baptists are able to express their opinions on issues, is not what I’d expect to see from people who claim belief in an inerrant, infallible Bible and hold a “Christian worldview.”  What I see are hints of racial bigotry and prejudice, and the undue influence of a secular, right wing political perspective.  And while the definition of “social justice” in American culture does involve things over which there is some room for debate and there is a difference between Christian principle and American idealism, the perspective being put forth by many Southern Baptists makes them appear to be racist, unsympathetic to suffering and perceived oppression and unduly influenced by secular politics.

The Bible instructs followers of Jesus to be “salt and light.”  Salt, when sprinkled on food, changes the taste because it is a compound containing two elements, sodium and chloride, which react with water and other chemicals to bring about a transformation.  Light simply prevents darkness from taking over.  The Christian perspective on social justice is not to judge whether a particular position is right or wrong, but it is to chase away the darkness so that a transformation can occur.  When a partisan political stance prevents an understanding of someone else’s perspective, or distorts the ability to see things clearly, it has a tendency to weaken Christian influence and nullify the testimony of an evangelistic witness.  The Christian response to perceived oppression and injustice, regardless of whether the cause seems right or wrong, is ministry.  Period.  Many Southern Baptists have lost this vision.  Maybe that’s why they are losing more members than those “liberal” Methodists these days.

There is a real opportunity for ministry here, but I think there are some perceptions which have been created by the too-close association between conservative Evangelicals, including some very visible Southern Baptists, and right wing politics that cut those opportunities off before they happen.  There is probably nothing more difficult than walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, as the expression goes.  We don’t like the thought that our sense of what is right and wrong, which is a product of our own life experiences, are not absolutes, nor perfect solutions to anyone else’s problems.  And we really don’t like coming to grips with the fact that only God can judge the thoughts and intentions of anyone else’s heart, and he doesn’t clue us in on what’s going on in someone else’s life to the point where we can decide that their opinion is wrong, and their life experience was flawed.  Apply that to Colin Kaepernick, and see how that makes you feel.

The Christian position on anything shouldn’t be something that lines up with a political position or a philosophical view.  It should be how to approach people with a ministry heart that demonstrates the love of God to a world that doesn’t know or understand that way of thinking and living.  Most Christians are so convinced of their own righteousness and their own doctrinal purity that they can’t even get along with other Christians.  If you need evidence of that, I’ll just point to the debates going on among Southern Baptists over defining and doing social justice, and the dismissive nature of those who have their narrow minds made up.

Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works.