Political scientists and historians are increasingly expressing profound concerns about the future of democracy in the West. I have been asking, as an amateur historian of America, “How and why do democracies die?”
The study of democratic backsliding, though around for a long time, is becoming more urgent as we watch events unfold so rapidly it creates deep concern in many of us. In the mid-2000s, the global spread of democracy, after 200 years of expansion, clearly began to stall. Perhaps it was the Iraq War and the events in the Middle East but however we understand what happened since 9/11 populist movements in the West began to arise and grow in number. This new form of Western populism, joined with a growing passion for nationalism and a seriously distorted form of exceptionalism, are now impacting America on a daily basis. This feels a lot like something we’ve seen before, in other places, but I do not think mosts of us are paying attention.
This new expression of Western populism bears more than a passing resemblance to Latin American populist waves that turned authoritarian very quickly. (Perhaps this
Late late night I read the first news reports of our president’s authorization of the launch of fifty missiles on Syrian air bases. (He warned the Russians in advance so their soldiers would leave, wanting to avoid a direct conflict with Russia.) It appears this morning that we hit military targets and human casualties will be small, perhaps even none. The reason for this attack was the outrage felt by our nation, and our president, upon seeing the helpless children who had died at the hands of President Assad through the use of chemical weapons. (Of course, Assad is denying he was behind this and blames the rebellion for the use of such weapons.)
I am deeply troubled by these events. Let me explain why.
Is this strike a one-time military action? If not, what is our strategy going forward? If there is “no red line” that Assad can cross to lead us into a “hot war” with him (which Mr. Trump promised for months he would not do) then why did these photos of dead children prompt this response and why now? Is there a policy for
There are very few historical personalities with the magnetism of the famous Augustinian monk Martin Luther. Make no mistake, Luther has been praised and vilified. For some he bears specific blame for dividing the church. For others he remains a hero because he recovered the gospel and opposed massive church abuses. Love him or hate him, Martin Luther gets a response.
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Some Protestants are aglow with celebration, while others would rather not talk about it. Catholics are more interested than ever, even open to new dialogue about some of Luther’s burning concerns. Pope Francis himself marked the anniversary October 31, 2016, with a historic trip to Lund, Sweden. He met with leaders from the Lutheran World Federation to celebrate a document titled: “From Conflict to Communion.” The document does not pretend to solve all the disagreements between Lutherans and Catholics. It does something more important by seeking forgiveness for our multiplied divisions. The pope and the Lutheran leaders look for greater celebration of our differing gifts while
Our American commitment to perpetual war now seems fairly self-evident. We have been engaged in some kind of military conflict, almost without significant pause, since the end of the Vietnam War. Our current military action in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the wider Middle East) is nearing fifteen years and there is virtually no reason to see a real (final) end in sight with the election of an aggressive military advocate now in the White House. The president is surrounded by generals who believe in the goals and commitments of our present time in military history and thought the strategic use of force might change I am not convinced it will bed for the better. Let me explain.
Warmongers and militarists talk about bombing North Korea, or at least increasing our presence on their border, if necessary. They also talk about intervening in the Syrian civil war. We continually talk about “defeating ISIS” by “bombing the hell out of them” through using the full power of our vast military power to destroy them, a prospect that has
One of the most persistent problems I face, as both a Christian thinker and leader, is to confuse my plans with God’s plans. I seek God, I pray, and I read widely and study a great deal. I often see a clear way forward, at least sometimes. I sometimes feel quite sure I know what God wants. But my plans are not God’s plans. I have learned this again and again over nearly seven decades of life. But I still fall into the trap even as I watch others do the same in large numbers.
The hope of humanity is Jesus Christ. This hope is clearly being challenged today. It is challenged by politicians. It is challenged by social engineers. It is challenged by entrepreneurs. And it is challenged by ministers as well. Dr. Ralphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta since 2005, rightly says, “It takes a tough mind and a tender heart to hold on to hope.” It sure does.
I have found holding on to hope very difficult over the last twelve months. I personally came through a quintuple heart
Today, February 4, is the 110th birthday of the German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I arrived at Wheaton College, as a transfer student in January of 1969, one of the first great joys I experienced was finding the story of Bonhoeffer for the first time. The classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, was my introduction. Later I read his prison papers, a few of his works on ethics and a lot of biography. I did not understand this theology then, and still do not fully understand it now, but I knew greatness and humility when I saw it. Bonhoeffer was truly a great Christian! But here is the point often missed – he was not a “safe” Christian. Anyone who reads him soon realizes that Bonhoeffer was not a typical pastor.
Too few of us have read Bonhoeffer and fewer still have grasped his importance, especially to the modern West. (The popular biography of him a few years ago was helpful in some respects but it also gave some distorted images and caused
Many evangelical and conservative Christians, especially older white Christians of conservative persuasion, are weary of the popular slogan: “Black Lives Matter.” Some are even angry at the actual movement that is associated with this name and believe it is harmful to our culture. I’ve heard various responses regarding this negative view of the slogan and the movement but the most common is that this is a bogus notion because Christians should say, and believe, that: “All Lives Matter.” The truth is, as often is the case, much deeper and more socially and personally nuanced.
It is true that “All Lives Matter.” From conception to the grave life matters. This is, at least for the broad tradition of Christian faith and practice, the truth. This is why I believe the death penalty needs to be abolished. It has become a “cruel and unusual punishment” in its present form. (This assumes it was right in the past and I even question this conclusion on ethical grounds as I understand the New Testament and the teaching of our Lord.) I also believe environmental concerns must become the concern of the
Like so many I have had a mixture of feelings and responses to President Jimmy Carter over the years. It seems to me that most critics, left and right, have freely attributed to him the label of “poor president” or “political failure.” I wonder what history, long after his death, will actually say. Many thought that Harry Truman was a failure until after his death. Maybe Carter’s legacy will meet a similar fate but I have my doubts. If a president is known for his legislative accomplishments then Carter will always be seen as mediocre at best. Among conservatives he is loathed and even seen as the definition of failure and disappointment. (This was true at least until we elected President Barack Obama, who is now classed as lower than Jimmy Carter ever was by the same critics.)
It is ironic, perhaps, that Jimmy Carter is the only U.S. president I actually met in person. (It was brief and not memorable.) I have been to most of the presidential libraries and museums and read a great
I cannot tell you how impressed I am by the leadership, courage and clarity of President Michael Lindsay of Gordon College. This is, in my view, the kind of leadership we need in Christian higher education. I will be watching and praying for Michael Lindsay with great hope and joy for Christ and his kingdom, which happens to be the motto of my college, Wheaton.