A Plea for Unity from a Frustrated Pastor

I don’t want to overstate my frustration.  I’m not thinking about giving up on the ministry.  I’m not facing burnout.  I’m not mad at anyone.  I don’t plan on going on a rant.  And I’m not picking on Avondale Baptist Church.  Honestly, on this issue, we are better than most.

But I am frustrated.

What is causing my frustration?

It’s simple.  We are experiencing a severe lack of unity within churches, within denominations, and within the Christian community.  This lack of unity is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus—who wanted His church to be unified.  And this lack of teaching is causing great harm to the church.  Jesus Himself prayed that we “may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  (John 17:23, NIV)

But we’re not unified.

Most of those I know who are living with a lack of unity feel that they are justified in their disunity.  But, honestly, the only two reasons I can find for disunity among believers is either a major issue related to orthodoxy (right doctrines) or orthopraxy (right practices.)  And the disunity in the church today is related to neither of those.

We’re allowing political differences of opinions to separate us.  We’re allowing cultural differences of opinion to separate us.  We’re allowing responses to the pandemic (masks, vaccines, closures, social distancing) to separate us.  We’re allowing secondary doctrinal differences to separate us.  We are allowing church procedures which are of no great importance (though they may seem so at the time) to separate us.

So we argue.  We break fellowship with our church family instead of solving issues.  We hold grudges instead of reconciling.  We write blogs putting down other believers.  We say things about other believers and churches on social media that makes us look petty and immature.  We pass on gossip about other believers or Christian leaders. 

It’s unhealthy.

Unfortunately, we’ve taken our cue from the world rather than from Jesus.  The world—more so today than at any time in my memory—loves to divide, putdown, call names, and separate.  Think of how the world acts:  If you didn’t vote for my candidate, I will call you an idiot (or worse.)  If you don’t agree with my stance on ‘X,” then I won’t do business with you.  If you don’t share my understanding of how to act during the pandemic, I won’t be your friend.

That’s how the world acts.

Believers in Jesus are called to be different.

I’m not calling for uniformity—we will never all be alike, nor should we be.  I’m not calling for unanimity.  We have never experienced (and never will until we gather in heaven) a unanimous opinion on much of anything except the reality of Jesus as God’s Son and the basics of Christian doctrine and Christian living.

I’m calling for unity.

And that takes hard work.  It takes really listening to each other rather than responding with anger.  It requires repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation instead of broken relationships.  It means that we must have the graciousness to be willing to disagree on secondary matters without allowing that disagreement to cause separation.  It means that we need to learn to disagree with class and not pettiness.  It means that we need to learn our behavior from Jesus and not from the world of politics, sports, or entertainment.

Unity is not a secondary issue.  When those outside the church see pettiness and division, they turn away from us.  When people see denominational strife, they stay away from our churches.  When they see anger from believers on social media, it gives them one more reason to say “no” to church and even to Jesus. 

And that destroys our witness and detracts greatly from the Great Commission. 

It’s been a frustrating year, but let’s make sure that we work hard not to take it out on other believers.  We need unity—and love and compassion and forgiveness and reconciliation—to do the work God has called us to do.

As Jesus said, “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” 

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What Does The Bible Say About Minimum Wage?

The Bible doesn’t directly say anything about the minimum wage.  It is a modern political issue.

But the Bible does teach us to be fair to those who work for us.  For example, Deuteronomy 23:4 says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  The teaching is clear.  And if there were any doubt, the New Testament interpretation of the verse makes it obvious—a worker is worthy of his hire and should be paid fairly.  There are many other verses calling on employers (bosses, masters, etc.) to pay fair wages.  (See Malachi 3:5 and Luke 10:7, among many others.)

Any Biblical scholar (or even a casual reader) would agree that we are called by God to be fair to those who work for us.  But the challenge is in defining “fair” in terms of dollars and cents.  And once you decide what “fair” is, you still must decide who defines “fair” and how it should be enforced.

Any attempt—including mine—is likely to be controversial.  But I’ll do my best to be both logical and Biblical.  And I’ll start by comparing today’s minimum wage to when I started working. 

In 1972, at the age of 14, I worked at my first job earning the federal minimum wage of $1.60 per hour.  (I know.  You don’t have to tell me.  I’m old.)  I unloaded trucks, swept floors, stocked shelves, loaded bags of concrete and did whatever else was necessary at my dad’s hardware store.  (When my father hired me, he made sure I understood that I was expected to work twice as hard as everyone else so no one would complain that he “gave” me the job.)  I worked hard for that $1.60 per hour.

Today, the Arizona minimum wage is $12.15 per hour, and I hear grumblings from people my age about how “overpaid” today’s minimum wage earners are.  And they really scream when they talk about the proposed $15 per hour minimum wage.

Are today’s workers overpaid at $12.15?  How about at $15.00?  Let’s do some comparisons between 1972 and 2020.  Here’s the math:

  • In 1972, I only had to work 200 hours of minimum wage work to set aside enough money for a full year’s tuition at a state school like ASU.  In 2020, I would need to work 880 hours at minimum wage to pay for that same year of tuition.
  • In 1972, I had to work a total of 16,750 hours to buy a median priced home.  Today, I would need to work 28,800 hours to buy a median priced home. 
  • Rents have also risen astronomically.  In 1972, a minimum wage worker had to work 68 hours per month to rent a median priced one-bedroom apartment.  Today, it takes about 95 hours of minimum wage work to rent the same median-priced apartment.
  • In 1972, young workers didn’t need to pay for (obviously) computers, cell phones, or the internet.  In today’s world, it’s hard to get a job, keep a job, or get an education without them. 

Clearly, education, housing, and basic needs are important for minimum wage earners, especially if they want to improve their income, learn a skill, and get a career.  Today’s minimum wage (even in Arizona which is higher than many states) isn’t keeping up with life in 1972 in these areas. 

But, to be honest, some things haven’t changed as much as we think.

  • In 1972, I would have had to work 1350 hours to buy an inexpensive new (Ford Pinto) car.   Today, I would have to work about the same to buy an inexpensive new Chevrolet Spark.
  • In 1972, one hour’s work would buy 4.5 gallons of gas.  Today, an hour of work will buy 4 gallons of gas. 
  • Fast food hasn’t changed much.  In 1972, working an hour would buy 2 big macs ($.65 each) and one order of French fries.  In 2021, working an hour will buy two Big Macs ($3.99 each) and two orders of French Fries.  (A Big Mac isn’t my favorite, but it makes for a good comparison since it hasn’t changed much in 50 years!)

For transportation and food, today’s minimum wage hasn’t changed much in 50 years.  But for housing and education, the minimum wage has lost incredible ground.

Many businesses have recognized that wages aren’t high enough for entry level employees.  Aetna, Amazon, Bank of America, Best Buy, Costco, Facebook, Target, and Walt Disney all have a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour.  I applaud these companies, for they raised their wages without the need for federal regulation.  It would help if other well-known companies (are you listening WalMart and McDonalds?) would follow suit.

But even at $15 per hour, it’s hard for a young person to make it.  The costs of housing and education have escalated so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to earn minimum wage, live in an apartment, and get an education.

There are other factors that need to be addressed beyond the minimum wage if we want to be fair to workers in America:

  • The rising price of college and technical schools (and the easy availability of federal money in the forms of tough-to-repay loans) has led to a rapid rise in the cost of getting an education or learning a trade.  Governments would be wiser to invest in low-cost education solutions that don’t put people in deep debt if they truly want to help citizens.  And more businesses must be willing to do in-house skill and trade training without demanding degrees and certifications. 
  • The rapid rise in medical costs put many low-income workers and families into a constant high-risk category of financial trouble.  In most cases, a young worker (even with insurance) can lose everything they have worked for if they end up even briefly in the hospital.  Companies must find a way to help their low-income employees with medical costs.
  • Some of the factors that lead to financial trouble, of course, are self-induced.  We need to do better in schools and churches to teach basic financial literacy like living on a budget and saving for emergencies and big-ticket items.  As a pastor who frequently helps people in financial trouble, I am deeply aware that people don’t have the basic skills to budget, pay taxes (without expensive help), or even cook their own inexpensive meals.
  • And, of course, many people who should be making far more than minimum wage have kept themselves in that category with a poor work ethic, a bad attitude toward the value of work, or a lack of motivation to work harder, learn a skill, and get ahead.  It’s hard for an employer to justify increased wages for workers who don’t show basic job skills such as showing up on time, working hard with a good attitude, and treating other employees and customers with respect. 

So what is the answer to a fair minimum wage?  I don’t believe that I can—from a Biblical perspective—answer that question into specific dollars and cents.  But I will say that I do not believe that we are treating our young and low-income workers fairly.  And we need to do better. 

We could start with these things:

  • Those who hire (or have an influence on wages) should do the math to make sure that an entry-level employee can live decently in their community on the wage they are paid.  It is unfair—and therefore unbiblical—to pay a wage that isn’t enough to make it in today’s world. 
  • Hard-working employees with initiative should be moved out of minimum wage levels quickly.
  • Those in management should find ways to train and develop employees without relying on expensive government schooling and certifications.
  • Those in management should work hard to make sure that they are fair in employment practices beyond the hourly pay.  Attention should be given to fair expectations, time-off, insurance and retirement benefits, working conditions, safety, and more. 
  • Christian consumers should be willing to make their purchases at companies who pay a decent living wage.  Yes, it will cost us a bit more, but it makes a difference.  I don’t want to personally profit on the backs of underpaid workers.

Anytime I write on a somewhat controversial topic, I get some complaints.  (Sometimes, to be honest, they are deserved.)  But let me answer a few potential complaints before you quit reading:

  • Am I a progressive?  No.  I am sometimes called a liberal by conservatives and I am sometimes called a conservative by liberals.  The truth is that I work hard to be neither progressive nor conservative.  I want to be Biblical, and a fair wage is Biblical.
  • Do I believe in social justice?  It depends on how you want to define “social justice.”  Justice itself is Biblical, so I believe in justice.
  • Am I writing to seek an increase in my own wage?  No.  My church has been more than fair in paying me and giving me reasonable expectations and a good working environment.  I have no complaints.
  • Am I being overtly political?  No.  Paying a fair wage is a Biblical topic, and every Christian wants to (or at least should want to) live in accord with Biblical teaching.  It’s a fair topic for Christian discussion—without all the rancor that comes with politics.  I do not—and will not—publicly support a party or a candidate.

It’s both a financial and Biblical issue, so it’s fair to ask, “What’s the bottom line?”  The bottom line is simple.  As Christians we have an obligation to treat employees and workers with fairness.  Jesus’ golden rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated” doesn’t just apply to personal, family, and church relationships.  It applies to the way we do business.  And it applies to the way and the dollar amount we pay our workers.

A worker should be paid fairly.

That’s a Biblical truth.

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A Strong Warning

I’m not sure when Christians in Arizona stopped fighting and began embracing legal and public gambling.

Perhaps it started when Arizona voted to approve a lottery in November of 1980.  Perhaps it began in 1988 when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to promote self-sufficiency and economic development for tribal governments.  Perhaps it was in the early 90’s when casinos began to operate in the state to help impoverished tribal members.

I can remember that Christians almost universally opposed these measures because we saw the harm that addictive gambling brings to families and specifically to impoverished families who are looking for a “quick fix” to their poverty but who end up digging themselves into a bigger hole.

This last week, Arizona signed into law the largest expansion of gambling in Arizona history.  It greatly expands the numbers of casinos (one is planned for the 303 and Northern Parkway in the west valley) and allows full Las Vegas style gambling in all Indian casinos.  It also adds additional sports betting “bookies,” many of which will operate right out of our (taxpayer supported) stadiums and arenas.  It appears likely that sports betting books will operate in conjunction with the Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Coyotes, Phoenix Raceway, and the PGA Tour’s TPC Scottsdale.

For the most part, as Christians, we said nothing while this was being planned.

I’m not blaming other Christians.  I, too, said nothing. 

Maybe we were all distracted by other issues that demanded our attention:  Mass killings, a rising racial divide, election issues, problems at the border, the pandemic, and anger over how to best handle the pandemic. 

Or maybe it snuck up on us because this was passed as an “emergency clause” so it could be implemented immediately without the typical waiting period.  I cannot see any logical reason why an otherwise slow-moving legislature would see an expansion of gambling as an emergency.  The Arizona Constitution defines emergency clauses as pertaining to “laws immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.”

How does expanded gambling qualify?

It may be too late to do something from a legal perspective, but it’s not too late to warn people of the dangers that come with this new law.  The bottom line is that I do not believe that encouraging and legalizing more forms of gambling is good public policy.  It hurts people and families.  And Christian leaders should warn people of the dangers.

For the record, I spent 13 years as a pastor on the fringes of a gambling community.  Though my church was in Arizona, I was only about 20 miles from Laughlin, Nevada.  While I was there, a casino operated by the Mohave Indians opened even much closer to my church.  I saw firsthand the benefits and the problems associated with gambling.  I believe the problems outweigh the benefits.

To be fair, I freely admit that some good was accomplished.  Yes, the gambling industry did provide jobs.  While it is true that most of the jobs were low-end service type jobs, jobs were created.  Yes, the industry did raise money for state governments.  Yes, the jobs did often benefit Native Americans and tribal governments.  And, yes, some people could limit their obsessions and have fun without destroying their lives. 

At the same time, though, the gambling industry contributed greatly to addictive behavior that destroyed individuals and families.  Gaming and drinking (the two go hand-in-hand) contributed to physically addictive behavior like alcoholism and psychologically addictive behavior such as gambling. 

I can’t count the numbers of families I personally counseled—many of them gaming industry employees—who were hurt by one or both of these addictions.  Children were neglected because mom or dad or both were drunk or at the casinos.  Rent couldn’t be paid and groceries couldn’t be purchased because hard-earned money was lost on gambling.  Travelers were stranded when they lost all of their money at the casinos.  Churches, non-profits, and government agencies designed to help people were pushed beyond their abilities and resources.

The lure of “all I need is one big win” turned otherwise reasonable people into unreasonable gamblers who risked far more than they should.  And this lure of free money combined with the lowered cognizant ability of people on alcohol (which is very heavily promoted at casinos for obvious reasons) leads to huge profits for casinos.

And it leads to destroyed families.

Adding in the new lure of sports gambling brings in an entire new group of people into the mix.  Sports fans (and I admit that I am one) tend to be obsessive, often irrational, and, obviously, fanatical.  That will lead to more profits for casinos and bookies.

And more destroyed families.

I am deeply disappointed by our state legislature and governor for passing and signing a law that will increase profits but lead to destructive behavior.  I do not believe they have acted wisely.  As Christians, we should have done more to warn them of the dangers of these new laws.

And for everyone else, I warn you that gambling is psychologically addictive.  It can and does destroy lives and families.  Once the addiction starts, it doesn’t usually stop until all resources are depleted.

I’ve seen it destroy people and families.

I don’t want it to destroy you.

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An Open Letter to Men

Sexual harassment.  Flirtation.  Inappropriate touching.  Obscene comments.  Questionable remarks.  Improper advances.  Suggestive compliments. 

The news has been full—repeatedly—of stories in which men in positions of power and leadership have treated women inappropriately.  Some of the stories detail conduct that can—and should—lead to criminal charges.  Some of the stories detail conduct that can—and should—get you fired from your job or lead you to resign in shame.  Some of the stories detail conduct that can—and should—lead you to be expelled from an office, a retail establishment, a congregation, or a restaurant.

It happens on every level.  In recent days we’ve heard stories about political leaders, church leaders, business leaders, and leaders and athletes in the sports world.  Many women say that it’s a constant fact of life.  Waitresses face it.  Airline attendants face it.  Maids face it.  Retail clerks and cashiers face it.  Secretaries and receptionists face it.  Teachers and professors face it.  It appears to be another pandemic.

It’s time for a definite and immediate change in masculine behavior.

Vaguely worded apologies of the “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know I was offending someone” are no longer good enough.  If you didn’t know it was inappropriate, then you aren’t paying attention—and leaders and all men should be paying attention. 

We need a definite and immediate change in masculine behavior.

Stop it.

The Bible gives us a standard that is clear, easy to understand, and is apparently even more needed today than it was in New Testament times.  The Apostle Paul gave a younger pastor some timeless advice.  He told him to treat “older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”  (I Timothy 5:2, NIV)

It’s as clear as can be and I understood it immediately the first time I read it.  If I wouldn’t say it to my mom or my sister, I shouldn’t say it to another woman.  If I wouldn’t do it to my mom or my sister, I shouldn’t do it to another woman.

The only exception to that rule is my wife.  As long as I treat her respectfully, we can be as suggestive and flirtatious as we want to be. 

It’s not a hard concept to understand.  And it sets a high—and much needed—standard of behavior for men not only in the church, but in business, in politics, and in other professions.

I loved my sister and still think about her often.  (She went home to be with the Lord a few years ago.)  But though I loved her deeply, there was absolutely nothing sexual or inappropriate in that love.  I didn’t think about her in sexual terms.  I would never have flirted with her.  I would never have commented inappropriately about her looks or her body, nor would I have touched her in any way that would make her uncomfortable.

She was loved . . . like a sister.

And that’s how we’re supposed to treat women around us. 

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Why I Don’t Endorse Candidates

I’ve been inundated with questions from members and friends on, “Why didn’t you endorse a candidate last year?” and “Who did you vote for?”  To the frustration of many, I didn’t endorse a candidate or a party, nor have I announced who I voted for in the presidential, senatorial, and other races.  Other than my family, I haven’t told anyone who I voted for.

It’s not because I didn’t vote.  I vote in every general election, nearly all primarily elections, and have rarely missed even a local election since 1976.

And it’s not because I’m ashamed of my vote.  I do my homework, study the candidates and their platforms, and proudly vote for the one I believe is the best choice.  Sometimes I’m a little discouraged by the choices, but I do my best. 

It’s not because I’m a coward—as one person (tongue-in-cheek I hope) accused me of being.  I often speak publicly on controversial issues.  The very gospel of Jesus has become controversial, and I am very clear on what I believe.

The truth is that there are multiple reasons why I don’t endorse candidates or parties.  Here are a few of them:

It violates the tax law for a church or any non-profit organization to endorse a candidate.  If our church were to endorse a candidate, we could lose our tax-exempt status and could face additional penalties.  This applies to both the church and to me if I’m speaking on behalf of or to the church.  I’m allowed to endorse as an individual, but it can’t ever be done in a sermon, in a church publication or letter, in a class, on a webpage, in a blog or social media post, on church letterhead, or at any time when I am speaking for the church or when I am speaking as pastor of the church.  And since nearly all of my public speaking and writing is for the church, I don’t endorse at all.

I can and we can speak to legislation.  For example, I spoke against the recreational marijuana bill in Arizona.  I can and we can speak on a moral issue.  For example, I often speak against abortion.  But I can’t legally endorse a candidate or a political party.

I know other pastors do endorse candidates and parties.  Some are very careful to do so as an individual rather than as the pastor of a church.  Some do so out of ignorance—they don’t know they are risking their church’s tax-exempt status.  And some do so in defiance of the law because they disagree with it and want to challenge it in court.

My stance is simple.  I follow the law and lead our church to do so unless I believe that the law contradicts the Bible.  I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where pastors are called to endorse a candidate. 

The second reason I don’t endorse a candidate is because it hinders our ability to reach people.  Republicans need Jesus.  Democrats need Jesus.  If we are a red church or a blue church, then we are limiting our ability to reach half of the population.  I don’t want people to be turned off because of my politics.  If they are turned off at all, I want it to be because of our stand for Jesus.  I am much more concerned about hearts than votes. 

The third reason I don’t endorse a candidate is because I’m trying to follow the example of Jesus.  There were multiple religious/political parties in Jesus’ day just as there are in our day.  The Pharisees were the traditionalists of Jesus’ day.  The Sadducees took a more liberal viewpoint of things.  The Herodians had a more pragmatic approach and cooperated with the Romans.  The Essenes were separatists who observed a very strict moral code and kept to themselves.  And the Zealots worked to expel the Romans through military action and armed acts of insurrection.  All five groups claimed that “God was on their side,” yet Jesus did not identify with any of them.  As a matter of fact, He was much more likely to “call them out” than to endorse them.  He focused on the kingdom of God rather then the kingdoms of this world. 

The fourth reason I don’t endorse a candidate is because I believe that the real answers to the issues of today are spiritual and not political.  The change we need in America won’t come from Washington.  Passing good laws is a worthy goal, but laws—even good laws—don’t change human hearts.  Only God can change a human heart, and He does that through the work of His Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel.  In the church, I want us to keep our focus on preaching and praying aimed at changing the hearts of individuals.  We are much more likely to change our country one-by-one than through the ballot box.

Finally, let me say that my stance is not temporary and had nothing to do with the politics of 2020.  I have never endorsed a candidate or a party since I began to work in a church.  As a youth pastor in 1980, I heard our interim pastor endorse Jimmy Carter since he was “a fine Christian gentleman and a Baptist.”  I saw the division and discord it brought to the church and I saw it take the church’s focus away from the gospel of Jesus and turn it toward politics.  Since that time, I have lived through the leadership of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.  I did not endorse any of them—or their opponents.

I am not at all opposed to politics.  I think deeply about politics and I have strong opinions about leadership and about candidates.  I encourage church members to vote, to get involved in politics, and even to run for office

But in the church and even as an individual, I want to be known for my stance for Jesus and not for a candidate or a party.

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An Open Letter to Democrats

Congratulations!

Your party has won the presidency as well as control of the Senate and the House.  That puts a significant responsibility on your shoulders for leadership in our country.  And though I have many policy differences with you, I want you to know that my prayers are with you.  I love my country deeply and so therefore I want you to succeed in leading our country correctly in these tough times.

Respectfully, though, I’d like to point out the most significant issue that causes me deep concern and that has kept me—and many other believers in Jesus—from supporting your party in any way.

It is the issue of abortion.

I have heard and even applauded many Democratic leaders who have stood up for the right of those who are underprivileged.  I haven’t always supported your proposed solutions, but I have admired your desire to help the underprivileged.  I have listened to your arguments for racial equality.  I have listened to your arguments for criminal justice reform and the rights of criminals.  I have listened to your arguments for equal pay and equal rights for women.  I have listened to your arguments for improving the pay and rights of underpaid workers.  I have listened to your arguments for those who are members of minority religions and for those who look at morality differently than I do.

Logic and consistency would tell me that I should also be able to listen to your arguments for those who are unborn.  But I don’t hear those arguments coming from your party.

I remember a good friend once telling me that he was a Democrat because “Democrats always stand up for the little guy.”  He didn’t convince me to join your party, but that statement impressed me, because I too want to stand up for the little guy.

But where—in your insistence in standing up for the little guy who cannot stand up for themselves—is your desire to stand up for those who are yet unborn?  Isn’t that a logical extension of your desire to stand up for the little guy?

I’ve heard all the arguments about when life and human rights begin.  Some say that these rights begin at conception, or at implantation, or at viability, or at some specific trimester, or at birth.  I guess I just look at it in simplistic terms.  An unborn baby is a unique human being with their own specific DNA.  As a human being, they should have human rights.  And since they cannot stand up for themselves, others must do it for them.

Why does a party that prides themselves in standing up for the little guy not stand up for the unborn?

What I’m asking you is simple and direct and consistent with everything else that you say.  I’m asking you to start your concern for the underprivileged and for human rights at the earliest possible stage. 

I’m asking you to fight as hard for the rights of the unborn as you do for anyone else. 

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An Open Letter to the Candidates and the Nation

On November 3, America will choose a President.  It may be our existing President Donald Trump elected to another 4-year term.  Or it may be that we elect former Vice-President Joe Biden to a term.

I’m not good at making political predictions, so I won’t even make a guess.  What I do want to do is to address both candidates.  And I want to address the citizens of this nation that I love.

To Donald Trump and Joe Biden:  I ask you both to win or lose graciously.  Our nation has been deeply divided, and it will be the job of both the winner and the loser to help restore peace and unity.  Please show respect to your opponent and accept the election results without bitterness, anger, or accusations.  A nation such as ours requires that we abide by the will of the voters and it requires, when it occurs, a peaceful transfer of power.  Win or lose, we need both of you to show respect for the nation, the voters, and the election process.  You have within your power the ability to further divide us or to promote healing.  Be wise and peaceful in your victory or defeat. 

To the winner:  I won’t agree with you on all issues, but I will accept you as the leader of our nation.  When I disagree with you (and I will, since I am a man of many strong opinions), I will do so respectfully.   I will pray for you, for I want you—for the good of the nation—to be successful.  You will be my president, whether your last name is Trump or Biden.  I won’t play the game that so many people play, “He’s not my President; I didn’t vote for him!”  You will be my President.  Please do your best to be a good, honest, and strong man of faith, prayer, integrity, peace, and wisdom.

To our citizens:  Accept the reality that whoever wins the election will be our President.  Feel free to disagree with him, as long as you can do so respectfully.  Pray for him, for the job he has been elected to do may be the toughest job in the world today, and we need him to succeed.   Please drop the threats to leave our country if you don’t get your way.  And drop the hints of a revolution or a civil war if your candidate doesn’t win.  As Americans, we don’t agree with each other on many issues and that is our right. Nevertheless, I still believe that—no matter who our next President is and no matter which party is in power—the United States of America is a country worth loving, serving, protecting, and respecting.  We all need to act that way.

We have been a deeply divided nation; I don’t want that to continue.  For peace to prevail, we need the cooperation of President Trump, Former President Biden, and all Americans.

Pray for peace.  And act peacefully.

Respectfully,

Pastor Jack Marslender

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The Christian and Voting 2020

I vote.  And I encourage you to vote.  But let me state right up front that I am not going to tell you who to vote for.  I don’t endorse candidates and I don’t endorse parties.  I know some pastors endorse candidates directly, and I know many more who do so indirectly, by saying something such as, “No honest Christian can vote for candidate ‘X’ or for any candidate in party ‘Y.’”  I won’t criticize those pastors, many of whom I deeply admire for their work for Christ.  But years ago, I made the decision not to endorse candidates or parties.  I want to be able to speak truth to both parties.  And that’s harder to do when you support one or the other.

And both parties need a hearty dose of truth more then they need my endorsement.

Before I get into the specifics of how I determine as a believer who to vote for, let me remind you that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms.  Don’t take this as unpatriotic—for it’s not—but my first loyalty as a Christian is to the Kingdom of God.  After that, I am loyal to the United States of America.  I love my country deeply.  I love my God more.  Whenever there is a conflict—and there are always conflicts between God’s kingdom and any earthly kingdom—my priority is the Kingdom of God. 

If we try to unite God’s Kingdom and an earthly kingdom, it will backfire.  It has been tried many times in the Christian era.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Empire tried it.  Several of the protestant reformers in Europe tried it.   Some of the separatists who came to America in the 1600’s tried to set up a theocracy and let the church rule the state.

It has never worked.  And it never will. 

Though we like to say—I do as well—that we are “one nation under God,” we cannot say that we are “God’s chosen nation.”  We operate best when we recognize that church and state are separate.  “A free church in a free state” has long been the ideal.  We can and should influence the state for good, but we cannot equate the two.  No state has ever operated completely by God’s principles.  No state ever will.  There will always be conflict. 

My first priority is God’s kingdom; my second is our country.  When I get the two reversed, God’s work suffers, and I become over-political and under-Christian.  I am afraid that this happens to far too many believers during election cycles.

Despite my prime commitment to God’s Kingdom, I work hard to be a good citizen of the United States of America.  I follow her laws, respect and pray for her leaders, pay my taxes, participate in the customs and holidays of our country, honor those who serve the nation and her communities, and I vote.

I don’t take my vote lightly.  I spend much time in research, reading, evaluating, listening, and praying before I vote.  I have never voted by party loyalty, which has frustrated many of my friends who have great loyalty to a party.  I do examine all candidates in the light of Biblical teaching on leadership.  At least in my mind, I look for three broad things in a candidate—character, competence, and core values.  Let me explain:

The first thing I look for is Character.  To get my vote, a candidate must convince me that they are a man or woman of character.  They must speak the truth, have a deep level of integrity in both their personal and public life, treat people with love and respect, have high moral standards, have a long record of compassion and generosity, and keep their word.  (I’m not looking for perfection, for it does not exist in this world, but I do want to know that past mistakes and sins have been admitted to and repented of.)  It helps if the candidate is honest and open about their family life, their personal morality, their finances, and their business life, for public action is based on personal character.

In the last election, I heard many objections to putting such a high premium on character:

  • “I’m not voting for a pastor, I’m voting for a President.”  Sorry, but Biblical standards of leadership apply to all people, not just pastors.  You cannot so easily dismiss Biblical teaching.
  • “All have sinned and all men are flawed, so you can’t hold it against them.”  Of course, all men have sinned. Of course, all men have flaws, but that does not negate in any way the Biblical teachings on honesty, integrity, morality, love, or any other virtue.  Continued sin or a pattern of sin that is unadmitted and unrepented of indicates a serious character flaw.  We can’t use a legitimate Biblical doctrine (“all have sinned”) to justify continued ungodly behavior—and especially not in a leader. 
  • “God can use an ungodly leader for His purposes.”  That is another great example of taking a doctrine out of context to justify voting for an ungodly person.  Of course, God can use anyone for His purposes, and there are many kings in the Old Testament and people in the New Testament to illustrate it.  In the New Testament era, for example, God used both King Herod and Judas for His eternal purposes, but I wouldn’t vote for either one of them for any leadership position.  Interestingly enough, I heard that line of thinking, that “God can use an ungodly leader” to justify voting for both Clinton and Trump in the last election.  If you carry that position too far, then why are we voting anyway, since God can use anyone?
  • “I’m voting for the platform, not for the candidate.”  Sorry, but platforms aren’t on the ballot.  Only people are on the ballot.  This is a nice sounding statement, and I understand why people say it, but it isn’t completely honest.  In the American republic, we vote for individuals.  (For example, I am a strong believer in a balanced approach to budgeting.  It’s nearly always been in the party platform of at least one party and sometimes both, but once in office, it is usually forgotten.)  Platforms are an attempt to get votes but they don’t make policy; people do.

There is a reason I put character first in my list.  I believe that it is the most important Biblical qualification for leadership.  It is the first thing I look for in a candidate in any race, from local school board member to president.    

The second thing I look for is Competence I also want to know if the candidate is competent to do the job for which he is running.  Does he (or she) have the necessary skills, talents, temperament, and experience to do the job?  If I’m voting for a school board member, I want to know if that person has a solid operating knowledge of education, districts, schools, budgets, teachers, and student needs.  If the person is running for a legislative office (Senator, Representative, etc.), I want to know that the person knows how to get things done in a legislative body. Can he or she work with others who disagree?  Is the person a good communicator?  Does the candidate have the intelligence and perseverance to work through the long process that turns an idea into a bill and see it through to become a law?  Is the person an independent thinker rather than just supporting the party agenda?  Does the candidate have the emotional stability and self-discipline to handle disagreement and even anger?

And, of course, if the person is running for President, there are more necessary skills than any one person can possess.  So I want to know if the candidate can attract and work with top-quality people who know their field of expertise such as the military, the economy, intelligence, housing, medicine, business, education, justice, international trade, diplomacy, etc.  Does the candidate have the temperament and ability to listen to, recognize, and accept good advice from experts?  Can the candidate communicate effectively to all Americans and set a positive leadership tone for the country as a whole?  Is the candidate able to pull an increasingly diverse group of citizens together in times of crisis?  Can the person handle both the domestic and international issues that a president must deal with?  Can the candidate make—and stick with—the tough decisions that will benefit the country over the long years even if the decision is unpopular?  Does the candidate have the right balance of compassion and toughness?

Character is the first essential, but character without competency—the ability to do the job at a very high level—will lead to disaster.  There are multiple examples in American history of men of good character who simply weren’t competent enough to do the job.

I’ve made a promise to myself and to God.  I won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t have the character and the competency to do the job.  It doesn’t matter to me what party they are a part of or even what their platform is.  If they don’t qualify in those two areas, I will not vote for them.  I will not vote for the “lesser of two evils” if neither of the “two evils” has the character or competency necessary to do the job.  Occasionally, but rarely, this means that I could not vote for anyone in a race.

The third thing I look for is where many start: Core Values.  I need to know whether the core values of the candidate are close enough to my core values. The “core values” I’m talking about are deeper than a candidate’s “platform.”  I want to know what the candidate really believes and what they will really work for based on their talk, their voting history, and their track record.  It’s easy to say what you will do during the election cycle; it’s much tougher to do it when you’re in office.

For that reason, I’m a skeptic on party platforms.  Too many candidates say whatever it takes to get the vote.  We see it in the “dance” of most politicians.  Democrats participate in what I call the “Democratic Shuffle.”  They “move to the left” in the primary to get the party loyalists and then “move to the center” to get the independent voters.  The Republicans do the “Republican Shuffle” by moving to the right and then back to the center.  It may get votes, but it just leaves me thinking, “Who are they?” and “What will they stand for—and work for—once elected?”

Still, though, I look at their platforms to see if their stance on issues aligns with the Bible on issues such as abortion, the economy, the environment, fair wages, family, immigration, justice, poverty, race, and world peace.  I want to know if they have a plan to deal with our huge deficit, with cleaning up our air and water, and with solving a coming Social Security crisis.  I want to know their thoughts on fair tax rates.  I want to know their thoughts on police, the military, government regulations, the border, and what to do with “Dreamers.”  I want to know their thoughts on economic fairness and how to solve the huge poverty issue in America.  I want to know how they will work with other world leaders and what they think about our role in international affairs and world issues.

I’m pretty sure I won’t agree with any candidate on all the issues—I’m far too opinionated for that.  But I do want to know that a candidate has a consistent track record on the issues and that they have done enough thinking, talking, praying, and working that I can be sure of their stance.  I don’t expect to agree on all issues, but I do want to know what their core values are.

So that’s what I’m looking for in a candidate.  Is the candidate a person of high moral character?  Is the candidate a competent leader?  And does the candidate have core values that align closely enough with mine that I can vote for him?

I believe that we hurt the cause of Christ when we support, campaign for, endorse, and promote candidates who don’t meet these standards.  We often complain about the poor quality of candidates.  We may have inadvertently contributed to that by our willingness to endorse candidates of low character, incompetency, or with core values that don’t come close to aligning with the Bible.

Understand that I am not speaking for-or-against any 2020 candidate by name or implication.  And I am not speaking as a member of any particular party.  I am speaking as a Christian and a citizen of the United States of America who deeply loves our country.  The political process often frustrates me, but I will continue to seek and vote for leaders of good character who show every indication that they are competent and have solid core values.

So I am doing my best on all levels to find candidates that meet these standards.  And I encourage you to do the same.  These standards are needed by our leaders if we really want to be “one nation under God.”

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Politics For Believers

We are now deep into election season, which seems to get longer every year.  It’s easy to get cranky and frustrated—and maybe even more than a little bit angry—during political season. As a matter of fact, candidates want us to get angry. They know that an angry person is more easily manipulated and is more likely to vote.  

But what frustrates me the most are not the issues and statements of the candidates.  What most troubles me are the lies, the filth, the innuendos, the out-of-control anger, and the name-calling by believers who know better—but who allow the anger of the moment to justify their unchristian behavior.

I don’t like having to cringe and hang my head because of something said or posted by a fellow follower of Jesus.  But as a pastor who wants to be fully committed to Jesus, has a deep love for his country, and has a real interest in the political world, I see that it is happening more often.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want believers to be involved in the political process.  Think through and pray through the issues—from a Biblical perspective.  Share your opinions—respectfully.  Volunteer for a candidate or a party—after you’ve done your homework.  Run for office yourself.  Vote. 

But do it all in a way that honors Jesus.

Let me carefully suggest some guidelines for believers in Jesus who want to be involved in politics:

  • Refuse to use putdowns and to call names.  Feel free to tell me what you like about Candidate A, but don’t tell me that Candidate B is an idiot.  Feel free to tell me why you disagree with Candidate B, but don’t tell me he is stupid (or worse.)  If you can’t debate respectfully—don’t!
  • Refuse to post or repost or quote anything you haven’t verified.  One of the reasons there are so many lies on social media is that we are too quick to repost something.  Remember that when you repost something, it goes out under your name.  If it is a lie and you haven’t taken the time to verify it, you become a liar. 
  • Refuse to attempt to align Jesus with any political party.  Jesus refused to align Himself with any of the philosophical/political parties in His day.  (He was not a Pharisee, a Sadducee, an Essene, or a Herodian.)  It is wrong to try to align Jesus with any political party in our day. 
  • Refuse the temptation to become so political that you become first-and-foremost an evangelist for a party or a candidate.  Believers are first-and-foremost evangelists for Jesus, and if others don’t see that, we lose our voice as Christians.
  • Refuse to allow your party to dictate your thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.  Our thinking on the issues of today (race, war, taxes, the economy, the environment, disease, the role of government, violence, etc.) must come from the Bible. 
  • Refuse to allow a friendship or a relationship to be broken because of politics.  (I’m tired of the, “If you believe this . . . go ahead and unfriend me” posts that are popular on Facebook.)  Honestly, I have many friends I disagree strongly with—from the extreme conservatives to the extreme progressives.  I can debate with them and strongly disagree, but I can also still love them.
  • Refuse to act or to state that “all is lost” if we elect Party A.  Do we not believe that God is still God and that He can work even through ungodly people?  And hasn’t He done so numerous times throughout history?  If we honestly believe that the soul of our nations depends on any one election, we overvalue our votes and undervalue the power and sovereignty of God.
  • Refuse to offer simplistic and shallow (but unfair) historical parallels.  (I’ve seen posts and memes comparing President Trump to Hitler.  From the other side of the aisle, I’ve seen the same comparing Vice-President Joe Biden to Hitler.)  As intelligent believers in Jesus, we should raise the level of our debate above the junior high level and show some respect to our current and potential leaders.
  • Refuse to be unfair.  (If you say that something Candidate A said 25 years ago isn’t relevant because they’ve changed, then apply that same standard to Candidate B.  If you see character flaws in Candidate B that disqualify him from office, use that same standard for Candidate A.)

Understand where I’m coming from.  My commitment to Jesus—if I’m a Christian—has to override my commitment to any candidate and party.  And so therefore, I must live in such a way (even in politics) that gives honor and glory to God and that follows His standards.

I respectfully ask the same of every believer in Jesus.

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Finding Truth on the Internet (or anywhere else!)

Like many families with school-age children in the 1960’s and 70’s, my parents bought a very expensive but very helpful encyclopedia set. It had 30 volumes and came with 10 years-or-so of annual supplements that provided us with new knowledge and corrections. It became for us (after the Bible of course) the “standard” of truth that we all agreed was an acceptable solver-of-questions, referee-of-arguments, and source for school papers. Even though we knew that scientific answers were changing rapidly and history was being lived right before our eyes, we accepted it as a fair and unbiased statement of facts.

When it comes to faith, I still have an ultimate standard in the Bible. And I spend a lot of time praying that I will understand it correctly. But when it comes to scientific, historical, medical, or political truth, there is no such accepted standard upon which we all agree anymore.

So I am deeply concerned about our ability to know and understand the truth—on nearly every subject in the public eye. Politics, medicine, religion, science, and any number of other subjects are increasingly pointed and polarized, with news articles, social media posts, videos, and newscasts giving half-truth, partial-truth, their-side-of-the-truth, altered-truth, made-up-truth, and untruth. It’s often hard to find the truth in the mix of opinions, slants, and lies that surround us on a daily basis.

And I want to know the truth. I’ve spent much of my life studying the Bible and applying those truths. But I also want to know the truth about the coronavirus. About climate change. About vaccines. About the accusations against politicians. About the age of the universe. And about a hundred other things.

In recent weeks I’ve read the truth and the lies about the coronavirus, vaccinations, and other medical issues—and sometimes wondered what was true and what was false. I’ve read the truth and the lies and the exaggerations about President Trump and Vice-President Biden. I’ve read the truth and the lies about Christianity, Islam, and churches. I’ve read the truths and the lies about racism, murders, crimes, and other current news articles.

It frustrated me, but unfortunately, I’m finding that many people like to live in a world of untruth. They don’t want truth. They want their opinions confirmed and validated and they will seek out a source of news, or science, or medicine that will conform what they already think. Having a ready source of distorted truth is easier than thinking and trying to understand.

Discernment, the ability to judge between opinions in an effort to find the truth, is a lost art.

Unfortunately, this seems to be exceptionally true in the Christian world. We have purposely and understandably put our blinders on to keep out that which is false. The net result, though, is that in our blindness we are heavily influenced by a small number of opinion makers—many of whom may be wrong.

And we have forgotten how to think for ourselves.

But for those of you who want truth and are dissatisfied with the lack of it all around us, I offer you six steps to find the truth on the internet, or anywhere else.

STEP ONE: Seek the truth. If you are just looking for someone to validate your already-formed opinion, that is always easy to find. But if you really want to find the truth, it will take some digging, some reading from both sides of the aisle, some deep thinking, and some discernment. 

For example, if you already have the opinion that President Trump is one of the greatest presidents in history, I could point you to hundreds of articles and videos that will confirm your thinking. If you already have the opinion that President Trump is one of the worst presidents in history, I could point you to hundreds of articles and videos that will confirm your thinking.  But the truth may be far more nuanced, and if you want the truth, you will have to go deeper, look at both sides of the argument, and wade through the opinions and exaggerations of a multitude of modern newsmakers. You would also have to have a good grasp of United States history as well as a good understanding of Biblical principles of leadership. It would help to have a better-than-average grasp of business, science, international affairs, political science, economics, political ethics (is there still such a thing?) and much more.

It’s easy to form an opinion. It’s much harder to find the truth. And on any given subject, it takes hard work. Truth only comes to those who really seek it and put in the work to find it.

STEP TWO: Read everything with skepticism. Every writer, speaker, and newsmakers has an opinion, a bias, and a point of view—so anything said is coming from a certain perspective. It is necessary to understand that perspective and have a healthy level of skepticism about anything that is said—even if that word comes from your favorite politician, pastor, musician, or commentator.

For example, Fox News has a pro-President Trump and pro-Republican bias. And CNN has an anti-President Trump and pro-Democratic bias. Remember that. See through it. And figure that into your thinking.

I’m not criticizing them. I’m just pointing out that it is healthy to be skeptical of any anti-Trump thing said on CNN and any pro-Trump thing said on Fox. Other news organizations have built-in biases as well, from the far-left to the far-right. I’m not saying that you can’t find truth in these places; I’m just saying that you have to account for the bias before you accept their version of truth.

By the way, it’s true of me as well. If I were to try to give you an accurate comparison/contrast of Christianity and Islam, you would recognize my bias. I would try to be fair and accurate, but my bias is there. It is real. And I don’t deny it. I’m a believer in and a follower of Jesus, so clearly I have a built-in opinion. Someone seeking truth might want to balance my words with a Muslim speaking on the same subject, and I would have no problem with that, for (and here is my bias) I believe that someone who has heard both sides of the argument will choose faith in Jesus.

Extend your critical thinking to all sources. Some news agencies (AP for example, and to a lesser degree USA Today) do a decent job of being fair and unbiased in their news reporting, but not in their commentaries. Skeptics and critical thinkers, though, will look for the bias, account for it, balance it with bias from the other side, and use discernment before concluding that they have found the truth.

STEP THREE: Fact check everything. Unfortunately, most people lie on a regular basis. And those who don’t lie can and do make serious mistakes. The only solution for us if we hope to find the truth is that we fact-check everything we read.

For example, I listened to two news radio stations yesterday. One said that the United States has tested far more people for coronavirus than South Korea.Less than ten minutes later, the other station said the EXACT opposite. Both inundated me with numbers, statistics, and expert opinions. Both cannot be right. If I want to know the truth, I have some real research to do.  I haven’t done it yet, so I’ll withhold my judgment.

Here’s another example. I have heard all of my life that “Republicans are business-oriented and so the stock market increases more rapidly when a Republican occupies the White House.” It seemed to be accepted truth, but I decided to fact-check it for myself. I set up a spreadsheet covering the last 10 presidential terms, recording the Dow Jones averages at the beginning and ending of each term. I now know the truth about stock market increases for the last forty years, for every president from Reagan to Trump. 

I won’t share my data in this blog, because I’m not promoting Republicans or Democrats.  (But feel free to email me if you feel you must know.) Instead, I’m encouraging you to do your own fact-checking before you accept what anyone tells you is “true.” Your opinions will be better-informed and more likely to be true.

(And, yes, some people have told me I’m a little obsessive in seeking the truth, but I’d rather know for sure than accept what someone told me—even when it seems to be widely accepted as true.)

STEP FOUR: Seek informed opinions. Some opinions are much more informed than others, so seek the opinions of those with expertise in that area. If you seek scientific truth, seek the opinions of scientists with a great reputation for honesty and professionalism who have published in established scientific journals. If you seek medical truth, find it in doctors who have done thorough research and whose work has been peer-reviewed.  (That means that other medical researchers have thoroughly read and reviewed the opinion before it was published.) For history, seek the input of thorough historians who have researched in primary sources. For preachers who claim to know what the “Greek” really means, ask them to read directly from a Greek New Testament.  (Don’t ask me; I can’t do it quickly enough to satisfy myself or my Greek professor—Dr. Mike Baird.) There is a reason why I don’t use much Greek or Hebrew in my preaching. I’m not an expert in either language.

You get the idea. In every field of research, there are those who have done their homework over many years. They aren’t perfect in their understanding of truth, but their opinions must be carefully considered and not easily rejected without real evidence.

Today, unfortunately, we tend to look at the wrong things. “This video has gone viral and has been viewed X times” means nothing in the realm of truth, other than people watched it. “My friend read this article and really likes it” tells you nothing about the article, even if you really like your friend and think he is wise. Is the author credible and does he have expertise in his subject matter?  Is the article or video peer-reviewed by other experts?

We often enjoy conspiracy theories which go against the flow of accepted medical, scientific, or economic theories, but there is a reason why the accepted theory is the widely accepted theory. Usually, it’s because the accepted theory has the weight of scientific and medical data and research on their side. Don’t be quick to accept the new and the exciting without reading the accepted theories. 

You may have a different opinion than I do—and I won’t criticize you for it—but there are many scientific reasons why vaccines are considered to be safe and effective, why climate change appears to be human-caused, why a diet high in fruit and vegetables is good for you, and why the universe is billions of years old.

Don’t automatically buy into the argument of those who contradict widely accepted theories without first reading and understanding why the accepted theory is so widely accepted. Always seek the opinions of those who are accepted leaders in their field.  It’s an important step in finding truth.

STEP FIVE: Read both sides of an argument before you form an opinion. I get a lot of flack for this one from my politically oriented friends. I firmly believe that if you want to know what’s happening in politics today, you should listen to both Fox and CNN and maybe three or four others to get all sides of an argument. I want to hear directly from “the other side” of whatever issue I’m thinking about. It’s not enough for me to hear “my side” tell me what the “other side” is thinking or saying.  They don’t usually get it right.

If I only listen to “my side,” I’m not really thinking. I’m just seeking validation for what I already believe.

There is a big political race going on in my state (Arizona) and I had heard repeatedly that one of the two candidates wants to “take our guns away.” I was more-than-surprised when I heard him say when asked about it, “I probably own more guns of more types than anyone in this room, and I intend to keep them.” I’m still not sure I agreed with his overall stance, but at least I heard it from him, and his stance was much more nuanced than what his critics were saying. 

Here’s another example. I grew up attending many classes (in Baptist Churches) on denominations and cults, and so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Mormons thought.  It wasn’t until I talked to a Lutheran, an Episcopalian, and a Mormon that I had a good handle on their beliefs. I had the general facts right—but not the nuances and emphases. I told a Mormon acquaintance, “But you guys believe this, one of your prophets said so.” His answer caught me by surprise, “I’ve been an active Mormon for 20 years, and I’ve never heard that. I don’t know if he said it or not so I won’t dispute it, but that is not at all what I’ve been taught.” Obviously, I’m still a Baptist and not a Lutheran, Episcopalian, or a Mormon, so their arguments didn’t convince me. But I am a better Baptist because I’ve heard their beliefs directly from then.

I was recently criticized by a well-meaning friend when I said that I wanted to talk to a transgender person. (My friend just said, “You don’t have to talk to one to know that they’re wrong.”) My motivation is simple—I want to hear their story directly from them. I want to be fair and know if my assumptions about their thinking are right or wrong. I have an opinion, but it is only fair to listen to their point of view. I will be better informed if I do.

STEP SIX: Be willing to change your mind when new evidence arises. Let me tell you of an experience I had in a class at the University of Arizona.  (Sorry, Sun Devils, for mentioning the school. I hope you won’t stop reading.)  I had always been interested in space, so when I needed a science course, I jumped at the change to take an introductory astronomy course.

It was a big class in a big lecture hall. On day one, the professor came in, introduced himself and gave the standard talk about the course, the syllabus, the expectations, and the textbook. He pointed out that the textbook had just been published and that he himself was the primary author. We were duly impressed that someone with his credentials would be teaching the introductory course.

He shocked us, though. He said, “Let me show you what I think of the textbook.” He held it gently for a few seconds, and then threw it noisily into a metal garbage can he had placed on the platform. “New research in the last year has shown that many of my theories are wrong. I will change them in the second edition, but by the time it is published, much more may be wrong.

I was impressed that an expert would be willing to change his opinion when new evidence arises. But that is exactly what wise people do.

So seek truth. Search for it. Don’t just accept what your friends or heroes say. Don’t watch the latest video on social media without a critical eye. Don’t listen to your favorite commentator or politician or friend or musician or celebrity or pastor and automatically believe that they know the truth.

Truth will only be discovered when the real work of seeking it has been thorough and honest.

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