For All the Oppressed: A Response to Mr. Steve Deace

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A handful of folks on Twitter tagged me with a link to Steve Deace’s reaction to my recent WaPo editorial. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to first read my editorial and then read Mr. Deace’s reaction. It will help if you actually read each author in order in their own words and not depend on their representation of each other.

Go ahead . . . take a moment to read both.

Okay . . . you’re back. There are three kinds of people in his article: flawed men, straw men, and idolatrous men. Here’s what I’d like to say in reaction to Mr. Deace’s piece.

Flawed Men

Mr. Deace contends that all men are flawed—sometimes tragically so—but God can and does use them.

I entirely agree with him on this point. My op-ed is not about whether God can and is using President Trump (or any other flawed leader). I believe God can and, in fact, is using President Trump. But saying that isn’t saying much. We have to move on to ask some more difficult questions about how and where God might be at work in this or any presidency. Is God judging the country as some Christians proclaim? Is God saving the country as other Christians maintain?

The truth is probably in the middle. If righteous rulers are a blessing to a nation, and we conclude that President Trump is not all that righteous, then it seems there’s reason to be concerned at least about God withholding his blessing in some way and perhaps reason to be concerned for God’s judgment. After all, if I understand Romans 1:18-32, which comes well before Romans 13:1-7, God is right now revealing his wrath against all the ungodliness of men. Bible Christians would do well to ask how that may be happening and how we might intercede for righteousness and for “all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8)—not just the group of destitute persons we care most about.

On the other hand, we also have to stop to consider how God may be using an unrighteous ruler to advance righteousness in other quarters. After all, the Lord used a pagan king to grant permission for the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see Ezra and Nehemiah). He turns the hearts of rulers as if turning the course of water (Prov. 21:1). So, it’s right to have some prayerful hope that a pro-life or anti-abortion judge might be nominated and that such a nomination might be confirmed and lead to overturning Roe v. Wade, or at least extending greater latitude to the states for militating against abortion. That would be a tremendous blessing from God. One that Christians (the entire country really!) should celebrate.

In either case, Deace is certainly correct that the Lord uses flawed men to do his will. The question before us isn’t whether that’s the case but what is God’s will and where should we join it.

Straw Men

Overall, I think Mr. Deace fills his piece with straw men. It begins with the title of his piece, “Pastor: Keep Killing Babies Because I Hate Trump.” That’s certainly click-bait worthy of our hot-take age. But it’s not at all a representation of what I wrote in my op-ed. If the first duty of debate is to represent your opponent in a fashion that he could recognize himself, then Mr. Deace fails at job one.

In the second line of the piece, I include myself in the judgment I think awaits a morally complicit church and country and include myself among the pro-life evangelicals I largely have in view with the op-ed. Characterizing the piece as “pro-abortion as long as we oppose Trump” is hardly an accurate representation.

So my point isn’t lost, here are a few more lines from my second paragraph:

many evangelical Christians explained that their vote was not a vote for Trump as such but was the best option they had in light of the potential for appointing pro-life Supreme Court justices in the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade. If one cares about protecting the lives of unborn children aborted by the hundreds of thousands each year, one can understand the logic. Clearly a President Hillary Clinton would have done nothing to curtail abortion and would very likely have done a great deal to expand policies protecting the practice.

Near the end of the op-ed, I add these lines:

In sheer numbers, more lives are ended by legalized abortion [in comparison to other injustices I list]. Christians are correct to focus energy and concern on ending the practice.

There’s zero sense in the piece that we should do anything but end abortion.

However, the piece does contend that there are other things to end as well. It seems to me the angst in Mr. Deace’s post is caused by those other things, not by my imagined opposition to abortion or a Supreme Court nominee that might bring us closer to ending it. In that way, his entire piece jousts a straw man. Burn the straw man if you like, but that will do nothing for helping the church get more vocal about a wider range of issues that the Bible calls us to address.

Idolatrous Men

Mr. Deace chose idolatry to frame his piece. It’s always correct for us to be wary of idolatry. Calvin told us, rightly, I think, that the human heart is an idol factory. I think Mr. Deace is correct and perceptive to say there’s idolatry on the “NeverTrump” and the “AlwaysTrump” side of the spectrum. Each side, in their own way, can have a fixation bordering on fanatical worship of something or someone that is not God.

I believe Pres. Trump to be ruinous for the country, but idolatrous opposition of Trump does not drive me. Opposing Trump does not get me up in the morning.

What does get me up in the morning is another day of fresh mercy with which I hope to serve God with all my heart, mind, and strength (Lam. 3:22-23; Matt. 22:37). What does awaken me is the unfathomable grace that allows me to call Jesus “Lord” and to endeavor to obey everything He has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).

Truthfully, that’s where the biggest disagreement lies between Mr. Deace and me. Mr. Deace thinks that defeating Roe v. Wade and abortion is “the pre-eminent moral concern of the Word of God.” No. It’s not. I am not aware of any text anywhere in the Bible that specifies abortion as the “pre-eminent moral concern of the word of God.” If we’re talking God’s moral law, there still remain ten. At the top of the list is love for God above all else. Such love is not mere sentiment; such love is a moral responsibility for which we give an account.

Mr. Deace seems to apply the wisdom instruction to “rescue those being taken away to death and hold back those being led away to slaughter” (Prov. 24:11) solely to abortion. But that text is not a narrow reference to abortion. It certainly does apply to abortion. But as my op-ed argues, that same text and others like it apply to mass incarceration, sex trafficking, exploitation of minors in drug trafficking, and a host of other injustices the Bible calls God’s people to condemn.

If there is idolatry at work, it’s the idol some Christians have made of ending abortion and the tendency, as Mr. Deace demonstrates, of making abortion not the greatest moral concern of our day but the only moral concern of our day.

Mr. Deace and I appear to have widely divergent visions of the Christian life and of the God we worship.

Here’s the truth about God from the Bible as it relates to this topic: “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Ps. 103:6). Or as the prophet Zephaniah put it: “The LORD within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame” (Zeph. 3:5).

That’s the Lord I serve, and he does all things well. We need to join him in doing righteousness and justice in our day, and we need to attempt it on every front where he is working. That means applauding a righteous thing that a flawed President might do, but also opposing an unrighteous thing that same President might do elsewhere. Failing to do so is at best inconsistency and sometimes hypocrisy, but it’s never godly.

The God-Man

In the end, dear reader, you don’t really care what I think or what Mr. Deace thinks. At least you shouldn’t. What really matters is what Jesus thinks. He is Lord of all, and if we love him, then we will keep his commands (John 14:15, 23).

What does our Lord command of us?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

And we would do well, brothers and sisters, to hear the Lord’s warning given to another group of religious people who seem to think they were always in good standing with God:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt. 23:23)

Let us, by grace and with faith, be about the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness—for all who are oppressed.

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