Monday, August 31, 2020

Book Write-Up: Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, by Patrick J. Buchanan

Patrick J. Buchanan. Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. Crown, 2008. See here to purchase the book.

Patrick J. Buchanan is a paleoconservative author and pundit. He served in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and he ran for President in 1992, 1996, and 2000. This book is Buchanan’s controversial revisionist narrative about World War II. As the title indicates, Buchanan maintains that it was an unnecessary war.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. The controversial part of the book is Chapter 13, “Hitler’s Ambitions.” That is where Buchanan advances his thesis in a clear and straightforward manner. Buchanan’s argument is that Great Britain was wrong to go to war with Germany for invading Poland. Adolf Hitler initially had no designs on invading Britain, Buchanan maintains. Hitler spoke favorably of Great Britain in Mein Kampf, and Nazi Germany was not building up its navy, which would have been odd had she planned to go to war with Britain. Germany’s ambitions were twofold. First, she wanted to take back the land that she had lost in the aftermath of World War I, which contained significant German populations. Many in these countries chafed under authoritarian regimes or inept leadership and desired union with Germany. Second, Hitler advanced eastward so as to invade and destroy the Soviet Union. Hitler despised Bolshevism because he regarded it as a Jewish movement and as a threat to Germany. According to Buchanan, the Holocaust was not inevitable but was a response to the U.S. and Britain’s belligerence. Hitler said so much, and his anti-Semitism initially sought to drive the Jews from Germany rather than to kill them. Had the U.S. and Britain left Hitler alone at the outset, Buchanan contends, events would have turned out better. The Soviet Union would have been undermined and would not have taken over Eastern Europe, as Germany would have been a bulwark against that. Moreover, Hitler would not have taken over the world, for his racist Aryanism would have been unpopular in predominantly non-Aryan countries. In Buchanan’s eyes, Communism was the greater threat, for its imperialism attracted all sorts of ethnic groups.

B. Does Buchanan’s thesis hold up? On the one hand, critics point out that Hitler attacked more than the German-populated areas it lost in World War I. Buchanan acknowledges that Hitler attacked more of Czechoslovakia than he agreed with Neville Chamberlain to take. Some historians have even claimed that Hitler was developing an atomic bomb, which may indicate broader ambitions on his part than the former German lands and the Soviet Union. On the other hand, any sweeping imperialist ambitions that Hitler had are far from clear in Mein Kampf. Buchanan’s points about Germany’s failure to build up her navy and her tepid attack on France also deserve consideration.

C. Buchanan’s portrayal of Winston Churchill is largely negative, as a counter to dominant tendencies to lionize him. Buchanan points out that Churchill was a racist and a white supremacist, in both his attitudes and his policies. Churchill also was cold and brutal in his treatment of women and children, as he sought to decimate Germany to keep it from ever reemerging as an industrial power.

D. Apart from Chapters 13-14, the book was difficult for me to absorb, for there were a lot of facts and dates. In some cases, Buchanan seemed contradictory. He tried to deny that Germany prior to World War I was belligerent and offered facts to make that case, yet he also acknowledged that pre-WW I Germany had an empire and that Britain saw the Kaiser as belligerent; Buchanan later attempts to argue that Hitler was not as belligerent as the Kaiser, as Britain feared. (Buchanan still depicts Hitler as a brutal warlord, who killed anyone who stood in the way of his political ascent.) Buchanan perhaps could have done a better job in conveying the motivations of the characters involved, such as the reason that Britain abandoned its alliance with Japan to appease the U.S. These parts of the book did have some interesting details, however, such as Mussolini’s initial disdain for Hitler, and Churchill’s admiration for Hitler and Mussolini.

I checked this book out from the library. My review is honest.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Church Write-Up: Baptism and Love

 Some items from church:

A. The Sunday school class is continuing its way through Romans. Today, we covered Romans 6-7. The pastor, a Lutheran, said that baptism is more than a rite of Christian obedience. Rather, it is how God connects the believer with Christ, in Christ’s death and resurrection. Romans 6:3 refers to being baptized into Christ and Christ’s death.

B. Baptism was practiced in Judaism a century before and a century after the time of Christ. In rabbinic Judaism, it was applied to Gentile converts to Judaism. Paul takes a ritual that concerns the washing away of sins and the death of the old self and applies it to Christ: Christian baptism is about the death of the old self and the resurrection of a new self through Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul fills the old with the new.

C. Jews treated Abraham’s faith as a work and God’s imputation of righteousness as God’s response to Abraham’s work. Paul, by contrast, focuses on what God is doing and treats faith as the means of receiving what God provides.

D. Lutherans sprinkle in their baptisms in reaction to the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists held that only baptism by immersion is acceptable to God. Baptizo only means to apply water, so Luther decided that Lutheran baptism will be sprinkling, not immersion.

E. In Roman society, slaves who were sentenced to death and somehow managed to survive the death penalty were set free. This occurred rarely, but it did happen. The pastor related this to Paul’s point in Romans 7 about the Christian being dead to slavery to sin and the letter and alive unto God.

F. Death will not separate us from God’s love. We no longer need fear being swallowed by Sheol, never to be heard from again. That reminded me of Psalms in which Sheol is presented as a place of separation from God, where God cannot be praised. Jesus came and changed that.

G. The service was about love. The youth pastor talked about how we cannot rely only on our own resources to love others, for they are limited and may run out. We need to be filled with God’s love. The pastor in his sermon told about how, when he was a child, his family went to a drive-in theater. Bambi was playing, followed by Anthony and Cleopatria. Both depict love as something that sweeps people away—-that people get caught up in. The pastor, years later, counseled a couple, and the husband admitted that he lacked romantic love for his wife, but he was committed to her and trusted that the romantic love will grow. The pastor also talked about loving those who disagree with us on Facebook—-blessing those who are mean to us rather than being mean to them in turn. I suck at love. But, paradoxically, being humbled by this realization (law) can perhaps open me up to trusting in and drawing from God’s resources (Gospel).

Monday, August 24, 2020

Book Write-Up: Republican Women, Divided We Stand

 Catherine E. Rymph. Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right. University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 2006.

As the title indicates, this book chronicles the history of Republican women. Rymph argues that there were two strains of thought among Republican women. One strain wanted women to be equal with men in the Republican Party structure. In the other strain, women essentially did their own thing, mobilizing, as women, in political crusades. For example, Republican women clubs mobilized to support Senator Joseph McCarthy and his crusade against Communism. The book goes up to Phyllis Schlafly and, though the book does not say this explicitly, she embodied both approaches. She participated in a league of Republican women and led an organization of women against the ERA, yet she also formed alliances with conservative men.

The book talks about the conservative views of Republican women in the 1930’s. One prominent Republican woman held that people can solve their problems and conflicts on their own, without government intervention. An African-American Republican woman feared that the New Deal would sap African-Americans’ work ethic by putting them on the dole. These are predictable conservative positions. Rymph discusses the views of feminist Republicans in the 1970’s, but she could have been clearer about how they incorporated their feminism into their larger Republican philosophy. She says that they supported individual rights, a conservative position, but more elaboration could have helped.

The footnotes have tidpits, as when one fact-checks Phyllis Schlafly’s claims about the ERA. Schlafly relied a lot on Yale scholar Thomas Emerson’s article on the ERA, but Emerson straight-out denied that the ERA would eliminate sexed restrooms.

Marjorie J. Spruill. Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics. Bloomsbury, 2017.

This book is about the 1977 International Women’s Year Conference. In Spruill’s portrayal, the feminists were the tolerant, level-headed ones, whereas the conservatives were belligerent and were seeking to take the conference over. In my opinion, the feminists in the book come across as condescending, seeking to enlighten the closed-minded conservatives. The book prefers the feminists, but Spruill tries to be even-handed, or at least to give the impression of even-handedness. She quotes conservatives’ accusations that the conference was unfair and rigged against them, and she refers to conservatives by the titles that they prefer: pro-life, pro-family, etc.

Spruill documents the ties of the anti-ERA movement with white supremacy, which scholar Donald Critchlow denies. Schlafly did not desire KKK support for the anti-ERA cause, and her supporters were upset to learn of it. But KKK members and segregationists still gravitated towards the anti-ERA movement. Schlafly herself convinced George Wallace to switch from supporting to opposing the ERA, since she recognized Wallace’s influence in the south. There are times when Spruill posits racism where it does not necessarily exist, as when she observes that a white conservative confronted a black feminist. Why note their race, when the confrontation was not overtly about race? Still, Spruill’s observation that white supremacists supported a traditional patriarchal system is not surprising.

As Spruill narrates, Schlafly united a wide variety of people against the ERA. She was a Catholic, but Lottie Beth Hobbs brought Protestants on board. Schlafly respected religious differences, as when she held separate religious services in recognition of the reality that some religious groups forbade their adherents to worship with people of other religious groups. The power and influence of Mormonism in opposing the ERA is another topic in this book.

Bella Abzug is portrayed as a heroic person. She took on McCarthyism and segregationism in the south, inviting threats to her life and well-being. Her human side is highlighted, as when Spruill talks about Abzug’s doting husband and how he called her his beautiful Bella. Abzug’s struggle over embracing gay rights, an unpopular position at the time, and her clash with Jimmy Carter are also narrated. Spruill depicts Abzug as rather tolerant on the abortion issue, as Abzug insisted that the pro-lifers be permitted to speak. Why Abzug was tolerant in this case is puzzling.

The book could have been clearer about what exactly separated the feminists from the conservatives. Did the feminists believe that women should be able to go out and work, whereas the conservatives preferred that women stay home? Some conservatives would deny that, but feminists would say that the system that conservatives advocate discourages women from working outside the home. Conservatives oppose reproductive freedom and state-subsidized child care facilities, so what is a woman with a child to do? Spruill does not appear to take seriously, or at face value, Schlafly’s actual arguments against the ERA: that it would remove women’s protections in the workplace, that current law already safeguards equal rights, etc.

The book is engrossing, such that I missed my bus-stop one time when I was reading it; fortunately, I was coming home from work rather than going to work on that particular ride.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Church Write-Up about Romans 5-6, Tension, and Witnessing, and Book Write-Up about the IVP Reformation Commentary on Joshua, Judges, and Ruth

 Some items from church, followed by a quick Book Write-Up:

A. The Bible study was about Romans 5-6. The pastor will go into more detail about Romans 6 next week. The pastor, a Lutheran, was saying that water baptism is not merely an ordinance of obedience but is a sacrament through which God’s spirit acts on and in the believer.

B. The pastor was talking about the tension between the already and the not yet. He likened it to Christmas Eve: the presents are there under the tree, but they remain closed until Christmas morning.

C. The pastor got into Hegel. He said that the tension between the already and the not yet in Romans does not clash and produce something different. But, after some discussion between the pastor and a student, the conclusion was reached that there is indeed something different that has resulted from a synthesis of two opposites: unfallen creation has clashed with sin, and the result is Christ’s death and resurrection amidst a world of sin and the life in that lived by the believer.

D. In the sermon, the pastor said that many people want to be non-conformists and to go their own way, yet they also desire love and acceptance from others. He rooted that in the sinful human desire to be in charge. I identify with what the pastor said. I love emotional independence from people and what they think, since a lot of people are assholes who try to conform others to their image, yet, of course, I would prefer for people to be glad to see me. There is a tension there, and I walk that fine line.

E. I did not write a Church Write-Up last week because there was no Bible study, and there was nothing in the service on which I wanted to comment. The sermon was about the power of the word of God and believers sharing it with unbelievers. I did not write the post because I was in no mood to talk about if I witness, or why I do not witness. Maybe I do share the word of God, if writing on this blog counts. But I do not share the Christian faith with non-believers in terms of speaking. I am just through trying to convince people to believe something or to love something, when they may have reasons not to believe or love it.

F. Scott Amos, ed. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Joshua, Judges, Ruth presents the thoughts of Western Christian thinkers during the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries on the Old Testament books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.  The book includes the classic Protestant Reformers, such as Luther and Calvin.  But it also quotes other Reformation and post-Reformation voices, as well, such as Anabaptists, Anglicans, and Puritans.  And it also includes some Catholic voices.

Like other books in the series, along with the series on the church fathers, this book proceeds through the biblical books.  It quotes a passage, summarizes the gist of what the featured thinkers said, then presents their thoughts.  At the end of the book is a timeline and a glossary of Christian thinkers (and also some Jewish thinkers) quoted or mentioned in the book.

The thinkers in this book address questions that many have had about these books, as well as questions that I myself have had. Among those questions:

How could God command Joshua to stone Achan and Achan’s family? Is that not unjust? Plus, Achan confessed his sin, so why did God not forgive him?

Was God upset about having to spare the Gibeonites, who lied to Joshua to escape destruction? Suppose Joshua had consulted God about them: would God have told him to kill them, even though they sought mercy, like Rahab?

What is the deal with all those altars in the Book of Judges, which God appears to honor and to accept? Does God’s recognition of them contradict Deuteronomy’s requirement that God only recognizes one central sanctuary?

Did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter, and did God require him to do that? If Jephthah did not kill her but simply consecrated her to God as a lifelong virgin, how is that a sacrifice? Why would she and her friends weep over that?

When exactly in biblical history were the events of Judges 17-21?

Why did God tell Judah to go up first against the Benjamites, only to allow the Benjamites to succeed against the Judahites in that battle?

Was Ruth doing something improper when she uncovered Boaz’s feet?

Why was Mr. So-and-so reluctant to marry Ruth? How would marrying her diminish his inheritance to his own children? Does his removal of his shoe relate to the shoe removal in Deuteronomy 25:9, which concerns levirate marriage?

The thinkers often resort to “because God says so” when dealing with issues such as the stoning of Achan’s family and God’s recognition of different altars. Yet, they also give practical reasons that God did what God did. Being a Reformation commentary, there is a lot of emphasis on God’s love, grace, and forgiveness and transformation of sinners. While Martin Luther and other Reformers are usually believed to be hostile to allegorical interpretation, they freely resort to allegory when they treat the Old Testament stories as types or allegories of the Gospel. The book is far from monochromatic, however, but approaches questions in variant ways. Some Reformers, for example, denied, on the basis of Hebrew grammar, that Jephthah even vowed to sacrifice his daughter. Others held that he was wrong to sacrifice her.

The glossary has its share of interesting details. Some I did not understand, or I wanted to learn more. What is a Genesio-Lutheran? And there were differences about how exactly original sin corrupted human beings. Did it impart to human nature a demonic substance? Apparently, there was debate about that.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Book Write-Ups: Strike from Space, Ambush at Vladivostok (Phyllis Schlafly)

A. Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. Strike from Space: A Megadeath Mystery. Pere Marquette, 1965.

This is a sequel to Gravediggers (1964) but gets into more territory.

—-Why was Khrushchev deposed? Was Brezhnev his designated successor because of his lack of involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis? Schlafly and Ward answer “no.” That Cuban Missile Crisis explanation fails because Brezhnev actually was involved in that! Khrushchev was deposed because he could not keep his mouth shut. He continually bragged about Soviet military superiority and desire to conquer the world, and the Soviets wanted the U.S.S.R. to keep a lower public profile about its capabilities and ambitions.

—-Why is the U.S. embroiled in Vietnam? It let Laos fall to the Soviets! According to Schlafly and Ward, the Vietnam War is diverting the U.S. from pursuing nuclear superiority over the Soviets, by concentrating its resources on conventional warfare in Vietnam. Schlafly and Ward are critical of the Vietnam War, yet they also do not care for the peace movement. Schlafly and Ward even point to the Vietnam War as an argument against the view that getting tough on Communism will invite a nuclear retaliatory response from the Soviets. It hasn’t so far, they argue. The Soviets have blinked, plenty of times!

—-Schlafly and Ward are slightly unclear about whether the Soviets aim to rule the United States. They seem to argue in the negative: the Soviets lack the resources to rule the world, let alone the U.S. The Soviet desire is to nuke the United States, not to rule it. Yet, they also imply, at times, that the Soviets want to rule it. Here, and in Kissinger on the Couch, they say that the Soviets want American resources, and they cannot have that if they nuke the U.S. In any case, in speculating about the motives of the “gravediggers,” the U.S. government officials who work for nuclear disarmament on the part of the U.S., Schlafly and Ward state that these officials hope to have a high-ranking position once the Soviets take over the U.S., which these officials deem to be inevitable.

—-Religion is a theme that comes up in Strike from Space, and it had a brief cameo in Gravediggers. In Gravediggers, Schlafly and Ward call Bertrand Russell arrogant because he wrote a book entitled Why I Am Not a Christian. In Strike from Space, they are critical of liberal clergy who advocate nuclear disarmament. They quote one who even suggests that God takes no sides in the nuclear arms race. Of course God takes sides, they assert! The Soviets are godless despots trying to take over the world, so, naturally, God would oppose them and support the U.S.

—-Schlafly elsewhere argues that LBJ pursued nuclear disarmament because he wanted money for his social programs, without raising taxes. She repeats that argument here, only she provides quotes from LBJ to that effect.

—-In Gravediggers, Schlafly and Ward praise JFK for being willing to use nuclear weapons to defend West Berlin. They do the same in Strike from Space, but after a somewhat convoluted discussion. They deny that high-level nuclear weapons are necessary to resolve conflicts, preferring lower-level weapons. Then, they defend JFK.

B. Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. Ambush at Vladivostok. Pere Marquette, 1976.

This is a sequel to Kissinger on the Couch. It focuses on the U.S.-Soviet summit at Vladivostok. President Gerald Ford attended that soon after getting off the plane, so, suffering from jet-lag, he was prone to poor decisions and gave away the store to the Soviets. Yet, Schlafly and Ward also believe that Ford received bad advice, particularly from Henry Kissinger. Part of this book is Schlafly and Ward saying that they were right in Kissinger on the Couch, and time has borne that out. They point out contradictions in Kissinger’s statements on disarmament, maintaining that Kissinger is deceiving the public about the details of the disarmament agreements. Schlafly and Ward also deem Donald Rumsfeld, who was Ford’s Defense Secretary, to be part of the pro-disarmament pack, and, if memory serves me correctly, there is also a brief disparagement of Dick Cheney, who served in the Ford Administration. Schlafly and Ford speculate about the 1976 Presidential election. They suspect that the Soviets support Ford, since he is a sucker, and that some of their small retreats from the world stage were designed to boost Ford in the eyes of the American public. This book gets into a lot of military technicalities and is not as enjoyable, as, say, Strike from Space, which also gets into politics, but it has its interesting insights, here and there.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Write-Up: Patents and Invention (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly. Phyllis Schlafly Speaks, Volume 4: Patents and Invention. Ed. Ed Martin. Skellig America, 2018.

Phyllis Schlafly had an interest in the patent system. Her father invented and patented the rotary engine. That invention lacked an immediate impact, for World War II was going on, and the military-industrial complex was interested in mass-manufacturing what it knew rather than trying anything innovative. But it came to have a slight impact on automobiles after World War II.

Schlafly argues that the United States has the best system in the world when it comes to patents and inventions. She chronicles the inventions throughout American history and the positive effect that they had. In a 1970 speech to immigrants, she observes that immigrants, too, historically contributed to American inventiveness. For Schlafly, the American system is superior because it is capitalistic: it allows people to keep the fruit of their labors.

Schlafly is concerned about government proposals to “reform” the American patent system. For one, she resists the idea that the American system, through treaty, should reconcile itself with other countries’ system. As noted above, she believes that the American patent system is the best and that other countries would do well to reconcile their patent systems to that of the U.S. Schlafly finds fault with other countries’ system, such as that of Japan, which is highly corporatist, and she argues that other countries have not manifested the creativity and innovative spirit as has the United States.

Second, Schlafly opposes a “first-to-file” rather than a “first-to-invent” system. A “first-to-file” system grants the patent to the first person who files, not to the person who can demonstrate he or she was the first to invent. For Schlafly, a “first-to-file” system privileges well-connected, lawyered-up corporations rather than the small-time inventor working from his garage.

Third, Schlafly opposes proposals to publish rough drafts of proposals on the internet and in other formats, long before the proposal is patented, for that enables other countries (i.e., China) as well as corporations to steal inventors’ ideas.

Schlafly’s fourth concern relates to the time-span before which an invention becomes part of the public domain. She criticizes lawmakers who try to shorten that time-span for inventors, while lengthening it for authors, publishers, and artists. In both cases, they privilege the corporations over the little guy. Shortening the time-span for inventors allows corporations to sell and make money off the invention quickly, leaving the inventors with a mere pittance. Lengthening the time-span for authors, publishers, and artists privileges big publishing, big music, big entertainment, and, in some cases, even the lawmakers themselves (i.e., Senator Orrin Hatch and his Gospel music). Schlafly is critical of lawmakers who try to crack down on people who tape movies for non-commercial use. That leads me to suspect that she opposed the 2011 Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Fifth, Schlafly wants to keep the patent board in the hands of the government rather than making it a board of multinational corporations. That accords with the U.S. Constitution, and it is also fairer than allowing corporations with vested interests to decide who gets patents and who does not.

Another theme that recurs in this book is privacy. Schlafly is critical of measures to expose people’s medical records to government and corporations. She alleges that the Clinton health care plan would have done this, and she notes legislation, such as Kennedy-Kassenbaum (HIPAA), which she believes does so.

The book has its ironies. Schlafly is very pro-immigrant in this book, and she opposes privatizing the patent system, when conservatives tend to support privatizing government functions. Conservative opposition to corporatism, however, is not surprising, for, in a truly free market, the government does not privilege well-connected corporations.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 5:1-5

 Some items from church this morning:

A. We are continuing our Bible study through Romans. Today, we covered Romans 5:1-5. The teacher said that Christians do not earn their justification by believing, as if faith were a work. Rather, Christians are saved by the work of Christ, as God credits righteousness to them. Faith is the way that they receive this. They are saved through faith, not because of faith.

B. Romans 5:1 affirms that Christians have peace with God. The pastor observed that Ephesians 2:14 states that Christ is our peace. Christ is how Christians become at peace with God, and Christ brought Jewish and Gentile Christians together into one body, so Christ is how Christians become at peace with each other. The teacher told a personal story about estrangement and reconciliation. He had a neighbor. They were not friends, but they were friendly. They talked about each other’s children growing up and projects they were working on. The relationship was broken, however, and neither was willing to change his mind about the subject that was dividing them. The teacher waved at him, but he never waved back, so the teacher stopped waving. One day, the neighbor was trying to move something and was having difficulty. The teacher stepped in and helped him, and that improved the relationship.

C. Romans 5:2 states that Christians “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Two suggestions were made about what the glory of God means. The teacher said that God’s glory is when everyone calls on God’s name. He referred to Philippians 2:11, which refers to people confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The pastor interpreted the glory in reference to the Hebrew word kavod, which refers to God’s glory but also to God’s presence. Christians hope to live in God’s presence, without reservations and hindrance, as Adam and Eve fellowshipped with God in the cool of the Garden (Genesis 3:8). They accords with God’s purpose in creation.

D. Romans 5:3-4 talks about Christians’ suffering. The pastor talked about the cruciform life. Christians become more like Christ, and identify more with Christ, when they suffer, for Christ suffered in the world and had hope that God would resurrect him. We live in a fallen world and God meets us in it.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Book Write-Up: How the Republican Party Became Pro-Life (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly. How the Republican Party Became Pro-Life. Skeillig America, 2018.

This is the third volume of a series of books entitled “Phyllis Schlafly Speaks,” edited by Schlafly’s successor at Eagle Forum, Ed Martin. It is about Schlafly’s attempts from 1976-2016 to make the Republican Party into a pro-life party. Specifically, she pushed for and defended a plank in the GOP platform supporting the right of the unborn to live. This book also includes excerpts from national Republican platforms about abortion.

It may have been in William Martin’s With God on Our Side that I first learned about the Republican Party’s historic positions about abortion. Prior to the 1970’s, the narrative runs, the Republican Party was the pro-choice party, in accord with its belief in less government intervention in people’s lives. Pro-lifers were largely Catholic, and they tended to be Democrats. The genesis of conservatives becoming pro-life is debated. Some cynically regard it as a wedge issue, proclaimed by religious conservatives whose true agenda was to protect their private segregation academies from government intervention. Frank Schaeffer has declared himself the father of the pro-life movement, since he, in the 1980’s, encouraged his influential father, Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, to promote the pro-life cause with Dr. C. Everett Koop, resulting in numerous evangelical converts to the pro-life cause. While Schaeffer and Koop obviously deserve a place in the history of the conservative pro-life movement, the fact is that there were prominent pro-life conservatives prior to the Schaeffers’ efforts in the 1980’s. Phyllis Schlafly’s STOP ERA movement was an example, for one reason Schlafly opposed ERA in the 1970’s was that she feared it would constitutionally enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion.

This book is not particularly helpful in explaining the history of how conservatives became opposed to abortion. Conservatives at the beginning of Schlafly’s story are opposed to legalized abortion, whereas moderate and liberal Republicans, such as Nelson Rockefeller, support it. Conservative pro-lifers initially were marginal within the GOP, but they gained power. While they fought back pro-choice Republicans in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the pro-life Republicans eventually became dominant, such that disputes over the Human Life plank of the platform became a thing of the past.

Schlafly, a loyal Republican, compares the GOP’s opposition to abortion to its opposition to slavery, on which the Republican Party was founded. On both issues, the Republican Party affirms the value of human life, whereas the Democratic Party believes people’s choice takes precedent.

The Human Life plank of the GOP platform has been controversial because it is regarded as absolutist, advocating a complete ban on abortion with no exceptions (i.e., rape, incest, life of the mother). Schlafly does not engage the question of whether there should be exceptions in an abortion ban. She does differentiate, however, between legislation and a plank in the platform. Crafting legislation allows for compromise, whereas a plank in the platform must be a bold proclamation of what the Republican Party believes, the principles to which it is committed. For Schlafly, the GOP platform should affirm the right of the unborn to live rather than get into nuances and exceptions. Would she be open to exceptions in legislation?

The book revolves around Schlafly’s activism regarding the GOP platform, but one may ask if that is important. As Schlafly points out, Bob Dole in 1996 said that he had not even read the platform and did not intend to abide by it. For Schlafly, however, the platform is significant because it is the party’s manifesto, its flag in the election.

The passages about abortion in the GOP’s platforms also talk about adoption reform and supporting mothers who are contemplating abortion due to financial difficulties in raising a child. If the GOP has supported adoption reform, that is commendable. But cutting social programs, in my opinion, hurts women contemplating abortion. A strong social safety net can contribute to a decline in abortion, as has been the case in Western Europe.

The platforms also speak in favor of religious liberty in the workplace. Christians should be free to proclaim their faith where they work, without fear of recrimination. This gets into murky territory. Would conservative Christians be open to allowing homosexuals to talk about their same-sex relationship in the workplace, without fear of recrimination, or would they expect homosexuals to keep that in the closet? Understandably, some have argued that religion and politics should be kept out of the workplace altogether: do and believe what you want, on your own time, but, at work, your job is to serve everyone.

The Republican Party’s historical relationship to abortion is nuanced. It is not simply a matter of the GOP becoming pro-life. Reagan and George H.W. Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment banning abortion, with some exceptions, but few Republican Presidential candidates since then have done so. George W. Bush in 2000 declined to commit explicitly to overturning Roe vs. Wade, saying instead that there are too many abortions, and proclaiming his opposition to judicial activism. Donald Trump opposed Roe but focused his opposition to abortion on late-term ones. At the same time, states throughout America are passing laws against abortion, even before the late term.

This book is a disappointment, in areas, but it is still valuable, as when Schlafly talks about Roe vs. Wade and quotes from the Supreme Court justices who dissented.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 4

Here are some items from church this morning:

A. The Sunday school class covered Romans 4. The teacher explained three solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Sola Fide. We are saved by God’s grace alone, and the means that we receive it is faith alone. Faith is given by the Holy Spirit through Scripture alone. Scripture, in short, contains the content of the Christian’s faith: what the Christian believes. The last one can inspire questions. Did not people have faith prior to Scripture? In those cases, they accepted as true the divine revelation that they had. Abraham trusted God’s promise to him that he would have a son and God’s stated plan for the world. The teacher and the youth pastor commented that Abraham’s faith must have been a gift from God. Abraham not only lacked what Christians have—-Scripture, the church, etc.—-but he lacked a monotheistic religious background, as his parents worshiped idols.

B. God’s law points out our sin and our need for a savior, and God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the law: by God’s grace, received by the Christian through faith. Quoting Genesis 15:6, Paul observes that Abraham believed God, and God credited that to him as righteousness. What does that mean? The teacher referred to analogies. When our credits are greater than our debits, are we then righteous? The youth pastor talked about credit cards: he takes them for granted until they are declined. Similarly, many Christians take God’s grace for granted, when they should keep somewhere in their mind that what they deserve is God’s rejection. A student said that, when we give credit to someone, we acknowledge what the person did; God, in this scenario, acknowledges that Abraham’s faith is righteous. The teacher had problems with these proposals. A credit card can be declined for insufficient funds, whereas the Christian’s salvation cannot be declined because the funds are unlimited, for they are based on what Christ, not the Christian, has done. The view that God acknowledges Abraham’s faith as righteous runs counter to the Christian idea that justification occurs based on what God has done, not what the believer has done. Plus, Paul’s view is that Abraham’s faith was how Abraham himself received righteousness; God not only acknowledges Abraham’s faith as righteous but imputes righteousness to Abraham himself, regarding Abraham as righteous rather than wicked.

C. The teacher contrasted justification by works with justification by grace through faith alone. Under justification by works, people have reason to boast: they do good deeds, and God responds by accepting them. God’s acceptance is a salary for the work that the person performs; God obligates himself under the law to reward the person who does good. And, under a model of justification by works, God holds sin against people. A model of justification by grace through faith is different. Righteousness is a gift from God, not something that a person earns; a person is righteous and accepted by God, even though she has done nothing to deserve it. God specifically justifies the wicked. And, based on what Christ has done, sin is forgiven, covered, and never held against the believer.

D. Does being credited with righteousness change the believer? James affirms that faith without works is dead, so there is some change after the crediting. Righteousness is broader than justification and includes the Christian life. Yet, we need not do good works in order to be credited. It is not the case that we are changed such that we are no longer sinners, for God treats Christians as righteous, even though in reality they are sinners.

E. The pastor’s sermon talked about how salvation is a free gift. The pastor likened it to immigrants: those who come to the U.S. and declare their allegiance to it receive the benefits that America offers, whereas those merely passing through do not. This was ironic, since I was reading old Phyllis Schlafly Reports about how many illegal immigrants receive government benefits, even though their allegiance is not towards the United States. In terms of the analogy, I do not think that the pastor was sneaking works and obedience into his Gospel message of free grace, for he treated allegiance to the old identity as relying on one’s works, a desire to be rewarded. Still, salvation is belonging to Christ, in a state of allegiance to Christ, and that should influence what one values and how one lives.

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