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Occasionally, Pastor Ryan Ahlgrim will post a biblical commentary or discussion of a contemporary topic, inviting readers to submit their comments for a readers' dialogue. You are welcome to join the conversation!

Weddings

After a dry spell of five and a half years, I’m finally officiating weddings again. I’m scheduled to perform three ceremonies this year. Over the course of the past thirty-five years of ministry, I’ve solemnized sixty-six marriages. Eleven of those marriages eventually ended in divorce (that I know of). That’s one out of six, which at least is better than the national average of one out of two.

Performing a ceremony in which two people make a lifetime commitment to each other, witnessed by friends, family and God, is a great joy. I always feel deeply privileged when asked to officiate something so wonderful (and the receptions that follow are a lot of fun too!). Weddings are a little nerve-racking as well. There are sometimes complicated and painful family relationships that have to be negotiated in the ceremony. And from time to time, something goes wrong–which hopefully becomes a source of future laughter rather than ongoing embarrassment.

I offer here a few random notes and observations regarding weddings and their preparation:

  • I always insist on premarital counseling, though I’m not sure how much good it does. Couples who have decided to marry–like couples who have already decided to divorce–are next to impossible to counsel. Engaged couples are mostly in denial about their problems, covering up or minimizing the issues that will become difficult in the years ahead. In the premarital counseling sessions I try to uncover and identify the future marital landmines. At least three couples successfully hid major issues from me, and eventually divorced. Another couple resented my questions and decided to have someone else marry them (to my surprise, they are still married). Another couple, after the first two sessions, changed their minds and broke the engagement. I think that was wise. I don’t want to give the impression the premarital counseling sessions are designed to be difficult; on the contrary, I try to make them enjoyable–but honest.
  • Couples surprise me. Some of those that I thought were the most immature and ill-prepared have had the most long-lasting and delightful marriages. Others that I thought had their headlights on, soon divorced. I don’t tell couples whether they ought to marry or not–that’s up to them. I have never refused to perform a wedding (though if I were to be aware of abuse or infidelity, I would). The requests that make me the most uncomfortable are those from couples who want to get married in a hurry. Those do not end well.
  • Unless you like chaos, wedding rehearsals are essential. My struggle is to keep the rehearsal from being chaos. All rehearsals begin a half hour late because someone in the wedding party is never on time. Then we have to figure out the order of procession, who is coming in with whom, and timing the music (all of this while trying to appease competing interests). Ring-bearers and flower girls are always a wild card–you never know what will actually happen. Microphones, bouquets, readings, recitations, positions and movements all have to be arranged, practiced and choreographed. I can’t believe my first wedding ceremony, when I knew none of this, wasn’t a complete disaster.
  • I always have the bride and groom fill out the license at the rehearsal. I then sign it after the ceremony. It’s too hard to get the bride and groom aside at the reception for filling out the paperwork.
  • For the wedding itself, nix all pranks. Save the humor for the reception. (The homily can have a little humor, but don’t let that best man become a comedian during the ceremony.) As a minister, I must ensure the ceremony is spiritually-centered, not entertainment. It seals a holy covenant and strengthens all other marriage covenants of those who witness it.
  • The receiving line takes longer than you think. Plan on a half hour per one hundred guests.
  • Even if the photographer takes most of the pictures before the ceremony, it still takes at least a half hour for the photographer to do the final photographs after the ceremony (so plan on having something for the guests to do in the meantime).
  • To all officiants: Remember to send in the wedding license! (I forgot after my first wedding, and then rushed it to the courthouse a few days after the expiration date for having the marriage recorded; fortunately the county clerk accepted it.)

I’m excited about the three weddings coming up this year. Each one will teach me something new and inspire me with indelible memories.

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What Brings You Joy?

What brings you joy?

This is a question that was recently asked of me. It is an appropriately happy and hopeful question following the celebration of Easter. A few things come immediately to my mind:

I feel joy for my daughter. Recently she began a new job in Animal Protection. Working with (but not for) the police, she investigates possible animal abuse on ranches and private residences. She absolutely loves her job. It feels important and fills her with passion. After the past two years exploring several different vocations, and having diverse and challenging experiences, but still feeling unsatisfied, she now says she has found the work she wants to do till she’s 80!

I feel joy for my son. His employer recently moved him from halftime to full time, which means he now receives medical benefits–just in time. His responsibilities and abilities have grown, and he continues to enjoy his work, his coworkers, and his network of friends.

I feel joy for my wife. Our 30th anniversary is coming up, and it’s been a delight for me to realize just how perfectly suited my wife has been for me. My appreciation for her grows.

I feel joy for my congregation. It is heartening to see many new people worshiping with us, and new babies being born. There is an atmosphere of warmth, liveliness, diversity, service to others, and gratitude.

I feel joy in finding my voice. I have always enjoyed writing, preaching and teaching, but I feel like I am doing all of it better now than ever before. I am passionate about addressing certain crucial issues in my writing, and certain ideas are coming together for me in powerful ways. I think I may have something important to contribute.

I feel joy for the friends I have made over the years. I am glad for the many people I have pastored or befriended over the last several decades. Among them are a few very close friends. I don’t see them often since we now live far apart, but that means the times when we can get together are all the more special.

What brings me joy are the personal things happening in my life. On the other hand, when I look at our society, our politics, and our wider world, I am not feeling much joy. In fact, I am deeply alarmed. Today is Earth Day, but it is not a good day for planet Earth.

Nevertheless, the pendulum always swings; and when it swings too far in one direction, it inevitably begins swinging in the other direction. The missteps of today may show us more clearly the right path for tomorrow.

To do real good in this world, I think we first need to find our joy. Only when we know what truly gives us joy will we be attractive to others and thereby effective in doing good for the sake of tomorrow.

Are Things Getting Better or Worse?

“In what ways is America a better place to live in than it was … thirty … years ago? In what ways is it worse?”

This question, posed at the beginning of a book I’m reading, has stimulated my thinking these past two days. Here’s how I would answer that question, beginning with the ways I think life in the United States is better now than thirty years ago:

  • The violent crime rate in this country surged in the 1970s and 80s, peaking in the mid-90s. Since then it has dropped dramatically. Although some cities such as Chicago have seen an increase in recent years, the overall level of violent crime today is still at the levels of the early 1960s. So we are safer than we were thirty years ago.
  • Thirty years ago we were in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. During the 1980s, tens of thousands of young people died horribly from this always lethal disease. Today the HIV virus can be controlled, and we may be at the brink of a cure.
  • The AIDS epidemic fed widespread fear and hatred of gays. Sympathy and support for even committed and monogamous gay relationships dropped thirty years ago. But today, the gay and lesbian community is widely accepted, with much more job and housing protection, and same-sex marriage is now legal–something unimaginable thirty ears ago. (Some people would regard this as an example of how things have gotten worse in the last thirty years, but I regard it as better since it is an advance in equal treatment and protection.)
  • The rights and opportunities of women are much greater today (a woman received the most votes in the last presidential election), and demeaning language and behavior toward women is not taken for granted at nearly the level it was thirty years ago. Women are speaking up and making men much more aware of their sexism.
  • We now know a black man can be elected president of the United States (twice)–something quite doubtful thirty years ago.
  • Our country is far more aware of racial discrimination, white privilege, and the greater dangers innocent African-Americans often face at the hands of the police. Thirty years ago it was common for whites to believe that racism was no longer a significant problem. But the availability of widespread video recording and sharing has revealed the disturbing prevalence of discrimination. Because we can now see this racism, and the black community is visibly angry about it, we may think that race relations are worse now than they were thirty years ago. On the contrary, one side being blind while the other side was more quiet does not constitute “better” race relations. We are better off knowing the painful truth so we can work on race relations at a deeper level.
  • Transgender persons now receive far more understanding and support. Thirty years ago the trans community was virtually unknown or regarded with disdain. That may have made life simpler for cisgender persons, but not better for others.
  • The Internet has made research phenomenally easier and has significantly improved the quality of my own writing and speaking.
  • Social media have revolutionized communication possibilities, linking people in many helpful and delightful ways.
  • Entertainment is more diverse and available than ever before.

How is life in this country worse than it was thirty years ago? Here are a few thoughts:

  • The Internet is full of misinformation and disinformation, and is a platform for all kinds of crimes that are almost impossible to stop.
  • Social media and other technology have exponentially increased bullying, threats, and violations of privacy, resulting, for instance, in an increase in teenage suicide.
  • The twenty-four hour news cycle and endless cable news shows has given a platform and prominence to angry and extremist commentators. As a result, sources for the most accurate, in-depth and carefully vetted news (major newspapers and news magazines) have lost readership as well as trust. Many now believe that accurate news is “fake news” and that serious journalists are “the enemy of the people.”
  • The country is probably more socially and politically divided than it has been since the late 1960s. The two major parties have moved much farther apart, often excoriating each other as ill-willed or even evil. As a result, citizens often vote for extreme rather than moderate candidates, resulting in perhaps the most dysfunctional Congress in over a hundred years.
  • The 9-11 terrorist attack has vastly increased the power and scope of the security state, weakening privacy and freedom of movement. Fear of immigrants, foreigners, and Muslims has increased, as well as antisemitism. As a result, white nationalist terrorism is on the rise.
  • Our country is in its longest war in Afghanistan, and has troops under fire in various places in the Middle East. Our society has become far more militarized and inured to war than it was thirty years ago.
  • Society is responding to these upheavals by turning to ever-more violent, fantastical, and cynical entertainment. Values have become more relativized than thirty years ago (when stories and books about virtue and character were popular), and an attitude of nihilism is growing.
  • Churches are losing members, particularly young adults, at the fastest rate ever seen due to a loss of confidence in faith and religious institutions.
  • The effects of global warming are much worse now than thirty years ago, and the chances of being able to prevent catastrophic consequences are quickly diminishing.
  • Thirty years ago nuclear disarmament was in full swing. Today, nuclear weapons have proliferated and a new nuclear arms race with Russia is possible, increasing fears of a possible nuclear accident or war.

These two lists suggest that life in the United States is not easily categorized as better or worse; rather, some things are much better and some things are much worse. And sometimes what is better is also what is worse; for instance, the Internet has been both a blessing and a curse. Would we rather it had never been invented? Paradoxically, we are both more connected and more isolated.

Overall our level of happiness has probably stayed fairly level. It is human nature to emotionally adjust to our circumstances, regardless of whether we are somewhat richer or poorer than we used to be. On the other hand, we may be seeing more depression, addiction, and suicide.

For our long-term well-being, what most concerns me is what appears to be a decline in our spirituality: that is, we seem to have less commitment to sources of meaning and value that are greater than ourselves. When our confidence is limited to the empirical and self-serving, life becomes absurd and shallow.

Is there progress in history? I’m not sure. Technical progress, yes, though that’s not always a good thing (and could be utterly disastrous). There appears to be some progress in our ethical consciousness. For instance, we no longer consider slavery, the inferiority of women, and the use of torture as givens. That’s real progress, but it may be a temporary blip. If our spirituality erodes, perhaps those ethical gains will eventually also erode.

But whether there is progress in history or not, I believe there is always hope in history. This is, I think, at the heart of the biblical message. The joining of heaven and earth is our ultimate hope. How it happens we cannot fully understand or anticipate, as I think Jesus suggests in his parable of the seed that grows secretly (Mark 4:26-29). But it’s hope that keeps me going.

Which is why, ultimately, I’m an optimist.

Seeing “The Book of Mormon”

Last week my wife and I saw a performance of the musical comedy “The Book of Mormon.” The sets, songs and actors were outstanding and often hilarious. Somewhat surprisingly, the message of the musical was thought-provoking.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (they now prefer not to be called Mormons) has an interesting history. From my perspective, the LDS church embraces some pretty bizarre doctrines that grow out of fanciful historical assertions that lack any archaeological support. The musical relentlessly satirizes these beliefs–as I expected it would. What I did not expect is that the musical then creates a new religion with an even more bizarre and seemingly ridiculous story–a story that ends up being powerful and beneficial to the people of Uganda. The point of the musical seems to be that sacred stories don’t need to be historically true or even rational. As long as the sacred story connects with and speaks to our experiences and problems, it can empower us for positive change. Sacred story is metaphorical and spiritual–not literal–truth.

I can’t help but ponder the implications of this idea for the Christian faith. Is everything that is narrated in the Bible (our sacred story) historically true? I don’t think so. I believe most of the Book of Genesis is meant to be spiritual metaphor, not strictly history. The same could be said for Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Jonah, Job, and some other books in the Old Testament. There are real historical events behind the stories (the rise and fall of the ancient nation of Israel), but that is not the point; the point is that these stories, in their present form, are meant to explore spiritual truths and empower us to trust in God’s goodness and justice. When I asked a rabbi several years ago whether any of the stories in the Old Testament needed to be historical for Judaism to be valid, he said no. (Not all rabbis would agree!)

The connection between history and sacred story gets trickier with the New Testament. If Jesus is the Word become flesh, then isn’t it necessary that Jesus really existed and that he taught and did the kinds of things described in the Gospels? Most Christian theologians would say yes. Fortunately, there is strong historical evidence for Jesus’ actual existence. In my opinion, historical analysis supports, in general, the overall picture of Jesus painted by the first three Gospels (the Gospel of John has a stronger tendency toward spiritual interpretation of Jesus).

What about Jesus’ resurrection–the central assertion of the Christian faith? Is this historical, metaphorical, or something else? If I had been brought up as an atheist, I would regard the story of Jesus’ resurrection as ludicrous. But that’s because an atheist begins with the “sacred story” that there is no God and no reality beyond materialism and the blind forces of nature. I, on the other hand, have been nurtured and shaped by a sacred story that is committed to a deeper, truer reality. The resurrection of Jesus is one of those deeper, truer realities. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t ludicrous to me at all; it goes beyond the confines of historical or scientific analysis. It reveals and announces that God’s self-giving love ultimately wins.

Despite its thought-provoking thesis, the musical “The Book of Mormon” is also problematic. My wife and I left the theater with mixed emotions. Most problematic were social inaccuracies and what could be seen as racism in the play. The people of Uganda (where most of the play is set) are portrayed as being devoid of faith and hope, leaving them powerless in the face of indecency and the violation of human rights. In reality, Uganda is about 80% Christian, 12% Muslim, and the remainder belong to indigenous religions. Certainly Uganda has a history of political dysfunction and social violence, but that is the product of colonialism and dictators, not the lack of a positive sacred story among the people. The repulsive stereotypes (often of a sexual nature and designed for audience laughter) did not seem humorous to me.

And so, I come away from “The Book of Mormon” with a mixture of delight, some disgust, and a lot of thoughts about the power and need for a true sacred story.

Thoughts & Prayers

For the past year or two the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been a source of derision. After horrific mass shootings, some politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” but are unwilling to support any sort of gun restrictions or universal background checks. Critics claim that offering “thoughts and prayers” without corresponding action is empty and hypocritical spirituality. In many cases, it probably is.

But let us not lose or be embarrassed by the offer of “thoughts and prayers.” It is a beautiful and invaluable offer that cannot be replaced.

For instance, when a friend if going through a difficult time–problems at work, or a chronic illness, or the recent death of a family member–we often feel helpless. There may not be any hands-on assistance that we can reasonably provide. What then can we offer? In such situations it is a great gift to let our friend know that we are sharing their pain and suffering, and that we are consciously turning this situation over to God so that God’s Spirit will bring needed strength and comfort and guidance.

When I was thirteen, I broke my leg (for the second time) and the surgeon inserted a pin to hold together my shattered femur. Over the course of the next several months that pin caused me tremendous, continuous pain. Aspirin made no dent in the agony. My mother was upset that there was nothing she could do to alleviate my suffering. Several times, with tears in her eyes, she held me and said, “I wish I could take away your pain and place it in me.” Whether she realized it or not, that is exactly what she was doing. She was sharing my pain, and by doing so, I was comforted. When we offer someone our heart-felt “thoughts and prayers,” we are taking on some of the suffering, and by doing so we are bringing the comfort of genuine love.

So “thoughts” are not so useless after all. Thoughts–in the form of sympathy, empathy, and shared tears–are a principle way for us to show and share love.

Prayers are not useless either. Prayers transform us into more sensitive and loving people. We set aside our time and productivity to focus on the distress and needs of another person, lifting those needs up to God. This, in itself, internally shifts us from self-interest to other-interest.

But prayer does more than open up greater love in the person who prays, it is also opens up a spiritual field between the person praying and the person being prayed for so that God’s Spirit may be more fully present. We are all deeply interconnected in ways both physical and spiritual, and prayer strengthens this connectivity. This is not something empirical that can be measured by science; this is an intuition that lives deep within us. The only evidence of its truth is that communities of people that pray experience greater wholeness.

If we are using the phrase “thoughts and prayers” to avoid our responsibility to take action, then it is indeed an empty and hypocritical phrase. But if it is accompanied by action, or if it is the only action we can offer, then thoughts and prayers are the bedrock of our healing.

Marrying a Muslim

Last week one of my former college roommates posted on Facebook that “there are NO peaceful Muslims.” He went on to claim that every Muslim is susceptible to joining violent jihad and will kill off their infidel neighbors. This is a man I have known and loved for over forty years. I was dismayed–but not surprised–that he was spewing this hate-filled nonsense. For years he lived in Israel soaking up hatred for Palestinians and claiming all Muslims around the world are want-to-be murderers. A few days after his Facebook post, an anti-Muslim fanatic murdered fifty Muslims as they worshiped in their mosques in New Zealand.

I’m not sure whether my former roommate even knows any actual Muslims. I do. Many years ago a man connected with my congregation in Indianapolis asked me if I would officiate his wedding to a young Muslim woman. As it turned out, I could not perform the ceremony because of a schedule conflict, but I did meet with the couple for premarital counseling over the course of several months. One of the subjects we talked about was how their two faiths would work together, and how they planned to nurture faith in their hoped-for children. Their plan was that their children would grow up feeling at home and involved in both faiths, free to make their own faith decisions when they were old enough. They recognized the difficulties involved in trying to do this. I affirmed their hopes and plans and their marriage.

The day after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, I called the local mosque  near my church. I left a message on their answering machine telling them that I and my congregation were available if they needed any help. A year later I got a call from the imam. He told me that my phone call was the only supportive phone call that they received that day. He asked if he could meet with me. We got together. He was a delightful man–an African-American who had grown up Baptist but who had then become Muslim. He shared with me his intriguing spiritual journey. He was one of the most decent, open-minded, peaceful persons I have ever met. Our two congregations arranged several joint events to work at peacemaking and understanding.

My personal encounters with a variety of Muslims have enriched me. All of them have been opposed to terrorism. None of them was seeking to impose sharia law on the United States or demonstrated any intolerance toward non-Muslims.

Do observant Muslims live by and support sharia law? Of course–just as observant Jews live by and support Mosaic law. Does the Koran include some passages that, on the surface, appear intolerant, even violent, toward non-Muslims? Yes–and the Old Testament contains many such passages directed toward non-Jews; and the New Testament contains some hate-filled passages directed toward Jews. The scriptures of all religions–being the product of many cultures from many time periods–contain passages that cannot be applied literally or directly today. All scripture must be interpreted through the lens of its deepest themes–yielding to the Spirit of a merciful and loving God.

I admire certain aspects of Islam. I admire the intensity of its spiritual disciplines: prayer five times a day, a month of fasting once a year, contributing 2.5% of one’s wealth and assets (not just income!) each year to charity, and a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca at least once if feasible. The rigor of these disciplines gives Islam tremendous spiritual strength. I am also pleased that Islam holds Jesus in high regard as a great and miraculous prophet.

There are also aspects of Islam that do not appeal to me. Although Jesus is held in high esteem, his message contained in the four Gospels is obscured and sometimes discounted; and whereas the cross–God’s ultimate vulnerability and self-sacrifice for humanity–is at the center of Christian faith (and the basis of Christian nonviolence), the crucifixion of Jesus holds no such significance for Islam.

I am also disappointed in what looks to me to be a sort of fundamentalism that pervades  Islam. Whereas Christian theologians (at least in the West) have spent the last few centuries finding fruitful and honest ways to integrate the facts and truths of scientific and historical knowledge and analysis, Islamic theologians in recent centuries do not appear to be doing this; indeed, a few have even passed death sentences on those who try to do so. (To be fair, a lot of Christians have not done this integration either.)

Another problem Islam has is a political one: it is centered in nations that are often autocratic. For instance, Saudi Arabia administers Islam’s most sacred sites, including the pilgrimage to Mecca. Saudi Arabia is an autocratic, somewhat secularized, monarchy whose wealth and power derive from oil. In order to keep religious leaders happy and the population under control, the monarchy has protected and encouraged some of the most conservative and fanatical strains of Islam. Osama Bin Laden, we should remember, came from Saudi Arabia.

Political resentment and fanaticism are a significant problem in several Muslim-majority countries, and sometimes the government even fans those flames for its own political purposes. (One might wonder whether the current administration in Washington is doing something similar with white conservative Christians.)

All religions, including the Christian religion, need to be critiqued in order to help them become more healthy and spiritual. Each religion has its weaknesses as well as strengths. But regardless of our own assessments of various religions, it is wrong to then impose that assessment on all of the adherents of that religion. Individuals must be treated as individuals, based on their own merits and character and intrinsic value as equal human beings made in God’s image. So let us stop stereotyping and promoting distrust and hate. Instead, build relationships of love.

Why I Love the Government

I was never unpatriotic, but neither was I patriotic. I loved the physical beauty of the United States and admired the rights promised in the Constitution, but I mostly ignored the government. Instead, I dedicated myself to the church–a kind of alternative-government which I believed was better than the government because it did not rely on coercion, the threat of violence, or the use of war. I didn’t think I, or others committed to Christ’s way of nonviolent love, should be involved in the levers of government.

This was my position during my young adult years. But I gradually shifted my viewpoint and eventually found myself deeply committed to our representative democracy.

I still dedicate myself to the church, and I still think the “government” of the church is superior to the government of the state, but I now see that the national government is indispensable for all of us, and it is (or can be), in a way different from the church, God’s beautiful instrument for making the world a better place.

We all need a society based on enforced laws. Even sincere Christians will drive over the speed limit, or sometimes cheat on their taxes, or do other selfish and harmful things without the deterrence of laws and law enforcement. Even if all Christians were paragons of virtue needing no threat of punishment, we would still need the government to apprehend those who do harm to others, and we would still want some sort of protection for our lives and property. According to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, the formation of governments has had the greatest impact on reducing violence in the world.

But the government does more than prevent us from doing harm to one another; it also provides services on a scale the church would find impossible to do by itself. Only the government has the organization, power, and capacity to build roads and provide a free education for all children through high school; only the government can assure a minimum pension for retired persons (Social Security) or provide adequate medical care for the poor; only the government can oversee a system of food safety, clean drinking water, environmental protection, and fair markets. Only the government can make treaties and trade agreements with other governments.

As my attitudes toward the government shifted, I wondered if my biblical interpretations were too narrowly focused on the evil of government as expressed in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, Luke 4:6 and the Book of Revelation. I have paid more attention to Jeremiah’s advice to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile … for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” The Book of Daniel has also been instructive. Though it portrays pagan empires in the darkest terms, its counsel is that Jews can work faithfully within the system—as dangerous as that may be.

In classical Anabaptist theology (at least as I was taught it), the state is incapable of exhibiting Christ’s way of love. The Quakers, on the other hand, believe that the light of Christ is in everyone and everything, and we can appeal to that light and help make it shine. I think American history has shown the Anabaptists to have been right about how self-serving and violent a government can be, but it has also shown the Quakers to be right about how much better a government can become. Martin Luther King Jr. called on the United States to live up to its own highest ideals of liberty and equality. He blended his appeal with biblical allusions to justice, and he called on the conscience of all Americans to demand a change in the laws. Through the heroic nonviolent sacrifice of tens of thousands of boycotters and protesters, civil rights legislation was finally enacted. Here we see an ironic combination: nonviolent action for the sake of the passage of just laws which will be enforced by the coercive power of the government.

The current presidency has motivated me to become even more committed to preserving our form of government and its ideals. The United States government had become a morass of special interests controlled by big business and the rich, endless and expensive bureaucracy, and political insider corruption. This growing monster made me and many other citizens desperate for bold action. But the answer is not deep tax cuts for the rich, eliminating safety and environmental regulations, demonizing the press, scapegoating immigrants, undermining trust in the judiciary, polarizing the citizenry, and exerting dictatorial presidential powers. Now more than ever many of us see just how precious–and fragile–our republic is.

So now I am committed to both: the church and the government. Each possesses a crucial mission that the other cannot achieve, and each is God’s instrument.