Baseball, Bonding, and the Beltway

It’s no secret that I love going to baseball games. Since 2011, I’ve attended over 100 Major League games in 5 different ballparks and seen 26 of the 30 MLB teams (the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, and Phillies just don’t make it to Texas enough). Baseball can often serve as a metaphor for life, and it can be a place to bring all sorts of people together. When I go to a game, I am regularly surrounded by people who are different from me, but we are united by the love of the game. For three hours, our differences are set aside (unless the Yankees are in town), and we find joy in watching the American pastime.

Today’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the role of baseball to bridge the political divide in Washington, D.C. The Washington Nationals are hosting this week’s All-Star Game festivities, and the team provides an interesting outlet for political leaders on both sides of the aisle to come together in unity. Here are a few interesting excerpts:

Each spring, conservative columnist George Will hosts a large, convivial party at his house to mark the launch of another season for the local Major League Baseball team, the Washington Nationals.

In this year of exceptional divisiveness in Washington, it turns out his gathering provided one of the capital’s rare moments of bipartisan comity. “I think our preseason party is one of the few places you will see Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi socializing,” says Mr. Will.

If you watch the news, McConnell and Pelosi are sworn enemies working towards each other’s destruction. But for a couple hours, they can socialize cordially around baseball.

Here’s another good story from the article:

Amid the capital’s tensions, who can you find at Nationals Park in Southeast Washington? “Who haven’t I seen?” replies Tom Davis, a former Virginian congressman and Nationals Park regular.

He recalls a recent game when, sitting in his usual seats down the first-base line, a foul ball came his way. He was lucky enough to grab it—at which point another fan sitting just behind him tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out that a youngster nearby had been scrambling for the same ball. “Tom, give him the ball,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat. The Republican, Mr. Davis, promptly complied.

George Will even notes that baseball is the right sport for democracy:

In recent years, the Nationals’ bipartisan fan base could unite around success. The Nats have the second-best record in baseball over the last six years, and they won the National League East title in four of those years. This year, angst and anxiety are the forces bonding fans. The team’s record entering the All Star break is an even .500, and its star hitter, Bryce Harper, scrapes along with a batting average of .214.

Even such suffering may be oddly beneficial for loyalists who, in their day jobs, toil with similar frustration at the game of governance. “I always thought baseball was the right sport for democracy because there is so much losing,” says Mr. Will. “Democracy is the system of the half loaf. Nobody gets all they want. The same is true in baseball…It’s good for the soul of democracy.”

I think there’s a lot of truth in what these stories illustrate. People from all perspectives can unite around a simple game of throwing, catching, and hitting. I’ve had countless conversations with James and Jackie, the couple who sits next to us in our regular seats at Globe Life Park to watch the Rangers. Our paths would never have crossed otherwise. In some respects, they are still strangers. In other ways, they are old friends. What I can tell you is that we bond over baseball and then go our separate ways. When we meet again at another game, we pick up where we left off.

We live in a deeply divided society, but we need something to unite us on occasion. Baseball can’t fix everything, but it can help us slow down, relax, and talk things out. Perhaps we should take to heart the words of the column:

The need for such a refuge has only grown in a summer of raw emotions over immigration, Supreme Court vacancies and Russian election meddling. So, as baseball’s mid-summer classic, the All-Star Game, takes place in Washington on Tuesday, this is a good time to pause and reflect on the role—perhaps small, yet undeniable—that baseball and the Nationals play in bridging the increasingly stark divides in Washington.

This is just one more reason why I love this game.

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Gerald F. Seib, “Baseball Bridges the Political Divide in Washington,” The Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018.

A Prayer for Our Nation

May 3 is the National Day of Prayer. This is a moment for us to stop and ask for God’s guidance for those who lead our nation. This is not a time to hash out political disagreements; rather, it is an opportunity to unite around the biblical admonition to pray for those in leadership over us. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we read, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer is “Unity.” There is no doubt that we live in a nation that is divided. We are divided over politics, race, economics, etc. We often look to our leaders to solve these problems, but they persist. As an encouragement, here are a few ways we can pray for our leaders as they face the challenges of governing this diverse nation.

  1. Pray for their hearts. Most of us probably do not know the spiritual status of our government officials. There are certainly outspoken Christians in office, but there are also those who do not know God. It will do us good to move our focus away from political disagreements and unite in praying for the hearts of our leaders. In Psalm 2:10-11 we read, “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” We see this warning from the psalmist that kings and judges should worship the Lord. We need to pray that God would draw the hearts of our government officials to himself, and that their lives would be an expression of worship.
  2. Give thanks to God for our government officials. It is often hard to give thanks for people with whom we disagree. As noted above, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Specifically, he tells us to give thanksgiving for those who rule over us. They have been placed in offices of authority, and God has ordained government authority (Romans 13:1). As we give thanks to God for our leaders, we should also live as good citizens. The result of this combination is that we would be able to lead peaceful lives.
  3. Pray for peace and welfare. There is no doubt that their days in exile were the lowest point for the people of Judah. In the midst of that exile, Jeremiah sent the exiles a letter with an interesting statement from the Lord. He wrote, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). The Lord instructed the exiles to seek the welfare of the land of their exile because it would result in their own welfare. We should also pray for the welfare of our nation under the leadership of our government officials because it will result in our own welfare.

These points of prayer are not a magic formula to bring about unity to a divided nation, but they will refocus our own hearts to recognize the part we can play in bringing unity to the nation in which we live. True unity can only be found in Christ; therefore, it is also imperative for us to proclaim the truth of the gospel to a lost and dying world.

Would you join me in praying for our nation, particularly our government officials, on this National Day of Prayer?

Dear Father, I come to you today, on the National Day of Prayer in my country, to pray for our leaders as you have instructed us. First, I pray for a submissive spirit on my own part to those you have placed in authority. May I be a good citizen of my country who submits to the ordinances of government in keeping with the ordinances of God. May I honor those to whom honor is due. Second, I pray for the hearts of our government officials. I do not know their spiritual condition, but I ask you to draw them to yourself. For those who do not know you personally, I pray for their salvation and that they would worship you in spirit and in truth. Third, I give you thanks for the leaders of our country, states, and cities. You have granted authority to our government, and these are the leaders you have ordained for this time. Finally, may their leadership result in the peace and welfare of our nation so that we may also find welfare and live tranquilly in godliness and dignity. Lord, thank you for hearing my prayer, and help me to bring these leaders before you in prayer regularly. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Guest Post: Watching the News Without Losing Your Mind (Or Your Faith!)

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about anxiety and the sovereignty of God. At that time, my children were preschool and young elementary age, and I struggled with worry over them. I found that article the other day and read through it, feeling like I was looking through an old family picture album.

The feelings of anxiety were fresh and I quickly remembered the worry I carried over keeping them safe, well-educated, and healthy. The idea that amazed me as I read back through that article was that – as much as things have changed in our lives – many things stay the same.

Yes, my children are older, but I still fight the temptation to become paralyzed in fear over them.  The situations might be different, but my heart at times can be the very same. Today, however, I find the anxiety not only coming from within, but also from around me.

The national news, the local papers, and social media are busting at the seams with shocking stories of pain, hurt, and trepidation for the future. There is a palpable feeling of worry, uneasiness, fear, and general anxiety among people today inside and outside of the Church.  The places that we used to turn to for help with anxiety (friends, church, even entertainment) are now over run themselves with the same anxious content.

What are we, as believers, to do in a world filled with uncertainty and fear?

First, we must remember that God has called us to be different. Christian women must stop falling into the same patterns as those around us. We have what the non-believer does not have. Because of our relationship with Christ and because He has given us His Word, we have the answers! The problem comes when we don’t access the power that we have been given. We turn into the gullible women of 2 Timothy 3 who might learn, but are never able to act on the knowledge of the Truth.

We must act on the wonderful, hopeful, freeing knowledge we have of who God is and how He is at work around us.  For if we do not, we will miss the opportunity to live out our faith, and no unbelieving person will ever want what our testimony of Christ proclaims.  Never forget, friend, that our Lord holds the future and He is still in control. Yet, if we worry just as much as our lost neighbor does, what peace do we have to offer her? It is only when we stand courageously on the truth of God that we can offer hope amid fearful times.

Secondly, we must train our mind and eyes on truth. The diet we feed our minds produces the fruit of our thoughts and emotions. Paul did not give the Philippians specific instructions on what to think on because it made for a pretty plaque on their living room wall. He wrote to them from a prison cell, during a time of disunity and heresy in the church. The Philippian Christians were surrounded by Gentiles in a town with a heightened military presence. I am sure the Christians might have been a bit nervous, so Paul charged them with exactly what to think on to prevent their mind from wandering into the back allies of fear and anxiety (Phil 4:6-8).

Lastly, we must rest in the sovereignty of God. A genre of writings that I find helpful in digesting the events going on in our world is biographies of heroes in the faith. What we are going through as Christian and as American women is not new. There are many who have gone before us and have gone through similar fears and challenges. God could have put us in any time of history, in any country.

But He chose to place us here; in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our churches. Just like those who have lived through history, I want to be found faithful to fulfill God’s purposes right where He has called me. I can only do this if I release my grip on fear and anxiety and trust God’s plan for my life and the lives of those around me.

Trust His sovereignty in your life. Whatever happens, He has you right where He wants you for his purpose and for His glory. We must live our lives in a way that, no matter what, we can testify to His goodness and power in our lives!

Politics and Ministry

240px-2016_presidential_election_ballotOver the past several weeks, I have been asked more about politics than I can ever remember. The situation with the current presidential election has created as much discussion as the Bush-Gore fiasco of 2000. At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we have sought to be a voice of reason during the contentious election cycle. As part of that reasonable voice, I have participated in two discussions over the last week about politics and its implications for ministry.

Today I spent about half an hour discussing politics and ministry on Facebook Live as part of Southwestern’s “Ask the Expert” series. Despite the obvious failings of this “expert,” it was a fun experience with some good questions. You can find the video below.

Last Thursday I was part of a panel discussion with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of SWBTS, and Rep. Matt Krause, Texas State Representative from District 93. We had a wide ranging discussion about law, politics, church, and religious liberty. The video from that discussion will be available on the Seminary’s YouTube channel in the coming days.

 

Leadership Lessons from Bush 41

The 1988 presidential election cycle is the first one I truly remember. Yes, I was alive during President Reagan’s successful bids for the White House in 1980 and 1984, but I was only 2 and 6 years old, respectively. I have memories of President Bush’s vow where he said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Although I have studied some aspects of presidential politics back to the days of Washington, my experiential knowledge essentially starts with Bush 41 (except for a memory in fourth grade when my class at school sent a letter to President Reagan asking about his favorite Bible verse—as I recall, it was John 3:16).

I just finished reading 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush. It was a fascinating book with an abundance of insights into the life of George H. W. Bush, much of which could only have been told by his eldest son. In fact, I often caught myself verbalizing the words in my head in the younger President’s signature Texas drawl.

The book is full of personal stories about the Bush family. There are glimpses into difficult decisions to pass up opportunities of privilege in order to work his way to the top. Parts of the book are very emotional as the reader gets a picture of what it is like to win and lose on the political stage.

As I read the book, I was struck by some of the insightful lessons on leadership demonstrated in the life of George Bush. These are lessons that are beneficial no matter what your political persuasion may be.

1. Add a personal touch. I was amazed by the constant references to personal, handwritten notes from the desk of the President. At various times throughout the book, the details of a story came from the notes that President Bush had written to others. The recipients of these notes included family, friends, allies, and political enemies.

No one really writes notes any more. We usually say that we are too busy to do so. But how much busier are we today than the President of the United States. Yes, Mr. Bush was in office nearly 30 years ago, but he served during the end of the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, and countless other crises in those four years. Yet, he still found time to write personal notes to friends and enemies alike.

Perhaps sending handwritten notes and letters is a relic of previous generations, but I think it is something we should revive. When I receive the occasional note from individuals whom I admire and trust, my spirits are lifted and my loyalty is strengthened. Such a note lets the recipient know he is valued.

2. Treat others with respect. Very few people will ever have the opportunity to develop as many allies and enemies as the President. One of the funniest lines in the book came when George W. Bush recounted his own decision to run for President. He writes, “When reporters would ask how my father would affect the race, I joked that I had inherited half of his friends and all of his enemies” (p. 262). Bush 43 then goes on to state that his father actually had very few enemies. The reason for such seems to be that he treated everyone with respect.

Bush’s career was characterized by difficult relationships. He served as chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate scandal. He wrote a personal letter to President Nixon suggesting that he resign for the good of the country. At the beginning of his term in the White House, he inherited a tense situation with the Soviet Union. Part of that tension was managing his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. In the midst of the political upheaval in 1989, Bush chose not to celebrate the demise of communism publicly, but instead authored a handwritten letter to Gorbachev proposing a summit. Many now credit President Bush for his work in orchestrating a peaceful end to the Cold War.

One of the most interesting relationships discussed in the book is the one between Bush and President Bill Clinton. Clinton unseated Bush in the 1992 presidential election, but the outgoing President sought to make his successor’s transition as smooth as possible, even leaving a letter of encouragement for him on the desk of the Oval Office. The Bushes welcomed the Clintons to the White House in January of 1993 and then transitioned to private life. However, George W. Bush would later call on the two former Presidents to work together on fundraising for disaster relief following the tsunami in Asia and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike in the United States. These two political rivals formed an enduring friendship through their work together. Bush 43 writes:

The friendship they formed through their shared service has endured. Bill Clinton visits my parents regularly in Maine. Over time, it became clear that Clinton treated Dad as a sort of father figure, perhaps because Clinton never knew his father. Mother took to calling Clinton her long-lost fifth son—or, as Marvin put it, “a brother from another mother.” Clinton embraced the image and started calling himself the black sheep of the Bush family. He joked that Barbara Bush would do anything to claim another President in the family. (p. 271)

The tendencies I see in leaders today is too often self-promotion at the expense of others. Gone are the days of treating everyone—including your enemies—with respect. In fact, I have witnessed some leaders treat allies so poorly that they become enemies. In an age of self-promotion, respect is a forgotten virtue. Perhaps that is because treating others with respect has a tendency to downplay one’s own accomplishments and importance. True leaders, however, know that relationships are more important than self-promotion.

3. Be willing to serve. The history of the Bush family is one of service, long before George Bush ever ran for political office. The generations that preceded him had served their communities and country. George Bush wanted to do the same. He was a pilot in World War II, escaping what would have been an untimely death after being shot down over the Pacific Ocean. He served as a Congressman from Texas, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, Liaison Officer to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President, and President of the United States.

In several instances, Bush was asked to leave a comfortable role in order to do something difficult. While serving in China in 1975, Bush received a telegram from President Gerald Ford asking him to leave China and become director of the CIA. The CIA was under investigation by Congress for illegal activity under multiple administrations. The position required approval by the Senate and also had the potential to remove him from future considerations to run for higher political office. However, Bush was determined to serve where he was most needed and accepted the post at the CIA.

Political expediency and personal gain are often the goals of service today. Many “leaders” want to take positions that stand to benefit them the most. What Bush demonstrated was a willingness to serve in roles that benefited those around him the most, even if they included the possibility of derailing his own aspirations. Such selflessness is the epitome of service. Taking positions for personal gain isn’t truly service of others—it is self-serving. We should aspire to be leaders who are selfless.

There are many other great lessons to be learned in this profile of Bush 41. His story is one of great triumph, occasional defeat, and spectacular service. While George H. W. Bush may not go down in history as one of the most popular Presidents of all time, he has certainly left a legacy of a selfless leader for others to emulate.

Abortion and Self-Ownership

Where does the right of self-ownership come from? Is the pro-abortion argument that a woman can do whatever she wishes with her body actually grounded in any theological or philosophical ideas? How does argument relate to the supposed right to abortion in the United States?

Canon & Culture, a project of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, published a piece I wrote on the issue of abortion and self-ownership. Here is an excerpt:

Last July I boarded a bus and drove down to Austin for a pro-life rally on the steps of the Texas State Capitol. We arrived more than an hour before the scheduled start time of the rally, so I had the opportunity to take in my surroundings and observe the arguments being made by the abortion-rights protestors. In what was often crass language, the abortion-rights argument being made at the Capitol that day essentially boiled down to one point—a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. This can be described as a right to privacy based upon self-ownership.

Since this right is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, where does it find its origin? In contemporary jurisprudence, the right to do what you want with your own body (i.e., the right to privacy) is drawn from the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Bill of Rights according to Griswold v. Connecticut and out of the 14th Amendment’s restriction on the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Applied to the abortion issue, these ideas regarding the right to privacy form the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for abortion on demand. However, the supposed “right to privacy” found in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment still does not make self-ownership clear.

Even though most abortion-rights proponents do not make the explicit connection, the right of self-ownership is typically attributed to the work of John Locke in The Second Treatise of Government. Locke writes, “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself” (V.27). There is no doubt that John Locke’s work was very influential upon the Founders of the United States, and language from the Second Treatise appears directly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, are we correct in inferring a right to self-ownership of our bodies from Locke?

You can read the rest of the article here.

*You may notice that this article is a little more academic than what I usually post on my website, but that is the purpose of Canon & Culture. Their purpose is “to help build and strengthen the church’s social, ethical, and moral witness by providing thoughtful content from leading thinkers that inspires a rising generation of evangelicals to think Christianly about the public square and the common good.”

Are Corporations People Too?: Hobby Lobby and Religious Liberty

Supreme_Court_US_2010Who would have ever imagined that a craft store chain owned by a Christian family would be at the center of a Supreme Court case about sexuality, abortifacient drugs, the role of corporations, and religious liberty? Oral arguments were heard today in the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The central point of the case is whether or not the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstores, has the right to exercise their religious freedom in opting out of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employer-provided health plans to offer emergency birth control drugs at no charge to their employees. The Greens have objected on religious grounds that such emergency birth control options are tantamount to abortion and that providing abortion-inducing drugs is a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs.

Trying to predict what the Supreme Court will decide is an exercise in futility, so I will not go down that road. However, I do want to highlight a few interesting notes from today’s oral arguments.

The first is not all that surprising (and possibly not all that interesting)—the high court appears divided. From the best one can tell from the questioning, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor apparently siding with the government and Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito leaning towards Hobby Lobby. This leaves Justice Anthony Kennedy as the deciding vote in an otherwise divided Court. This is familiar territory for the current version of the Supreme Court.

The second item of note is that the role of a corporation seems to be a big question. Some of the liberal justices seemed to imply that corporations should simply be able to pick up the tab for the healthcare expenses or fees for not providing healthcare with no impact on the business or the economy. They did not seem to take into account that these healthcare costs have to be paid by someone and that the costs would most likely be passed along to the customer. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor also pressed Paul Clement, the attorney arguing for Hobby Lobby, about whether corporations could opt out of other healthcare options for their employees. Lyle Denniston reports that they “suggested that if corporations gain an exemption from having to provide birth-control services for their female employees, then the next complaint would be about vaccinations, blood transfusions, and a whole host of other medical and non-medical services that a company or its owners might find religiously objectionable.”

On the other hand, Justice Alito pushed back against Solicitor General Donald Verrilli regarding the purpose of corporations. He asked the Solicitor General if the only purpose of corporations was to “maximize profits.” If the object is only to maximize profits, then corporations would have no other rights. However, if corporations serve other purposes, then they might have the right to protection under the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.

The third item is the most interesting development in my opinion. It relates to the rights of a corporation to make a claim regarding discrimination. The government argued that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby have no standing to file a claim against the government based on religious discrimination. On the surface this seems to make sense because corporations are not churches, nor are they individuals with religious beliefs. However, the government has already held that corporations can file claims based on racial discrimination. In the same sense, corporations are not individuals of a particular race or ethnicity. The racial discrimination claims have typically been based on the race and ethnicity of the owners.

Applying the same standard to the religious freedom aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, it would appear that the Green family’s deeply held religious beliefs (and clear articulation of those beliefs in company documents) would provide the corporation with the same protections as those guaranteed to them as individuals. This argument could prove to be central in the upcoming decision of the Court.

Once again, we will be left to wait for months until hearing the decision of the Supreme Court that will most likely come in June. Until then, it is futile to speculate what the Court will decide. However, there is one thing that we can do. We can pray for the justices of the Supreme Court that God would grant them wisdom in judging these matters. We should pray for godly wisdom that they would rule according to God’s will. We should pray that they would value life in the way that God values life—seeing those in the womb as no different than a full-grown adult (Psalm 139:13–16).

I urge you to join me in prayer for John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The future of religious liberty in the United States is in their hands.
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Lyle Denniston, “Argument recap: One hearing, two dramas,” SCOTUSblog, March 25, 2014.

Derrick Morgan, Hans von Spakovsky, and Elizabeth Slattery, “How the Supreme Court Justices Reacted to Today’s Hobby Lobby Arguments,” The Foundry, March 25, 2014.

Ilya Shapiro, “Is There No Alternative to Forcing People to Violate Their Religious Beliefs?” Cato Institute, March 25, 2014.