November 2014 Newsletter

“A Piece of My Mind”

November 2014 Newsletter from Donald Shoemaker

Advancing Christian Faith and Values, Defending Religious Liberty for All, Supporting Civility and the Common Good through Preaching, Teaching, Writing, Activism and Reasoned Conversations


When you vote in November,
what should you seek in a leader?

In this newsletter I will suggest some good qualities to expect and demand of an office seeker, whether the politician is conservative or moderate or liberal.

With these qualities in place, we can now examine candidates’ positions on the issues. Without these qualities, those positions don’t matter much.


Good Government Starts Here
—What to Look For in a Candidate on Election Day

Thomas Jefferson spoke in his first inaugural address (1801) of our need for a “wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

In this spirit, I’ve thought about certain non-partisan values that should characterize good government and the officials who are elected and appointed to its many positions. Here are eight qualities I wish to see as I evaluate those seeking office this election season:

  • Frugality – viewing public funds as a limited resource to be prudently handled with great care and not as a constant spring where there is always more to be tapped. It must always be remembered that every tax dollar, regardless of its source and our political good intentions, takes money from people and not from impersonal things.
  • Accountability – recognizing that managing public funds and exercising power are solemn trusts. Those who do these things must see themselves as stewards answerable to thex people. Most of us believe accountability is due “in the sight of both God and man.” But even if a politician doesn’t think God exists, he knows the citizen does. Accountability also measures actions by their impact on the future long after a term of office has ended.
  • Integrity – being people of truthfulness and fairness and good character in light of reasoned principles acknowledged by almost everybody.
  • Collegiality – being an effective office-holder through knowing how to work with others, especially those of opposing viewpoints. The collegiate leader earns respect “across the aisle” and knows how to work the political process for reasonable advantage without yielding core values. In short, he knows “half a loaf is better than none.”
  • Efficiency – getting the most “bang for the buck” by avoiding wasted time, squandered resources, incompetence and bloated bureaucracy. Jefferson’s call for “suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses” needs to be heeded as never before.
  • Productivity – ensuring that resources of funding, time and talent are used for intended and effective purposes and not, as examples, for self-aggrandizement or for programs likely or proven to fail. A good leader regards no program as sacrosanct and regularly evaluates them for both effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Accessibility – demonstrating openness to the people they are selected to serve, whether these people are supporters, detractors or indifferent.
  • Sagacity * – realizing that the state’s power to compel behavior is a great and potentially dangerous power and therefore exercising great reserve and wisdom in its use in our free society.

With these qualities in place, we may then move beyond them to the issues we cherish and the inevitable partisanship of any election. But without these qualities even our most favored office seekers will be compromised in their missions, to everyone’s damage and cynicism.

* Yes, that was a new word for me, too. Meaning: mental discernment, sound judgment


Good News from Grace


“Saved by Good Works” or “Saved by Grace without Works”?

Does the Bible seem to teach both, or not? Can the ideas fit together?
On October 5, I gave a message at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach on James 2:14-26, “Faith that’s Worthless and Faith that Works.”

I invite you to listen to this message. It can be found on the link below as the message for 10/5/14:

Religious Liberty Vigilance –
“Houston, We Have a Problem!”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
– 1st Amendment

“No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man, than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”
– Thomas Jefferson


Quenching Religious Expression in the Name of Equality

Whichever side one is on as to the “transgender” issue, what happened in October in Houston, Texas should concern all who support religious liberty.

Long story short, a petition was submitted to the city to call for a voter referendum that would repeal a recent amendment to the city’s equal rights ordinance. The amendment allowed “transgendered” people access to the rest room of their “gender identity”. When the referendum petition was rejected, several groups filed a lawsuit against Houston.

In response to this, attorneys for the city subpoenaed a large number of documents from five pastors—”all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The results of this great overreach of government power would be at least two: (1) an intimidating, chilling effect on the messages and legal activism of churches, and (2) much difficulty for churches to fulfill the subpoenas—churches are generally unequipped or staffed for this kind of demand.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that, while a subpoena would be in order when there is a reasonable suspicion of wrong, such wrongdoing is not an issue in this case. “The targeted pastors are not even parties to the lawsuit, and the scope of the subpoenas is striking broad. This has the look of a fishing expedition.” The ACLU of Texas agreed: “The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute.” The Interfaith Alliance said, “As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons.”

That’s three left-wing voices supporting religious liberty in this case!

For now, the city has backed down (rather unrepentantly) from its power display—first by narrowing the request and then by dropping it altogether. Nonetheless, keep alert because “Vigilance is always the Price of Liberty.”

[Sources: “Friendly Atheist” blog; Websites of Americans United and the ACLU;
“The Volokh Conspiracy”, October 16 and 29, 2014; Houston Chronicle, October 29]

Message of the Month—
What Makes for “Immoral” Leadership?

Mark Driscoll, pastor of the influential mega-church Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington, resigned from leading his church in October. The overseeing board of Mars Hill Church concluded Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.” But they were careful to say he had “never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy.”

The board’s statement caught my eye. Think about it for a moment. Without a doubt, “immorality” here is a code word for sexual wrongdoing. The sometimes-prudish New American Standard Bible would at times translate the Greek word porneia (fornication) by the word “immorality” (see 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 and 7:2 in the NASB).

But this will not wash! This pastor, it was said, had arrogance, a quick temper, harsh speech and a domineering manner. These all are forms of “immorality.”

Arrogance, temper, domination? “The overseer [pastor, church leader] must be…not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” and not conceited or overbearing (1 Timothy 3:2-6; Titus 1:7). On the contrary, if you want to lead Jesus’ way (HWJL – “How Would Jesus Lead?”), read Matthew 20:20-28. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

A mega-church pastor once wrote a book on leadership. One of his staff members told me the book should have been titled Leading By Intimidation!

Harsh speech? The tongue, scripture says, is “a fire, a world of evil among all the parts of the body.” “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” With our tongues we bless God and curse people, all made in God’s likeness. “My brothers, this should not be” (read James 3:3-12).

Today “the tongue” includes what we post on (un)social media. Many teens, especially girls, use this form of communication sinfully when they speak with malice and slander and with little regard for truth. One of three teens (32%) has been “cyberbullied”—via mean texts, photoshopped pictures, fake profiles, fight videos, rumors and gossip, embarrassing pictures, threats, and harassment. ** All these are communication (speech) sins, aka immorality.

Instead of all this, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (read Ephesians 4:29-32).

The Evangelical world often seem fixated on “immorality” in one specific sense, but not on the range of matters the Bible considers immoral. Every Christian leader needs to confess his or her immorality in the light of a wide range of issues and then strive for improvement. Only then are we following the realism and personal redemption of 1 John 1:5-10 (“If we claim to be without sin [for example, through narrow definitions], we deceive ourselves… If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins…”)

Let’s stop giving a pass for sins of the tongue and temper, arrogance and domination and conceit, especially when these are manifest by leaders.

** “Social Media” session by Detective Chad Morris, Regional Training Seminar,
International Conference of Police Chaplains, October 15, 2014, Sacramento, CA

Responsible Government Fiscal Policies—
A Resolution

Note: As Chairman of the Social Concerns Committee in my denomination, The Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, I’m responsible each year for developing resolutions on current issues and presenting the same to the delegates at our annual Conference. Below is our adopted resolution (2014) on Responsible Government Fiscal Policies.

The borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

We express our concern over the federal government’s high deficit spending over the past several years and call on government at all levels to practice prudent fiscal policies.

It is vital that governments, including our own, avoid a careless attitude toward government debt and inflation if they are to act in harmony with the biblical responsibility to rule with integrity and in harmony with the biblical importance of savings.

We call on our nation’s leaders to lead with responsible integrity and to protect the heritage of our children and the assets of its citizens by acting responsibly with respect to the federal deficit, the federal debt and federal money creation.

A Joyous Thanksgiving Season to All!
God’s Abundant Gifts to us!

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
– Psalm 104:13-15 (New Revised Standard Version)


© 2014 Donald P. Shoemaker

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