In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Movie Review: Copperhead

Recently my younger son and I went to the theater and saw the new movie Copperhead (official site; see also Facebook page and page on the Internet Movie Database). It is produced and directed by Ron Maxwell, who gave us the celebrated films Gettysburg in 1993 and (the somewhat less celebrated) Gods and Generals in 2003. But in my opinion, Copperhead stands even above those films in the quality of its production, acting, score, authenticity, and the power of its message. It's been in limited release thus far, so you may have to hunt for a theater to see it in (click here for links to lists of theaters, on-demand sources, and other viewing options). But the effort is thoroughly justified.

Ron Maxwell
In a recent interview, Maxwell explained that "In retrospect, looking back on it, I think the first two films [Gettysburg and Gods and Generals], taken together, are a cinematic meditation on why good men — honorable, ethical men — choose to go to war. . . .  The film Copperhead, which takes place during the same time, and with the same conflict, the American Civil War, explores cinematically why good and honorable, ethical, moral men choose not to go to war."

Copperhead is based on the 19th-century novel The Copperhead by Harold Frederic (1856-1898), who was born and raised in Utica, New York. Both the novel and the film are presented as based on actual events that took place in upstate New York in 1862 and 1863, during the first half of the American Civil War. The main character, dairy farmer Abner Beech, opposes the war being waged by President Abraham Lincoln in the name of preserving the Union. Like other Northern "Peace Democrats," Beech is contemptuously labelled a “Copperhead”--a poisonous snake--by those who ardently support the war and regard his stance as unpatriotic and even treasonous. Peace Democrats like Beech accepted the label, reinterpreting the copper "head" as the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore as badges.

A cartoon appearing in Harper's Weekly, February 28, 1863,
disparaging Peace Democrats as "Copperheads"
 Some historians suggest that Copperheadism represented a traditionalistic element in the American population, alarmed at the rapid modernization of society as promoted by the Republican Party, and hearkened back to "Jeffersonian" and "Jacksonian" Democracy for inspiration. While nominally supporting the Union, Copperheads strongly opposed the Civil War, for which they blamed radical abolitionists, and sought immediate peace with the Southern states, whether they stayed in or out of the Union. They regarded the policies of President Lincoln and the Republican Party as arbitrary and tyrannical, and in direct conflict with the letter and spirit of the United States Constitution. Given Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, arrest and detention without trial of thousands of suspected secessionists in the border states, and other war measures of debatable legality--including, perhaps, the Emancipation Proclamation--there may have been more than a little merit in their position.

Billy Campbell as Abner Beech
But the film Copperhead does not dwell so much on legal issues, politics, or even the Civil War, as it does on how such contentious matters can divide a community and turn neighbors--and even members of the same family--against each other, with tragic results. Most of the people in the rural village where Abner Beech lives strongly support the Union effort against the South, especially Jee Hagadorn, an ardent abolitionist and father of the young lady Esther that Beech's son, Thomas Jefferson Beech, is courting. Neither Abner nor his neighbors are hesitant about expressing their opinions--more or less civilly, at first, but with increasing rancor as the film goes on. Peer pressure and a festering conflict between him and his father eventually impel Tom (or Jeff, as Abner prefers), to enlist in the Union army.

Marching village recruits off to war
In the months that follow, the villagers crowd anxiously around posted boards listing the names of local soldiers killed, wounded, and missing in action. They try to go about their daily work, but tempers fray as emotions build, and the village nearly plunges into a civil war of its own when neighbors confront each other while assembling to cast their votes in the contentious general election of autumn 1862. Not long after, Esther Hagadorn visits the Beech home seeking news of Tom on the very night that torch-wielding villagers, enraged by Abner's stubborn, outspoken Copperheadism, converge on the house--with potentially terrible consequences for both the Beeches and the Hagadorns. Only in the end do the neighbors confront what their once-peaceful community has become, and start mending the wounds.

Jee Hagadorn confronts Abner Beech
No capsule summary of a film's plot can adequately convey its power, though. In Copperhead, sights and sounds work together with the intimacy of the small village to make the viewer feel as if he or she is right there among these modest working people, sharing their passions and their fears. Though the story is set in upstate New York, the film was shot in the countryside of New Brunswick, Canada and particularly Kings Landing Historical Settlement.  I could recommend several venues in upstate New York where the movie might have been shot with at least equal faithfulness to the time and place being portrayed, so I'm not sure why New Brunswick was chosen (lower taxes comes to mind). Nevertheless, that location seems to share much with rural east-central New York in terrain, vegetation, and climate. I've traveled about that part of the state, now live in a west-central farm/college town in New York, and  grew up in a small western-New York town, and felt while watching the film that I was witnessing life as it must have been like right there where I had lived. The movie is filled with scenes of common people at their daily tasks, carried out just as people would in the mid-19th century--milling lumber; caring for livestock; gathering crops; building and repairing homes; attending to business in their little stores and workshops; attending church services and singing hymns; eating together around the table. From my own experience in living history, the costuming appeared to be thoroughly accurate and made the actors and the time they were portraying come vividly to life. The lighting and cinematography are gorgeous and bring the viewer right into story, so that you can almost smell the woods and fields and feel the warmth of the setting sun. The musical score, while not presenting any really memorable themes, was quietly beautiful and lent great dignity to the way of life carried on by the people of the village.

A domestic scene  from Copperhead
 Though most of the leading actors in Copperhead (including Billy Campbell as Abner Beech and Angus Macfadyen as Jee Hagadorn) have respectable filmographies, none is a household name--except Peter Fonda, who turns in a nicely understated performance as the blacksmith Avery. All of the acting is skillful and authentic, and much of it very poignant. Many of the actors are young and just getting started in film, but give wonderfully passionate and sensitive performances. The relative obscurity of the cast is an advantage, in my opinion, as we can interact with the characters as portrayed and without the baggage that big names inevitably carry to the screen.

Esther Hagadorn and Tom Beech
Some have criticized Copperhead  as "slow-moving," especially early in the film, but I think such care was necessary to introduce and fully develop the characters and the film's sense of time and place. The pace of life in a small, rural, 19th-century community was itself slow, and the character of the people emerged only in the measured rhythm of their daily lives. Much action and sudden, high emotion early in the movie would have run against its carefully crafted texture.

The central theme of Copperhead is what can happen to ordinary people when we let our differences ripen into hatred, and forget the counsels of brotherhood and compassion on which our Lord meant our lives together to be based. The lesson is exquisitely presented in James Chapter 3:
[T]he tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. . . . But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. . . . For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.  (James 3:5-10, 14-18)
Would that people today take this teaching to heart!  The tenor of our times is remarkably similar to that prevailing mid-19th century America. We are riven with fear, conflicting values, political faction, corruption, and controversy, which paralyze government and make enemies of neighbors and even family members. Instead of reaching out to and caring for each other as unique, priceless children of God, we seem more intent on "winning" the "culture wars,"  whichever side of those we happen to be on. We are divided and pitted against each other by self-serving media, interest groups, politicians, and professional grandstanders. Our country seems every day on the verge of a real, not just a figurative, civil war. In this poisonous climate, we do well to reflect on the lessons presented in a film like Copperhead.  I urge everyone to see it.

Abner Beech embracing his sons.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Battle Hymn of the Republic: Its History and Meaning

Irish Brigade Monument, Antietam National Battlefield
[NOTE: This post was adapted from a recent item on my blog Songs of Praises, which features the best in hymns and sacred music.]
A couple of weeks ago (May 27) people in the United States observed Memorial Day, on which we  remember and honor those who gave their lives while serving our country in the armed forces.  In less than a month (July 1-3), we will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the costliest and, perhaps, most decisive engagement in the American Civil War.  Dark clouds of wars past, as well as the "wars and rumors of wars" today, are on our minds.  For centuries, people have resorted to sacred music as a way to find meaning, comfort, and inspiration amidst the terrible trials that wars produce. Sometimes a hymn will reflect on what has been lost in past conflicts, especially fallen warriors, and at other times (and often in the same hymn) on the causes for which the war was fought.

War, for a Christian, is among the most troubling features of life in this world. We believe that our God is loving and merciful, yet untold millions of innocent  human beings have been killed, maimed, starved, enslaved, and otherwise suffered in countless wars down through history, a scourge which seems to have no end. God commands us not to kill (Exodus 20:13), but legions of professing Christians have taken up arms, and still do, to defend their homelands or way of life--and too often in the past, most regrettably, to engage in conquest and even to war against each other.  We pray fervently for peace and look forward to the blessed day when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2:3-4)  And yet, we "put on the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:11) and sing rousing hymns that are full of military imagery, such as Onward Christian Soldiers, Who Is on the Lord’s Side?, and Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, Ye Soldiers of the Cross. Ultimately, perhaps, war is but one facet of the opposition and conflict that came into the world with sin, and will be our lot until Christ returns and banishes Satan forever.

This view suffuses one of Christendom's (and the world's) most famous hymns, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. This remarkable work may be less of a "hymn" as commonly understood, than an anthem, for it became the inspirational "theme" music for the Union (or perhaps more precisely, the abolitionist) cause in the American Civil War. While it reflects on the issues that gave rise to that war and invokes images common to the 19th century soldier's experience, the Battle Hymn elevates the conflict to a higher, sacred plane and speaks to what many Christians believe about evil, the destiny of the world, and our role in fulfilling that destiny. Its refrain even inspires the title and Web address of this blog!


The text of the Battle Hymn was written in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910), a prominent American social activist and wife of Samuel Gridley Howe (1801–1876), a famed scholar in education of the blind. Samuel and Julia were both deeply involved in the anti-slavery or "abolitionist" movement, in which thousands of Americans had, for more than thirty years, worked tirelessly to end the practice of slavery in the United States through religious and moral persuasion, political agitation, and even spiriting slaves away to the Northern states and Canada from their places of bondage in the South. Many abolitionists had exhausted their fortunes and risked (and some suffered)  prison or death in the cause. The movement grew out of the American religious revival known as the the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s and 1830s, and its most passionate and committed members were motivated by the conviction that "all people were equal in God's sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; [and] for one of God's children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution." (James Brewer Stewart, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery (1976)). They were also convinced, as were most zealous believers since the Second Great Awakening, that the Millennium was near and that Jesus Christ would return to the earth soon to usher it in. That society could and should be transformed for the better in furtherance of God's purpose, and that it was the Christian's duty to help bring about that transformation, was an article of faith among religious abolitionists and social reformers of that day.

John Brown
By the 1860s the abolition movement seemed--but for the liberation of some thousands of slaves through the "underground railroad"--to have borne little fruit but to set the Northern and Southern sections of the United States implacably against each other. The 1859 assault on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia led by John Brown, a deeply religious abolition zealot who sought to spark a slave uprising--and which was funded in part by Samuel Gridley Howe--only hastened the rupture. Finally, five months after anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November 1860, and several Southern states seceded from the Union, the conflict became an open and deadly Civil War.

According to various accounts, the Battle Hymn was born in the wake of a public review of federal troops outside Washington, D.C. in November 1861, which Julia Ward Howe attended along with her husband Samuel--now a member of President Lincoln's military Sanitary Commission--and the Rev. James Freeman Clarke. At some point the passing soldiers began singing John Brown's Body, a popular Union marching song that referred both to the famous antislavery martyr John Brown and to a certain irrepressible Union soldier of that name from Massachusetts. John Brown's Body itself originated from a popular religious camp-meeting song known as Canaan's Happy Shore or Brothers, Will You Meet Us?, which carried an old folk tune transcribed (and often attributed to) William Steffe (1830–1890), (of whom no known image exists) and published in about 1856. Although the words to John Brown's Body were thought by the more genteel people of the time as rather coarse and irreverent, Mrs. Howe and her party joined in the singing as the soldiers marched by. Reverend Clarke suggested to Mrs. Howe that she write some new lyrics to the familiar tune, and she resolved to do so. As she later recalled:
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, 'I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.' So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper. [Howe, Julia Ward. Reminiscences: 1819-1899. Houghton, Mifflin: New York, 1899. p. 275]
Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic was first published on the front page of the February 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly (editor James T. Fields (1817-1881), who paid Mrs. Howe $5 for the piece, is credited with having given the song the name by which it is known today). By the time federal forces  took the field for their spring campaigns, soldiers were already singing and marching to the song.

Since the Civil War, the Battle Hymn has become one of the USA's most beloved patriotic songs. It also appears in many hymnals, and is widely sung at church services on such national holidays as Memorial Day and Independence Day. It is probably second in eminence only to The Star Spangled Banner as an American patriotic anthem.


One cannot fully appreciate the meaning and significance of the Battle Hymn without reading and pondering its text in detail:

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
    His truth is marching on.

        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        His truth is marching on.

    I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
    They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
    I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
    His day is marching on.

        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        His day is marching on.

    I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
    "As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
    Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
    His truth is marching on."

        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        His truth is marching on.

    He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
    He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
    Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
    Our God is marching on.

        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Our God is marching on.

    In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
    With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
    As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
    While God is marching on.

        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Our God is marching on.

    He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
    He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
    So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
    Our God is marching on.

        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Glory, glory, hallelujah!
        Our God is marching on.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic is certainly different from most of the works featured in traditional collections of hymns, which tend to focus on the individual and his or her personal transformation through God and Jesus Christ. The Battle Hymn, on the other hand, focuses on the world and the injustice and evil within it, and its impending transformation by Christ, heralded by and working through the armies of His faithful.

The first stanza presents a clear vision of the Lord's return and the fearful judgment coming in its wake:  "glory of the coming of the Lord" (". . . the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Matthew 24:30); "grapes of wrath" ("And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God."  Revelation 14:19); "terrible swift sword" (". . . out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword . . ."  Revelation 1:16).

As has been noted elsewhere, the main element of the chorus--"Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!"-- was probably also inspired by the book of Revelation: " . . . I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God . . ."  (Revelation 19:1).

In the second and third stanzas, the Lord is seen in "the watchfires;" His righteous sentence and His fiery gospel are read in "the dim and burning lamps" and in "burnished rows of steel" (ranks of polished musket barrels). These are things characteristic of soldier life, so the hymn suggests that the army itself constitutes the Lord's "terrible swift sword" and, perhaps, the "Hero born of woman" which is to "crush the serpent" underfoot.

The fourth stanza's reference to the "trumpet that shall never call retreat" also invokes a familiar thing to soldiers of that day, the bugle, and suggests a stern call to duty and action, as well as to Judgment Day, "a day of the trumpet and alarm" (Zephaniah 1:14, 16). Tthat call is not one to be shirked or dreaded by a soldier in God's army, but embraced joyfully: "Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!"

The fifth stanza is the true climax of the hymn, and reveals its core inspiration: Christ, the beauty and glory of his Person. As He died to free all people  from sin, so should we be ready to give our lives to bring freedom to others ("As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free"). While the word "slavery" is never used in the Battle Hymn, its implication is unmistakable, given the times and the circumstances of the hymn's author and authorship.

In thus replacing the words to the earthy marching song John Brown's Body, Mrs. Howe clearly intended to give the soldiers' agonizing work a new and higher meaning: not just the conquest of a menacing adversary, not just restoration of the Union, but a deliverance of millions of helpless souls from the crushing evil of bondage, and redemption of the whole nation from guilt for that terrible sin. As another perceptive observer explains: "[Mrs. Howe's] hymn was an attempt to frame [the soldiers'] sacrifice, to place it within the context of a great and glorious cause. . . . the advance of God’s Kingdom on earth."


Perhaps it is well that the Battle Hymn omits specific reference to the racial slavery over which the Civil War was fought 150 years ago, for as it is written the hymn speaks eloquently to us today, and calls us to be defenders of the freedom God intended for all our brothers and sisters. No wonder that the Battle Hymn became an anthem of the 20th century's civil rights movement.  In his final sermon delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. closed with the first line of the Battle Hymn: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"  The Battle Hymn has also come to be associated with the American cause in confronting evil and oppression around the world. It was a favorite of British Prime Minister and World War II leader Winston Churchill, for example, and at his request was played at his funeral in 1965.

Some modern Christians are uncomfortable with the militancy of the Battle Hymn and its call to men and women for such deep and forceful involvement in worldly matters. In any such critique we need to be mindful of the social and religious currents, as well as of the desperate moral and political struggles, out of which it arose. Different conditions and attitudes prevail today, when the initiative for social reform has been largely assumed by, or ceded to, secular forces working through governments and their allied organizations. Moreover, and ominously, there is in our society a growing resistance to the involvement of religious elements in public life. Nevertheless, who but those inspired by the love and teachings of Christ are better suited to show the compassion and self-sacrifice today's world so desperately needs?  Do Christian believers simply stand aside and let the relentless tide of evil (violence, class/ethnic/sectarian enmity, abortion) wash over the world while we gaze upwards waiting for deliverance?  To put it in Civil War terms, should we yield the moral battlefield and ground arms until our General appears to do the fighting for us?  Or do we, in Christ's name and spirit, march forward now and do what we can, until He returns, to dispel Satan's lies and extend God's deliverance to all His beleaguered children?  Even if we do so with plowshares instead of swords, the Battle Hymn of the Republic would still be a perfect anthem for our efforts.

* * * * * * *

It's unusual to have multiple videos telling how a hymn came to be, and of its enduring significance--but the Battle Hymn is a very special piece. Here is the story of the hymn as told by the great actor and director Orson Welles:

Here is another fascinating video relating the story of the Battle Hymn by the great-great-great grandson of Julie Ward Howe:

* * * * * * *

There are many excellent (and some not so satisfactory) video renditions of the Battle Hymn. Most present only the first, second, and fifth stanzas. I suppose they're the best-known and easiest to understand and relate to for modern listeners, although the fourth stanza is just as clear and inspiring as the others, in my humble opinion.

Most modern renditions also substitute "live" for the original "die" in the third line of the fifth stanza, making the line read: "As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free."  It is unclear when and why this change became commonplace. Perhaps it was in reaction against what some find to be the hymn's unsettling militancy. Others believe that "live" is preferable because it embraces commitment and potential sacrifice of one's whole being, in life as well as in death. Out of faithfulness to the original work I generally prefer its wording, but philosophically I prefer "live" for the reason just given. I find either formulation most inspiring.

Here is the video I thought most impressive musically and visually, featuring full orchestration and a large (though, unfortunately, unidentified) choir:

Good solo performances on video are harder to come by. Here is a good one by Judy Collins, joined by a U.S. Army chorus and the Boys Choir of Harlem in a 1993 concert televised live from Washington, D.C.:

For those who prefer a more spiritual, less military presentation, here's one featuring singer Jim Nabors along with images of Christ and scenes from His life and mission on Earth (in contrast to most other renditions, this one features the first, fourth, and fifth stanzas of the hymn):

* * * * * * *

  . . . [T]hey shall see the Son of man
coming in the clouds of heaven
with power and great glory.
And He shall send His angels
with a great sound of a trumpet . . .

Matthew 24:30-31

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why Me, Lord?

To slightly paraphrase the old hit song by Kris Kristofferson:

Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the [blessings] I've known?

Every day, I am astonished at all the blessings the Lord has bestowed on me: wise and loving parents; a sweet, patient wife who raised with me three fine children; reasonably good health; a stable, satisfying job; living in a free country . . . the list goes on and on. Of course, the greatest gift of all is God's infinite love in sending His Son into this world to live, teach, suffer, and die in ransom for my sins--the just for the unjust--so that I may live eternally in the company of Him and my loved ones. I don't think anyone has ever been more richly blessed than I.

I was reminded of that recently when my wife and I had the opportunity to travel from our home in upstate New York to Idaho, to spend a few weeks during the Christmas season helping our daughter Donna and son-in-law Jonathan care for their newborn twin children--their first, and our second and third grandchildren. These two came after years of trying, crying, and prayer by their parents, and were the most wonderful blessing (and Christmas presents) God could have given them.

Nothing has ever touched and engaged me more than holding those precious new babies in my arms, gazing into their bright, curious eyes, and even feeding and diapering them--whatever the hour!

Nothing has delighted me more than my wife Melany's beaming face as she embraced these little miracles, thanking the Lord for answering our children's prayers.

I was struck by how a loving and giving family like this is an echo of our Heavenly Father's relationship with us--how helpless and dependent on Him we are, how utterly selfless and infinitely generous He is toward us, even when we go astray. He would, and did, give his very life for us, just as our children would for theirs.

I feel so unworthy of His boundless grace. Of course, we can never be fully "deserving" of all God's blessings. If that were possible, we would be "earning" them through works in contravention of the teaching that salvation, like other blessings, comes by grace through faith--lest we should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9). "A faithful man shall abound with blessings" (Proverbs 28:20), and surely a steady faith in God and obedience to His commandments will bring those spiritual and familial blessings that the commandments were intended to secure to us, if not all the worldly benefits men desire.  I know that I am not always faithful to my heavenly calling, and I am too often disobedient. Yet God blesses me still, and remembering this keeps me in humble awe and deepest gratitude. If I never fully "deserve" His gifts, I can at least strive to live worthily of them.

While we were staying with Donna and Jonathan in Idaho, we watched the movie White Christmas. One of its best moments is Bing Crosby singing to Rosemary Clooney (and she singing back to him) the song "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)."

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings
One of the things Crosby's character, an entertainer, wants most in life is to settle down and have a family. Thus the lines immediately following these is especially poignant:
I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
So, when I count my blessings, I'll always remember all my grandchildren's (someday) curly heads, resting on their pillows in slumber, and thank our Heavenly Father for them and for all the countless ways He's graced me with more than I'll ever deserve.

Liam Fleming

Brandon and Kate Randall

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Election Reflection

In 1790 political philosopher and British Parliamentarian Edmund Burke wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he predicted that overthrow of the old order there by social radicals would soon result in terror, tyranny, and copious bloodshed. As it turned out, he was absolutely right. In the wake of last week's Presidential election in the United States, I'm beginning to think we may be witnessing our own disastrous revolution--for now somewhat quieter and gentler, but also pointing straight to national calamity. And in ours, even the counter-revolutionaries are helping out.

It's hard for me to make sense out of this election. The economy is still barely limping along; our national debt is beyond the stratosphere and climbing fast; civil liberties are shrinking steadily; illegal immigrants continue to flood in and burden public funds and services; foreign wars drag on; our embassies are under siege and diplomats left to die; our government is undermining allies and aiding our enemies . . . the list goes on and on. Pre-election surveys and polls generally indicated that most likely voters disapproved of Obama's job performance, agreed more closely with the Republican approach to national problems, and showed greater enthusiasm for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan than they did for the Democratic ticket. How is it, then that an apparent majority of Americans has voted to continue the march toward national oblivion?

There is always the possibility of vote fraud, intimidation, and suppression, but there hasn't been any concrete proof along this line apart from the scattered anecdotes usually encountered in high-stakes national elections. Diligent research may uncover more evidence, but I wouldn't count on the liberal establishment media reporting it, even if it's discovered.

Was it low turnout among the disaffected, perhaps combined with higher-than-expected turnout among the Obama regime's defenders? There is solid evidence that this had much to do with the outcome.  I'm mortified but not completely surprised, given the whining I've heard for many months from those who take a dim view of the President and his crowd, but seem to revel in criticizing the Republican Party generally (of which many are members) and Mitt Romney in particular: the party is too "right-wing" or not right-wing enough; Romney is "too liberal" or "too conservative"; he's too wealthy or too petty bourgeois; he's not "sympathetic" enough or not "tough" enough, etc. Many of these self-righteous complainers style themselves as "independents" or "moderates" who like to pontificate from a distance but won't risk commitment to a side they're afraid might not turn out the winner. Others think of themselves as sword-wieldinig conservative or libertarian revolutionaries who won't abide anything less that crystalline ideological purity in their candidate. And, I suspect, there were more than a few religious purists who couldn't bring themselves to associate with a Mormon (or even with his Roman Catholic running mate). This was widely deemed the most important Presidential election since at least 1932 (Hoover vs. Roosevelt), and perhaps since 1860, when the country was literally coming apart over slavery and secession, and Abraham Lincoln "won" with a distinct minority of the national vote.  Yet, the 2012 election  may have been effectively decided by sideline grumblers, nit-pickers, and tut-tutters unwilling to dirty their clothes on the playing field. In the further calamities to come I hope they remember the axiom that in a democracy, those who don't vote have no right to complain about the government.

As for those who did pony up and put their votes where their mouths were--God bless you!  Now we can only pray that we don't end up like ancient Christians huddled in a lion-filled Roman arena.

For a much more sinister message from this election--actually, from Obama's election in 2008--is that America is now ruled by a coalition of those who depend on government for all or much of their livelihood, either by benefit check or pay check, together with those in the media, academia, and big business establishments who are government's biggest promoters, servicers, and suppliers. This would seem to include most blacks and Hispanics (together about 28 percent of the electorate), as well as public employees, unionized workers, those employed in "bailed-out" industries, most college students, and recipients of welfare, food stamps, Medicaid/Medicare, federal disability payments, long-term unemployment benefits, and publicly-funded housing, health care, and day care. That's not to say that ALL of these people voted for Obama--for example, the elderly generally remain in the Republican camp despite their reliance on help delivered by or through government--but the vast majority of them almost certainly did. Add to this activist gays and most younger single women (read: abortion rights and "free" contraception), who feel more comfortable with morally relaxed Democrats than with straighter-laced Republicans, and you have the recipe for a huge--and growing--constituency.  That constituency and its interests are relentlessly promoted and insulated from criticism by an eagerly compliant media applying a doctrine of political correctness (vigorously cultivated in the academic/cultural/entertainment establishments) that deems any other interest or any resistance to theirs "racism" and "extremism."  How many people with fairly conservative "family" values (I'm thinking of Catholics and a goodly number of younger Protestants here) voted Democrat out of a good-faith, but misguided, sense of "charity" toward the "less fortunate"?  How many people not otherwise disposed to vote the Democrat ticket did so, or just stayed home, mostly because they felt "ashamed" to support two white, male, business-oriented Republicans?  And how many moderate-to-conservative people have now had their freedom and judgment compromised by at least partial dependence on a government subsidy, directly or through public support of their employers?

It's a simple application of the old saying, "He who pays the piper calls the tune." Or, "I owe my soul to the company store."  There's also the updated Democrat Party version, "Government is the only thing that we all belong to."  And now, it seems, a majority of Americans have come to accept that bondage, or have resigned themselves to it. Apparently they decided that Obama/Biden was more likely to keep the pipelines of government support flowing freely and amply than was Romney/Ryan. Evidently most of them now like the idea of a powerful state looking after their every need, birth to death, so they don't have to worry about things so much. They've forgotten, if they every knew, the late President Gerald Ford's sage observation that "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."

What they don't see, or don't care about, is what they--we--will have to exchange for the security they think they're buying.  No benefit comes without a price. Higher taxes are one obvious result, but then only half of us at best pay those, so what do the rest have to worry about on that score, right?  If they knew some history and a little economics they might realize that when the well runs dry because a dwindling group of producers has been taxed beyond its ability or willingness to support an ever-expanding welfare class, expropriation, tyranny, and wars to seize foreign resources usually follow in succession. More insidious and dangerous is the control over thought, speech, and action that indentured servitude to the government entails. Bureaucrats aren't going to continue supporting those who criticize or obstruct them. We have already seen this played out between the federal and state governments; the states surrendered control over their own affairs years ago in exchange for large-scale federal funding (for highways, education, public health, etc.) and now find themselves sued and deprived of the money they depend on for daring to pass laws on such issues as immigration, abortion, education, and the environment that the federal government decides are inconsistent with its policies de jour. What sort of leverage will the federal government have over individuals when it gains functional control of the health care individuals depend on for their very lives?

In short, we're seeing a fundamental shift in the values subscribed to by a majority of Americans. Now security and collective interests are more important than individual freedom and the opportunity to better oneself--more important than freedom of conscience and expression, more than the sanctity of life and of marriage, more than international peace and the stature of America and its allies in the world. We're headed down the same dead-end socialist/secularist road as European countries like Spain, Greece, and even Britain and France, a road that leads only to national bankruptcy on spiritual as well as material levels. And most of us, preoccupied with bread and circuses, seem OK with that.

Meanwhile, counterproductive squabbling has broken out among various Republican/conservative factions and commentators, each blaming the others for Romney's loss. Some complain that he focused too exclusively on jobs and the economy, and ignored "social" issues like abortion and same-sex marriage that might have attracted family-oriented blacks and Hispanics. Others say that the party emphasized social issues TOO much and thereby alienated single women and "moderates." Still others contend that he failed to connect with "middle class" voters numb to old slogans about free enterprise, and whose concept of Romney was based mainly on Democrat propaganda about his fondness for the "rich," to which he responded timidly or not at all.

I'm not sure who is right. I'm inclined to think that Romney's pro-life, pro-family stance should have figured more prominently in the presentation of his message, integrated with his economic message so as to show how healthy families are vital to a prosperous, strong America. But I suspect that Romney was counseled by his advisers not to unduly emphasize "values," lest the media frame him as an extreme anti-abortion, anti-gay zealot--like they did to Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann during the Republican primaries. The Obama campaign relentlessly painted Romney that way during the main campaign as well as the primaries, so perhaps he would have been better off not to dilute his best themes in pursuit of "independent" votes that were less likely to be his in any event. And maybe he could have done more to expose the hypocrisy of obscenely rich "progressives" castigating his wealth, as well as to highlight Obama's dangerously inept and irresponsible foreign policy.

I question whether a decisive number of minds could have been changed by a more effective Republican campaign among those otherwise inclined to vote for Obama, or who entertained the slightest possibility of doing so. Given the patent corruption of this administration, its failure to restore a vigorous economy, its foreign misadventures, its open disdain for the Constitution, and its willingness to undermine family life by promoting things like gay "marriage" and abortion on demand, anyone who would seriously consider voting for its continuation would almost have to be so deeply compromised by the Obama personality cult and its faux populist rhetoric that any amount of eloquent persuasion on the part of Romney/Ryan would be unlikely to produce a conversion, or even to keep that person home on election day (or season, now with "early voting").

More troubling is the attitude and behavior of those with moderate to conservative leanings and a sensibly critical view of the Obama administration--and who nevertheless did stay home on election day. The explanation now widely touted is that Romney/Ryan failed to "energize" moderates or the Republican base, to convince those folks that they were genuine, or to "connect" with middle-class voters.

In my view, none of that--even if true, which is highly debatable--excuses the failure of these people to do their civic duty and cast votes against the incompetence and the evil that they saw. Did they really think it was better to hand the country back to Obama & Co. for another 4-year nightmare, by default, than to support a man who--though professing better principles and a more sensible, Constitutional approach to government--did not inspire in them as much confidence and excitement as they would have liked? Just having to ask this question suggests that a majority of Americans have bought into the media-promoted notion that a Presidential election is some kind of personal performance art, in which the victory should go to the more sympathetic character, the more convincing actor (see my previous post in this connection focusing on the debates and pre-election hype).

If everyone who felt this country was on the wrong track and ascribed much of the blame to Obama & Co. had come out and voted for Romney, he would have carried the day. By failing to do so these people put their personal preferences and refined political sensibilities ahead of their country's welfare, and so are just as responsible for ushering in the "dismal revolution" we now face as those who voted for Obama.

Media distortions aside, politics ultimately takes place in the real world and involves real, inescapably fallible people. More often than not, the only choice open to us is between relative evils. No matter how much we may hope otherwise, no one is going to descend from the clouds and lead us to certain victory, solving all our problems with one mighty swing of his/her Sword of Truth. Instead, we have to do our best to make things better with the tools at hand, ill-suited though they may be in many respects, and apply ourselves in that work day in day and out. To shirk that responsibility and let plainly bad people hold sway, while we stand on the sidelines waiting for the perfect candidate to come along, is just plain treachery.

I'd just like to close by observing that while I and my family are very much in the middle of the "middle class" and grew up in its even lower strata, we had no trouble "connecting" with and supporting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan--and doing so enthusiastically. I believe they are men of integrity, good judgment, and solid conservative principles, and that they love this country more than life. Their program could not be more starkly different than or superior to Obama's, if you bothered to research the candidates' positions and didn't rely exclusively on network news video clips. They may not have wrenched this country around 180 degrees in their first days in office, immediately healed all our divisions, nor ushered in some kind of conservative Camelot. But they certainly would have pulled us up short of the left-wing "transformation" cliff Obama has us hurtling toward, and pointed the nation in a different, better direction.

That prospect was "energizing" enough for me. Why not for those millions of others who see where the Revolution is taking us?

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Caring, and Thinking for Ourselves

Everything I hear lately about the November election, from the mainstream media to my liberal friends, carries the theme that one shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney because he doesn't "understand" average people, doesn't "care" about the middle class, isn't "sensitive" to the poor, and isn't as "likeable" as Barack Obama. He's "gaffe-prone," they say. Others complain that he's too "slick," or that he's "wooden" "aloof," or "not genuine."  My response: I don't care. And neither should anyone else.

Should we really be making sympathy and style the primary criteria by which we judge candidates for the highest office in the land, and the most powerful one on earth?

I'm sure that would please an incumbent President whose principal boasts are multiplying an already obscene national debt, conning/intimidating Congress into passing a coercive, unpopular, and impossibly expensive health care law, and overseeing the dispatch of one miscreant on the other side of the planet. The economy has been stagnant for years now, work force participation is plummeting, real household income is declining, food stamp and welfare rolls are burgeoning, and the Middle East is in chaos and our embassies and diplomats are under siege, thanks to Obama's meddling. His requirement of insurance coverage for abortion and birth-control has alienated the large and influential Catholic population, Mormons, and most evangelical Protestant denominations. His advocacy of same-sex marriage has put him at odds with most of those groups as well as many black and other ethnic minority Christians. His federal government is at virtual war with the states over health care, illegal immigration, environmental regulation, Planned Parenthood funding, and a host of other issues. A considerable majority of Americans continue to believe that the country is "on the wrong track."

Yet, up to this point, the President seems to have suffered little politically from all this. His overall job approval ratings have varied only a few percentage points--mostly in the mid-40 percent range--despite the dismal economic and foreign picture, and the unpopularity of his polices among so many people. How is this possible?

I think Obama's "teflon" character owes much to how he and an eagerly cooperative mainstream media complex have managed public perceptions and thinking ever since he took office, and especially during this election campaign. They generally proceed along this continuum: (1) ignore or casually dismiss the bad things; (2) spin them into something that sounds downright positive; and/or (3) obfuscate or flat-out lie--see Libya consulate attack--until they can (4) change the subject by trumping up some distracting issue, usually a remark by their opponent (in this case, Mitt Romney) that they seize on and paint as embarrassing or scandalous, regardless of its meaning or intent. Establishment figures eager to placate the social/political/media elites they depend on play into this game by expressing embarrassment and disapproval, distancing themselves from the "offender," and spreading defeatism. A public more interested in bread and circuses than real issues, and long conditioned to swallow everything dished up by the likes of Katie Couric and David Letterman, mindlessly accepts the theme so artfully spun for them.

A serious, thinking citizen will not participate in charades designed to manipulate lazy, shallow-minded people and their votes. The "beauty contest" approach to Presidential elections is meant to focus public attention on things that are at best secondary, and mostly irrelevant, to the momentous choices facing voters between the liberal/welfare state (Democrat) and conservative/individualist (Republican) systems of values and policy. It is meant to confine public thinking to matters that the media and its political allies can control. To prevent them from virtually dictating the outcome of this election, millions of people will have to shut off their TV sets and refuse to play this game. They have to recognize that their choice isn't really between two men, but between fundamentally different visions for the future of America.

Viewed in that light, such personal qualities of the candidates as demeanor, likeability, wit, style, and even public speaking skill pale to insignificance. Adolph Hitler could be charming when he wanted to be, and his oratorical skills are legendary. On television, he probably would have blown both Obama and Romney away.  This is especially important to remember for the upcoming "debates"--which of course aren't really debates, but extended sound-byte-and-gotcha fests controlled by the media who put them on and profit from them. Within moments of their conclusion the talking heads will tell us who scored and who missed, who "won" and who "lost." People, please ignore this cr_p!  Why not just mail your ballot to Brian Williams and let him cast your vote?  If stage performance was a valid measure of Presidential ability, we could simply make the election an episode of "American Idol" and be done with it (we might even get to see a grown man break down in tears as the other one is declared the winner!).

Perhaps even more important, people have to let go of the identity politics that the elites use to divide the public into contending classes and groups, and manipulate voting by casting the candidates as closer or further away from them. We have to stop thinking in personality-centric terms of which candidate is more like "me" and, presumably, can be expected to more slavishly serve "my" interests. We need to do the hard work of studying the candidates' philosophies and positions on the issues, weighing the possible effects of their policies, and deciding for ourselves which course would be better for America.

Personally, I don't care whether a Presidential candidate is, or ever has been, rich, poor, or in between. I don't care what gender or color he/she is, what part of the country he/she is from, what degrees he/she has, or even what church, if any, he or she attends (all right, I'd be leery of a serious atheist). I don't expect him or her to identify with me (or my group), "understand" me, "care" about me, or "feel my pain."  I don't need a sugar-daddy in the White House.  A President has to serve everyone--even "the rich"!--and only God can understand and care for everyone. What I am interested in is whether his or her values and policies can be expected to produce a free, strong, and economically healthy country. One doesn't have to belong to any particular class to know what those would be.

Paying attention to the caricatures drawn by a biased media won't help me with this. Nor will they help one reliably discern those personal qualities that are most important to being a good President, especially honesty, integrity, prudence, patience, self-discipline, tact, and--faith.  Only a careful study of the candidate's past life, challenges, and accomplishments can give one a fair inkling of those things.

I am a middle aged, "middle class" person who supports Gov. Romney. Why would I do that? To hear the pundits tell it, he doesn't care about me; only about the rich!  He wants to gut the health care, Medicare, and Social Security benefits I'll need before long!  Well, I don't listen to the media and their prepackaged versions of the candidates. I've done my homework and base my decision on what principles they embrace, what they've done, and what they promise to work for. I vote for fiscal responsibility over entitling everyone, because I believe it will make my future and ours more secure, not less. I vote for personal choice in health care, because I believe it will prove cheaper and protect each of us better. I vote for state and religious rights regarding abortion and the definition of marriage. I vote for respect of the Constitution and of Congress. I vote for immigration policies that put America and its legal citizens first. I vote to support Israel, the last bastion of civilization in the crucial Middle East, rather than pander to its radical Muslim adversaries. These are things I learned and decisions I made without any reference to the latest babble in the mainstream media.

For the sake of our country, it's time to declare our independence from the self-appointed oracles, think for ourselves, and focus on what really matters.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

True Colors

Who would have thought that an important role
in defending liberty and the family would be played by
. . . chicken sandwiches?

In the vanguard of modern culture's assault on the institutions of marriage and family is the small (only four percent of adult Americans) but vocal group of people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, together with their activist allies in the political, media, academic, and entertainment spheres. Due to the wealth and prominence in high social circles many of them enjoy, and their proximity to the levers of cultural and political power, the gay community wields an influence in our society out of all proportion to their numbers--and despite the adherence of most Americans to traditional standards. This can be credited in no small measure to their tactic, in recent years, of characterizing their cause as one for tolerance and justice--things generally acknowledged as good--and against hatred and abuse--things everyone regards as bad. In their crusade to undermine Judeo-Christian values in public and private life, they have staked out what they believe is the moral high ground, or at least what passes for it today, and--with the help of an eagerly compliant media establishment--have been wrapped in the aura and the rhetoric of the African-American civil rights movement. The recent controversy surrounding national fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, however, exposed for all to see just how misleading that posture is.

It all began in early July when the company's president and COO Dan Cathy, son of its founder S. Truett Cathy, was interviewed by the Christian news organization Biblical Recorder and answered a question about the company's support of the traditional family.  "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.  We give God thanks for that. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families." If you read the full interview (reprinted by the Baptist Press) you'll see that Cathy was never asked and never brought up the subjects of homosexuality or "same-sex marriage"; his remarks concerned exclusively how the company works to strengthen family life in general and that of its patrons and employees. Cathy said later in a radio interview that, “as it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ . . . I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”

 Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A
None of these remarks included a condemnation of gay people personally, advocated their mistreatment, or purported to be a statement of official Chick-Fil-A policy. Nevertheless, they were seized upon by gay leaders and the mainstream media, and twisted into a corporate declaration of war against them (several commentators have noted CNN's overt mischaracterization of the original interview as having mentioned "gay marriage"). Almost immediately the Jim Henson Company, which created toys for the chain, backed out of the partnership and pledged to donate money the company had received from Chick-fil-A to a gay rights organization.

Predictably, grandstanding politicians sought to capitalize on the gay community's "outrage."  Without any evidence that Chick-Fil-A refuses either service or employment to gays, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent Dan Cathy a letter accusing the company of "discrimination" and warning that its efforts to locate in that city would be resisted by local authorities. San Francisco mayor Ed Lee tweeted: "Closest Chick-fil-A is 40 miles away and I strongly recommend they not try to come any closer."  Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that Chick-fil-A did not represent "Chicago values," and voiced support for a city alderman's intent to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his district. Another alderman demanded that Mr. Cathy stop associating with groups that oppose same-sex marriage as a prerequisite for a business permit, and a councilman in New York made a similar threat.  Some college students even launched a campaign for the closure of Chick-fil-A restaurants on their campuses.

This assault on freedom of speech and commerce prompted quick, loud, and suprisingly universal condemnation in newspaper and magazine editorials around the country (google "Chick-Fil-A editorials"), and even by some gay bloggers. It moved former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to call for Americans to stand with Dan Cathy and his company by patronizing his stores on "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," Aug. 1. In response, millions of people flocked to Chick-fil-A outlets that day, enjoying their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries as a way to show support for the restaurant and for the freedom to express Biblical values. Most stores were packed and in many waiting lines snaked out the door; in some, the food ran out well before closing time. Chick-fil-A sales that day beat previous records by as much as 50 percent, and it has been estimated that the chain booked almost $100 million in sales in just one day. The controversy bought Chick-Fil-A more free, positive publicity than it could have ever purchased with money.

Perhaps stung by the unexpected outpouring of support for their foe, gay allies vandalized a Chick-Fil-A store in Torrance, California by spray-painting "Tastes Like Hate" on the side of the building, and bullied a Chick-Fil-A employee at a drive-through window. The young lady later publicly forgave the man who had berated her.

Several days later the gay community tried to mount a demonstration of support for its cause at Chick-Fil-A stores, in the form of a "kiss-in" featuring same-sex couples publicly smooching. It was sparsely attended, and barely registered as compared to traditional marriage proponents' Appreciation Day.

On top of all this, on August 15, one Floyd Lee Corkins II, a strong supporter of gay rights who worked at a Washington, D.C. community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, entered the headquarters building of the conservative Family Research Council--which has steadfastly supported the president of Chick-Fil-A and his opposition to same-sex marriage--and shot a security guard after stating, "I don't like your politics," or words to that effect.  At the time he was carrying a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. After the wounded guard took away his gun, Corkins said,"Don't shoot me, it was not about you, it was what this place stands for."

In a nutshell, the whole Chick-Fil-A affair has turned out badly for the gay community and its allies. Their "leaders," especially the politicians, did them a great disservice through their intolerance and "bullying"--the very sins of which they accuse people of faith. This, and their effort to demonize and punish any differing viewpoint or speaker, have exposed gay activists as would-be brownshirts--the nickname for SA street thugs in Nazi Germany who intimidated Jews and socialists (and homosexuals, coincidentally), and enforced boycotts against Jewish-owned businesses. This doesn't look much like Martin Luther King and his civil rights hosts peacefully marching and singing "We Shall Overcome."

At the heart of gay activists' problem is their own program to equate, in the public mind, Biblical faith and traditional moral and family values, on the one hand, with "bigotry," "intolerance," and "hatred" on the other. These words, of course, are now deeply associated in the American consciousness with racial prejudice and discrimination--things generally understood in civilized society as contemptible, illegitimate, and even illegal.  For one who accepts this equivalence, even unconsciously, it follows that such faith and values--especially with respect to the definition of marriage, the gay cause de jour--are likewise beyond the pale and socially unacceptable. For the same reasons, anyone who adheres to or expresses agreement with such faith and values is necessarily a bigot or "homophobe," today's version of a "racist."  The clear intent in popularizing these notions is to delegitimize Biblical concepts of morality and family, and those who espouse them, thereby undermining their political influence and encouraging their banishment from public life. By this means the public is "softened up" to accept gay marriage and behavior as entitled to at least equal dignity within society and before the law, and removes political roadblocks to implementation of the activist gay agenda. It also serves to wear down resistance among Christians themselves. No one wants to be thought of or publicly denounced as hateful and abusive toward others, or associated with those who are; certainly not serious, reflective Christians. So they relent, through a combination of guilt feelings and social intimidation, and buy into the concept that a Christian acceptance of gays as people must carry with it acceptance of their activist leaders' political and social demands.

Notwithstanding the success of this program for activist gays and their allies in some parts of the country, the Chick-Fil-A controversy has shown its very serious flaws. One is that the activists' heavy-handed tactics have prompted a backlash by millions of religious believers fed up with being painted as hateful and equivalent to racists, and fearful that, unless they forcefully respond, their beliefs, values, and freedoms will be suffocated to death by the new "religion" of political correctness. Politicians and policy-makers cannot ignore the vast numbers in which believers turned out to support Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A, or the increasingly united front that people from diverse faith traditions are presenting to exert their influence and expound their common principles through such efforts as the Manhattan Declaration.

Those same demonize-and-punish tactics exemplified in the Chick-Fil-A affair also tended to paint gays and their allies as enemies of free speech. Citizens and commentators theretofore ambivalent about same-sex marriage, or even generally in favor of it, were brought out in support of Dan Cathy's and other believers' constitutional right to express their views without government retaliation. In this respect the gay community should take a lesson from history: in the 1830s- and -40s, many thousands of people in the northern United States, who had been indifferent to slavery or even sympathetic to Southern interests, were won over to the abolitionist cause when hostile mobs in the North, egged on by local politicians and civic leaders, invaded churches, assaulted abolitionist speakers, and trashed or tried to shut down businesses owned by abolitionists or free blacks. Many thousands more fence-sitters rallied to the abolitionist cause after 1850 when the new Fugitive Slave Law authorized federal officers to force any citizen, anywhere in the country and regardless of his convictions about slavery, to help capture and re-enslave runaway bondsmen. As one historian observed, "[w]hites who wavered on the question of abolition could be drawn to [its] support . . . if they became convinced that the long arm of slavery was reaching into their personal lives, whether by mob action, economic threat, free speech and free assembly restrictions, opposition in churches, or denial of the right to petition the government." [Milton C. Sernett, North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom, p. 52 (Syracuse University Press, 2002)]

Moreover, the demonization of Biblical views about marriage and family has so corrupted the thinking of political leaders, some of them sporting law degrees, that they failed to appreciate the foolishness of making plainly unconstitutional threats against a legal business merely because its owner expressed opinions with which they disagreed--threats from which they were soon forced to retreat in confusion. If they thought it was the right thing to bar Chick-Fil-A from Chicago or Boston because its owner's relgious views were inconsistent with local "values," were they going to then going to expel from their cities the Roman Catholic, Mormon, evangelical Christian, orthodox Jewish, and other religious organizations and their members, or businesses associated with them, because their beliefs and opinions are consistent with those of Chick-Fil-A's owner?  Would they start burning Bibles? Again, this resembles less a civil rights crusade than the portent of a modern-day Kristallnacht (the night in 1938 when Nazi brownshirts attacked Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues).

Open and honest debate about marriage and family issues, and their just resolution through democratic processes, are impossible to the extent either side tries to gain political advantage by demonizing the other and discouraging or obstructing the free expression of its views. If either seeks the moral high ground, it must accord people who hold different beliefs as much tolerance, respect, and acceptance as they demand for themselves. Religious believers and others who oppose the "gay agenda" should remember that most gays are not fanatical activists but people just trying to live their lives, and learn to interact with them in the respectful, considerate way they would like others to treat them. They should accept gays as fellow children of God, errant though they may be, and refrain from speaking to or about them in contemptuous epithets. And, if believers are to be credible and persuasive advocates for Judeo-Christian family values, they must condemn and avoid heterosexual misbehavior (including adultery and pornography) at least as forcefully as they do homosexual conduct. For their part, gays must respect others' right to express views different from, and even contrary to, their own. They need to accept that one can disapprove of their behavior or lifestyle, or or oppose their political agenda, without being a bigot--and can even accept them as people.

And, everyone needs to acknowledge that the defense of traditional marriage and family life, against efforts to redefine them for the benefit of gays or any special interest group, is a legitimate point of view backed by thousands of years of teaching and social experience in all cultures--not an expression of hate justifying its demonization. Dressing up suppression of this point of view in the guise of a crusade for "civil" or "human" rights is simply a perversion of those terms, and won't change the fact that it is as least as much bigotry as is "homophobia."

POSTSCRIPT:  On a short road trip this past weekend, my family was privileged to have lunch at a Chick-Fil-A near Cleveland, Ohio--our first visit to one (living in Western New York, the closest stores to us are in Erie and Scranton, PA). What a marvelous experience! The store was clean and nicely decorated; the food was hot and delicious; and the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly. They came around repeatedly and filled our water cups, even though we hadn't even paid for the drinks!  The wall decorations included boards that explained the company's charitable, leadership, and family-building programs. The manager was floating about helping the staff with various chores, and he chatted with us for several minutes (and gave us a small bag of their scrumptious barbecue sauce packets to take home). If you've never visited a Chick-Fil-A, give them a try next time you're near one!

Sarah and Todd Palin at Chick-Fil-A

MORE FUN:  Think that one-man/one-woman marriage, and the freedom to advocate it, is an exclusively Christian matter?  These things are also important to conservative and orthodox Jews, as demonstrated by this delightfully tongue-in-cheek article by rabbi and businessman Yaakov Rosenblatt called My Beef With Chick-fil-A.