Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ben Witherington: Evangelicals in a Post-Haggard, Post-Rumsfeld World

Ben Witherington: Evangelicals in a Post-Haggard, Post-Rumsfeld World

Timely food for thought here...

Sir Chuck, thankful for even the briefest respite of election politics

8 comments:

  1. just as Republicans have failed to be consistent with theirs (pro-killing in war and crime but anti-killing in the matter of the unborn)
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    We also ask surgeons to kill germs-go figure.

    War and crime have been excepted from "thou shalt not not kill" from time immemorial, and it is rather offensive for someone to say that killing a baby which posses no threat is morally equal. There is no inconsistency only following what everyone intuitively knows is true.

    Sir Jason

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  2. Ben Witherington

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006
    Evangelicals in a Post-Haggard, Post-Rumsfeld World
    It was Shakespeare who said “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which if taken at the flood” leads on to great things. Of course the opposite is true as well. Sometimes the tide goes out on an idea, an alliance, a dream. One of the interesting trends in the mid-term election results is that outside the South, Evangelicals were not really a decisive factor in determining the outcome of a race or ballot issue, with the exception of the gay marriage ban which passed in all but one state (Arizona). So what should we learn now that various of the mighty have fallen, or at least have fallen on hard times. Should Evangelicals be is bed with ultra conservative Republican politician and their schemes? Or does this do a disservice to the Christian faith and polarize Evangelicals? And furthermore, will Evangelicals pay any attention to the fact that the major issue fueling the change of hands of the Congress and Senate was the war--- and the growing unease with the war in Iraq. It has been said the winners win, and losers learn. We will see if Evangelicals learn, or are even ‘good losers’.

    My take on all of this is that it is too early to tell, and certainly to early to say that Evangelical political clout is on the wane. But here are some thoughts for reflection. Firstly, the alliance between Evangelicals and the hard line conservatives in the Republican party has made it difficult for many Evangelicals to see the difference in our time between being a Christian and being an American, and in particular being a certain kind of an American—namely a Republican. The problem is that this reflects a certain kind of mental ghettoizing of the Gospel, a blunting of its prophetic voice on issues ranging from war to poverty, and sometimes this even comes with the not so subtle suggestion that to be un-American (defined as being opposed to certain key Republican credo items) is to be un-Christian. But Christianity must and does transcend any particular cultural expression of itself, otherwise we have the cultural captivity of the Gospel which leads to a form of idolatry. It is one thing to sing ‘my country tis of Thee’, its another thing to have a bunker mentality which makes our countries ills hard to define and our flaws even harder to critique and correct.

    Secondly, the ethical content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in so far as we are talking about what the Bible actually says, and not merely what it may also imply, does not focus on issues like abortion, same sex marriage, gun control, pornography, and other related personal ethical issues. You will not find many verses that deal with these subjects in the NT. Do I think that there are implications in the NT for how we should view this issues? Yes, I do. But my point is that these are not the hot button issues that Jesus or Paul or Peter or others made their main concerns or agendas. The social and ethical issues the NT focuses on over and over again are: 1) wealth and poverty issues, including food, shelter, and clothing issues (see e.g. the Lord’s prayer and the parable of the sheep and the goats); 2) paying taxes (we are supposed to do it and stop belly-aching about it—see e.g. Romans 13); 3) sexual behavior issues focusing almost entirely on heterosexual behavior issues, though we clearly have texts like Romans 1 where there is a critique of homosexual, sexual behavior as well; 4) behaviors and attitudes that divide the people of God—envy, strife, jealousy, greed, pride, arrogance, lack of the fruit of the Spirit; 5) war. Yes I said war. The Book of Revelation is a huge warning to leave justice in God’s hands and he will sort things out in his own time and way. It is a call to be prepared to be martyred, not a call to arms. Indeed, there is no call to arms in the NT. Instead there are warnings about those who live by the sword will die by the sword (hmm, what does that imply about gun control), and a call to personal pacifism in order to emulate the non-violent behavior of Jesus. There is nothing even remotely to be found in the NT that supports war as an act initiated by one country against another. Nothing! And this brings me to my point.

    Personal ethics without a larger social ethic that deals with systemic problems in society is but half of an ethical Gospel if you read carefully what Jesus, Paul and others say. But here is the kicker--- neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor others expect the government to fix these social ills. They expect that WITHIN THE COMMUNITY OF CHRIST AND BETWEEN CHRISTIANS THEY SHOULD NOT EVER EXIST. In other words, the church needs to take care of its own, bearing one another’s burdens and so on. This is why for example in Acts 2-4 we hear about the Jerusalem community who makes sure no one goes without food, shelter, and clothing, who sets up a way to take care of the widows in the church and so on. Forget social security, they believed in church security. The church had not trivialized the Gospel and turned it into spiritual mcnuggets for the week yet. Until the Evangelical Church actually gets religion about the big ticket ethical items in the NT, it will not have much of a witness to the least, the last, and the lost, never mind to our global neighbors who are tired of our saber rattling. Why should anyone believe we believe in the sanctity of life when we vehemently oppose abortion but are strong advocates for capital punishment and war!! Over and over again. Our agendas are all too often not in sync with those of the NT writers on these issues.

    Thirdly, and this will have to do for now, when your nation decides to make all its biggest decisions on the basis of fear and not faith, on the basis of what might happen to us, instead of what already is happening in our midst, on the basis of Real Politik instead of vision, we are in deep trouble.

    Take for instance the issue of Homeland Security. The goal of terrorism is of course to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy so they will colossally over-react, over-reach, and most of all over-spend and waste their resources on chasing ghosts and fighting rear guard actions. Well I am saying we have colossally over-reacted to 9/11 and other such threats. We are squandering our resources and we are very little safer now than we were in 2001. Indeed, we have managed to aggravate our world friends and alienate the neutral, and antagonize almost every enemy we have in the world in the last six years. We have wasted billions of dollars a year for the last six years which could have gone a long way to eliminate some of the major social problems we have right here at home, never mind building good will abroad with ministries of compassion.

    Christians should never be making their major decisions in life chiefly based on fear or a desire for revenge, or both. Nor should we support politicians who do so, whether they go to church or not. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If the question is WWJD, for sure its not what we’ve been mostly doing as a nation in the last six years.

    So its time to wake up and smell the coffee. Does it smell like the aroma of Christ and his Gospel, or does it smell like dirt, like grounds, like mud? I hope someone out there in the Evangelical Church is listening. We need a whole new approach to ethics and ministry in the years to come in the 21rst century. Its time for a year of Jubilee. Its time to mend fences with our neighbors and the neutral. Its time to stop sticking sticks in hornet’s nests and wondering why we keep getting stung. May God help us overcome our American and Evangelical myopia.

    posted by Ben Witherington at 8:11 PM
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    He does not follow his own advice seeing as some of his analysis is political not religious and are liable to the same arguments:


    Take for instance the issue of Homeland Security. The goal of terrorism is of course to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy so they will colossally over-react, over-reach, and most of all over-spend and waste their resources on chasing ghosts and fighting rear guard actions. Well I am saying we have colossally over-reacted to 9/11 and other such threats. We are squandering our resources and we are very little safer now than we were in 2001. Indeed, we have managed to aggravate our world friends and alienate the neutral, and antagonize almost every enemy we have in the world in the last six years. We have wasted billions of dollars a year for the last six years which could have gone a long way to eliminate some of the major social problems we have right here at home, never mind building good will abroad with ministries of compassion.....
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    The "fate of the poor" is a bluff for it is meant to imply that one party cares about the poor and another doesn't
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    "They that take up the sword", refered to someone who had done so on his own authority. Many soldiers were spoken of with approval in the Bible in the New Testament as well.
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    "Firstly, the alliance between Evangelicals and the hard line conservatives in the Republican party has made it difficult for many Evangelicals to see the difference in our time between being a Christian and being an American, and in particular being a certain kind of an American—namely a Republican."

    Saying loyalty to your country is idolatrous is like saying loyalty to your mother is.
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    "(hmm, what does that imply about gun control)"-It implies absolutely nothing. Saying the state should forbid arms because of that verse is like saying the state should forbid lawsuits because Christians can't sue one another.


    But yes we should be good sports about political defeat. There is no evidence that we are not doing so is there?


    The writer rebukes people for mixing religion and politics and yet he uses (faulty)religious arguments for issues that are secular. In other words his side is allowed to mix religion and politics but his opponents are not.

    Sir Jason the Exasperated

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  3. Fitting Christianity into Politics


    Gregory Koukl

    How should your Christianity inform your political decisions?

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    I want to talk a little bit about Christianity and politics. In fact, I am going to do something very unusual today. I'm going to talk about a political issue which I don't usually do. But before I do that, I have to preface my comments with some reflection on the process of integrating our faith and political views, because of late there's been a lot of confusion about that in the midst of what some have called culture wars. There has not been a proper distinction between a couple of concepts, we've gotten muddled and wrong- headed in our thinking, and I'd like to talk a little bit about how to fit Christianity into politics before I want to talk about the particular issue I want to discuss. I'll tell you up front what it is. It has to do with the health plan, and I'll be getting to that a little later. I'll start with fitting Christianity into politics.

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    I hope that you will see that even decisions related to what appears on the surface to be politics are still decisions that need to be Biblically informed as much as possible.

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    I hope that you will see that even decisions related to what appears on the surface to be politics are still decisions that need to be Biblically informed as much as possible. The reason I say as much as possible is because it's not always clear that there is a Biblical principle, or a Biblical teaching, or some aspect of Biblical morality that relates to the particular element that is being decided in the political arena. But often times there are and to the degree that the Bible and Christianity speak or influence a particular element in our political point of view, we ought to take that into consideration in forming our political viewpoints.

    Even though political views are different kinds of things from theological views that are the foundation of the gospel, for example those particular things that relate to salvation, political views are different than that. Political views are different kinds of things than moral viewpoints that guide Biblical ethics. The teachings and the principles of the Scriptures can and ought to inform our political views, such that certain views seem to flow naturally from the text while other views seem at odds with the Bible's teachings. I make these distinctions because when one claims that their view is "Christian" and another's view is "unchristian", well that statement can mean a couple of different things. For example, it can mean that the view is Christian in that it is an essential part of the gospel. In other words, it is essential for salvation. Or it could mean that the Biblical truth, whether it's an explicit doctrine or an explicit morality, leads to particular applications in conduct or political views or whatever. And these applications are considered Christian or non-Christian depending on how accurately they follow from the Biblical truth that speaks to the issue.

    Let me give you an example. The Bible teaches that Jesus is uniquely God in the flesh. He died, rose from the dead and will return to establish his kingdom. Those are basic things, and if you think differently on any of those details--and there are actually more than that, but those are examples of essential doctrines--if you think differently on any of those details, then your view is not Christian. You have a non-Christian viewpoint. But not only that, you are also not a Christian. Why? Because these are views that define what Christianity is, and if you don't fit the definition you are not a Christian. It's that simple.

    Now the Bible also teaches clearly that man is made in the image of God and therefore has transcendent value in a way that no other creature has. From this teaching flows God's ethical command not to murder, and from this flows, in the minds of many people, the obligation to protect the lives of unborn children. Therefore we campaign--sometimes very aggressively--for laws that protect the lives of unborn infants. Now, if you believe that it is permissible to take the life of an unborn infant--in other words, if you believe in the permissibility of abortion--then your view is unchristian also. But it's not unchristian in the same way that the first view is. In the first case, the view is not Christian because it undermines the distinctive and defining doctrines of the faith. In the second case, the view is unchristian, in my view at least, because it is inconsistent with Biblical teaching and with Biblical ethics. Do you see the difference there? The difference is very important. This distinguishes gospel--that which is essential for salvation--from Biblical morality--those particular things the Bible teaches about right and wrong--and then from partisan ethical political views.

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    You might argue or believe a point of view that is inconsistent or that doesn't follow from Biblical morality, so in that sense you would be unchristian in the application of your viewpoints, but you might still be a Christian because you hold to the essential defining doctrines of the faith.

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    You have gospel, you have morality, and you have applicational items that have to do with ethical viewpoints in your life and have to do with political viewpoints in the realm of politics--things you vote on and debate on in the public square. If you're a Christian, those last things ought to be informed by the first two, but they are different from those first couple of things, certainly from the very first one, orthodox or essential doctrines. You might argue or believe a point of view that is inconsistent or that doesn't follow from Biblical morality, so in that sense you would be unchristian in the application of your viewpoints, but you might still be a Christian because you hold to the essential defining doctrines of the faith. This distinction is important because it's possible to hold an unchristian view in application, and still be a Christian, even though you are in error and you're at fault. But if you hold certain fundamental views in error in the first sense, you're not merely mistaken, you're not a Christian because you hold views contrary to what Christianity is as defined by the church and by history.

    Now, the current culture war between Christianity and secularism is muddled precisely at that point. It is often wrong-headed in part because this distinction is not made clear. I don't want to make that same mistake here today. I don't want you to make it either. I'm about to give you some of those third-level opinions that I believe are Christian in the second sense, in other words, they're the kind of views you ought to hold if you also hold Biblical ethics and Biblical doctrines. I'll give you the reasons why I think my views flow from Biblical principles. In fact, this is precisely the way I argue with other believers on my position on abortion. If you're a Christian and my analysis is correct, you're obliged, I believe, to hold the same positions as I do. If you don't, I think you're wrong and I think your view is unchristian, but I'll have to say in these issues, even though you disagree with me, you're still within the pale of Christianity. In other words, you remain a brother and sister in Christ.

    I'm going to give you my broader political principle first, then I'm going to give you an historical example, one that actually went bad, and a current example in which I hope we can learn from our past mistakes, and then I'll argue my point. Please understand the distinction between these two types of non-Christian beliefs. I'm arguing for the second, but in so doing I am not saying that what I believe is orthodoxy, and that you can't be a Christian if you believe these other things contrary to me. I am simply saying that I suspect and I will argue that you are being inconsistent with your Christian teaching and heritage if you support certain current political points of view.

    I wanted to lay a predicate for you for some reflections on health care. I tell you frankly, I know very little about the health care options that are being offered. I have not been interested in the details. You know that's the case, that I think that the ideas are much more important than the details. One might ask, then how can you criticize if you don't know the details? Well, because I know the ideas that back it and I think the ideas themselves are faulty, so I try to critique or criticize the ideas. First of all, it deals with the details in a much more fundamental level. It's much more accessible to the rank and file. Finally, it's not always possible to get accurate details, but it seems generally the case that you can get at the heart and core of the ideas that propel the details and that's where it should be dealt with anyway--at the root, as it were.

    Having made the distinction between non-Christian ideas which are critical (that being non-Christian ideas that would disqualify you from the faith) and non-Christian ideas that are more applicational and are contrary to Christian teaching and ethics but wouldn't disqualify you from the faith, I want to talk about something in the second category: my view about government in general, and making an application from a general view to a particular thing like health care. I want to use two historical examples, one the current example of health care, but another one an example from some 40-50 years ago that I think went bad.

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    The last election demonstrated for me that Christians are not thinking soundly on the issue because the overwhelming issue it seemed for even those who claim to be Christians was economics, which should be the final thing on the rung of government concerns and government priorities.

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    I want to also underscore that I am still in the process of working through some of these things, as I mentioned before. I am trying to reason carefully and proceed carefully one step at a time, working from the known to the unknown so I can't give you my full sketch of the relationship of God and politics, Athens to Jerusalem, as it were. But there are a couple of things that I feel comfortable in saying today that I think have ramifications for health care and for broader decisions that you have to make as a Christian who should be voting. The last election demonstrated for me that Christians are not thinking soundly on the issue because the overwhelming issue it seemed for even those who claim to be Christians was economics, which should be the final thing on the rung of government concerns and government priorities. I'm thinking Biblically here. Although from a personal perspective, more people are concerned with economic issues than they are with justice.

    Let me start with my principle first, and then I'll try to make some application to it. My principle is this: I am not for strong government. I am for weak government. That may sound strange in a way, but think about it. I am not for giving government enough power to be despotic. I think that governments ought to perform a limited function and ought to perform that well. They should be strong in their limited function, but in the big picture their strength should be very limited. In other words, they should be weak not strong on the broad scale of things.

    Paul says in Romans 13 that government does have a legitimate function and the Scriptures largely define this function, but it's very limited. A legitimate function that God gives to government is the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right. Proverbs talks about just governments in which the weak are protected from the strong. Justice and equity are the responsibilities of governments, but that's a very limited thing. Now I didn't say justice and equality. I said justice and equity. In other words, every person should receive fairness and equity, not that everyone should have the same status, the same wealth, the same access and the same privileges, which seems to be an emphasis now. The Bible doesn't teach that everyone should be the same. Those are the functions of an individual's contribution, not the state's contribution. The state is supposed to provide an even playing field in which everyone has protection to move forward. Praise of people who do good and punishment of evil doers makes sure that justice and fairness reign. But then it's up to the individual to go from there. As Lincoln said, the state establishes the conditions that allow an individual to rise as high as his cleverness or his hard work or his enterprise can take him.

    Biblically, the government has a very limited role. It is used by God to mitigate the impact of evil in society and also to ensure justice and equity. Some people think, Well, society is responsible for all of our problems. Listen, it's organized society that makes the world a nicer place to live in . It can contribute to evil and often it does, but it's much better than anarchy. When anarchy reigns there is greater evil. God gives us government to constrain evil, and that it ought to do. But God does not give government the liberty to be despotic in areas that ought to be part of human liberty and freedom. This is why I view government as having a legitimate role, but a very limited role Biblically. It's ironic that for the last sixty years or so the tail has been wagging the dog in this situation.

    Government has spent much of its energy the last sixty years trying to establish equality rather than equity, and it has used immoral means, theft and despotism, which I will talk about in just a minute, to accomplish inappropriate ends of social and financial equality. So it has done this thing, but it has fallen down badly in its principle obligation to "ensure the domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense", protect life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That kind of thing is the obligation that God has given to government to fulfill, and our Founding Fathers acknowledged and established these goals, and in this sense the goals of the Founding Fathers were indeed consistent with the Biblical view of man and government. But now the government characteristically has fallen down in that and cannot establish law and order, but is doing a very good job of redistributing wealth which is not its job at all.

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    What I believe is that it is Biblical to believe in limited government, very limited government, a government whose principle job is to ensure justice and equity, but not to pursue equality.

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    What I believe is that it is Biblical to believe in limited government, very limited government, a government whose principle job is to ensure justice and equity, but not to pursue equality. There is nothing wrong with equality, that each individual person has the same as the other; but if the government is the one responsible for seeing that equality happens, if government creates equality, it must become despotic to do so. And despotic government, or despotism, is immoral. The reason it is immoral is that it robs people of God-given liberties. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. You give the government power over you and it will exercise that power excessively and in an increasingly corrupt fashion such that men and women who are under that power can no longer effectively exercise self direction of that government. That's what happened 200 years ago, we established this government, and now it's out of the control of the peoples' hands even though we have elected officials. It's gone screwy.

    Another thing is I believe in private property. The Bible teaches that a worker is worthy of his wages. It teaches rewards for our efforts. What happens is the government takes our wage that we earn, which God says belongs to us, and it uses it for illegitimate purpose. And not only that, they charge you for the services. In other words, they want to redistribute wealth, give it to those that don't have it, so they take what you have earned and give it to someone else. Not only do they take your money and give it to someone else, which I consider theft because it's not theirs to take and it is not their legitimate prerogative to exercise, they also charge you for the service of doing the transfer. You have to pay for big government bureaucracy that goes along with it.

    There are two quick illustrations that I will give you. I think you'll see how this carries out. One is from the past and one is from the present that shows how this is goofy. The first one is social security. I think it's gone totally bad. The idea in social security was that people were growing old without money so the government said, Give us the money and we'll hold it for you, and then you can have it when you get old and you'll have security. By and large, that's what it was about. Now the system is pretty much bankrupt, and we have an inverted pyramid where the people who are receiving are increasing and those who are giving are decreasing, and they've used the money for a lot of other things because the government has held it. It would have been better for them to say, You are obliged to put money aside (now it's something like 14%) but you should put that in a self-directed fund. We'll make sure you take it out of your paycheck, but put it in a self directed fund, don't put it in our hands where we can steal.

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    Isn't that wonderful? Weak government still doing an effective job because human beings are able to direct their own destiny with the money that they make themselves and should belong to them.

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    We need health coverage for all people? Fine, you just make it a law that everyone has to buy health insurance. Period. The employer can take it out of the paycheck just like any other deductions. Except that the government doesn't get the money. It is self-directed in a health care program. Then everyone who is working will have health care and you don't have to put the money into the hands of the government, so they can't steal it from you when you are not looking. Secondly, you don't have the government bureaucracy to pay for. Instead, it all goes into private enterprise and it does it's job. What a great idea! Why is this so hard? Well, it doesn't take care of the people who are not employed. But it covers most of the people. What do we do about the unemployed? We give them free clinics which they basically have now. No hospital turns away a person who is ill. They go to the clinic and we take care of the unemployed, too. That diminishes the government's direct involvement to about 3-4% of the population instead of 100%. We don't have this burgeoning bureaucracy. We don't have all this meddling and we don't have us giving the government money that they shouldn't have in their hands anyway.

    Isn't that wonderful? Weak government still doing an effective job because human beings are able to direct their own destiny with the money that they make themselves and should belong to them. That is very simple. What is the big deal? One of the big deals is government. It's big. It's despotic. It steals from you to fulfill inappropriate ends and it's got to feed itself, and as it feeds itself, it gets bigger and hungrier and it gets more expensive to feed it. Now we have an animal out of control. That is unchristian. At least in my view.

    This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made
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    sir jason

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  4. http://search.netscape.com/ns/boomframe.jsp?query=%22hugo+grotius%22&page=1&offset=0&result_url=redir%3Fsrc%3Dwebsearch%26requestId%3Dca194531e732ea82%26clickedItemRank%3D7%26userQuery%3D%2522hugo%2Bgrotius%2522%26clickedItemURN%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fsocserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca%252F%257Eecon%252Fugcm%252F3ll3%252Fgrotius%252F%26invocationType%3D-%26fromPage%3DNSCPTop%26amp%3BampTest%3D1&remove_url=http%3A%2F%2Fsocserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca%2F%7Eecon%2Fugcm%2F3ll3%2Fgrotius%2F

    for a classic study on christian ethics in international relations

    Sir Jason

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  5. War and crime have been excepted from "thou shalt not not kill" from time immemorial, and it is rather offensive for someone to say that killing a baby which posses no threat is morally equal. There is no inconsistency only following what everyone intuitively knows is true.

    I could not have said it better, Sir Ja, although that is exactly what I was thinking...

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  6. Ben Witherington is a very scholarly guy and he probably means well. Like Sir Jason, I am greatly bothered by his apparent inability to distinguish between killing a terrorist in a pitched battle and murdering an innocent unborn child. It makes me question whether someone like that should be taken seriously as a teacher of Christians.

    I have done a little research on the man. His other comments seem biblical enough.

    I am in a quandary. Is the man really a child of God or a false teacher? He apparently believes in the resurrection. That is important.

    I don’t know. Sir Chuck, do you know anything more about the man?

    Sir John, confused as usual

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  7. Sir John -

    All I know is this...

    1) He is an excellent and persuasive writer

    2) He identifies with the pacifist philosophy of Jesus

    3) Here is his website.

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  8. The writer rebukes people for mixing religion and politics and yet he uses (faulty)religious arguments for issues that are secular. In other words his side is allowed to mix religion and politics but his opponents are not.

    Good observation, Sir Ja. Either a Christian should concern himself with secular administration, in the form of political participation, or he should leave it alone. Either way one can be a good Christian and uphold the principles of Our Lord.

    It doesn't do us any justice to criticize (some would say snipe) and then take the position that Christians in general shouldn't take sides. That sounds more partisan that what the author would have us believe he detests.

    Certainly, Christians seeking purity in this life may well choose to ignore secular life (as much as possible) and focus on purity. They will be rewarded.

    Just as certainly, Christians called to engage with the secular world will be rewarded to the extent that they follow the teachings of Our Lord, and exercise the temporal guidance of the Holy Spirit. Occasionally, in this context, hard moral decisions must be made. We of the Round Table recognize and honor this fact.

    Sir Chuck, waging the good fight

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