Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mike Huckabee and the Fallacy of Unchanging Convictions

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:14-16

At a Republican presidential debate in 2007 on CNN, the candidates were asked whether or not they believed the Bible. Actually, the questioner held up a Bible and asked them, “Do you believe in this book?”

As a pastor and as a Christian, I find questions like that uncomfortable and unhelpful. That’s a question that deserves a thoughtful and nuanced answer. After all, what does the questioner mean by “believe in?” Do you want to know whether or not someone is a biblical literalist, or do you want to know whether or not a person thinks the Bible is a sacred book? It is not suited to a sound bite or a short answer in a debate.

The only response I remember was delivered by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is also an ordained Baptist minister. He said that the Bible is a complicated book and that there are many parts that we might argue about, “But,” he said, “the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really are not left to interpretation. 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 'In as much as you've done to the least of these brethren, you've done unto me.' Until we get those simple, real easy things right I am not so sure that we should be fighting over those other parts that are a little bit complicated.”

All things considered, that was a pretty good answer.

Huckabee’s answer gave me hope that he would be a thoughtful conservative Christian voice among the cacophony of self-righteous and mean spirited religiosity that masquerades as Christianity in our political debates. Heaven knows we need that.

Unfortunately, he has gone off the rails just about as often as anyone else. Sometimes it’s been funny, like when he assured an NRA audience that he was a stalwart supporter of the second amendment and illustrated his commitment by saying that he was an avid hunter. In a creative combination of his theology and politics, he told them he believed there would be duck hunting in heaven and emphasized the point by saying, “I can’t wait!” Jon Stewart observed that from the duck’s perspective this would mean that heaven would be duck hell.

Who can forget his remarks on abortion, birth control, and a woman’s libido?

In a recent interview on Fox News, Laura Ingraham asked him if Republicans were being unfairly labeled as “anti-gay.” Governor Huckabee responded by redirecting the question toward President Obama. He pointed out that in 2008, then candidate Obama took the same view of gay marriage that he did. And then he talked about how the President’s views had shifted.

"He said it was because of his Christian convictions," Huckabee observed. "Does he have them or does he not? If one has them, they don't change depending on what the culture does. You don't take an opinion poll to come up with a new point of view."

The Governor is right that we don’t do Christian ethics by taking an opinion poll. And he’s right that we can’t depend on the culture to define right and wrong. Greed isn’t good, no matter how much the popular culture may affirm it. But that doesn’t mean that our convictions don’t change over time.

For many years, The Christian Century ran a series called, “How My Mind Has Changed,” and they would ask prominent scholars and theologians to reflect on how their beliefs and convictions had changed over the years. Our faith is supposed to grow. And growth means change.

As James Russell Lowell wrote in his great abolitionist hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,”

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

In Governor Huckabee’s home state of Arkansas, there must be tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of Christians who grew up in the time when Governor Faubus was standing against the integration of the schools in Little Rock. As children or young adults, many of them believed in segregation and held that belief as a Christian conviction. But now, as adults, those same people are convinced that segregation and racism are wrong. Thankfully, their convictions have changed.

Similarly, there may well be millions of Protestant Christians now living who believed as children and young adults that women could not be ordained as pastors. A high percentage of those same people now believe that women can and should be ordained. Many now have female pastors whom they love dearly. Thankfully, their convictions have changed.

My own views have changed on a number of theological and biblical issues. I read the Bible differently, particularly in terms of its historical context. And my understanding of the atonement has changed dramatically.

We say that faith is a journey because it is. We don’t just make endless circles on the same track. We travel. We learn and we grow. And we change.

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