Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Uncategorized

THE HISTORICITY OF THE GOSPEL

Luke 1:1-4

            As we begin the Christmas season our intention is to look at some of the passages in the Gospel according to Luke that describe the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  But this raises a serious question: how reliable are the gospel accounts historically?  Some liberal scholars will make the assertion that the gospels “do not intend to provide historical information about their subject.  Rather, they operate like myths and symbols to support Christian beliefs and practices” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 1743).  But, as the Annotated Bible goes on to point out, “Second-century CE authors, on the other hand, both adherents of Christianity like Justin Martyr and opponents like Celsus, presumed that the evangelists intended to provide information” (Ibid., p. 1744).  So the question is, are the gospels historically reliable?  Did a miraculous virgin birth actually take place?

            Luke tells us at the beginning of his gospel that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,” and that this, in turn, was based on eye-witness testimony (“they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and servants of the word”).  Luke then says that “after investigating everything carefully from the very first” he decided to “write an orderly account for you,” and that his purpose in doing so was “so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Lu. 1:1-4; NRSV).  In other words, the author of the third gospel clearly states that his intention was to compile a historically accurate narrative of the life of Jesus.  And this can only mean on of two things: either the third gospel is a complete fraud, or Luke really is telling us the truth about what the historical Jesus actually said and did.  Which is it?

            Under close examination the author is obviously an intelligent, educated person who is capable of writing polished Greek.  We know from several narratives in the Book of Acts, which forms the sequel to this gospel, in which he switches to the first person plural pronouns (“we” did this and “we” did that – e.g., Acts 16:10 inter alia), that the author was a close associate of the apostle Paul.  Early church tradition identified him as Luke, “the beloved physician” mentioned in Col. 4:14).

            Furthermore, judging from the close parallels between Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is almost certain that Luke used at least the Gospel of Mark as one of his sources.  By comparing the two gospels we can tell that Luke was very careful in his use of sources (as well as the fact that Luke thought that Mark had given us a reliable account of the life of the Christ).

            I should also be noted that there are no less than four gospels in the New Testament, not to mention numerous references throughout the epistles to the death and resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul could say, for instance, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried , and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures . . .” I Cor. 15:3,4).  “. . .on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained” (Dt. 19:15b).

            It should also be noted that, in narrating the events surrounding the birth of Christ, Luke, in no less than two different places, states that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lu. 2:19,51), and he tells the story from Mary’s perspective.  What this suggests is that Mary herself was the source of Luke’s information on these events, either directly or indirectly.

            What it all comes down to, then, is that Christianity is based on historical fact, and that the basic facts surrounding the life and work of Jesus can be established as firmly as that of any figure in ancient history.  Luke was writing real history, and has given us an accurate record of what Jesus said and did.  “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost” (I Tim. 1:15).

THE PILGRIM FATHERS

            Sometime during the month of October, 1621, the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth, MA celebrated a harvest festival, which in later generations came to be remembered as “The First Thanksgiving.”  But who were the Pilgrims?  And how did they find themselves on the barren, wind-swept shores of New England?

            Unlike the earlier colonists who had settled in Virginia to the south, the Pilgrims were a group of devout but persecuted Christians.  What set them apart from the other religious groups of their day was their rejection of the idea of a state church.  They realized that a true Christian church, the church described in the New Testament, was a brotherhood of committed believers who are bound to Christ and to each other by the new birth.  It is a believers’ church with a regenerate church membership.  A state church, then, is not a true Christian church; it is a parody of a church.

            At the beginning of the 17th Century such views were considered radical and could not be tolerated by the authorities.  The “Separatists,” as they were called, were driven from England and took refuge in Holland, which was more tolerant.  There they lived for some twelve years, struggling to earn a living in a foreign country, but able to worship in freedom.

            Eventually, however, they felt they could not go on like that forever.  First of all, the financial hardship was such that few friends and relatives in England cared to join them.  Secondly, there were fears that as the members of the community grew older, the group would eventually scatter and disappear.  Thirdly, the harsh working conditions were taking their toll on their children; and, to make matters worse, some of their young people were being drawn into the worldly lifestyle of the surrounding Dutch community.  Finally, they had a vision “for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea though they should be but even stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work,” as one of their own, William Bradford, put it.  After much discussion it was decided to migrate to North America.

            The path was not easy, however.  First there was the difficulty of making the necessary financial arrangements, which included getting permission to settle in one of the British colonies there.  And they had to find investors who would be willing to finance the adventure.  They were only partially successful on both accounts, and only after many delays.

            Then, when they were finally ready to sail, one of the vessels was found to be unseaworthy, and they were forced to turn around and return to England.  They crammed what they could into the remaining vessel, the Mayflower, and set out once again.

            By this time, however, it was getting late in the year.  They made it half-way across the Atlantic and encountered stormy weather that threatened them with shipwreck.  Since they were already more than half-way across the ocean, the ship’s crew decided not to turn back, but to continue heading for North America in spite of the bad weather. 

            They finally made it to Cape Cod.  Originally their intention was to settle near the Hudson River.  But, as Providence would have it, the ship was unable to make it past dangerous breakers and shoals that lay in the way.  They were forced to turn around and head back to Cape Cod.

            The scene that lay before them, however, was none too encouraging.  It was largely an unbroken wilderness, and the harsh New England winter was setting in.  To make matters more intimidating, they could not know what to expect from any Indians who might happen to be living in the area.

            While that winter was relatively mild by New England standards, the Pilgrims nevertheless had a rough time getting through it.  Owing to inadequate housing, scurvy and other diseases, half of the settlers died, especially during the months of January and February..  At one point there were only six or seven healthy persons to care for the rest.

            But when spring finally arrived they were surprised by a visit by a couple of Indians who could actually speak at least some English.  One of them, by the name of Squanto, had actually lived in England for a time.  By all accounts he was a tremendous help to the Pilgrims, showing them how to grow corn and to fish, and helped them to establish a good relationship with the local Sachem, or Indian chief, whose name was Massasoit.

            As it turns out, the Indians who had been living in the immediate area had been nearly wiped out by a deadly plague, leaving the immediate area basically uninhabited, and open for settlement by the Pilgrims. It would have been different if they had made it to where they had originally intended to settle near the Hudson River.

            The Pilgrims had a good harvest that summer, and that was the occasion for the Thanksgiving celebration.

            But what did they accomplish through all of this hardship and suffering?  At first it did not seem like much. The Plymouth Plantation never grew to become a major colony.  And yet in the end it exerted an influence that extended far beyond its borders.  By the time that William Bradford died in 1657, the sister colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and New Haven had been founded, sometimes with the help and advice of the settlers at Plymouth.

            But perhaps more importantly, these other colonies adopted the Pilgrims’ view of the church as a “gathered” body of “visible saints” – what eventually became known as “the New England Way.”  This, in turn, led to the great revivals of the 18th and early 19th Centuries, and eventually to the world-wide missions movement.  It also led to the conception, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, of the separation of church and state – the priceless treasure of religious freedom.

            They had stated at the beginning that one of their aims was to “lay some good foundation, or at least  to make some way thereunto, for the propagation and advancing of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”  As it turned out, they did exactly that.  In the providence of God they were called upon to make tremendous sacrifices.  They could not see how it would all end.  But God was ultimately able to use them to bless New England, America, and all the world.

            On Thanksgiving Day, then, let us add our voices to theirs in praise to God for the great work He was done!

                        “Praise the Lord, and call upon His name:

                         Declare His works among the people.

                         Sing unto Him, sing praise unto Him,

                         And talk of all His wondrous works.”

                                                (Psalm 105:1,2; Geneva Bible*)

  • The version that the Pilgrims would have used).

CHRISTIANS AND THE CORONAVIRUS

John MacArthur

            The coronavirus pandemic has placed churches in an awkward situation.  Because the coronavirus is a highly contagious airborne pathogen, normal church worship services are problematical.  A large group of people gather, they greet each other, they shake hands.  They sing together, and pass the offering plate from hand to hand.  They sometimes take communion together.  All of this is a sure prescription for a “super-spreader event.”  Yet what is the church supposed to do?  Suspend public worship indefinitely?

            Probably the majority of churches have made attempts to conform to various government mandated restrictions on public gatherings.  One notable exception, however, is Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA, pastored by well-known preacher and author John MacArthur.  The church, which is located in the suburban Los Angeles area, has been ordered by county officials to stop having indoor services. The church has refused to comply.  According to recent reports the church services are packed and there is little social distancing.  The estimated size of the congregation is 7,000.

            The church has published an official statement on the matter and has posted it on its website ( https://www.gracechurch.org/news/posts/1988 ).  In it the church argues that Christ is the Head of the church, not the civil government.  It argues that compliance with the government mandate would violate the biblical mandate for corporate worship.  “Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings.  Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”

            But would it?  While church and state are separate from each other, as Grace Church argues, they are not completely separate.  The church, for example, relies on the state for police and fire protection.  The state, in turn, can require the church to comply with certain building, fire and sanitation codes.  Certain actions of the state, moreover, have serious moral implications.  Should the church remain silent, for example, when the state legalizes abortion and same-sex marriage?

            But more to the point, what exactly did Christ command the church to do?  Grace church argues that the Greek word used in the New Testament for “church” (ekklesia) literally means “assembly.”  Therefore, they argue, “A non-assembling assembly is a contradiction in terms.”

            Moreover they point to the passage in Hebrews 10:25 that warns against “not forsaking our own assembling together . . .” (NASV).  But this reflects a common misunderstanding of how the church operated in New Testament times.  For the first several centuries of the church’s existence there were no church buildings.  In fact, for much of that time the church was suffering persecution and had to worship in secret.  How did the church function, then?  “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart . . .” (Acts 2:46).

            Generally speaking, the entire Christian community within a given city was considered a single church, and was led by a board of elders, at one point actually called a “presbytery” (presbuterion – I Tim. 4:14).  But within these larger metropolitan churches there would be smaller groups that would meet in private homes, for example the churches that met in the homes of Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3-5; I Cor. 16:19) or Philemon (Phil. 2).  It was here that they would meet on a regular weekly basis, have prayers and scripture readings, listen to a sermon, and have a fellowship meal together, which would include the observance of the Lord’s Table.  It would be an opportunity for believers to interact with each other.

            When taken in its proper context, then, this is what is being described in the passage in Hebrews chapter 10:

                        “. . .and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (vv. 24,25).

What is being referenced here, then, are the smaller gatherings in private homes when believers would “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” and “encourage” one another.  There is, therefore, not biblical mandate to hold large gatherings in large quarters.

            But Grace Church argues that the state has no warrant to tell the church anything about how it may conduct worship – that is solely the church’s prerogative, subject to the will of Christ.  And, strictly speaking, that is true.  But the state does have a mandate to protect the health and safety of its citizens; and in the face of a global pandemic that would include whatever measures are necessary to halt or at least slow down the spread of the disease.

            What should the church’s response be, then?  What did Christ command us to do?  What Jesus actually said was, that we should love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39, quoting Lev. 19:18); and that what this requires, in turn, is that we practice the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).  We should “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).  And as the apostle Paul would point out, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10; the NASV has the more literal reading in the margin: “works no evil”).

            Christian love, then, will not needlessly put the health and safety of others at risk by acting in a reckless and irresponsible manner.  The plain fact of the matter is that there is a coronavirus out there.  It is highly contagious.  It does not stop at church doors.  It can result in hospitalizations and tax our healthcare system. In a certain percentage of cases it is deadly.  For the sake of Christ, for the sake of His kingdom, and for the sake of our neighbors, then, let us take whatever precautions are necessary to mitigate the spread of the disease.  Practice social distancing. Wear a mask.  Demonstrate the love of Christ.

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM: ENVIRONMENT

Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley

            Today, in the last of our series on the American Solidarity Party’s platform, we look at its position on the environment, with a commentary by myself at the end.

Environment

We are responsible to care for the earth so that present and future generations can enjoy the benefits of a healthy environment, including clean air and water and the rich biodiversity that is our heritage. The American Solidarity Party rejects the notion that environmental stewardship requires either diminished workers’ rights or population control. Maintaining our environment will require individuals, businesses, and local communities taking responsibility for their contributions; however, due to the national and global nature of the environment, we see an appropriate role for our federal and state governments in adopting and enforcing evidence-based policies regarding pollution, climate change, and alternative forms of energy.

  • We are committed to building an economy using models of production and distribution that are local, responsible, and sustainable. We call for the repeal of subsidies that encourage urban sprawl and discourage local farming and production, and we encourage local media outlets and chambers of commerce to promote buying locally.
  • We must all take personal and familial responsibility for stewardship of the environment. We must teach habits of conservation to our children both at home and in our schools, and we must put them into practice ourselves.
  • Local governments should consider the health of the environment along with human solidarity when considering business development strategies, housing strategies, and other key decisions. As one example, transportation planning should look for opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint, while enabling the free movement of those unable to afford private vehicles.
  • Even in urban settings, there is much we can do to build a healthier environment. We oppose neighborhood policies that incentivize chemical-saturated lawns, or forbid outdoor clotheslines. We oppose the use of street lights so bright that they disrupt natural circadian rhythms or migration patterns.
  • We must make every effort to ensure that no home in America lacks access to clean drinking water in the home and fresh foods in the neighborhood.
  • Federal and state government subsidies for reckless oil and mineral extraction (such as “fracking”) must be eliminated and replaced with funding for research into renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind, and nuclear power. At the same time, states need more economic development initiatives, such as job retraining and direct family aid, in those regions adversely affected by the transition to planet-friendly fuels and modes of production.
  • Strong regulations are required to conserve our nation’s great natural resources and to protect our land, air, and water from man-made pollution and degradation, including maintaining current laws meant for that purpose. We also insist on the direct accountability of illegal polluters to their victims in the courts.
  • The federal government can institute pollution taxes and cap-and-trade systems to incentivize transitioning to renewable and non-polluting production systems. Revenue from pollution taxes should be used to fund carbon sequestration by farms, businesses, and individuals, and returned to the people through a carbon dividend.
  • We must do more than protect our current nature preserves; we must also actively rebuild the natural habitats necessary for a healthy environment. Federal government agencies should take all necessary measures to preserve and protect our natural wetlands, which provide an ecologically-healthy form of flood control. More trees should be planted as a natural carbon sink and to combat deforestation and desertification. Natural meadows and wildflowers are also essential for threatened populations of pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
  • The federal government should prioritize new distribution technologies for waste, with particular concern for the oceans which are vital to a healthy earth.
  • As part of our stewardship of the natural world, we have an obligation to humanely care for animals. We support the strengthening of laws against animal abuse and neglect, including stricter regulation of factory farms and stockyards and the repeal of food disparagement laws and so-called ag-gag laws that prohibit free speech regarding animal agriculture.

Commentary:

            The American Solidarity Party’s platform plank on the environment lays down the broad principle that “We are responsible to care for the earth so that present and future generations can enjoy the benefits of a healthy environment, including clean air and water and the rich biodiversity that is our heritage.”  It is, in essence, a call for social and economic responsibility towards the environment.

            The physical earth is something that was created by God, and, as such, really belongs to Him.

                        “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,

                         The world and those who dwell therein.

                         For He has formed it upon the seas,

                         And established it upon the waters.”

                                                            (Psalm 24:1,2; NKJV)

Moreover Scripture indicates that the Creator, in His wisdom and goodness, intended nature to function a certain way.  Psalm 104, for instance, describes in great detail how that everything in nature is structured in such a way to sustain life.  It is a monumental testimony to Intelligent Design.  It was in this environment, then, that God place us as human beings.  And so God, having created us male and female, commanded our first parents to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:26-30).

            “Dominion,” however, does not mean the reckless or systematic destruction of the environment.  What is in mind here is the cultivation of the land (Prov. 24:30-34) and the domestication of animals (Prov. 27:23-27).  But all of this must be done in a responsible manner. We are to love our neighbor – to look out for the welfare of others – and love does not harm (Rom. 13:10).  Interestingly, Israel was commanded to give the land a rest every seven years (Lev. 25:1-7).

            A modern industrial economy, of course, imposes its own environmental challenges.  And yet we must still for responsible ways to limit eh damage to the environment.  The platform of the American Solidarity Party offers some helpful suggestions.  It is a start.  Some of the suggestions may be open to debate.  But what is simply not an option is simply to let businesses and individuals destroy the environment at will. 

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM: IMMIGRATION

Photo by Daniel Bendig on Pexels.com

            Today we take a look at the American Solidarity Party’s position on immigration, along with a brief commentary at the end by myself.

Immigration

Our obligations as part of the family of nations also encompass migrants and refugees seeking entry to our country. Mindful of the Biblical admonition to welcome the stranger and the importance of immigrants to our national fabric, we must enact policies that reconcile the legitimate interest of Americans in secure borders with a core commitment to human dignity. This effort will require not only addressing the crisis at our borders, but also the root causes of migration, many of which concern our country’s use of its military, political, and economic power abroad.

  • The federal government has the responsibility to implement safe, secure, and orderly borders. We need reforms to protect migrants and to respond to unplanned refugee influxes with humane facilities adequate to house people and families in distress. At the same time, we must make our border areas safer for those who patrol them, live near them, or desire to cross them by aggressively targeting the trafficking of humans and narcotics. Among the most significant reforms must be the closing of private for-profit immigration detention centers, the provision of sufficient resources for immigration courts, and the expansion of monitoring programs that minimize the need for detention while asylum or immigration claims are processed.
  • We support a path to citizenship for “Dreamers” brought to the United States as children and advocate reasonable accommodations for unauthorized immigrants without a criminal record who seek permanent residency. 
  • There must be a variety of bridge-building efforts between communities and newly-arriving immigrants, including offering lessons in civics and English for immigrants.
  • We favor a generous policy of asylum for refugees from religious, political, racial, and other forms of persecution. Asylum claims should be evaluated with a view to integrating refugees into American communities.
  • The availability of immigrant workers whose legal status renders them vulnerable allows employers to operate businesses with low wages and poor conditions that would likely not otherwise be tolerated. To improve working life and job availability for all, we support the enforcement of fair labor practices and solidarity between workers of all backgrounds. Immigration enforcement efforts within the United States should prioritize the illegal hiring practices of employers rather than the mass deportation of working unauthorized immigrants. Temporary visa programs should also be reformed to prevent companies from exploiting temporary workers and disadvantaging their American counterparts in skilled occupations.
  • We will work toward the negotiation of equitable trade agreements that will help to make immigration a choice, rather than a necessity, by addressing economic deprivation in developing countries.

Commentary:

            Scripture tells us that God “loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing,” and therefore we are to “love the stranger” as well (Dt. 10:18,19; NKJV; cf. Lev. 19:33,34; Ps. 146:5-9).  Rulers in particular are called to “Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow . . .” (Jer. 22:3; cf. Zech. 7:9,10).

            The American immigration system is long overdue for comprehensive reform, and the American Solidarity Party’s platform calls for secure borders, the ability to process a larger number of immigrants, and the humane treatment of those seeking asylum.  It is a much needed call for reform.

                                    “Give me your tired, your poor,

                        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

                        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

                        Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:

                        I life my lamp beside the golden door.”

                                                            The New Colossus: Insciption

                                                            for the Statue of Liberty.

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM: FOREIGN POLICY & DEFENSE

            Here is the American Solidarity Party’s position on foreign policy and defense, along with a commentary by myself:

Foreign and Defense Policy

The American Solidarity Party is committed to policies which will bring about a more peaceful world through international cooperation and prudent restraint in the use of military force. Peace is not just an absence of war, but the positive presence of justice and charity among people and among nations. The United States should use its diplomatic influence and soft power to promote an international order that respects the dignity of the human person. Administrations of both parties have pursued a policy of reckless overreach, at great cost to both ourselves and other nations. Through its military, political, and economic interventions, the United States has exacerbated social and environmental instability in Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. In the place of this tired elite consensus, we need a foreign policy with both a realistic appreciation of our country’s interests and a steadfast adherence to its values.

  • Just war theory is the foundation of a moral foreign policy. It means that war should always serve as a last resort against grave acts of aggression and must be undertaken with clear goals and due regard for unintended consequences. The conduct of war must be governed by norms of proportionality and respect for human life.
  • Most of the recent military interventions by the United States have not complied with just war principles. Overreliance on the military to achieve foreign policy goals has ultimately been counterproductive. The United States should end unilateral military intervention in foreign countries except as a response to an actual or imminent attack on the United States or to a catastrophic threat to international security for which there is no multilateral response. Wars of choice must end. 
  • A non-interventionist foreign policy must also reject the use of lethal drones against civilian populations or in neutral countries and the fueling of foreign conflicts through American arms sales.
  • In order to prevent interventions prompted primarily by presidential power, Congress should reassert its war-making powers granted by the Constitution and the War Powers Act. It should reject overly broad authorizations for the use of military force that have given presidents of both parties legal cover for launching new conflicts without checks and balances.
  • Our military involvement throughout the world over the last several decades has left some regions dependent on the relative security the United States provides. While this arrangement is not desirable in the long term, we cannot simply retreat immediately from some regions where a rapid exodus would cause further instability. Instead, a deliberate withdrawal is needed to ensure that American allies or clients are not left isolated and at risk by our departure. A reduction in military bases abroad should occur as part of this policy shift, except for those required to protect diplomatic missions or to meet explicit treaty obligations.
  • We recognize the sacrifices of our fallen military personnel and of veterans. At a time when heavy burdens have been laid on an all-volunteer force for nearly a generation, all necessary resources must be devoted to fulfilling our collective obligations to veterans and their families.
  • Nuclear weapons signal a failure to create a world that values peace over warfare. Our nation must lead the effort to rid the world of these terrible weapons through the use of arms control initiatives, non-proliferation treaties, and, where doing so does not diminish national security, unilateral steps to reduce our nuclear weapon stockpiles. In particular, the United States should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and should negotiate an update to the lapsed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia. Further, as a nation we should reject first use of nuclear weapons and should not seek first-strike capabilities.
  • The United States should seek peaceful resolution of global environmental problems through cooperation with foreign nations, including maintaining participation in current treaties. We should rejoin the Paris climate pact and vigorously encourage all nations to meet ambitious climate goals.
  • While trade agreements can be mutually beneficial for the United States and its international partners, the United States should avoid or seek to renegotiate trade agreements that privilege corporate interests over labor rights and environmental protections or that encourage the hollowing-out of domestic industries. Favorable trade status should be removed from countries where worker exploitation is unaddressed.
  • The United States should seek whenever possible to remedy the human and environmental consequences of American intervention, both past and present. We must avoid actions which sustain corrupt governments or exploitative practices by American corporations. To truly make a positive impact throughout the world, the United States should focus on long-term economic development aid to produce self-sufficient local communities. 
  • The United States must end participation in international agreements and regulatory frameworks which favor international corporations over local producers. This effort includes the banning of lending practices that put smaller nations into financial stress, and of the use of international financial pressure to restructure the economies of debtor nations. It further includes the reform of intellectual property laws that allow corporations to control seed life, and thus monopolize a disproportionate amount of food sources, especially in developing countries. International economic institutions such as the WTO, World Bank, and IMF should be reformed or replaced in the interest of transparency, accountability, and fairness to all nations.

Commentary:

            The American Solidarity Party platform’s statement on foreign and defense policy may involve a contradiction, or at least reflect the dilemma with which foreign policy planners are often faced.

            On the one hand, the party holds to the just war theory, which means, in the words of the platform, that “war should always serve as a last resort against grave acts of aggression.”  It goes on to say that “The United States should end unilateral military intervention in foreign countries except as a response to an actual or immanent attack on the United States or to a catastrophic threat to international security for which there is no multilateral response.”  So far, so good.

            But the platform began by saying that “The United States should use its diplomatic influence and soft power to promote an international order that regards the dignity of the human person.”  This is certainly an admirable goal, but given the extent of human rights violations across the globe, especially under brutal dictatorships, it is hard to see how this can be achieved short of projected military power.

            The question is, should the United States assume the role of the world’s policeman?  What should the Obama Administration, for example, have done in the case of Syria?  What should our stance be toward the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea?  The platform states that “the United States should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.”  But that, it has been argued, was fatally flawed, and would not have achieved its long-term objective, insuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear arsenal.

            The just war theory, taken by itself, would naturally lead to an isolationist foreign policy.  Practically the only time that military force would be justified would be purely out of self-defense.  But that, in turn, would have us let the rest of th4e world descend into tyranny and never-ending war.  Therein lies the dilemma of foreign policy.

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Civic Engagement and Public Services

Challenging reforms are needed to make sure all Americans are represented in civic life. These changes are all the more urgent in an age of partisan gridlock and polarization fueled by new media. Americans need more democratic election laws, more self-governance for local communities, and more safeguards against corporate dominance of government and common resources.

  • The House of Representatives and the lower houses of state legislatures should be elected by a system of proportional representation.
  • All elections should be held using either a ranked choice system or approval voting.
  • Voter registration should be easy, and laws attempting to restrict voter registration deserve opposition.
  • Access to impartial information on candidates and ballot initiatives should be easily available in public print and broadcast media.
  • Independent and minor-party candidates for public office shall have fair and equal access to ballots. This right shall not be infringed by burdens such as exorbitant voter signatures and filing fees.
  • We believe that local governments are most competent to solve community-based problems. In keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, there should be more autonomy of local governments from state governments wherever possible. There should be legal accountability of higher levels of government to lower levels.
  • Federal, state, and local governments should maintain a well-functioning and accessible public transportation system.
  • We desire zoning laws which favor small businesses and conservation over large-scale corporate investment and which disfavor vice businesses such as strip clubs and casinos.
  • High standards of accountability and frequent audits of local officials are needed to prevent corruption and maintain financial health.
  • We call for job programs to prevent “brain drain” from low-income areas.
  • We oppose “race to the bottom” tax credits that incentivize large companies to manipulate local economies.
  • Privatization of natural monopolies means that people who must use these services are left unrepresented. Public resources must remain public, including transportation services, toll roads and bridges, community policing and parking enforcement, prisons, and energy and water utilities.
  • We oppose the enclosure of science and culture through unduly restrictive intellectual property laws. Copyright and patents should be leased at their full market value, in order to lower prices on necessary resources such as medicine and educational materials for those who need them most. We support increased public funding for scientific research.
  • As part of an effort to continue public arts, entertainment, and media, there should be more non-commercial ownership of the airwaves.
  • We will work to restrict the legal construct of “personhood” for organizations and corporations.
  • We call for greater legal responsibility on the part of creditors and vendors for vigilance against fraudulent activity, such as identity theft.
  • There should be federal antitrust legislation and enforcement to resist the formation of media conglomerates, and, if necessary, to break up those that already exist. There is special concern about big technology companies and social media providers.
  • We regard the Internet as a public utility. The federal government should uphold strict net neutrality, so that users may access legal content without restrictions imposed by their Internet service providers. We will support the creation of local, public ISPs and universal wireless access to the Internet. Internet histories and other user data collected by ISPs should be destroyed, unless retention is specifically required by a court order.
  • While the government has a responsibility to curtail media consolidation, it should not use its resources to censor the media or the Internet or to violate digital privacy itself. There should be no indiscriminate and unauthorized collection of data from the telephones and computers of American citizens and foreign nationals. The government should reform laws and trade agreements that allow the monitoring of personal Internet usage for non-criminal offenses, such as copyright infringement.

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM – ECONOMICS

Quentin Metsys, Money Changer and His Wife, 1514

Here is the American Solidarity Party Platform’s statement about economics, along with a commentary by myself:

Economics

The American Solidarity Party believes that political economy (economics) is a branch of political ethics, and therefore rejects models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest. We advocate for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as “distributism”) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.

  • Our goal is to create conditions which allow single-income families to support themselves with dignity.
  • We support policies that encourage the formation and strengthening of labor unions. Efforts by private entities to use public power to prevent union activities or to retaliate against workers who organize for their rights ought to be resisted at every level.
  • We call for the repeal of corporate welfare policies, for shifting the tax system to target unearned income and reckless financiers, and for changing regulations to benefit small and locally-owned businesses rather than multinational corporations. Economic rentiers and speculators who produce nothing but only take from workers through gimmicks allowed by corrupt relationships with public power need to pay their fair share through taxes on land, capital gains, and financial transactions.
  • We will work to restore the requirement that corporations must serve a public good in order to be granted the benefit of limited liability. We support the prohibition of corporate bylaws and the repeal of state legislation requiring shareholder profit to trump considerations such as employee wellbeing and environmental protection.
  • To deprive workers of their wages is a “sin that cries out to heaven.” The Department of Labor must investigate all cases of wage theft and fraud in a swift manner.
  • We support mechanisms that allow workers to share in the ownership and management of their production, such as trade guilds, cooperatives, and employee stock ownership programs. Rather than consigning workers to wage slavery under far-away masters, such ownership models respect their essential dignity.
  • Industrial policy and economic incentives need to be re-ordered to place human dignity first and to recognize that the family is the basic unit of economic production. We are committed to policies that emphasize local production, family-owned businesses, and cooperative ownership structures. Measures that prevent large corporations from passing on their transportation costs to local communities will help re-energize local production and local enterprises.
  • The bloated, “too big to fail,” multinational economic concerns which dominate the economic landscape need to be brought to heel and concerted antitrust action must be taken to break up the oligarchies that use their private power to corruptly influence public governance.
  • The monopolistic power of corporations, especially in the area of patent and copyright law, allows them to price-gouge workers and families. We call for a restructuring of intellectual property laws to encourage innovation rather than rent-seeking.
  • We support and encourage measures which allow local communities to limit the power of outside interests in managing their land. Tenant unions, community land trusts, and community-oriented development are to be supported in the effort to ensure the availability of affordable and inclusive housing. Allowing local communities more flexibility will allow for more diverse and innovative solutions to local problems rather than imposing them from a far-off central authority.
  • We advocate for social safety nets that adequately provide for the material needs of the most vulnerable in society. These programs need to also help the most vulnerable find a path out of poverty by providing them with the tools they need in order to fully participate in their communities with dignity, and not trap them as subsidized labor for private interests. 
  • To restore long-term solvency to the Social Security trust fund, we call for an end to the FICA tax cap.
  • Unemployment benefits need to include the option of allowing beneficiaries to take their benefits in the form of start-up capital to start or purchase businesses or create cooperative enterprises that help them to escape poverty on their own terms.
  • Natural monopolies and the common inheritance of the natural world need to be closely managed and protected by the public and not surrendered for a pittance to private greed. Our support of private property rights does not mean that we should surrender our common property into the hands of private oligarchs. Policies that deliver citizens their fair share of our common wealth and inheritance of natural resources are to be encouraged in the form of a citizen’s dividend and baby bonds.
  • Predatory practices which care more for stockholder value than human life must cease. We call for community-oriented lending practices and mutual aid organizations to replace predatory lending agents that target poor people and working-class communities. We must reject a financial system based on saddling workers with debt and interest payments that merely fuel consumerism and instead embrace one that encourages productive activity.
  • We call for student loans to be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Commentary:

            Adam Smith famously wrote about “the invisible hand” in which he said that each individual “intends only his own gain,” but in so doing he is led “by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention . . . By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it” (The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II).  But the Bible says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows” (I Tim. 6:10; NKJV).

            Republicans in particular sometimes imagine that the only alternative to free-market capitalism is socialism, with state control of the economy. The American Solidarity Party platform, however, calls for an economic system that essentially relies on private enterprise; but recognizes that the government can, through its policies, encourage one type of economic behavior and discourage another.  According to the platform, what we want to see is an economy of “wide-spread ownership” (distributism).  To that end the party would like to see regulations that favor small and locally owned businesses, trade guilds, cooperatives, employee stock ownership programs and labor unions, as opposed to large multi-national corporations.  It is an economic strategy aimed at the benefit of all of society, as opposed to just the stock holders and CEO’s of large corporations.

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM: CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Van Gogh, The Prison Exercise Yard, 1890

            Today we take a look at what the American Solidarity Party platform says about criminal justice, along with a commentary by myself:

Criminal Justice

Maintaining public peace and order is a fundamental responsibility of government. However, in too many cases our justice system is both harsh and ineffective. Despite having the largest incarcerated population in the world, we have failed to make communities safe or adequately address economic and racial disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing. We support reforms to simultaneously ensure public safety, secure individual justice, and reduce the excessively penal nature of the system.

  • Criminality is complex, the result of a culture that does not respect human life, the breakdown of traditional social institutions, institutionalized racism, and a prison system that promotes social alienation, recidivism, and deprivation. Federal and state governments must seek to address the causes as well as the effects of criminal behavior.
  • We believe that preventing and punishing crime is an essential public service. We oppose the privatization of law-enforcement and penal institutions.
  • As public servants, law enforcement officers should be supported and held to the highest standards of professionalism.  We support strict accountability for the use of lethal force.
  • We are alarmed at the increasing rates of conflict between police and communities, and call for local governments to institute measures that will increase transparency and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, including the use of body cameras, civilian review boards, and expansion of community policing.
  • We believe that our court system systematically disfavors the poor.  We call for an increase in state-level funding for our public defender system, and an end to cash bail, court fees, and programs that allow records to be expunged in exchange for paying higher fees.
  • Mandatory sentencing requirements, especially for non-violent criminals, must be overturned.
  • We believe that prisons are designed for dangerous criminals. We oppose the imprisonment of those who are simply mentally ill, homeless, or too poor to pay fines.
  • We believe that our prison system should be focused on restoring lawbreakers to their community.  We support increased funding of programs meant to prepare prisoners for life outside the prison.
  • We call for an end to the use of prisoners as slave labor.  Prisoners must be remunerated at the minimum wage for work performed
  • Drug addiction remains a social harm. It is vital to find ways of ending mass incarceration while not removing all laws against drugs and other vices. Drug enforcement should focus on distribution and production. Funds currently expended on the “war on drugs” should be directed toward prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.
  • Laws against prostitution should focus on removing those participating from the cycle of exploitation, mandating penalties primarily on those who buy sex or arrange for its purchase. Closely tied to this is the need to aggressively combat human trafficking. 
  • It is also vital to recognize the social costs of pornography, which is inseparable from human trafficking, the promotion of pedophilia, and rape. We therefore support laws which criminalize the production and sale of pornography and deny categorically that pornography is protected speech.

Commentary:

            The administration of justice is, obviously, one of the chief functions of government.  The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution states that one of its primary purposes is to “establish justice.”  And in the Bible the apostle Paul said that a civil magistrate is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4; ESV).

            The American Solidarity platform calls for a series of reforms to the criminal justice system, noting that the underprivileged classes of society do not always receive equal justice under the law.  Significantly, the platform calls for federal and state governments to address the underlying causes of criminal behavior.  It holds law enforcement officers in the highest respect, but calls for accountability in the use of lethal force.

            Surprisingly, however, the platform calls for an end to mandatory sentencing requirements.  But it is hard to see how that would advance equal justice.  A crime deserves a certain penalty.  Allowing judges to impose penalties at their own discretion opens the door to wide disparities from one jurisdiction to another.

            The platform wants to shift the focus on prostitution away from the prostitute herself to the pimp and the customer.  It also calls for the criminalization of pornography, with the platform denying “categorically that pornography is protected speech.”

SOLIDARITY PARTY PLATFORM: CIVIL RIGHTS

4.2.7

Today we look at what the American Solidarity Party platform has to say about Civil Rights, along with a commentary by myself:

  • All levels of government must defend the rights of public assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, understood through the tradition of ordered liberty.
  • We acknowledge the persistence of discrimination based on religion, race, ethnicity, and sex, and support laws favoring equal access to the polls, the courts, housing, and education.
  • Throughout our nation’s history, racial discrimination has stripped ethnic minorities of their wealth and limited their eligibility to work, ability to own property, educational access, and voting rights at the individual and community levels. We recognize the particular forms of exclusion suffered by African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. These historic injustices should be addressed through reparative and restorative means, such as economic grants and policies which incentivize investment, job-training, and hiring in minority communities, and by continuing dialogue between communities and local governments regarding minority concerns.
  • Disability rights remain a significant concern throughout the United States. Government agencies working with the disabled must ensure that financial benefits are applied fairly and consistently. They must also make more efforts to incorporate the disabled into work or volunteer programs, depending on individual circumstances.
  • Unjust employment discrimination and poor working conditions hinder career advancement and financial stability. We insist on legal protection for occupational safety and compensation, good faith in hiring and retention, and paid leave for illness and child-rearing.
  • We oppose conscription into the armed services and other forms of compulsory government service, except in cases of clear and present necessity during declared war, as described in our Foreign Policy section. We also oppose the mandatory registration of women in the Selective Service system.
  • The government should not use “national security” to justify expanded censorship and secrecy. In addition to concerns about online censorship to be discussed in the Civics section, our commitment to civil liberties includes the repeal of the Patriot Act and the reinstatement of basic civil rights, including the right of citizens to a speedy trial in civilian courts. Secret tribunals (such as the FISA court) must be abolished, and military courts must be returned to their proper role. Foreign non-combatants must not be detained in American facilities or remanded by agents of the federal government to foreign prisons.

Commentary:

            The party platform notes that throughout American history various ethnic and minority groups have faced discrimination, and says that “The historic injustices should be addressed through reparative and restorative measures . . .”  It is a little hard to know how to respond to this, given the fact that the experiences of the various groups mentioned are so different from each other.  The problems experienced by African-Americans are quite different from those experienced by Asian-Americans.  And the problems encountered by Asian-Americans are quite different from those experienced by Native-Americans.  Moreover it is hard to know what “reparative” and “restorative” measures would remedy the various problems experienced by each group.  To lump the groups all together and propose a blanket solution for them is a bit unrealistic.

            The platform does go on, however, to address a variety other injustices pervasive in American society. Including people with disabilities, employment discrimination and poor working conditions.  These are all valid concerns and need to be addressed.

            Racial discrimination is, of course, unconscionable.   God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . .” (Acts. 17:26; NKJV).  As human beings we were all created in the image of God, and we share a common humanity.  In the sight of God a human being is a human being is a human being.  Every human life is worth nourishing, protecting and preserving.  And the Bible says that God “administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger . . .” (Dt. 10:18 “sojourner” – ESV; “alien” – NASV).  And God condemns employers who mistreat their employees” (Dt. 24:14,15; Jas. 5:4-6).