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Hong Kong’s Lesson for Beijing . . . and the West

Economic Vitality and the Christian Worldview

September 13, 2019 • John Stonestreet

Last week, the government of Hong Kong finally withdrew a proposed extradition law that sparked mass protests which have rocked the territory and rattled Beijing for weeks. However, if Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam thought that withdrawing the extradition law would end the protests, she was mistaken. Over the weekend, demonstrators continued to rally, march, and wave the U.S. flag, while chanting “Resist Beijing, Liberate Hong Kong!” and—get this—“Pray for us, U.S., pray for us!” Their chants highlight not only a Christian dimension in their protests, but the potential impact they believe Christianity can have on the Communist Party’s dictatorial rule, both in Hong Kong and throughout China. While the protests were initially sparked by the extradition law, it’s clear that deep dissatisfaction with life under Beijing is keeping the flames burning, especially as the Communist Party attempts to strengthen its grip over Hong Kong. One protester told the Los Angeles Times, “The whole system in Hong Kong is rotten, from top to bottom. We want to tear it down and start fresh.” In the midst of all this, Communist Party leaders know what many of the commentators and so-called experts in the West have long forgotten: That the ideas about justice and freedom that motivate many of the protesters in Hong Kong are rooted in Christianity. How can we be sure Communist leaders know this? Because of a 2011 study by the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As one Academy member put it, “…we were asked to look into what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.” After researchers studied everything from a “historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective,” they “realised that the heart of [the West’s] culture is [its] religion: Christianity . . . The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.” That’s quite a conclusion, to which an official of the Academy added, “We don’t have any doubt about this.” Chuck Colson pointed out eight years ago that the connection between Christianity and the success of the West has created a conundrum for Beijing. As he put it back then, Communist Party officials know that “the industriousness and creativity of the West was born out of the Christian worldview, which sees every individual created in the image of God, desiring freedom, creative in nature, motivated by civic duty and love of neighbor.” At the same time, China’s actions in Hong Kong and Mainland China reveal that the Communist Party sees all religions, and Christianity in particular, as dangerous rivals. If Jesus is Lord, then Xi Jinping is not. As Chuck Colson also said, if Beijing “truly opened its doors to Christianity and unleashed the creative and spiritual potential of its people” the result would be even greater prosperity and “growing global and economic clout.” But that prosperity and clout would come “at great cost to the power of the Communist dictatorship.” The crackdown across mainland China and the attempts to control Hong Kong suggests the Chinese government wants what it cannot have: To enjoy Western creativity and economic vitality while simultaneously suppressing Christianity—the historical source of this Western creativity and vitality. And just as Beijing can’t have it both ways, here’s a note for all Western leaders: Neither can we. As the people of Hong Kong sing their hymns and chant their slogans, they’ve made it clear they are not willing to trade their freedoms and loyalties, especially their religious freedoms and religious loyalties, for what Xi and company are offering. Before I leave you today, I want to tell you that we have a free webinar on Wednesday September 18th with none other than Os Guinness, about his new book, “Carpe Diem Redeemed.” Register here. You won’t want to miss it.

Women at Work

...in the Home or in the Marketplace

Many modern feminists insist that if women were given the same education and opportunities as men, they would almost certainly choose careers over family. It’s an attitude reflected in the comments by French President Macron a couple of years ago that educated women don’t have large families. In addition to the good bit of Twitter backlash Macron received then, studies continue to debunk the idea now. Seventeen years ago, reporter Lisa Belkin wrote an article titled “The Opt-Out Revolution” based on a study that indicated how vast numbers of educated and highly successful women were giving up their careers to be stay-at-home moms. Last month, a follow-up study showed that, in large part, these same women who took a break from work to focus on momhood ended up wanting to stay home a lot longer than they originally expected—often until their kids graduated high school. Even after their kids graduated, these moms were less likely to return to their old careers as they were to find work at schools, nonprofits, philanthropies, or as consultants in their previous fields. According to the study’s authors, these women were “seduced by the patriarchal bargain of privileged domesticity.”  Apparently, these women who were in a strong position to further the feminist cause were expected to do their part in promoting the narrative of the “freed” woman embodying equality by succeeding in realms previously dominated by men. Despite the rhetoric of the movement, whether or not they achieved individual fulfillment was irrelevant. No, these women were expected to advance the feminist agenda. This agenda was on display at last weekend’s Women’s March. My colleague Joseph Backholm attended the march and interviewed a cross section of those women championing its modern feminist values. I’ll let the video, which you can see on our website breakpoint.org, speak for itself, but I will just say that as the dad of daughters, I was deeply saddened to hear women justify their existence only in their opposition to men. Even worse, having bought the new sexual orthodoxies of our day, they went on to say that the only thing that makes a woman a woman is self-identification. The confusion is palpable. Early feminism was about correcting social injustices in pursuit of equal rights for women. Modern feminism went wrong by adopting the very framework that devalued women in the first place. In seeking to liberate women from sexism, modern feminism too often presumes that a woman’s value is in how she compares to and competes with men. According to my colleague Brooke Boriack, this means that modern feminism only devolves into another form of sexist tyranny. By elevating a male-dominated value system, women are forced to operate within a framework that devalues skills they alone can contribute to the world. Or as Eric Metaxas wrote in the introduction of his terrific book “Seven Women,” “The lesson in all this is that to pit women against men is a form of denigration of women, as though their measure must be determined by masculine standards (strength, power, i.e. the woman who was annoyed by men lifting things for her)… How ironic that modern culture, by so often intimating power as the highest good, should force women to accept what amounts to nothing less than patriarchal thinking, in the most pejorative sense of that adjective.” Thankfully, there are many women willing to resist the message that says they must act like men to make a difference. I highlighted eight of them in a Breakpoint commentary a few weeks ago, women who are changing the world in ways men cannot. Their experiences, talents, positions, and voices as women set their work apart. The highly educated women in that recent study did not choose to exercise their power by doing something as well as men—they’re doing something men can’t do at all. A father’s contribution to the home is vital, but a devoted mom is a force of nature like no other. After all, a pivotal point in all of human history was when a young woman said “Yes” to God, agreeing to do something that no man could have done. She became the mother of our Lord. Healthy cultures support women as women, allowing them to thrive according to their unique gifts and talents—in business, in government, in the home, or in any realm—without fear of belittlement, and without pressure to support political agendas that inadvertently devalue them.

Preparing for the 2020 Election

“Gentlemen, this is a football” • January 21, 2020 • John Stonestreet

In his book “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” David Maraniss tells a story about how the legendary coach opened the Green Bay Packers’ 1961 summer training camp. The year before, the favored Packers had surrendered a fourth-quarter lead to the Philadelphia Eagles to lose the championship, but rather than focus in on what had gone wrong then, Lombardi took his team back to the basics. “’Gentlemen,’ Lombardi said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, ‘this is a football.’” I was reminded of this Lombardi story recently after a discussion at one of our regional Colson Fellow gatherings. The conversation was trying to get at the root of why younger Americans are increasingly attracted to socialism. One of the Colson Fellows, a member of the millennial generation, offered two reasons I found particularly insightful. First, the church has largely avoided a whole host of controversial issues, fearful of telling people what to think, but in the process failing to help them think through them at all. The vacuum has been filled by many other voices, including from media and education, telling them what to think. Second, the historical memory of millennials doesn’t reach back to the Cold War and the existential struggle against Communism. They came of age just before 2008 and the Great Recession. In their earliest economic and political memories, the bad guy was what was then called capitalism. Add to those two realities that the emerging generation was never taught history or civics or economics, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that socialism has re-emerged as a live option for younger Americans. Our best response to this, for all of the issues that lie at the intersection of faith and public life, will have to be Lombardi-like. When it comes to politics, to what it means to be a citizen shaped by Christian faith, to those issues that matter most right now, it’s time to go back to the basics. This will include reflecting on what God intended for human governance, what we can and should expect from those who lead us, and what the limits of government should be. We’ll need to relearn the pitfalls of what Jacque Ellul called “the political illusion,” the belief that all problems are political and therefore require only political solutions. Today, the political illusion is seen most clearly in those who think elected officials are either the sole source of our best hope or the sole source of our imminent doom. Ellul wrote about the political illusion more than fifty years ago. I can only imagine what he might make of our politics today in which people on both sides of the political spectrum, including Christians, treat political leaders with near-messianic deference. At the same time, political realities matter. Elections have consequences. The stakes in November’s election seem higher than ever, and everywhere we turn, we’re being told to pin all our hopes and fears on its outcome. So, what is a Christian to do? Is there only one legitimate Christian view on all issues? What does the Bible say about the Christian’s role in politics? What is Christian citizenship? To which ideas must we remain faithful no matter what? Does God prefer one candidate over another, and how do we know? Our next Colson Center Short Course, which we are calling “Preparing for the 2020 Election,” will wrestle with these questions and more, and features an amazing lineup of instructors. Phoenix Seminary’s Wayne Grudem will launch the course, discussing “Politics according to the Bible.” This is the “Gentlemen, this a football” session to open the course. Then Bruce Ashford, Provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, will talk about Christian citizenship. Mindy Belz of WORLD Magazine will walk through the most critical policy issues right now, both domestic and international, and Dr. Jay Richards, of the Catholic University of America, will critique socialism in all of its modern forms. This Colson Center short course begins February 4 and is held for four consecutive Tuesdays. Each session begins at 8 PM Eastern and includes a half-hour Q&A session with the instructors. Each session is also recorded and provided to anyone who signs up, so don’t worry if you can’t make a live session. Register here. Most of our Colson Center Short Courses sell-out, so please sign up soon.

Dr. Martin Luther King and the Nature of Law

A Commentary by Chuck Colson • January 20, 2020 • John Stonestreet

In their eloquent defense of life, marriage, and religious liberty, Chuck Colson and the authors of the Manhattan Declaration made this bold statement: “There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Today on Martin Luther King Day, we want to share with you a BreakPoint commentary Chuck Colson aired back in the year 2000 about “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Although recent revelations point to Dr. King’s moral failings, the issues Dr. King raised about the nature of law, what constitutes an unjust law, and how we should respond to unjust laws are as true today as ever. So, here’s Chuck Colson, from January of 2000. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is out of harmony with the moral law.” It was with these very words, in his memorable “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” that Martin Luther King, Jr., threw down the gauntlet in his great Civil Rights crusade. King refused to obey what he regarded as an immoral law that did not square with the law of God. All across America today, millions of people are celebrating the birthday of this courageous man, and deservedly so. He was a fearless battler for truth, and all of us are in his debt because he remedied past wrongs and brought millions of Americans into the full riches of citizenship. In schools and on courthouse steps, people will be quoting his “I Have a Dream” speech today. It is an elegant and powerful classic. But I would suggest that one of Dr. King’s greatest accomplishments, one which will be little mentioned today because it has suddenly become “politically incorrect,” is his advocacy of the true moral foundations of law. King defended the transcendent source of the law’s authority. In doing so he took a conservative Christian view of law. In fact, he was perhaps the most eloquent advocate of this viewpoint in his time, as, interestingly, Justice Clarence Thomas may be today. Writing from a jail cell, King declared that the code of justice is not man’s law: It is God’s law. Imagine a politician making such a comment today. We all remember the controversy that erupted weeks ago when George W. Bush made reference to his Christian faith in a televised national debate. But King built his whole case on the argument, set forth by St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, that “An unjust law is no law at all.” To be just, King argued, our laws must always reflect God’s Law. This is the great issue today in the public square: Is the law rooted in truth? Is it transcendent, immutable, and morally binding? Or is it, as liberal interpreters have suggested, simply what courts say it is? Do we discover the law, or do we create it? Ever since Dr. King’s day, the United States Supreme Court has been moving us step-by-step away from the positions of this great Civil Rights leader. To continue in this direction, as I have written, can only lead to disastrous consequences—indeed, the loss of self-governing democracy. So I would challenge each of us today to use this occasion to reflect not just on his great crusade for Civil Rights but also on Martin Luther King’s wisdom in bringing law back to its moral foundations. Many think of King as some kind of liberal firebrand, but when it comes to the law he was a great conservative who stood on the shoulders of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, striving without apology to restore our heritage of justice. This is a story I tell in my book, “How Now Shall We Live?”: a great moment in history when a courageous man applied the law of God to the unjust laws of our time, and made a difference. And that is the lesson we should teach our kids on this holiday. It is not just another day off from school or a day to go to the mall. Read through King’s letter with you kids: It’s the most important civics lesson they’ll ever get.