Sticking with Trump risky for conservative, moral Republicans

Just before Christmas, a moral dilemma faced by many Republicans was exposed by Christianity Today. While they like many of President Donald Trump’s policies, they object to his shameful behavior.

“None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character,” wrote the respected evangelical magazine.

“This president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone – with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders – is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

“Trump Should Be Removed from Office” was the startling headline and conclusion of the article.

This growing dilemma has political risks for Republicans, particularly those who are conservative, moral Christians. Over the coming months if Trump sticks to his capricious and self-serving ways, increased voter dissatisfaction could result in a pro-choice Democrat winning the presidency.

So what is the alternative?

Also the week before Christmas, the Republican controlled Senate approved massive spending bills at Trump’s urging – “Go for it Republicans” – that suspended the debt ceiling for two years and adds $1.7 trillion to forecast deficits.

“These spending bills are a fiscal dumpster fire,” conservative Sen. Mike Lee of Utah told Fox News. “This is embarrassing.”

“Washington continues to swipe the national credit card and stick future generations with the bill,” said Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James. “This is another dark day for fiscal conservatism,” said Jason Pye of FreedomWorks.

This spending deal comes as the national debt has surged past $23 trillion with an annual budget deficit already projected to exceed $1 trillion. An “unsustainable” path said the Congressional Budget Office.

And a path totally opposite conservative Republicans’ goal to eliminate deficits and balance the budget.

You see, this massive spending deal, not budget tightening, was politically necessary to keep the economy humming. Touted by Trump as the strongest economy ever, this expansion actually depends on a rickety foundation – ever-growing government spending and Federal Reserve monetary stimulus normally reserved for recessions.

Liberal government spending plus stimulative Federal Reserve policies, pushed by Trump, to keep interest rates artificially low and liquidity high are the sugar fueling this economic high, not real, sustainable economic strength.

Nothing conservative about this either.

That’s why 23 conservative Republican senators voted against the deficit busting spending bills.

That reveals the sole alternative. Twenty conservative, moral Republicans serving in the U.S. Senate would have to find the fortitude to join with Democratic senators to convict Trump in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, thereby replacing this not really conservative, not very moral president with Vice President Mike Pence.

Contrary to Trump, Pence is a true balance-the-budget conservative and practicing Christian with a moral compass. He could return the nation to a sane Reagan-like uplifting path and save us from Trump’s destructive path.

“For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14.

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What will shine brightest this Christmas season?

For those Americans who celebrate the real reason for Christmas, joy at this time of year comes from much more than sparkling trees and glittery presents. It is a joy like no other for  souls who have been ignited by the coming of the Light of the World.

It is also a time for those joyous souls to shine for all to see.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 5:14). “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

The late Rev. Billy Graham taught that “throughout the New Testament, the followers of Jesus are called to be lights in the darkness,” citing in particular Philippians 2:14-16: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

If the light of such souls seems diminished to you this season, it is likely because your eyes have become more focused on worldly things. How could they not with the message of Christmas overwhelmed by ads, politics, sports, movies, fashion, entertainment, and more graphic venues. Few to none employ notions of worship, charity, or love.

Quick, name 10 advertisements, politicians, movies, fashionistas, entertainers, or cultural idols that captured your attention recently through a display of the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Hard to do.

Graham’s teaching calls for believers to do three things to shine. First, be counter-cultural – while others chase after physical pleasures and selfish gain, “put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:12) and live a different way.

Second, put yourself out there – you are called to be a light to the people around you for Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16).

And third, always point back to the light source. “Our goal should never be to bring recognition to ourselves, but to bring glory to God,” Graham said. “There’s a fine line between being a light and putting on a show to get attention.”

Think about that next to last sentence, “Our goal should never be to bring recognition to ourselves, but to bring glory to God.”

Okay, list five popular personalities you know of who exemplify this statement.

Yes, there are some, but if anything is the opposite of our culture today, this would be it. Hyping self is the thing to do. After all, that’s what “selfies” are all about.

In an article entitled The Culture of Self Promotion, brand advisor Walter Lopez notes the rapid rise of personal brands. “Gone are the days of traditional marketing and in its place are a new found power in self-promotion.”

Indeed, personal brands are the self-promotion in thing.

We are warned in James 3:13-16 that “selfish ambition” is not heavenly wisdom, but is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”

Hmmm.

As we celebrate the coming into the world of “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9), nothing would better expose the dim, impious sheen of the self-promoters for what it is than joyous souls letting their gifted light shine bright and true.

Merry Christmas.

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New Year’s hope for government transparency and efficiency

Conservatives regularly cite transparency and efficiency as goals to make government smaller and better. Too often, though, said conservatives do not deliver on these goals.

New conservative leadership in Mississippi may be about to change that.

In an op-ed piece, incoming Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he is taking steps to deliver on a campaign promise to increase transparency at the state capitol.

“In partnership with the Legislative Budget Office and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, we are working on piloting a program on the Senate side to webcast committee meetings in addition to floor debate,” Hosemann wrote.

Hmmm.

One might hope that committee chairmen, knowing their meetings will be televised, will hold real committee meetings on important bills rather than the farcical gatherings under the outgoing administration. That’s when committee chairmen would walk in, say here’s the bill, and call for a vote with no amendments or serious discussion.

You see transparency only works to improve government when citizens are able to see government at work, not when all is decided in the backroom in advance.

Kudos to Hosemann for his leadership on this.

In another op-ed piece, State Auditor Shad White and Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration executive director Laura Jackson said it is time to consolidate backroom functions in government.

They want an Office of Shared Services to become law next year and focus on consolidating backroom functions for many of the smaller state agencies.

“The problem is that it can be inefficient for many of these entities to have their own independent, backroom offices,” they wrote saying many of the state’s 204 agencies, boards, and commissions house their own accounting departments, human resource services, information technology departments, payroll and travel services, and a host of other “backroom” subdivisions.

White and Jackson said that implementing a shared services would save taxpayers money, improve services, and lower the likelihood of fraud and theft. “Implementing a shared services arrangement would mean added oversight for these smaller boards since their administrative functions would all be housed under the same roof. Instead of monitoring 80 different boards or commissions, we might now only need to monitor 20.”

Hmmm.

One might hope that recommendations from the state’s top two financial control officials would move the needle on government efficiency. Yet, as we have learned from past efforts, many small agencies operate as little fiefdoms and have powerful godfathers to protect them in the legislature. Even Gov. Phil Bryant admitted he underestimated these agencies’ “political support system.”

That came after his call to terminate or consolidate many of these same boards and commissions was ignored. As was his call to consolidate “non-educational duties” in school districts. As was Gov. Haley Barbour’s call to consolidate backroom functions for community and junior colleges. And so on.

You see, it’s much easier to strangle government as a whole through budget cuts than it is to prune government through thoughtful reorganization. The problem with that, of course, is that you strangle the good and necessary along with the bad and unnecessary.

Kudos to White and Jackson for their leadership on this. As the Greenwood Commonwealth commented, “It just makes good business sense.”

A New Year’s hope is that other government officials and key legislators will get on board with Hosemann, White, and Jackson and finally deliver on transparency and prudent efficiency.

“Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square” — Proverbs 1:20.

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Will the light of Christmas reveal our leaders to be naughty or nice?

As we adults bumble into this Christmas season (Advent started December 1st), some of our attention should turn toward our behavior and that of our favorite leaders.

When “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, gets to “Oh, he’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice” that’s not just a funny message for children.

Think St. Peter at the Pearly gates looking up names in God’s book to determine who may enter heaven, a story derived from Revelation 21:21, Matthew 16:18-19, Exodus 32:33, et al.

“The twelve gates (to the Holy city) were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl” – Revelation 21:21.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” – Matthew 16:18-19.

“The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book” – Exodus 32:33.

The coming of the light on Christmas day to disperse sin’s darkness called out to men and women of good will to live as children of the light. “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” – Ephesians 5:8; for “No immoral, impure or greedy person…has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” – Ephesians 5:5.  

Yes, behavior matters.

For better or worse, we tend to model our behavior after that of our favorite leaders.

So, leaders’ behavior matters.

Regrettably, more and more of us these days are influenced by personalities deemed leaders by social and political media rather than godly men and women in our communities.

A study Bible entitled “The Leadership Bible: Leadership Principles from God’s Word” highlights what should be expected from our leaders. These highlights include traits such as character, courage, humility, integrity, self-discipline, wisdom, and obedience to God; skills such as accountability, communication, conflict management, empowerment, planning, problem solving, stewardship, team building, and systems thinking; and attributes such as healthy alliances, servant leadership, and encouragement.

Hmmm.

How do your favorite leaders stack up to these traits, skills and attributes?

One chapter in the book particularly caught my attention vis a vis what’s happening in our country today. Entitled “Systems Thinking” it relies on 1 Corinthians 12:12-29 which speaks of one body with many parts working in harmony. The lesson says, “Effective leaders have discovered that tasks are best accomplished and goals best achieved by organizing and implementing systems. In doing so, we are really imitating God, who has a passion for order and harmony.”

Many popular leaders nowadays seem to care little for order and harmony but work, instead, to disrupt and tear down important systems. 

Sadly, as our resultant leader influenced behavior further disrupts the body of our democracy, studies suggest our jangling behavior is also disrupting the body of Christ.

During this Christmas season, let us heed the book’s guiding verse, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” – Psalm 119:105.

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Is Black Friday shopping ruining family-friendly Thanksgiving?

Happy Black Friday, er, I mean Thanksgiving.

Yes, super shopping day Black Friday seems to be more top of the mind these days than family-friendly holiday Thanksgiving. Guess that’s just another example of how our lives have become much more transactional than relational.

“With maxims like ‘what’s in it for me’, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’, and ‘quid pro quo’, our society is becoming more and more transactional” says an article by lifestyle entity Victorious Living. “We did not stumble into this society. For generations, the American way has been about open market consumerism. Which as an economic exercise has certain values and benefits that do not translate well when we take the same approach to matters in other arenas.”

Hmmm.

Traditionally, this time of year has been mostly relational with large family gatherings at grandma’s for turkey and dressing. It’s been a time for hugs, sharing family joys and griefs, and letting children play with rarely seen cousins. The most transactional aspect of this I can remember was maneuvering to get the drumstick, the best after dinner seat for football, or the recliner for a nap.

Now we are coaxed to shop early for Black Friday on the afternoon of Thanksgiving. And the long lines poised to stampede into stores when the magic time arrives are seldom family-friendly relational events. A website called BlackFridayDeathCount.com says since 2006 there have been 12 deaths and 117 injuries from Black Friday shopping.

Of course, Thanksgiving has always been a transactional event for turkeys. Even more so this year.

A story at TheConversation.com says we Americans will eat about 210 million turkeys this year. That’s up from 125 million in the 1970s. But due to innovation in turkey growing, that number won’t be 342 million this year. It seems 132 million turkeys won’t be slaughtered because modern techniques yield 25 pounds of meat per turkey versus 15 pounds in the ’70s.

Ironically, as our surging transactional behavior devalues relationships and erodes our emotional and mental health, our bodies benefit from eating healthier turkeys. You see today’s modern turkeys are barn-raised, growth hormone free, and free of antibiotic residues.

Hmmm.

This suggests we can be thankful this year for the many benefits science has brought to our lives. More and healthier food. New life saving medicines, treatments, and medical procedures. Safer cars and trucks. And so on.

Or not.

You see much of our shift toward transactional behavior is driven by new and titillating gadgets and targeted sales methods made possible by modern science.

Here’s the ultimate buy now, buy more example – my cell phone knows and can tell me what wow gadgets I’m likely to crave and where to buy them. Whether it’s Facebook or Google ads or uninvited texts and emails, neat stuff selected just for me will appear on my phone whether I want it to or not. (Yeah, you can block some of it but it comes right back.)

You can see where all this is heading.

Unless we each purposefully keep Thanksgiving focused on giving thanks for blessings, family, and yummy food, the real turkeys on Thanksgiving will soon be us.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” – Thessalonians 5:18.

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Saving poor children – a government thing, a kingdom thing, or nothing?

Single moms living in poverty and children born into those households didn’t capture much attention in recent statewide elections. Trends suggest paying attention might be very important.

This past summer The Phil Hardin Foundation in Meridian brought 10 Millsaps College students into the community to work as interns with various agencies. Assignments varied, but political science major Evan Jones got to do some interesting research. His task was to investigate key social and economic challenges facing the city.

After documenting population trends and increasing disparities in income, educational achievement, and racial composition, Jones came across data he found shocking – the plight of single mothers, particularly those of color, and their children.

He found poverty, low educational achievement, and little access to health care were common characteristics. He found the proportion of single mother households in Meridian surprisingly high and persistent. He researched this information after noticing the high rates of teen pregnancy and high incidence of low birth weight babies in the city. He called these trends “a catalyst for the cycle of poverty.”

Hmmm.

A 40-year study of brain development in disadvantaged children found those most at-risk of poor brain development were those born to poorly educated, single moms living in poverty.

The Abecedarian Project followed children from birth over a 40-year period. Almost two years ago, Dr. Cathy Grace, then the co-director of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at Ole Miss, brought project directors Drs. Craig and Sharon Ramey to Jackson to discuss their findings. Key among them was that early intervention can save these children from broken lives.

Across Mississippi 18% of total households are single mom families (23% in Meridian). As these high proportions persist, our already high numbers of children born to poorly educated, single moms living in poverty will continue to grow.

Dr. Grace, now retired, also brought Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman to Jackson. He made it clear to Gov. Phil Bryant and others attending his briefing that investing in comprehensive, high quality, early childhood interventions would yield a 13% return on investment.

The choices seem clear. We can do nothing and allow more and more at-risk children to suffer poor brain development, struggle to succeed in schools, and have trouble developing basic skills. Or we can intervene with these children, save them, and turn them into productive workers and citizens.

Concerned professionals like Dr. Grace continue to champion intervention but there has been no response at the state level.

My sense is that government in Mississippi will continue to do little. So, what’s the alternative?

Across the country, interfaith coalitions have come together in many communities to address systemic issues. With multiple churches located in nearly every Mississippi community, a broad interfaith movement could provide the needed interventions. That’s the approach under discussion by a group in Meridian.

Of course, any coming together in Mississippi has its own challenges. Yet, it would seem that saving children before they are broken for life would be a very kingdom thing for people of faith to undertake.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’” – Matthew 19:14.

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Campaign season yields some interesting results

As Thanksgiving looms one thing we can all be thankful for is that Mississippi political campaigns are over and done. No more negative ads. No more recorded telephone calls. No more yard signs decorating every open space on major thruways.

The just ended campaign season did have some interesting results, though.

Republicans in January will take over all statewide offices. Attorney General Jim Hood, who lost to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the race for governor, was the last Democrat.

Unofficial results show Reeves beat Hood in the hotly contested governor’s race by 449,252 to 400,336. Given the hoopla, you might have expected this to be a record turnout.

Nope.

In the not so hotly contested 2011 race, where Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant beat Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree by 544,851 to 348,617, the top two candidates pulled 43,880 more votes than this year. In the hot 2003 race, where Haley Barbour beat incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by 470,404 to 409,787, they pulled 30,603 more votes.

Yes, there were independents and odd party candidates in 2019 and 2003, but they only pulled 10,763 and 14,296 votes, respectively. Something else brought down this year’s total.

Something to mull over at the coffee shop, huh?

Reeves beat Hood with 52.2% of the votes. Meanwhile, other Republicans were pulling close to 60%. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann got 60.3% in his race with State Rep. Jay Hughes for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Michael Watson got 59.2% in his race with former mayor Johnny DuPree for secretary of state. State Treasurer Lynn Fitch got 58.1% in her race with Jennifer Collins for attorney general.  

Fitch becomes the first woman attorney general in Mississippi history. She also moved one notch closer to the late Evelyn Gandy in number of statewide offices held. Gandy was elected to three, state treasurer, insurance commissioner, and lieutenant governor.

Central district transportation commission and public service commission results were also interesting. A 4,933 vote difference helped one Democrat win while another lost.

Democratic State Sen. Willie Simmons beat Republican Butch Lee by 4,844 votes for the central district Mississippi Transportation Commission seat held for two decades by Republican Dick Hall. On the flip side, Republican Brent Bailey beat Democrat De’Keither Stamps by 2,998 votes for the central district Public Service Commission seat held for the past four years by former Democratic State Rep. Cecil Brown.

The total vote count in both races was about the same, 284,341 in the transportation race and 282,802 in the public services commission race. But Simmons got 144,835 votes while Stamps only got 139,902.

Finally, another of Mississippi’s great story-teller legislators bit the dust. Described by Sid Salter as “obstinate, profane, compassionate, intelligent and crazy like a fox,” Steve Holland has served as lead entertainer in the Mississippi House of Representatives since 1984. A Republican in his early political years, Holland was elected to the legislature as a Democrat. He first announced he would not seek re-election but then entered the race as an independent. In 2013, Holland told GQ Magazine, “you got to get your a** up early and go to bed late to beat my a**.” Guess former Lee County justice court judge Rickey Thompson was able to do that.

As Steve well understands and others learned last week, there is “a time to get, and a time to lose” – Ecclesiastes 3:6.

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