I find myself writing more and more about matters of faith. And in writing about matters of faith, I find the hostility of the critics and opponents vastly more ferocious than when I just stick to politics. When I was in England back in November, I had breakfast with Matthew Lee Anderson. He said he noticed I had taken to writing about faith more and more and he wondered why.
Writing instructors tell students to have an audience in mind when writing; to cater one’s writing to that audience and to write in a way that will connect with that audience. Here’s my secret: when I write about politics I write for y’all. When I write about faith, my audience is me.
Why? The why is a bit more complicated.
I am thirty-eight years old. When I was young, immature, and lacked much self-awareness about my place in the world way back four years ago I referred to Justice David Souter, then retiring from the United States Supreme Court, as a “goat f**king child molester” on twitter. No one noticed.
So I tweeted it again.
I didn’t like David Souter. I still don’t.
I didn’t get that I was wrong to call him that. I didn’t get I had an audience larger than my friends on twitter. To me, I was just me having fun, being offensively funny, joking and laughing with friends. A sin? Who cared. I hate David Souter. He could have been the deciding Justice to end Roe v. Wade and instead chose to sit with the left on the Supreme Court. I don’t like John Sununu, President George H. W. Bush’s then Chief of Staff, for recommending Souter.
I really didn’t get it.
Then the left starting attacking me. Did I mention I was an elected city councilman? The left decided to go on the attack. Left-wing activists, some posing as “concerned citizens,” called on me to resign or for the city council to censure me. The local newspaper made it a front page story.
A member of our city council tried to make President Obama an honorary member of the city council. The story had hit the newspaper just as this was happening. I decided to fight it. I sat on the committee that dealt with the matter. I went to city council with over 100 amendments.
To the resolution, I wanted to add such whereas clauses as “Whereas we do not hold it against him that he snorted cocaine” and “Whereas we do not hold it against him that he supported infanticide” and “Whereas we do not hold it against him that he got his political start in the home of a domestic terrorist.” Then I wanted to amend the resolution to add each spouse of each city councilman as an honorary member. That’s when they buckled. They couldn’t vote against their spouses or the 90 other people I intended to add on to the resolution.
Each time I made an amendment, the sponsor of the resolution and others brought up what I had said about David Souter. I cared. Suddenly, the moral authority I might have had really was not there. Suddenly, I was a distraction — what should not have been about me was about me as much as it was the stupid resolution.
I still won. But now I felt like I had a grain of sand in my bed. I could not find it, but I knew it was there and it bothered me.
I did what came naturally. I hunkered down and told everyone I did not care and would not apologize. This too would pass.
And it did pass. It passed right over me to my wife. She got the questions. She got the lectures. Her family got the phone calls. People who would never have the courage to confront me used my wife as my proxy.
The grain of sand felt more like a beach. I really did care. It bothered me that everything I did became about one thing.
After a week of this, a friend of mine from city council got crossways with a policeman and a mailman about her dog. It was a silly dispute, but she was on city council. What would have been a nothing burger of a story became a front page story. I could relate. But I could not defend her.
She clearly had been wronged. But I was wrong. How could I defend her, claiming she had been wronged, when I was wrong and would not apologize? I could not. So I finally apologized.
My wife stood in the kitchen crying. She was not just angry, she was hurt. She was hurt that I did not understand how what I did impacted her, our children, our family, and our friends. I really was that clueless. I really thought I was something less than I was.
And then I became ashamed. I wasn’t just ashamed of what I had tweeted. I was ashamed because suddenly I realized I actually was somebody of some influence on other people. Whether I had believed it or not, people actually paid attention to the things I said and did. And I’d just called a sitting Supreme Court Justice a goat f**king child molester. “Dude, what the hell?!?!” screamed my ego to my id.
How now could I be an authority on anything? When I die my obituary will note my one startling achievement — calling someone of note something profane on twitter, an act done by millions on a daily basis. But they are not me. As I told a group one time, we’re all sinners, but the difference between you and me is that my sins end up in the New York Times.
At some point since then I realized I went from no shame, to overcompensation, to being very self-centered, to recognizing a basic truth: we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. This moment of immaturity was my wake up call that God has put me somewhere to be something and I was too damn stupid to realize it. What I did, did not exist in a vacuum, but affected others deeply and made me also less effective. But there is more to it than that I see so clearly now.
It is not just that we are all sinners. It’s that there really are people of this world and there really are people traveling through this world home to eternity. The people of the world will bring up every bad act the Christian has committed not so much to discredit the Christian with others, but to discredit the Christian with himself so he shuts up and gives up.
Because we’ve sinned, they want us to abandon Truth. Because we’re human, they want us to abandon God. They want us to give up the pursuit of godliness and just enjoy the squalor. They point out the squalor of our lives to get us to give up on standing for the higher, the better, and the truth. There’s nothing so dangerous to the men who love living in mud as a man in the mud preaching clean living. So discourage us with our own muddiness they must. They want us to be them.
But we cannot give up. Christ compels us to be faithful witnesses. All of us fall short of the glory of God and yet we are called to glorify him. We all like sheep have gone astray and yet the Shepherd makes straight our paths. Insert your favorite cliche about sin and sinners here. But still, even at the risk of being viewed a hypocrite, we must engage the fallen world and try our very best to leave it better than we found it. Even though we’re just traveling through.
So what do we do?
We all have talents and skills. We must use them.
I work in a business most often devoid of Christ — politics. Sure, politicians will quote scripture when they want your vote or your money, but the vast majority of them don’t practice their faith too well. And in television, radio, and the internet, too few voices in politics will write or talk openly about their faith because it’s more often than not more trouble that it is worth. I try never to talk about guns, abortion, or religion when I fill in on the radio for other people because the callers go to crap and when the host gets back he’s left to deal with militant on both sides demanding they get their time too.
On television, the internet, radio, and in print I find the secular voices of the press gravitate toward supposed Christians who worship a Christ they created and not the Christ who is. The media puts forth voices not grounded in the Word and celebrates as leading Christian lights those leading so many into the darkness of a prosperity gospel or a secular neutering of the risen Lord.
Here I am with a platform where between television, radio, the internet, and now a weekly syndicated column (call your local newspaper and tell them you want it) I’m interacting with more than a million people a day. I should be willing to devote my time to sharing my faith.
Truth is, I often feel more called and more passionate to write about these topics than the political ones. Too many Christians don’t want to talk about this stuff or cannot talk about this stuff. Other Christians are too willing to throw stones at those of us who do while hiding behind the veil of “I’d have said it differently.” That’s often the only time you hear them.
I’d rather be the last man on the ramparts fighting for my faith than sitting comfortably at home rolling my eyes at the Christian masses thinking, “You think that guy’s persecuted? Well let me introduce you to Jim Elliot.” We live in a world where some Christians think unless you’re bleeding on the street you aren’t persecuted and many Christians my age think you should be bleeding on the street if you really want to live your faith. Millennial Christians sometimes seem to relish the thought of being persecuted. Some just look down their noses and declare their focus more pure because they’re praying for the persecuted in Africa instead of their neighbor. Others shy away from the difficulties of the faith and neuter it with platitudes.
I can be on the ramparts, warts and all, and write and talk and pray and give. And so I do.
But really, the reason I write about faith is because I need to. I spend my day being told in equal parts how awesome I am and how awful I am. I get told I need to bigger and better things and I should be murdered on a near daily basis. I find myself often surrounded by people and things that would pull me more into the World and away from God. So I write for me and because it helps me put the world in perspective and because it puts me in perspective.
I am a sinner of great and repeated sin. I am a flawed human being. I once was lost and now I’m found. I once was blind, but now I see. I will keep stumbling. I will keep sinning. And it will all be on display for the world to point and laugh and mock and gloat. But it’ll also do someone somewhere, and me, some good to read and hear and know we are not alone and must not be afraid to share Jesus.