Why I’m Voting to Recall Gavin Newsom

First of all, if you have read any of my posts before, you know this is not a political blog, but a blog about Biblical answers to questions and issues. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are called to vote according to our conscience, and the recall election coming up next month is particularly noteworthy to me in that regard.

If you communicate with other Californians who are disenchanted, to put it mildly, with Governor Gavin Newsom, you will hear a litany of complaints: our rise in crime, our decline in education as measured by standardized test scores, and our economic downturn. The economic downturn is what seems to cause the most complaints. In March of 2020, Newsom got plenty of kudos from the media for being the first governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. However, as in other states, this eventually caused many small businesses to close their doors. Then in November, Newsom decided that his orders did not apply to him; he and his wife were caught dining at the ritzy French Laundry restaurant in Napa with many others from several different households. The diners were maskless and definitely not social-distancing, either. Although Newsom later apologized, this extreme hypocrisy ignited widespread fury. A petition was soon formulated and circulated, calling for his recall. This petition easily got the minimum required number of signatures to qualify for the ballot.

I was one of the 1.7 million+ signatories, and while the aforementioned reasons influenced my decision, my primary reason for signing was something else than I have mentioned so far; let me explain. Back in 2000, Californians overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition 22, which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Three years later, Gavin Newsom was elected mayor of San Francisco, and upon taking office in January of 2004, it took only 34 days for him to flagrantly break the law and defy the will of the people by directing the city clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Obviously, he knew that they would be declared invalid, but that wasn’t the point; his action set in motion a series of legal challenges, culminating in the CA Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Proposition 22 in May of 2008. However, shortly before that, the more well-known Proposition 8 had already qualified for the fall ballot. Once again, California voters let it be known that they wanted marriage to be defined as being between one man and one woman. This time, it was an amendment to the state constitution; Prop. 22 was a state statute. Sadly, in a country where the courts seem to hold the ultimate power, even a CA constitutional amendment was not enough. The will of the people was again overturned five years later; the infamous CA Ninth Circuit Court permitted same-sex marriage in CA beginning on June 28, 2013. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the country.

Meanwhile, Gavin Newsom had moved up the ranks, becoming lieutenant governor of CA in 2011 and eight years later being sworn in as governor of CA. To summarize: what is the main reason I’m voting to recall Gavin Newsom next month? Because with his illegal action in February of 2004, he set in motion same-sex marriage in CA, as CA courts twice defied the will of the people. You might argue that when Newsom did this, he was mayor of San Francisco, not governor of CA. That is true, but Newsom’s pattern of illegal actions as a mayor and now a governor have finally caught up with him, and now CA voters have the opportunity to remove him from office. I suppose you might argue that same-sex marriage was permitted in other states before 2013, when they were first allowed in CA. However, the first same-sex wedding ceremony was performed, albeit illegally, in CA on February 12, 2004; that symbolism was very powerful. You might even argue that same-sex marriage had become inevitable by the time Gavin Newsom became mayor of San Francisco, but that is beside the point; Newsom played a crucial role in its eventually becoming the law of the land.

Maybe you think that same-sex marriage should be allowed, and you certainly have the right to your opinion. However, as I mentioned at the outset, this is a blog about Biblical answers to questions and issues. I have written elsewhere about a Biblical response to homosexuality, including same-sex marriage; if you’re interested, check this out: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/10/08/should-you-attend-your-gay-friends-wedding/ Finally, if you’re a CA resident, I hope that you will at the very least seriously consider voting to recall Gavin Newsom next month.

What Does Heroism Look Like?

When I was a child in the 1960s, I used to faithfully watch Underdog. He and/or his girlfriend, Sweet Polly Purebred, would always be in peril from some nefarious villain like Simon Bar Sinister, Riff Raff, or Overcat. Each story had four parts, but they showed only two parts in a half-hour program, interspersed with a Tennessee Tuxedo or Klondike Kat cartoon, keeping you in suspense until the next program. Underdog always saved the day and was my first hero. I also discovered Superman, who soon became as heroic a figure to me as Underdog.

When I was nine years old, one of my brothers went to Vietnam for a year. When he left our house, I told him, “Don’t let them shoot you!” (He survived his year there!) Around that time, I heard about a man who had jumped into a river to save someone; I didn’t know his name, but he became a real-life hero to me. I also became familiar with the stories in the Bible of Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace, along with Daniel in the lions’ den. I was in awe of the courage of all six of these men, and I wondered if I could ever be as brave as them.

In the past several years, the word “hero” has been very loosely applied to various people. This has motivated me to think about heroism again. I recently looked up the definition in various sources, and there seem to be two widely agreed-upon, overriding characteristics of a hero: nobility, by which is usually meant high moral character, and courage.

Keeping those two characteristics in mind, let’s evaluate the characters and people I’ve mentioned so far. Both Underdog and Superman are heroes because they are courageous in saving others from harm. My brother was a hero because he flew a helicopter for his country, ferrying other men and supplies from one place to another while sometimes being shot at. The man who jumped in the river is a hero because he saved someone’s life at risk to his own. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are heroes because they took a stand for the Lord even though they knew that they might lose their lives in the process; they displayed both courage and very high moral character.

Now let’s look at a couple other examples of people who have been called heroes. In 2014, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male U.S. athlete in the four major pro sports (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB) to come out as gay. He was widely lauded and applauded as a hero at the time. I understand why some think that his revelation was courageous, but it doesn’t meet the other standard of heroism, which is having high moral character. How about another, very current example: the 50+ Democratic state lawmakers from Texas who fled to Washington D.C. in order to deny Republicans a quorum in an effort to block what they consider restrictive voting measures from being passed in their state. They have been widely mocked for several things; I’ll mention a couple. First, some of them have shown photos of their underwear drying in their bathrooms; second, they have requested care packages. Apparently, their high salaries aren’t high enough for them to pay for doing their laundry or buying things like Dr. Pepper, hair spray, and salsa. On a much more serious note, they weren’t wearing masks on their private jet, and at least six have since tested positive for COVID-19. I could write much more about their folly, but let’s get back to the main point of this post: are these lawmakers “heroes?” Are they courageous? Are they displaying high moral character? Some on the left think so, but I think to anyone who’s not blinded by their political ideology, the answer is obvious.

In contrast to these examples of non-heroes, in John 15:13, we read, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” The ultimate expression of this is the Lord Jesus, Who died for us. In Luke 21:16, we read, “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.” In Matthew 24:9, Jesus tells us, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” Church history is full of examples of martyrs, particularly in the 20th century; you can read more about them and how we should pray for them here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/03/10/how-should-we-pray-for-persecuted-christians/.

The ultimate kind of heroism is risking, and even sacrificing, one’s life for another, whether that be another person or the Lord Himself. There are many other kinds, and examples, of heroism that people may not have thought of as such: how about parents who choose to give of themselves on a daily basis, sacrificing at least some of their own needs and desires until later in life? How about a student who defends another student who’s being made fun of, or worse? How about someone who stops to change a tire for someone else? All of these require courage and moral character. I’m sure you can think of many others.

May we be heroes in “ordinary” ways, and may all of us who claim the name of Christ be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, if need be.

Racism and the Bible

The word “racism” is being thrown around a lot by the media and the Biden administration. I even overheard someone say that the Bible is “racist.” This has caused me to think about racism in the context of Scripture.

The word “racism” has been defined in various ways, some better than others. Here’s one example: Ibram X. Kendi, in How to Be an Antiracist, defines it like this:  “Racism is a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.” That’s not exactly a helpful definition. In other definitions that I came across, the word that seems to be common to almost all of them is “superiority.” That is, if someone believes his race is superior to others, he is a racist. And naturally, if one believes this, it will eventually be reflected in one’s actions, some more obvious than others.

The person who I overheard saying the Bible is racist believes this because God chose the nation of Israel to be His people. Actually, and more accurately, the Lord chose Abram (later changed to “Abraham”) and promised to make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:2); the Israelites were his descendants through his son Isaac. In Deuteronomy 7: 6-8 we are told, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” In the second part of Isaiah 49:6 we are told, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So, why did the Lord choose the Israelites to be His people? Because He kept the promise He swore to their forefathers (beginning with Abram). The Israelites were then supposed to be a light for the Gentiles (non-Israelites), passing on the knowledge and blessing of the Lord. Way back again in Genesis 12:3, the Lord tells Abram, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” You might ask why the Lord chose Abram; what we know is that it was the Lord’s sovereign choice. Does this mean that Abram and his descendants were superior to other nations? Not at all. In fact, when we read the Old Testament, we find that again and again, God’s people sinned greatly and were punished. Eventually, they were taken into captivity. By the time Jesus was born, they were under the thumb of the Roman empire; then in 70 A.D., Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Israelites were scattered.

We have examples from the Old Testament of non-Israelites who were blessed by the Lord. One person who comes to mind is Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram. In 2 Kings 5, you can read the story of how the Lord healed him of leprosy through the prophet Elisha. Another person who comes to mind is the widow at Zarephath of Sidon. In I Kings 17, you can read the story of how the Lord brought her son back to life through the prophet Elijah. Yet another person who comes to mind is the queen of Sheba (in Ethiopia). In 1 Kings 10, we read about her coming to visit King Solomon, and in verse 9, we have these astonishing words from her: “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, He has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” This “foreign” woman had great understanding of the Lord!

In the New Testament, we also have examples during Jesus’ time on Earth of non-Israelites who were blessed by the Lord. The person who came immediately to my mind is the Roman centurion in Matthew 8. In verses 3-13, you can read how Jesus healed the centurion’s servant; not only that, but in verse 10 we read Jesus’ words about the centurion: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Imagine: a “foreigner” who had greater faith than any of God’s chosen people! There’s another centurion in Luke 23:47, immediately following Christ’s death: “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.'” A third person is the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28; you can read there how the Lord cast out a demon from her daughter.

There are many other examples of non-Israelites in both the Old Testament and the Gospels who are blessed by the Lord. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we have what I consider the ultimate statement of the Lord’s blessing to people of different ethnicities (as well as both genders): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, neither your ethnicity nor your male/female gender matters in regard to salvation; the Lord saves all those who put their trust in Him, regardless of ethnicity or gender. In the grand finale, the book of Revelation, Chapter 7:9 gives us this glorious view of heaven: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Notice the word “every!”

So, is the Bible “racist?” There is ample evidence that it’s not. For those who think it is, they’re on very dangerous ground because in essence, they’re saying that God is racist. After all, we don’t call the Bible “God’s Word” for nothing! Are people–even God’s people–racist? As I wrote earlier, the common denominator in various definitions I came across is superiority. If we view our race, whatever it may be, as superior to others–or even thinking it should be superior to others–and then worse, act on that view, whether in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, then yes, we are acting like racists. Let me put it this way, speaking for myself: I’m more comfortable with two races–my own and one other–than with other races. When that causes me in some way(s), even mentally, to exclude people from those other races, then yes, I am thinking and/or acting like a racist. One caveat, however: thinking and behaving like a racist in a given time and place does not define me as one, in spite of what the media may say. May the Lord continue to form us who profess His Name into Jesus’ image, including in this area.

What Is the Emergent Church?

In my first blog post 14 months ago, I mentioned that if you have a big question or issue you would like me to respond to, please let me know. I have previously written one such post. This week’s post is in response to another question, an excellent one, from another very regular reader of this blog.

In researching this question, I discovered that the “emergent church” goes by other names as well, including the “emerging church,” “progressive Christianity,” and the “post-evangelical movement.” First of all, we should not expect a church to identify as “emergent” or “progressive.” Second, as you can probably guess from some of these names, it is questionable whether this kind of church or movement is a true church as the Bible defines it. The church is the Body of Christ, meaning all people who have come to saving faith in Jesus. Before the church even existed in a more formal way, Jesus said this in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Michael Youssef in his book Saving Christianity? gives an excellent overview of the emergent church: “Whereas Biblical, evangelical Christianity emphasizes the authority of the Bible, the forgiveness of sin, the atoning death of Jesus on the cross, and eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus alone, ‘progressive Christianity’ rejects these doctrines. This mutated form of Christianity cherry-picks the Bible and the words of Jesus, claims that all religions lead to the same God, and seeks to build a utopian ‘kingdom of heaven’ on Earth through a liberal-progressive social and political agenda. Leaders of this movement, many of whom claim to be evangelicals, say that truth is unattainable and that certainty should be condemned as a lack of faith.”

Notice that emergent church leaders do not accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, instead choosing the parts they like and rejecting what they don’t like. For example, and perhaps most importantly, in their belief that all religions lead to the same God, they reject what Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

One of the emergent church leaders is Brian McLaren, who writes in his book A New Kind of Christian: “There [on Christian radio stations] I hear preacher after preacher be so absolutely sure of his bombproof answers and his foolproof biblical interpretations… And the more sure he seems, the less I find myself wanting to be a Christian.” In another book, A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren writes, “A generous orthodoxy … doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is humble; it doesn’t claim too much; it admits it walks with a limp.” On the surface, perhaps being “humble” and even “less sure” sound good. However, on his website, brianmclaren.net, he says postmodern Christians like himself are “eager to engage with questions that have been suppressed–including rethinking penal substitutionary atonement theory, biblical inerrancy and interpretation, and the violence of God.” That first question is regarding whether or not Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself, dying in our place. Notice the second question, alluded to earlier: whether or not the Bible is without error. The third question is about his questioning the God of the Old Testament, who destroyed the world with a flood and brought judgment on the various Canaanite tribes who, for example, sacrificed their children to idols.

It should be obvious by now that at least some of McLaren’s questions strike at the very heart of the Christian faith. Regarding McLaren’s self-proclaimed “humility,” Michael Youssef notes this about McLaren and others like him: “They don’t have any doubts whatsoever about the progressive sexual agenda… They question the Bible while making certainties and sacraments out of gender politics, victim politics, [and] environmental politics.” In 2015, for example, McLaren stated that he did not believe homosexual conduct to be sinful. It’s clear that his desire to be humble does not extend to his politics or his firm views on sexuality. In contrast to McLaren’s so-callled humility, Youssef wisely writes, Genuine Christian humility begins when we submit ourselves in awe and reverence before God and His Word. Genuine Christian humility begins when we accept the gospel of Jesus Christ as truth.”

Brian McLaren is not the only leader of the emergent church; another example is Rob Bell, who I’ve written about before. Bell is a universalist who believes everyone will eventually end up in heaven, and McLaren has defended Bell against critics. Thankfully, Bell is no longer a pastor, but I’m sorry to say that McLaren is.

While I was researching the emergent church, I was reminded of Pilate, who in John 18:38 scoffingly asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Emergent church leaders do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, which is what causes them to question the fundamentals of the Christian faith while at the same time being very firm about issues that agree with their politics.

I once had a conversation about churches with a colleague who I believe is a Christian. She told me about the church that she and her husband were attending. Among other things, the pastor was very affirming of homosexuality, including gays and lesbians in church leadership. My colleague also mentioned a couple of other things, expressing concern about the direction the church was heading; however, when I asked her if she had considered changing churches, she said that she and her husband wanted to stay there because of the people they knew there. I hope that if you ever find yourself in a similar position to my colleague, you will leave and not look back.

Who Do You Follow?

Many years ago, when I was a young believer, I heard a sermon in which the pastor defined being a Christian as being a follower of Jesus Christ. In John 14:15, Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” That is the essence of following Jesus: living in obedience to what He tells us to do.

In February, my church started a three-year plan of reading through the entire Bible. This has been good for me as it has been many years since I did that. I have already been reminded of so many nuggets tucked into the Bible. For example, Exodus 23:2 tells us, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” Nine chapters later, in Exodus 32:1-2, we read, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.'” The Israelites were very quick to forget the Lord’s miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians. Aaron, the high priest, who should have been the leader in upholding the Lord’s holiness while Moses was on Mount Sinai, instead acquiesced to the demand of the people by fashioning a golden calf and an altar to it.

Another example of following the crowd is the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew 27:20 tells us, “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” In verses 22 and 23, the crowd calls out to Pilate, the Roman governor, “Crucify Him!” Unlike Aaron, the priest who made the golden calf, Pilate at least tries to reason with the crowd, asking in verse 23, “Why? What crime has he committed?” In verse 25, we read these chilling words from the crowd: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Pilate then gives in.

In spite of American society being a relatively individualist one, we can also easily give in to the crowd. I recently came across a rather shocking statement from the Atlanta mayor, but before that, let me give a little background. Perhaps you’ve heard of the shooting of Rayshard Brooks by Garrett Rolfe, a police officer; this happened last summer. The case is still under investigation, but one striking thing about it is that Rolfe was fired the day after the shooting. Normally–and legally–an officer has 10 days to respond to a “notice of proposed adverse action,” e.g. possible disciplinary action. Here is the statement from Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: “Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do. Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.” Maybe at first glance, this doesn’t seem shocking to you, but if you read it carefully, I think you will see what I mean. The reason Officer Rolfe was fired so quickly is, to repeat, that “the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.” In other words, Rolfe was denied due process because the mayor was afraid of the crowd, or the mob. Would the rioting in Atlanta last summer have been even worse if the mayor had not immediately fired Rolfe? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make the mayor’s decision “the right thing to do,” regardless of what you or I might think about Rolfe’s actions. I should add that Rolfe was reinstated last month, which was the right thing to do, while the case is still being investigated.

In all three cases–Aaron the priest, Pilate the Roman governor, and the Atlanta mayor–we have leaders who gave in to the crowd. This emphasizes the heavy responsibility of leadership. However, I’m sure we can also all think of instances where we have followed the crowd, not as leaders, but one of the crowd. This may have been in a very direct way, such as when we were kids. It may also be in a more indirect way, such as not being intentional about raising our own kids to follow the Lord rather than the crowd. It may be in following the crowd/cultural norms ourselves rather than Scripture. May the Lord continue to give us the strength to stand up for Him, especially in regard to not following the crowd in doing wrong.