A MAGA-Defiant Military

Kevin Stitt is Governor of Oklahoma. He attends an Assemblies of God church in Tulsa. “Under vaccines, I believe in choice,” Stitt stated. This is a governor who named a state highway after Trump, blamed President Biden for a Chick-Fil-A sauce shortage, and who tested positive for COVID. “I was pretty shocked that I was the first governor to get it,” he said. A bigger shock was that the state was recording over 1000 new infections per day. Oklahoma rates in the top 6 States for death rates from coronavirus, and ranks 39th in terms of population fully vaccinated.

If one realizes that Gov. Stitt is not only a politician, but also the Commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, it’s not hard to understand that the Guard is at once a military element and a political animal.  And Stitt is using his authority to stick it to the libs.

The Pentagon has issued direct orders for all service members to be fully vaccinated. Active duty members have largely complied. Those hold-outs refusing are subject to punishment, out of which a number have been involuntarily discharged. The Pentagon’s orders applied to National Guard members as well, with only 40% of Oklahoma’s Army Guard vaccinated.

The problem is, the Pentagon does not command state National Guards, unless/until directed by the President. In ordinary drill status, Guardsmen take orders from their Governor. Through his commanding general, Stitt issued a directive countermanding the military vaccination orders. As if to solidly his showdown with Washington, he directed his attorney general to sue the Biden administration to halt its COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Stitt was technically on solid legal ground. But in making MAGA points by his stunt, he seriously let his Guard members down. Refusers were essentially locked out of a State system which depended on Federal resources. To name only a few necessities: military schools needed to qualify in their jobs, Federal subsidies added to their pay, the award of Federal medals, and Federal recognition of their promotions. On a unit level, Federal assets on loan to the Guard, such as airplanes, tanks and weapons could be withdrawn. Making this a partisan point against Biden policy has a tremendous organizational downside.

I fully support the authority of the Governor under the constitution and Title 32 to govern his forces in Oklahoma,” the newly-appointed Adjutant General Thomas Mancino stated. (His predecessor, a vaccine proponent, was abruptly relieved of command. It may well be that he stood up for his troops’ well-being and got the chop). His more compliant replacement, Brigadier General Mancino, now finds his second star in limbo due to State intransigence. In one way or another, the quarrel will resolve itself in the Pentagon’s favor.

“It’s the fault of the elected officials,” one researcher said. “They are politicizing members of the military; this is almost unprecedented.”  The standoff has serious implications for good order and discipline, where one component thumbs its nose at the rest of the military. It harkens back to 1997, when the Secretary of Defense ordered the troops to receive an anthrax immunization to protect them from chemical weapons threats upon deployment. While the vaccine remained experimental, some 2 million U.S. military personnel received it. Some – including a number of National Guard personnel – nopted out, either by resigning or bearing harsh consequences for disobeying a direct order. There was no Christian MAGA Right to lobby for them then. Billy Graham was silent on the matter.

It is curious, then, that anti-vax became an evangelical cause; it never was so until it became an ideological marker of Trumpism.. A generation later, and with Christian nationalism in full tilt, Graham’s son took time off from saving souls to help rescue these poor soldiers from a diabolical Biden. Franklin wrote: “Oklahoma’s Attorney General John O’Connor is suing the Biden Administration over their Covid-19 vaccine mandate for the military and federal employees, saying that it “does not reflect the Land of the Free.” I must say that I agree with him… . The pandemic has given power-hungry government officials the opportunity to overreach into our lives—and they will just want more and more control.”

Someone should ask Franklin Graham how a “woke” military mandate to vaccinate against Covid-19 is any more tyrannical than requiring some 16 other inoculations to protect the troops and defend the American people. When I entered the service, my left arm felt like a pin cushion – but it was needed to be world-wide deployable. Especially ask Graham why, given the US death toll from Covid-19 has passed 800,000, with more than 200,000 of those deaths occurring after vaccines became available. A number of military members have lost their lives – the majority in the Reserves or National Guard. Graham has never served in the military, much less having been told by anybody what to do. It’s a different ballgame in the military; you do as your superior orders. Jesus encountered this, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.” (Matthew 8:9)

Perhaps evangelicals like Graham and Stitt fight this vaccine mandate as the devil trying to attack true Christians. If so, we have met the enemy and they are us.

How the Corinthians Would Handle Sexual Sin Today

Biblical archaeologists have uncovered a valuable and unique early church manuscript – the church replying to Paul’s letters addressed to the Corinthians:

From: First Church of Corinth

To: Paul, Missionary and Evangelist

Dearest Paul,

We are eternally grateful for your work in founding this church, and thank you for the letters you have sent to encourage us in the faith. We have reviewed them carefully to best to incorporate your recommendations into our program of excellence here at First Church of Corinth.

You allude to an instance of incestuous behaviour being permitted in the church. As senior pastor, I and the elders conducted an internal investigation into the matter. The facts are somewhat different than you set out. The young man in question comes from a prominent family upon whom our church depends financially. We determine that he, like Lot, was seduced and manipulated into sexually immorality by feminine trickery. Having been deceived into sin by an aggressively licentious woman, we quickly restored him into full fellowship. As for this shameless woman, you will be happy to note that we have severed relations and obtained a restraining order against her.

Clearly, you did not have all the facts at your disposal, and the discrepancy is not entirely your fault. Some disgruntled former members have been spreading malicious rumours with the intent of destroying the unity of our body. Many member “concerns” are simply unfounded, and since long ago, we have required our members to sign binding confidentiality agreements to protect our reputation from damaging or disparaging gossip. We are suing these contentious individuals to prevent any disclosures under their contractual obligations.

In the future, direct your communications only to me as senior pastor. I, as owner of the Vision and my select leadership team will fine-tune your letters and pass them on to the congregation as deemed appropriate. As you sail along to other mission fields, be assured that this ship will see its mission fully realized under my leadership and control.

Senior Pastor/CEO

Life Interrupted

I’d be pleasantly surprised if anyone noticed the long lapse, but life’s complications compelled me to take a season off from blogging. My sabbatical was a necessary wandering the wilderness. It wasn’t because of too little to say; I wish it were otherwise. The terminal velocity of American white evangelicalism has accelerated so drastically its been hard to keep up with the descent.

My blog “handle” has been Phronetic Christian, coming from Aristotle’s concept of phronesis. That is, seeking wisdom relevant to practical action. I’m refreshed now and hope you’re still hanging in there with me. The hiatus has come to an end, and I’d love to hear your comments on the eclectic stream of posts over the coming days. I can’t promise they’ll be compelling. But they’re free and worth every penny.  

You see if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. – Old Man Potter, “It’s A Wonderful Life”

In 2020, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act established the Paycheck Protection Program, creating a $350 billion kitty of forgivable loans for small businesses. The intent was pandemic relief for recipients to keep workers on the payroll and stay open in the near-term. The massive bailout program was rushed out, and hidden in a veil of secrecy, with the Treasury Department declining to disclose how it spent the funds or who the PPP recipients were. Eventually, the recipients were revealed – but only vague dollar ranges instead of specific awards were published. For example, records show that a family-owned shipping business related to McConnell’s wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, received a loan somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million. Chao disavowed any connection to the business or knowledge of the loan, although the New York Times reported that in the past, she had repeatedly used her official position to bolster the business. Their net worth is estimated between $25 and $35 million dollars. Meanwhile, the slipshod administration of the loan program opened the door to massive fraud, waste and abuse, with the Government Accounting Office declaring “the limited safeguards and lack of timely and complete guidance and oversight planning have increased the likelihood that borrowers may misuse or improperly receive loan proceeds.”. Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner received million$, along with many in their orbit – even a golfing buddy.

Other friends of Trump made out like bandits – and evangelicals were especially keen on cashing in on free government money to the tune of $17.3 million. Joel Osteen’s megachurch received a $4.4 million check. Members of the President’s evangelical advisory board were exceptionally well-rewarded for their loyalty, with Paula White’s ministry receiving between $150,000 and $350,000, and Robert Jeffress’ church getting between $2 million and $5 million. Prestonwood Christian Academy, associated with Trumpist Jack Graham, received between $2 million and $5 million – but reported zero jobs being retained. There were numerous other ministries tied to the President that reaped a financial bonanza.

Like Daystar Television Network’s Marcus Lamb, who bought a Gulfstream V just two weeks after receiving a $3.9 million PPP loan. Ostensibly an operating expense to spread the Gospel, Inside Edition reported it was used like an airborne RV for family beach vacations. Lamb’s organization denied using the PPP loan to buy the luxury aircraft, although hastily repaid the loan.

There are so many questions here that nobody is asking. What did America buy with this bailout? Should taxpayers be obliged to underwrite debt-free ministries with plenty of cash to maneuver? These figures are so gargantuan that one questions why such an immense budget? Like the ministry leaders pulling down million dollar salaries – can’t they cinch up their belts a bit to keep the lights on, like most American households are forced to do. And why, oh why, are they considered too big to fail?

In 2008, when General Motors desperately needed financial aid to continue, the government authorized emergency loans to continue paying bills and making payroll, but tied strings to the bailout. GM would have to go through a bankruptcy reorganization, auction off assets to raise cash, reduce management ranks and cut executive pay. The CEO was ousted, shareholders like me were left penniless, and a new company emerged from bankruptcy to continue making the same old crappy cars.

The point is, if you are too big to fail, you should nevertheless pay a price for surviving on the public dole. The government doesn’t operate on grace, and everyone else shouldn’t be forced to keep a bunch of religious goofballs living the high life. The government had the leverage that Chuck Grassley wished he had in his 2008 investigation of tax-exempt religious organizations. Maybe we would have seen some genuine reform of tele-vangelism. Instead, we got shafted by people who shoot pool with some employee here.

I could have ended there, but can’t resist this apt quote about virus relief from Mitch McConnell: “Socialism for rich people is a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling,”

The evangelical life, then and now… Part 5.

My concern is about telling changes in us as practicing Christians rather than in the practices themselves. Mine is not a call to some form of evangelical museum mentality. Mine is, in the words of Wilmer MacNair, “more than the last whimper of a lost understanding of religion in the face of the emerging God-industry.”[i] MacNair calls out two sobering departures from the evangelical prototype. “First”, he laments, “the mega-church does not conceive of God as awesome and holy.”[ii] What now passes for spirituality would once have been inconceivable. Transcendence and mystery are no longer our experience; holiness no longer our objective.

We live in a post-whatever-that-was evangelicalism, where hearing musty old words like “holy”, “sacred”, or “sanctification” is a thing of the past. It’s not just abandoning some archaic “Christianese”. We’ve moved on from good and evil to the pursuit of happiness. And when you no longer have a sense of awe and wonderment in God’s presence, it’s a good bet he probably is no longer there. We are the master of our own destiny and have settled on “a less mighty, increasingly inconsequential version of God.” [iii] A god who is much less demanding of us, and of whom we expect very little. We needn’t have worried about secularists claiming God is dead. In making him irrelevant, we’ve done their work for them.

Second of MacNair’s laments is the sense that God’s righteousness has been usurped by a cult of individual supremacy. We look to Jesus the Life Coach for our personal success – his response to us – not as the object of loving obedience to him. Today we assent to the concept of sin as good people occasionally making bad choices, in a flippant sense that complements a conscience-salving message. One can sit through an entire sermon series without hearing of sin as an offense against God’s righteousness, and the need for repentance and obedience. The assumption, it seems, is that a half-Christ is better than none. This is no longer Christ’s atonement for sins, but religion without the sin part. Where Jesus is for people who like, but don’t necessarily need him, it is not Christianity. The normative tradition of faith is now radioactive, seen as inviting people to walk out of churches, not seekers to fill them. What sort of faith these distortions are creating, and reflections on where evangelicalism should be going instead, form the heart of this blog.


[i] Wilmer E. MacNair, Unraveling the Mega-Church: True Faith or False Promises? Westport CT: Praeger, 2009, p. vii.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Mitchell Stephens, “The Rise Of The Diminished, Ordinary God”, Religion News Service, February 19, 2014. https://religionnews.com/2014/02/19/commentary-rise-diinished-ordinary-god/ (accessed March 3, 2019).