What Happened to Discernment?
I want to address something I see going on all around us in society and it is of increasing concern to me. There are many facets to it and my own thoughts keep evolving. I will try an onion skin approach to this. Start out high level and gradually peel away more layers over multiple postings. It’s too much to tackle all at once so bear with me as I develop this. I want to first state the problem before getting into the details.
Our society is more divided than any time since the Civil War. I see different factions and then factions within factions so it’s hard to neatly divide society into two buckets. The Democrat/Republican divide has been with our country since its founding. It’s waxed and waned and what was the Federalist party morphed into the Democratic party but politics has always been with us and always will be. On the plus side, we live in a country that allows different parties and voices and debate. Much better than being in a communist country where there is only one party, one voice, and no debate.
It’s more than just political divides. We increasingly hear about the divide between rich and poor, environmentalists and their opposites, white color versus blue-collar, white people versus everyone else, religious versus non-religious, women against men, and on and on. Most of those aren’t new but might be newly emphasized. I think a lot of the divides became clearer when Donald Trump took office. Trump, in my view, is an interesting character. On one hand, he represents the traditional Republican ideal. Rich, white, business owner, wants small government, wants fewer regulations, whatever is good for business is good for the nation! On the other hand, he also appeals to a lot of regular Americans who don’t own businesses or are wealthy. He appeals to so-called Patriots, Second Amendment advocates, Evangelicals, a wide array of conservatives, even White Supremacists. Despite being raised with a silver spoon, Trump still appeals to a lot of the working class or those tired of politics as usual. He campaigned on a theme of “Make America Great Again” and “Draining the Swamp” and his brashness and irreverence appealed to a lot of people. It almost seemed like the more badly he behaved the more his followers liked him. The little guy could strangely identify with Trump because he was politically incorrect. He shot from the hip and took no pains to pick his words carefully. He invented funnyish but crude names for his opponents. Nervous Nancy (Pelosi), Sleepy Joe (Biden), and so on. That crudeness and irreverence actually won over some people adding to his appeal as not-a-politician.
Trump was also masterful at turning everything into “us” versus “them.” It was the Rebellion versus the Empire in a Lukasoian battle. Trump represented the Rebellion trying to take back America from the Evil Empire represented by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats as well as liberals and socialists and all who would drag America into the swamp. From the start, Trump complained about how the media treated him unfairly and twisted his words (what President hasn’t felt that way at times?). He warned the forces of evil would do anything to remove him from office.
I think this appealed to a segment of the population that were looking for a cause and someone to lead them. They wanted a great crusade and in Trump, they found their bannerman. All the weekend militia groups suddenly had a war to prepare for and a cause to fight for. He gave purpose to disparate groups of people who had in common a disdain for the status quo and a desire to be part of something bigger. Trump wasted no time in attracting such people to his cause and kept them fired up throughout his Presidency with new claims of the evil plans of the left.
Trump also started another way of dividing Americans and that was his invention and use of the term “Fake News.” I don’t know if Trump invented the term but he was certainly the first to use it with such a big platform and media coverage. Any news that didn’t meet Trump’s approval got labeled “fake news” and as such dismissed as dishonest and invented to make him look bad. It wasn’t just news articles that got labeled “fake news” but whole media companies. Soon millions of Americans, mostly Trump followers, were using the term “fake news.” That soon led to a companion term usually abbreviated MSM which stood for Mainstream Media. The implication was that anything produced by the mainstream media was fake news. The mainstream media had it in for Trump and would twist his words, lie, manipulate, and violate journalistic standards all in its vile hatred for him and all he stood for. Trump was sure to also make the connection that the MSM was anti-American. It was controlled by some rich, liberal, elites who did not like someone like Trump coming in exposing the truth, and draining the swamp so they fought back with their corrupt media. It was more Rebellion versus the Empire or one might say, the Empire Strikes Back via the media.
This gave rise to alternative media sites. Some new some previously obscure but if they got Trump’s endorsement then his followers would flock to them as the only source of truth. As long as they backed Trump he gave them his endorsement and no one in the Trump camp bothered to fact-check them. If anyone on “the other side” pointed out errors in their reporting, they got dismissed as MSM plants just out to discredit anything pro-Trump and not to be trusted.
This set the stage for the eventual showdown over the 2020 election. Trump began claiming, early in 2020, that the only way he could lose re-election was if the election was stolen from him. It was not possible that the Democrats could beat him in a fair fight. Despite stating this nearly six months before the election, Trump took no steps to try and ensure the American voting system was safeguarded by working with states to tighten their voting laws and make sure the elections would be fair (not that there was reason to doubt they wouldn’t be). It was common knowledge that due to covid a record number of people would vote via absentee ballot and since those were more likely to be Democratic votes than Republican votes Trump began warning that absentee ballots were the Achilles heel of American elections and the most likely avenue by which the election would be stolen.
As soon as the returns started to indicate Trump might lose a close election, he immediately began to say “I told you so” and thus began months of claims and accusations about a stolen election. He had laid the groundwork for his followers to readily side with him in the claim of election fraud. After all, they reasoned, he told us this would happen! Despite loss after loss in the courts and a failure to prove any fraud had taken place, Trump would not give up or shut up. He took to social media (long his soapbox) and continued to make claims along with his high-profile backers. Eventually, there was so much unsubstantiated information out on social media that, under pressure, the social media giants began to censor posts and eventually Trump himself got kicked off Twitter and Facebook. This was of course unprecedented and controversial. What about the First Amendment and freedom of speech? The events of January 6th only threw gasoline on the fire. The fight turned real and ugly and there was evidence much of the civil disobedience and criminal acts had been planned on social media.
While the debate raged over the election, another debate was brewing and that of covid. On one hand, Trump led the charge on getting emergency vaccines created and made available something he took and still takes, great pride in. At the same time, he often refused to wear a mask, complained that there was too much testing which was making the numbers look bad, and generally came across as anti-vax. More recently, when he has spoken in favor of vaccination, many of his own booed him. He got caught playing politics. He wanted the political capital from having championed the vaccines yet when they proved unpopular among many of his followers, he tried to downplay them and all the time insisted things were not as bad as reported and that covid was no big deal. He did not want his approval ratings to suffer if people thought his leadership had been deficient in responding to covid. Now he is between a rock and a hard place. He laments the lack of credit given to him for the vaccines (and the tens of millions he says were saved by them) yet is faced with a loyal following that tends (thanks in large part to him) to be anti-government and distrusting of anything the government advocates.
In parallel to all this, is a movement within some evangelicals to interpret covid and vaccines along with more government intervention as tools of a secret group of global elites that are working behind the scenes to prepare the world for the One-World government of the coming Antichrist. They see covid as something planned (the “plandemic”) to condition the citizens of the world to accept government mandates and increasing government control over their lives. Mask mandates, closures, and mandatory testing were all tools of these elitists to gain control over us and make it easier for the Antichrist to assume total control when he arrives. Many of the same people believe the vaccines contain substances or technologies that might in time be turned into the Mark of the Beast predicted in the Bible that will be used by the Antichrist to limit those who can buy and sell. Some even went so far as to suggest mRNA vaccines were actually altering our DNA creating transhumans who, lacking genuine human DNA, would not longer be covered by the blood of Christ and would lose all hope of salvation. They feel the signs are all lining up demonstrating that the Tribulation is near and the Antichrist is soon to step on the world stage.
Many of these same people also viewed Trump as God-anointed. A contemporary, mini-savior sent to warn us and make one last-ditch attempt to call America to repentance and a return to being a God-fearing nation. He was our Luke Skywalker come to lead the Rebellion and establish peace in the Empire. Trump’s many shortcomings were forgiven under the umbrella of being a “baby Christian.” The fact that he had a group of Christian advisors and stood up for Israel and Christian rights were proof of his calling. He was our last, best hope before the darkness took over. Naturally, the forces of evil would do anything to discredit and defeat him in this cosmic struggle over good versus evil.
That’s the outer layer of the onion. Before I peel back more layers let me make a few disclaimers and explanations. I am a Christian and do believe in a coming Rapture (pre-tribulation), a Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, His Millennial Kingdom, and the reality of the Antichrist. I don’t’ claim to know who the Antichrist will be if he’s alive today, or how soon his appearance will be. I am not personally convinced the pandemic was planned or that the vaccines will “become the Mark of the Beast.” I am not generally in favor of vaccine mandates. I could be wrong about any or all of that. My concern, as I will go on to demonstrate, is that there is a lot of misinformation flying about, and a lot of people who have quit thinking critically and blindly believe whatever they hear if it’s according to their predisposition or the “side” they are on. I believe truth matters and the ends don’t justify the means. Regardless of how I might personally feel about something, if I encounter information I have reason to believe is false, I will say so whether that favors my personal position or goes against it. I want to be persuaded by the facts, not assumptions or speculation. I have already caught a lot of flack for this. On some Christian forums, I have been blasted for critiquing information that is popular on those sites. Almost never do the attacks point out a flaw in my case (not that I am right about everything or flawless), but rather I get attacked simply because I dared to question something they hold to be true and thus make myself their enemy and a tool of Satan. So many people have quit thinking! They just want to find their camp, pitch their tent, and charge! The facts be damned! While there is a spiritual war going on, we are not to blindly charge, unless it is clear from Scripture those are our orders. You are not a traitor if you question things. Did not the Apostle Paul commend the believers in Berea for checking him out by Scripture?
As for Trump and politics, I believe this. Politics is not our salvation and Trump is not our savior (not saying he claims to be). I have Christian friends who are upset if I even question something Trump said or did. I am not anti-Trump. I did not vote for Hillary. That’s not my point. The Bible tells us the root problem is the heart of man. All evil thoughts and actions begin in our hearts. The sins of this nation are due to the sinful hearts of its people. Unless hearts change, the nation will remain the same or grow worse. No President, court, or congress can save this nation. Hearts must be saved by the Gospel. While we should stand up to evil and advocate for good, our marching orders from Jesus were to fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus and the Apostles lived under the corrupt and cruel Roman Empire. Never did they advocate overthrowing the empire, or trying to get a Christian Emperor selected. They pretty much stayed silent on politics only charging us to obey the governing authorities set over us. Many Jews were stumbled by Jesus not, at that time, establishing His earthly kingdom. Surely their Messiah would kick the Romans out and put Israel back at the head of nations! Yet Jesus did not come, at that time, to establish a political kingdom. He came to change hearts and deliver us from the power of sin and death. The day will come when Christ will return in glory and will establish his earthly, physical kingdom. That is at His Second Coming.
I see three primary things for us to be busy about today as believers. First, we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, soul, and strength, Second, we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Third, we should fulfill the Great Commission by proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples. Those three things never change. It doesn’t matter if the Rapture is tomorrow, next year, or a thousand years off. Until heaven and hell are full of their inhabitants, we are to spread the Gospel. I think there is a danger in getting too caught up in trying to discern when the Lord will return and where we are in prophesy. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were still looking up at the sky when an angel appeared to them to remind them that Jesus will return in the same way but for now, they had work to do! I question if my own time is well spent commenting on these things but I fear many believers are getting sidetracked by politics, covid, prophecy, etc. I also see it dividing Christians between those “in the know” and those who are blind. It is in the hope of addressing those problems that I write.