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Defending the faith

In his book “Jesus, Interrupted,” Bart Erhman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said, “Within three hundred years Jesus went from being a Jewish apocalyptic prophet to being God himself, a member of the Trinity. Early Christianity is nothing if not remarkable.” Erhman is an atheist and is considered one of the leading scholars in New Testament studies. Through his class, he serves as an “evangelist for atheism,” seeking to convert Christians to skepticism and atheism. Professors and scholars like Erhman are why the church needs Christian apologetics.

Christian apologetics is simply the methods and means of defending the Christian faith. In 1 Peter 3:15, believers are commanded to be ready to provide an answer for their faith. We call this “doing apologetics.”

The goal of Carolina College of Biblical Studies’ first lecture series, “The Defending the Faith Conference,” was to help believers develop a robust understanding of some of the basic ways to defend their faith as well as help believers grapple with some of the most common arguments against Christianity.

This conference featured world-renowned apologist Dr. Norman Geisler, who has written over 100 books on the subject (that is about 70 more books than Erhman has published). Other leading apologists, including some of CCBS’ own alumni and faculty, also presented and dialogued to serve the church by helping believers contend for the faith once and for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).

Geisler addressed the inerrancy debate and why the topic is of the utmost importance for believers. A discussion followed regarding how believers can know that they know the meaning of Scriptures in a world that believes truth is entirely subjective.

The conference also offered eight unique breakout sessions covering topics like the historicity of the resurrection, answering the problem of evil, dealing with postmodernism, understanding the reliability of the Bible and more. Each breakout session was offered twice to allow attendees the chance to attend half of the breakouts and both plenary sessions. That way, everyone could attend the breakouts that would benefit them the most.

The speakers had a lay-audience in mind and sought to offer practical advice and information to help equip the saints in evangelization, teaching and responding to the challenges of culture and anti-Christian rhetoric. This conference was a wonderful opportunity to receive world-class training and build a foundation for further studies in how to defend the faith.

To learn more about CCBS’ upcoming lectures, visit www.ccbs.edu.

An analysis of Fayetteville's municipal election

05AnalysisMost Fayetteville politicos thought this month’s race for mayor between two-term incumbent Nat Robertson and Mayor Pro-Tem Mitch Colvin would be tight. It wasn’t even close, and the outcome of the election had veteran observers wondering if the national anti-Trump down-ballot movement reached this far. Robertson is a Republican. Colvin’s a Democrat. He handily beat Robertson, unofficially, by winning nearly 60 percent of the votes, a difference of 4,000 ballots of nearly 23,000 cast.

Robertson’s strength was confined toan “old city” pocket of voters in Van Story Hills and other Haymount and center-city neighborhoods. Colvin, on the other hand, attracted an impressive, wide swath of support around Robertson’s core – despite the incumbent mayor’s expensive, negative ad campaign targeting Colvin’s past indiscretions and troubling business practices. Robertson said the campaign was fair game because his allegations were true. Voters evidently didn’t buy it. In fact, some of the mayor’s supporters were critical of him for launching what some called the dirtiest political campaign in Fayetteville’s modern memory.

Others sensed that Robertson didn’t have his heart in the race. After all, he said publicly when he first ran for office that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Close associates said the mayor had not planned on running for a third term. He had been offered a cabinet level post in Raleigh a year ago by then Governor Pat McCrory. Both are Republicans and had grown close personally. But then McCrory lost his bid for re-election, and Robertson’s hopes were dashed.

For the first time in modern history, Fayetteville City Council will be majority minority. Six of the 10 members are African-American, continuing a trend that began a few years ago with the successful election of black judicial candidates. Also, a second woman joins the body. Only one other incumbent lost his job. District 4 Councilman Chalmers McDougald was defeated by the man he replaced four years ago. D.J. Haire did not seek re-election in 2013 because of nagging back problems. But he apparently decided he wanted his old job back and ran an impressive, positive campaign touting his accomplishments while on council previously.

Haire had built a strong political constituency in his 16 years of service. McDougald, on the other hand, exhibited bouts of anger in public, and at one point earlier this year alienated the 300-member Fayetteville Fire Department. He alleged the city’s hiring practices lacked inclusiveness and resulted in a lily-white department.

Incumbents Kathy Jensen, Larry Wright, Jim Arp and Ted Mohn won re-election. Arp was the only incumbent who was unopposed. The dean of the governing body, Bill Crisp, won a sixth term.

There will be two newcomers on council. Tyrone Williams won the District 2 seat vacated by Kirk deViere. Tisha Waddell will take Colvin’s place as the District 3 council member. District 5 veteran Councilman Bobby Hurst did not seek re-election. Former Councilman Johnny Dawkins defeated Henry Tyson – but there was only a 10-point differ- ence in what was Tyson’s first run for public office.

The new council will be sworn in next month.

What keeps us awake at night

03GunsWhy does the United States have exponentially more mass shootings than any other country on the globe? Are we an inher- ently more violent people? Do we have more mentally ill citizens? Does our diversity cause us to attack each other?

The answer may be simpler than we think. Our mass shootings may well be because we have way, way, way more guns than any other country. Americans account for 4.4 percent of the world’s population, and we own an astounding 42 percent of the world’s guns.

Recent research by University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford found that only one other nation, Yemen, has a higher rate of mass shootings than we do. Not surprisingly, it also ranks second in gun ownership.

Lankford found that the United States’ mental health problems are not appreciably different from those of other developed nations, nor are we more or less likely to play violent video games. Societal diversity and associated divisions also show little correlation to gun murders or mass shootings.

No need to take my word for this or even professor Lankford’s. Here are a few numbers to sober even the most ardent gun enthusiast.

In 2009, the United States’ gun murder rate was 33 lost souls per million people. In Great Britain and Canada, the same statistics are 0.7 and 5 per million. In numbers rather than percentages, this means that of gun-related deaths in the U.S. in 2013, there were more than 21,000 suicides, more than 11,000 homicides and more than 500 accidental gunshot deaths. During the same period, Japan, a nation and with a 150 percent lower gun ownership rate, recorded 13 gun-related deaths.

Yes, 13 – for the entire nation.

A landmark study from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1999 found that while our nation suffers no more violent crime than other developed countries, we are more likely to die from it. A person in New York is no more subject to robbery than a London resident, but she is 54 percent likelier to be killed in the process, most likely from a gunshot.

It is true that mass killings happen everywhere, including Switzerland, Finland, Britain and France. China has them as well, though most of those involve knives, not guns. We simply have more mass killings than anyone else on earth, again from gunshots.

Much has been written in recent years expressing the question of when the United States will reach its tipping point regarding the relationship between mass shootings and weak gun regulation, as other nations such as Britain have done. Many observers thought it would be Sandy Hook Elementary with 20 dead school children, Virginia Tech with 33 lost or the Orlando nightclub with 49 dead.

More recently, people have speculated that Las Vegas with 58 dead and more than 500 wounded would do it – or, just this month, the 26 dead in a Texas church.

So far, there has been little official discussion and no change.

Cynics say nothing will happen as long as the National Rifle Association gun lobby maintains its financial lockdown on our Congress, including North Carolina’s own U.S. Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who have accepted $7 million and $4.4 million respectively in NRA campaign contribu- tions. Sadly, the cynics seem to be right.

British journalist Dan Hodges wrote this two years ago regarding the United States’ long-running debate over gun regulations:

“In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided kill- ing children was bearable, it was over.”

Sleep tight.

 

I want to understand

04KarlSome 40 years ago, I enrolled in a Master of Business Administration degree program at the University of Georgia. At the time, I was working long hours in my assignment as director of the Leadership and Management Division at the Navy Supply School in Athens, Georgia. My work responsibilities simply did not allow time for the graduate program. I remember walking into a macroeconomics class and having absolutely no idea what the professor was talking about. I have come to a similar realization regarding much of what is going on in America today involving how some legitimate issues are addressed. Further, I do not understand how some issues even become issues.

As I share my thinking in what I write and in speaking, it is obvious that I am failing to understand the positions taken by some other Americans; especially a substantial percentage my fellow black Americans. I suppose my life experiences have shaped my thought process in a way that does not allow me to understand most of the arguments presented in contradiction to my thinking.

An example of this is a reader’s comments in response to my October 2017 column titled “National Football League ... goodbye.” Regarding players kneeling during the national anthem to protest oppression of black Americans, I objected. I included a definition of oppression from the Cambridge English Dictionary: “A situation in which people are governed in an unfair and cruel way and prevented from having opportunities and freedom.” Looking at the definition, I contended that there is still racism in our country, but black Americans are not oppressed.

A frequent reader disagreed with my thinking. His rebuttal was to argue that oppression shows in black Americans being racially profiled, beaten or killed in the streets of our country. He contends that when racists with authority – meaning police officers – feel free to kill a black man simply because he is black, that is oppression. The reader went on to give other indicators of the oppression of black Americans: A black woman is stopped for a traffic violation, ends up dead in a jail cell and no one is held accountable; judges and juries do not convict police officers who kill black Americans; a political party repeatedly tries to strip millions of Americans of the health care they have (Obamacare).

Out of my life experiences and examination of facts, focusing on the black male component, here is how I process this reader’s response. Regarding experiences, I am a black man who has never had an unpleasant encounter with a police officer: white, black or other. In a September 2016 column titled “My Interactions with White Police Officers,” I reflected on those interactions all the way back to my teenage years. That would be well over 50 years.

Couple this with my most recent encounter, which has been since I wrote that column. A young, white, Fayetteville police officer stopped me for speeding. As he approached my truck, I let the window down and put my hands on the steering wheel. He politely and respectfully greeted me and explained that I was clocked doing 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. I explained to him that the speed limit in that area had always been 45 mph. There was no speed limit sign between where I turned onto the street and where he checked my speed. The officer acknowledged that the speed limit had recently been changed. When he asked for my driver’s license, I looked at him and said I was going to get my wallet from my hip pocket. He said that was fine, and I gave him my license. He went back to his car and did whatever had to be done. Returning, he gave me a warning, and I went on to the golf course. Not for a moment did I feel threatened or in any danger.

Time and time again, this has been my experience with police officers, no matter their skin color. Consequently, I read the response of this reader, and my personal experiences do not align with the oppression picture he paints.

Then there is the consideration and analysis of facts. The football players who are kneeling during the national anthem claim that black Ameri- cans, as a whole, are oppressed. The reader of my column is making the same claim. Colin Kaepernick – former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was the first athlete who refused to stand during the national anthem – the current kneelers and my reader all point to white police officers killing black men or using excessive force. They see this as indicative of all black Americans being oppressed. The question to be addressed, then, is the extent to which all black men in America are affected by police brutality or killing.

Philippe Lemoine speaks forthrightly to this consideration in an article titled “Police Violence against Black Men Is Rare.” I encourage reading of this article at www.nationalreview.com/article/451466/police-violence-against-black-men-rare-heres-what-data-actually-say. Following are some statements made by Lemoine that show police do not kill or commit brutality toward black males at the terrifying pace portrayed by media and others:

• In reality, a randomly selected black man is overwhelmingly unlikely to be victim of police violence – and though white men experience such violence even less often, the disparity is consistent with the racial gap in violent crime, suggesting that the role of racial bias is small.

• (Referring to 2016) Last year, according to The Washington Post’s tally, just 16 unarmed black men, out of a population of more than 20 million, were killed by the police. The year before, the number was 36.

• Only 0.6 percent of black men experience physical force by the police in any given year, while approximately 0.2 percent of white men do.

• Actual injuries by the police are so rare that one cannot esti- mate them very precisely even in a survey as big as the Police-Public Contact Survey, but the available data suggest that only 0.08 percent of black men are injured by the police each year, approximately the same rate as for white men.

• National Crime Victimization Survey data from 2015, the most recent year available, suggests that black men are three times as likely to commit violent crimes as white men. To the extent that cops are more likely to use force against people who commit violent crimes, which they surely are, this could easily explain the disparities we have observed in the rates at which the police use force.

These facts speak clearly. I hear the reader, but my thinking through brings me to conclude that treatment of black males by police officers does not show oppression of black Americans.

The thought process employed above reflects my approach to every issue. Whether it is illegal immigration, Obamacare, alleviating poverty or a multitude of other issues, the approach is the same. That is, draw on my life experiences while assembling and analyzing the facts. That process leads to conclusions and, where appropriate, action.

I am comfortable with the decision-making approach outlined above. I recognize there is the danger that being comfortable can lead to over- confidence and wrong conclusions. Consequently, I invite readers to give me feedback regarding the thoughts and issue positions I put forth. However, if that feedback is to be productive, it must be supported by facts and orderly analysis of those facts.

Whether I agree or not, I want to understand the arguments of those who see an issue differently than me. Let me hear from you.

Any home for the political middle?

 

11PoliticalMiddle“The bottom has fallen out of the Republican Party.” So wrote Fort Worth’s Star-Telegram columnist Cynthia Allen last week.

“Well,” she continued, “not the bottom exactly. More like the middle.”

She was writing about Texas, where the far-right-wingers are driving moderates out of the party. “So-called Republican ‘moderates’ have been living on borrowed time. They are vestiges of an era when compromise was a hallmark of good policymaking.”

She had harsher words for Texas Democrats, who, she said, “drove out every member of their party who didn’t adopt the agenda of the far left.”

If Allen lived in North Carolina, she might say the same things about both of our major parties. They are forcing out the moderates who are uncomfortable with their parties’ unwillingness to accommodate compromise and less strident approaches. “It’s a sad state of affairs,” Allen wrote. “We need the middle.”

About divisiveness within two parties nationwide, the Pew Research Center last week issued a report that confirmed major challenges for the political middle. “Nearly a year after Donald Trump was elected president,” the report begins, “the Republican coalition is deeply divided on such major issues as immigration, America’s role in the world and the fundamental fairness of the U.S. economic system.”

Democrats have a shade different stage of divisiveness. “The Democratic coalition is largely united in staunch opposition to President Trump. Yet, while Trump’s election has triggered a wave of political activism within the party’s sizable liberal bloc, the liberals’ skyhigh political energy is not nearly as evident among other segments in the Democratic base. And Democrats also are internally divided over U.S. global involvement, as well as some religious and social issues.”

The Pew report helps explain the power of the extremes in each party. Core Conservative Republicans on the right and Solid Liberal Democrats on the left “make up an even larger share of their partisan coalitions when political engagement is factored in.

“While Core Conservatives make up about a third of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents overall (31 percent), they constitute a larger proportion of politically engaged Republicans (43 percent).”

Similarly, the Pew report says, “Solid Liberals constitute by far the largest proportion of politically engaged Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Solid Liberals make up a third of all Democrats and Democratic leaners – but close to half (48 percent) of politically engaged Democrats.”

Thanks to their more-active participation, far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats have moved their parties away from the middle and toward the fringes.

Officeholders in the middle of the Republican Party face competition from Steve Bannon’s support network and others on the fringe. One of them, moderate Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, announced his retirement earlier this month, as did U.S. Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Republicans on the fringe may be celebrating, but Cynthia Allen mourns, “While the fight may be futile for politicians like Straus, Flake and Corker, the only way they have a chance of improving the odds for their team is by staying in the game. Instead, they are abandoning the field, and everyone loses.”

Democrats have similar challenges. The middle may be bottoming out of their party, too. Long-time moderate Democrats with pro-business, free trade and socially conservative views wonder if they are still welcome.

What are the pathways for those in the unwelcome middle of both major parties, other than following the route out of politics shown by Straus, Flake and Corker?

Allen, who recognizes the need for a strong middle in both parties, wants the disaffected to stick with their parties and fight it out against their parties’ controlling fringes.

Although it has been more than 150 years since Americans organized a major new political party that competed for control of the national government, today’s disappointed middle in both parties may see this possibility as their only alternative to dropping out.

 

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