Assessing Team Trump

In the first three weeks of his Presidency, President Trump has doused gasoline on the system and lit the match. For both better and worse.

(a) His first press conference included a dismissal of CNN as “fake news”. (It was deserved on their end.)

(b) His Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, stepped in it by making inaccuate claims about the crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration. Part of his comments were correct, but he made false statements while trying to bolster his point. Kellyanne Conway, sadly, doubled down, handing the mainstream media with quite the sound bite: “alternative facts”.

(c) Trump’s Executive Order restricting immigration from seven countries–the same list that Obama used in a similar EO in 2011–sent his opposition into frenzies. They went court-shopping, and successfully shot his EO down in the Ninth Circus. Trump won’t appeal, because–due to the fact that SCOTUS will come down with a 4-4 split, thus upholding the Ninth Circus–it will be futile.

(d) Trump, keeping a campaign promise, nominated a hard conservative–Neil Gorsuch–to fill the spot vacated by the late Antonin Scalia.

(e) Trump, in an effort to revisit prior refugee deals made by the Obama Administration, had some contentious meetings with allies, particularly Australia.

(f) His first authorized military operation–an intelligence raid on an Al Qaeda outpost in Yemen–resulted in civilian casualties and the death of a Navy SEAL.

(g) His key cabinet appointees were narrowly-approved. Tillerson is in at SecState; Carson is in at HUD; Price is in at HHS; Sessions is in at DoJ; and–in a major upset–DeVos is in at Education.

(h) Kellyanne Conway misstepped by suggesting that people can still buy Ivanka Trump’s product line that was dropped by Nordstom’s. Conway, failing to remember that she now works for the PUBLIC sector, ran afoul of ethics rules. While I think that was an honest mistake, Team Trump did well to slap her on the wrist and tell her to go and sin no more.

(i) Kellyanne Conway got her wires crossed when defending Trump’s Executive Order, referencing the refugees from Iraq who gave us the non-existent “Bowling Green Massacre”. While it is true that two refugees from Iraq were arrested in Bowling Green for attempting to commit terrorist attacks–this is what led to Obama’s 2011 travel ban–there was no “Bowling Green Massacre”.

(She may have conflated that with the Islamist who shot up the military recruiting posts in Chattanooga.)

It was quite the gaffe; I found it entertaining. The quick-witted Conway needs to take this month as a lesson in thinking before speaking. Sometimes she is too quick-witted for her own good.

But what can Trump take away from this?

(1) He now has a better idea where the enemy is. There’s an old saying: bureaucracies live forever. Much of his fight is not about liberal versus conservative; there is no small amount of institutional pressure to keep the existing infrastructure, because many high money people are profiting off that structure.

This is why DeVos faced such hard opposition. Nothing for which DeVos stands will cause a disaster in education–in fact, children and parents will see their choices and quality materially improve–but she is a threat to two of the biggest rackets in the public sector: The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. DeVos is a champion for a new economy education model, in the midst of an establishment that is vested in the old, antiquated education model.

(2) No matter what he does, he will get the full-court press from the opposition. His immigration Executive Order showed the face of his opposition. Never mind that his EO was very similar to Obama’s EO in 2011.

What he should do: (a) rescind his EO, and (b) re-issue the exact EO that Obama issued in 2011, verbatim. It won’t be everything he wants, but the left will have no room to complain. And if any terrorists attack as a result of looser refugee policies, he will have the mother of all sticks with which to beat his opposition.

(3) He needs to tighten the quality control. While he is correct about mainstream media, his team has done him no favors with their missteps. Spicer has stepped in it; Conway has had three big gaffes, one of those coming while trying to defend Spicer. Trump needs to demand that they do their homework and ensure that they are better-prepared before speaking in public forums.

Rather than invent new sound bytes–“alternative facts”–Conway can simply speak to the larger issue rather than defend an obvious blunder by someone from Trump’s team. Conway should ensure that she understands the point about which she is going to speak before she actually speaks it: she was right about the two Iraqis captured in Kentucky, but there was no “Bowling Green Massacre”.

(4) He needs to learn the lesson of Joshua and the Gibeonites. In the Scriptures, Joshua and the Israelites were conquering lands decisively: Jericho and Ai. No survivors. Jericho was burned to the ground.

A nearby tribe of folks–Gibeonites–decided they did not want to fight the Israelites, because they actually feared what God would do to them. They dressed like a bunch of poor nomads and approached the Israelites, pledging to make peace with them. The Israelites–who were not supposed to make covenants with the people of the land–did not consult God and instead hastily struck a covenant deal with the Gibeonites.

When the truth came out, the Israelites were furious. They wanted to go in and punish the Gibeonites for what they did to them. But, at the end of the day, they realized that a bad covenant is still a covenant. As a result, they were still bound to the terms of that covenant.

Trump needs to accept this reality with respect to refugee deals made by Obama with other countries, particularly Australia. Don’t blame Australia for Obama making a bad deal. Trump didn’t sign that deal, but he inherited it. He needs to abide by it, even if it was not his deal.

(5) Tread carefully with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a shady figure in the international scene. A former KGB Colonel, he has shown himself to be intelligent, shrewd, and even dirty. If reports are correct, then he likely has blood on his hands, directly ordering the murder of former KGB Colonel Alexander Litvinenko as well as several media figures in Russia. At the same time, he has been a partner with the United States in fighting Islamists, as he has his own Islamist problem in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Trump’s seemingly-cozy relationship with Putin is a potential plus and a potential minus.

On the plus side: if Trump is seeking to “keep our friends close and our enemies closer”, his overtures toward Putin can be very good.

On the downside: if Trump is not careful, he could end up giving up too much in that relationship. In that case, Putin would be their Reagan while Trump played like Gorbachev.

But Trump is no dummy. He wasn’t born yesterday, and his enemies have, at every turn, understimated him.

As his Republican opponents–and Hillary Clinton–found out the hard way: dismissing Trump is something one does at one’s own peril.

More on John and P.J. Smyth

Deb at TWW has this piece. If the allegations are true, then John Smyth needs a millstone around his neck and….

But that goes without saying.

But what to make of P.J.?

As I said in my last piece, he had better be telling the truth.

It is possible that he could have been in the dark about his father’s dark side. The cynic in me says he probably saw something at some point. But the question is when?

If he was an adult and saw abuses, then he should have had the maturity to report those. If he were a child–or a young teen at the time–that’s a different ballgame. I don’t expect a child or a teen to be held to the same standards as an adult in terms of ministerial ethics.

But if he’s not telling the truth, then there’s a larger problem.

He’d better be telling the truth!

I realize that parents ought to have wide latitude in disciplining their children. I endured corporal punishment that would likely have qualified as abuse at the time, but–even now, looking back–I think that if someone reported my parents, it would have done far more harm than good.

My life or health was never in danger, and while I will not do to our children what my stepmom did to me, I cannot say that she was bad. She had her issues–who doesn’t?–but she wasn’t evil either.

As for my dad, he did a fine job.

But in the case of the Smyths, if the allegations are true, then that exactly why we have Big Government: rampant iniquity.

If P.J. was a victim or even a witness, then it begs the question: how does he treat his own family today? It also begs the question as to whether he would report allegations of abuse to the authorities, as opposed to sitting on them?

Being a pastor isn’t simply about teaching sound doctrine–although that is very, very necessary. To be a pastor, you have to be trustworthy and faithful. You have to be a man of integrity.

When shit gets real, people need to be able to trust you to be the man with a pair who (a) rightly divides the word of truth, and (b) insists on being above-board, even when others want to bury the family jewels.

Can P.J. be trusted not to cover for a sexual abuser?

For the sake of what is left of CLC–and, more importantly, the sake of the Gospel–I sure hope that (a) P.J. can be trusted, and (b) that he is telling the truth.

Because if he isn’t, then he deserves a millstone around his neck.

P.J. Smyth, His Father, and Covenant Life Church

I figured it would be a matter of time before TWW caught onto the story of John Smyth, the father of Covenant Life Church senior pastor P.J. Smyth.

The elder Smyth, who ran various youth camps and also worked as an attorney advocating Christian values in the legal system, is under investigation for a mountain of abuses at the camps he ran.

Deb provides the TWW perspective here.

Obviously, the story is problematic on several levels:

(1) John allegedly engaged in abuses at the camps he ran in England;

(2) When the charges of abuse began to materialize, he left England and set up shop in Zimbabwe.

(3) In Zimbabwe, he allegedly engaged in more abuses. One youth died on Smyth’s watch: his naked body was found in a pool. He was arrested and even charged with a crime.

(4) Smyth then took off for South Africa, where he resumed his legal career, campaigning for Christian values.

The alleged abuses are pretty horrific: canings, sexual abuse, mental cruelty. While he has not been found guilty in a court of law, the Archbishop of Canterbury has apologized. Ergo, I’d say the accusations are credible and likely true.

Of course, if those are true, that does not necessarily implicate his son, P.J. Smyth. It IS possible, after all, that the elder Smyth could have raised his own son a certain way while treating the youths at his camps a totally different way. He could have shielded P.J. from what was going on at the camps.

But Wilhelm does raise some important issues:

(1) How could P.J. not have known about the abuses? I do think that he owes everyone an explanation regarding his involvment with the camps. How often was he there? To what extent did he interact with other youths at the camp? Was he ever in charge of anything? Did any of the youths report anything to him? If so, what did he do with it?

(2) I’ll admit: I am not impressed with P.J.’s apparent evasiveness in his public statements. While he might be doing the, “there’s an investigation that is ongoing and I’ve been advised to keep my mouth shut” routine, I do think he needs to nip this in the bud and explain what he knew and when he knew it. If he was aware of the abuses and did not report them, then he owes an explanation to the larger Church.

It is one thing if he saw abuses when he was a child–I don’t expect a young child to turn his father in–but it is a totally different matter if he was an adult and was aware of these things.

Could he have been in the dark? Possibly, but, as I said, he owes everyone an explanation that is credible. And given that the victims are also going to be testifying, he’d better be telling the truth. Because the truth will come out.

Covenant Life Church is in quite the quandary in no small part due to their failure to report alleged abuses to authorities. The pastoral staff at CLC covered up for at least one known sexual abuser, and another among their ranks–a former children’s minister–is facing trial.

Now, CLC, seeking to move on from those scandals, has a lead pastor who is either an innocent bystander who was in the dark, or was complicit in egregious abuses by his father.

As I look at all of this, I cannot help but make some sobering observations.

(1) The Church needs to do a better job policing her ranks, in particular her leaders. When I say “Church”, I’m not simply talking about local bodies or even denominational leadership–those go without saying. Oh noes, I’m referring to para-Christian groups who run youth retreats, camps, rehab camps (such as Teen Challenge) and other organizations ostensibly set up to teach youth, some even aimed at troubled youth.

(2) Along the lines of (1), parents need to be more active in these endeavors. Parents should chaperone at camps. We need to be honest here: teenagers, whose hormones have rocketed to Mach 9, are going to want to experiment.

I’m not endorsing the solo version of that practice, but they need to have it drilled into them: keep their hands off other peoples’ bodies. And it takes adults who will address these matters soberly to help them toward that end.

Adults will need to ensure that protections are in place to minimize potential porn exposure.

(3) Along the lines of (2), parents need to be honest about the sexual baggage they allow into their homes. Probably everyone born after 1960 has had at least some porn exposure–yes, even the ladies, as the sales numbers for Fifty Shades of Gray reflect. If you’re surfing the porn on the web, trust me: your kids are going to find out. If you’re stashing smut in your bedroom or attics, they’ll find it.

And when your kids end up with the porn addiction from Hell, you will have some contributory guilt.

Please follow my advice: If you have any sort of porn or other fetish materials in your home, don’t waste any time. Get that crap out of your house. NOW!.

You need to also provide appropriate Internet controls. While you cannot protect your children from every item of smut out there, you do owe it to them to do the reasonable due diligence on your end.

(4) Churches need to foster a culture where everyone is accountable and no one is above the rules.

TWW spends a lot of energy trying to blame the prominent abuses on complimentarianism or patriarchy or other authoritarian structures. Fact is, abusers can–and do–lurk and strike in egalitarian circles, too.

All it takes is a body where (a) people think “it can’t happen here”, or (b) protections are not in place, or (c) some leaders are effectively above the rules, so people fail to see what they see.

In the Scriptures, Paul ripped Peter about a matter “to his face”. Peter was the top dog of the Twelve, but Paul had the stones to set him straight in public.

THAT is what I mean by accountability.

If you’re a pastor, and you get offended when someone asks you a hard question, then you’re the one who has a problem.

(5) Churches need to apply–strictly–the requirements of 1 Timothy and Titus for all would-be pastors, deacons, elders, and others in ministerial capacity. Even those serving on teaching rotations need to be subjected to thorough background and character checks. That means that, if they are married, I want to know how they are as a couple. I want to observe them. I want to know what kind of spiritual mileage they have. If they’ve made some bad calls in life, I want to know how they responded.

I’m a firm believer that, if churches did a better job vetting their pastors according to Scriptural requirements–rather than looking for someone who has credentials and charisma–you’d keep about 80 percent of the wolves outside the gate.

Atlanta Has Worst Meltdown in Sports History

First off, let’s be honest here: as much as I hate the New England Patriots, my disgust has nothing to do with Brady or Belichick, but just the state they represent. I hate Massachusetts, as they are a Communist country. They’re a great team, and Brady is arguably the best quarterback of all time.

But last night, he would be the runner-up but for the mother of all assists from the Atlanta Falcons.

I’ve seen some epic chokes in sports.

(a) The New York Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox and losing in 7 games (the first time any team came back from an 0-3 deficit);

(b) The Houston Oilers blowing a 38-3 halftime lead against the Buffalo Bills;

(c) Jana Novotna, up 4-1 and serving at 40-30 in the 3rd set of the 1993 Wimbledon Championships;

(d) Greg Norman blowing a 6-stroke lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters.

Last night’s meltdown was worse than those.

The Atlanta Falcons, for two and a half quarters, could do no wrong. Their defense made big plays, their offense moved the ball almost at will, their QB was throwing with confidence. They were playing like the team that beat two Super Bowl champions (Green Bay and Seattle) to reach the finale against New England. They were playing like a championship team having its coming out party.

I was not surprised when Brady finally got a touchdown, closing the score to 28-9. At that point, I figured that Atlanta needed to respond: they needed at least a field goal, preferably a clock-burning drive.

Matt Ryan’s fumble didn’t help. But you have to expect your team to make at least one mistake like that in a big game. That alone wasn’t fatal.

But when the Falcons had the ball at the New England 22, I figured this was their chance to put the game away. They were in field goal range. They were up by 8. A field goal would all but put the game away, as the Pats would need a touchdown, a two-point conversion, an onside kick recovery, a quick drive, and a field goal to win.

I figured the Falcons would play conservative, run the ball or, at worst, throw to the end zone out of the shotgun, with Ryan dumping the ball out of bounds without taking a sack if things got tight.

Instead, Ryan took two long sacks. Then a holding penalty. What should have been a medium-range field goal disappeared: they had to punt.

In overtime, the Falcons had to kick to the Patriots.

At that point, I was very surprised that they did not go for the onside kick. That, honestly, was their only chance to win.

(a) Brady had been unstoppable for the entire second half (except for their opening drive); giving them the ball was conceding defeat;

(b) The defense was clearly dead tired. There was no way they were going to stop the Patriots.

The Falcons had only one chance to win: with their offense. The only way they had a chance to make that happen was an onside kick. If they kick it to the Patriots, they will not get the ball back.

They didn’t get the ball back.


I hate to be a pessimist here, but I don’t think the Falcons will recover from this disaster. When you look at the worst epic chokes, only one athlete ever came back from such a meltdown.

In the women’s final of the 1993 Wimbledon Championship, Jana Novotna was up 4-1 and serving 40-30 (game point) in the third set against Steffi Graf. She was literally five points from victory. She would double-fault on game point to make it deuce; she would lose serve, and then she had nothing left: Graf would win the next 4 games to close out the title.

In the award ceremony, Novotna lost it and cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent. She had blown it on the biggest stage, and–in spite of her stellar doubles record–had very few chances to win singles championships in the majors.

In 1997, she also choked in the Wimbledon final against Martina Hingis. It seemed that she would never get her redemption.

But in 1998, five years after her terrible meltdown, she captured the Wimbledon championship. It would be her only Major championship outside of doubles.

Can the Falcons come back from last night’s disaster? Perhaps. But getting to the Super Bowl is extremely difficult. Just getting to the playoffs requires many things coming together. And the Super Bowl is a forum where literally anything can happen. And there’s no guarantee that your best players are going to be healthy. A key receiver or running back can sprain an ankle, someone can suffer a concussion, a QB can break a rib…that’s football.

But if they get back to the Super Bowl, they will have to face down the demons that haunt Atlanta.

And last night, they added a demon to the house.

Covenant Life Church Has More Trouble

This time it appears to be tangential.

Currently, across the pond, John Smyth, a prominent lawyer who ran Christian summer camps in England, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, is accused of horrific abuses. At least one death occurred on his watch.

While some might argue, “Nothing has been proven,” the accusations are of sufficient credibility that the Archbishop of Canterbury has apologized.

Why does this involve Covenant Life Church? Their pastor is none other than P.J. Smyth, the son of John Smyth.

As Todd Wilhelm of Thou Art The Man put it, the issue is what did P.J. Smyth know, and when did he know it?

And I am not impressed with his answers.

How Many Rock Bottoms Will Tiger Woods Hit?

The fall of Tiger Woods has been a sad train wreck to watch.

At this point, I’m not sure that his demise can be attributed to the fallout from his scandals, as those are more than 7 years old. Still, his personal crises could not have come at a worse time.

He was recovering from knee surgery; he was reaching an age range where physical limitations begin to set in. This was not a good time for a personal crisis that could affect the mental aspects of his game.

But that was 7 years ago. And Tiger is a great competitor who knows how to win. And even if his body isn’t what it was when he was a Spring chicken, he can still be competitive.

Sadly, except for a few bright spots, Tiger Woods has been in a flat spin.

His driving distance has fallen considerably since his knee surgery. This has put greater pressure on his short game. Making matters worse, his opponents stopped fearing him.

AS a result, he has struggled to get off to good starts in tournaments. This has put greater pressure on him to have good second rounds in order to make cuts. That has forced him to take risks that are more challenging given his diminished physical health. When you’re hitting 300+ yards off the tee, a par 5 is a potential eagle.

If your driving distance falls 10 yards, you’re more likely to be putting for birdie or par where it was once eagle or birdie. If your driving accuracy starts falling, then you will be hitting out of rough–or bunkers–more often than you did before. That means your second shots are going to be coming up short. On a par 4, you might be chipping out of a bunker to get “up and down” where you would have been on the green and putting for birdie.

It’s a lot harder mentally when you have to “go up and down” to save par rather than get a birdie. If you get a bogey, it’s harder to make that up. If you get two bogeys, you’ll be struggling to stay at even par where you might have carded a -2 or a -3. If you take big risks to make up for those bogeys–and fail–you fall deeper into the hole. And due to the competitive nature of the PGA Tour, any score above par puts you in danger of missing the cut.

If you want to WIN, you have to be able to shoot -2 or better for four rounds.

Tiger Woods is having a problem doing that, as the cost of recovering from his mistakes went up at a time when his likelihood of making mistakes also went up.

Can he still win? Certainly. But for that to happen, he will need to be able to put FOUR rounds of solid golf, breaking par every time. And in the majors, he will need to do this against a competitive field that no longer fears him.

At this point, if he wins another Major, it will be the most incredible comeback in golf since Ken Venturi conquered the sweltering heat in the 1964 U.S. Open.

If he somehow finds a way to pass Nicklaus for career Major victories, it will be the most incredible comeback in the history of sports.

My $0.02 on Barnabas Piper

Our friends at The Wartburg Watch are having quite the row over Barnabas Piper, the son of John Piper. His defenders will point out that the divorce was due to his wife having an affair, whereas his detractors (among whom are the TWW crowd) will point out the hard line that John Piper–Barnabas’ father–has taken on divorce over the years.

For the record, I’m going to state it right off the bat: Barnabas Piper is not qualified to hold the office of deacon, pastor, bishop, overseer, elder, or any other title that we would ascribe to the positions specified in 1 Timothy and Titus.

I don’t care who was at fault for his divorce.

I don’t care if his (now ex) wife was sleeping with the entire New England Patriots football team.

The pastoral epistles are very clear on this matter: one who aspires to such an office must be above reproach.

If you’ve been divorced, it may be no fault of your own but the fact remains: you’re still disqualified.

Church leadership is not an Equal Opportunity institution. This isn’t about your “rights”. The qualifications are what they are for a reason: some of them are matters of character whereas others are matters of vulnerability and–still–others are matters of credibility. The latter two are not always within your control, but they still apply.

Even if you were divorced for a perfectly-valid reason, the problem is you’ll always have room for outsiders to say, “hey, I can get divorced…look at [X]!” It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t justified in his case. If you are a church leader, it will embolden others in bad marriages to seek divorces, appealing to your authority, even if their reasons for divorce might not be valid.

You can be a man of great character and still not be qualified to be a pastor. By accepting that, you are showing the Church an example of humility. And this is not without Biblical precedent.

In the Old Testament, you will be hard-pressed to find a better man in the post-Samuel period than Jonathan.

By all indications in Scripture, he was qualified to be King. He was the son of the sitting King; he was a war hero; he was loyal; he was Godly. He’s one of the few people in the Bible about whom we know of nothing of negative value. He would almost certainly have made an excellent King.

Except for one thing: because of his father’s sins–which were no fault of Jonathan’s–God had picked David, not Jonathan, to be King.

And Jonathan was cool with that! He didn’t mount an insurrection against David; he didn’t collude with his father, who was trying to kill David. In fact, Jonathan stuck out his own neck to protect David from his father.

A lot of folks long to be like David, and it’s not simply because he was a man after God’s own heart. They like David because he got to be KING. If it was a character matter, you’d see lots of studies on Jonathan.

But God has probably called more of us to be like Jonathan. The great philosopher, “Dirty Harry” Callahan observed, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Sometimes, God imposes those limitations, and those limitations are not always issues of character. You do, however, owe it to God and the general Body to accept those limits.

HAVING SAID THAT, Barnabas Piper is not in a leadership position in the Church; he simply happens to be the son of one of the more prominent pastors in that realm.

As for who was really at fault in the divorce, it’s anyone’s guess. He claims it was due to an affair; by his account, her turning away from him was due to his chronic dishonesty.

The problem is, his running his mouth does him no favors; in fact, his best course of action is to just shut up already. By running his mouth, he’s acting more like Tullian Tchividjian and less like a man of character. If he feels that he needs to speak in order to vindicate his family name, then he needs to know that he is only doing more damage by talking.

Now given that TWW seems to want to take a shot at the elder Piper at every turn, I have this to say: this isn’t about John Piper. Barnabas is a grown adult; he was married; his decisions (for better and worse) in that marriage were his own responsibility; his wife’s actions were her responsibility. The divorce was their–not John’s–responsibility.

Every family has a set of “family jewels”; I don’t care if you’re me, Ame, Cubbie, or even John Piper. John Piper may be all that and a pound of bourbon-cured honey bacon, but everyone has dark edges. And even if you do everything right–and who on earth does?–that is not a guarantee that your children will walk in those steps.

Even worse: in a marriage, you can’t make your spouse love you. Ladies: you can wear him out in the bedroom and he can still be a cheater. Men: You can be the President of Alpha Males for Jesus and your wife can still be an adulteress like Gomer.

You will never outrun your character, and neither will your spouse. At various times in your life, you will come face-to-face with your character; that is when, as the Bible says, “your sin finds you out.” It may be a public comeuppance. It may be a private comeuppance. But what you do when that happens can–and usually does–impact the very course of your life.

I cannot answer for Barnabas’ ex-wife. She must account for herself. To my knowledge, she isn’t the one running her mouth.

As for Barnabas, he needs to do himself, his family, and the Church a great favor and shut up about that whole matter. God will sort out the guilty and innocent.