R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT

On faith, again: In fairness to Sarah Palin
5.September.2008, 11.45 pm
Filed under: faith

Headed home for the night, I stumbled upon this very even-handed and relatively encouraging (from a Christian perspective) profile of Sarah Palin’s faith in the New York Times. Given my last post on her, I felt it only fair to include this.

Interviews with the two pastors she has been most closely associated with here in her hometown … and with friends and acquaintances who have worshipped with her point to a firm conclusion: her foundation and source of guidance is the Bible, and with it has come a conviction to be God’s servant.


Palin, traditional Christianity, gender roles and a faith sold cheap
5.September.2008, 10.09 pm
Filed under: faith

Let me warn you: You are about to embark on a conversation that a.) will make most non-Christians angry, b.) will make many Christian women angry, and c.) is politically incorrect in the strongest terms. But, if you share my faith in Christ and his father’s words, read on. (If not, please forgive me this spiritual time out. My usual everyman approach will return shortly.)

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More on faith & politics
18.August.2008, 2.25 pm
Filed under: faith, politics

As a committed evangelical Christian who has spent a lot of time trying to convince others of my fold that Barack Obama shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, I should really offer my opinion on the Saturday forum at Saddleback Church. Problem is, I didn’t watch it. Instead, I was off on the road with my band (a bizarre and thoroughly frustrating experience on which I will say more later). Anyway, I plan to watch the whole thing soon and will comment at that point.

25.June.2008, 10.01 am
Filed under: daddyhood, faith, life | Tags: , ,

Exhibit A: Five days ago, this little guy was a virtual unknown. The facts were, it was a “he,” it was kicking around in my wife Shelley’s belly, and it was to be released at a to-be-determined date.

Now, he’s Owen Andrew Shepherd, a 7-some-pound healthy baby boy, spending his time sleeping and eating and occasionally crying, here in my own house.

We got little sleep last night, as Owen couldn’t decide if he’d had enough to eat. He’d cry, we’d get up and try to feed him, and he’d fall back asleep. We did this a few times over, before he finally decided to give up and submit to slumber… at 5 in the morning.

I want him to have everything: A happy childhood, an intelligent mind, a fit and coordinated body, a high-school sweetheart and college education and six-figure job and a house with granite countertops and an undermount sink. And I fear he’ll miss out on at least some of it, due to some unforeseen error on my part.

And, of course, I want him to know the Lord… but if fathers are children’s primary examples of God, I feel very sorry for the little guy.

Exhibit B: Two years ago this Saturday, I was feeling a little of the same for this guy, Lewis Christian. He had a traumatic entry into the world, marked by 10 days of only supervised parental interaction due to a blood infection. It was traumatic, too, for us, as we wondered how God could mar such a beautiful moment with such a stupid circumstance.

Two years later, I still love this boy with all my heart, and yet he frustrates me as few other things do. He’s yet to say a single word, and this causes all kinds of problems for Shelley and me. His only ways to communicate are to cry/yell/moan, and to grab your hand and drag you around. The big problem with this is that he doesn’t understand (or pretends not to understand?) any attempt to tell him no, or to divert him to a different activity. Still groggy from last night, I was met with a Lewis who, after waking and watching “Elmo’s World,” wanted immediately to go outside and walk around the block in already stifling heat. If I tell him no, he cries and whines and is generally not fun to be around, so I’m more or less forced to give way to his will.

I want everything for him, too, but more than anything my concerns for him are in the here and now: God, why won’t you give this child a voice? Why won’t you give him the will to use a spoon on his own? Why is his mind so quick and his manipulative instinct so sharp, and yet his communicative skills nearly nonexistent?

There are no answers here, at least not yet. And that makes me—God forgive me—hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless in the face of these two miracles, these two God-breathed lives that are so utterly connected to me. My own dreams seem shattered to a million pieces, and that would be OK… if only my vicarious dreams for Lewis and Owen would show themselves on a march of progress. But Owen’s too young, and Lewis too frustrating. I’m being honest here, not righteous.

I’ve suffered little, I suppose, and Shelley probably feels these things far worse than I. Maybe you feel them, too, whether you’re childless or fruitful, married or single. Maybe we all feel it, somewhere, at some time. But it’s rather new to me… My only real hope, for now, is that this is simply God’s inoculation against something far worse. But the needle is thick and the sting is real, and I’m left reeling in both bone and blood.

Obama: Coming to a Family Christian Bookstore near you?
16.June.2008, 9.10 am
Filed under: faith, politics | Tags: ,

By Ben Smith, Politico.com

The conservative Evangelical biographer of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay has moved on to a new subject: Barack Obama. And his new book, due out this summer, may lend credibility to Senator Obama’s bid to win Evangelical Christian voters away from the Republican Party.

The forthcoming volume from Stephen Mansfield, whose sympathetic “The Faith of George W. Bush” spent 15 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2004, is titled “The Faith of Barack Obama.” Its tone ranges from gently critical to gushing, and the author defends Obama-and even his controversial former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright-from conservative critics, and portrays him as a compelling figure for Christian voters.

“Young Evangelicals are saying, ‘Look, I’m pro-life but I’m looking at a guy who’s first of all black-and they love that; two, who’s a Christian; and three who believes faith should bear on public policy,” Mansfield, who described himself as a conservative Republican, said in a telephone interview. “They disagree with him on abortion, but they agree with him on poverty, on the war.”

His book, provided exclusively to Politico by the publisher, focuses more on Obama’s religious journey than his electoral prospects.

“For Obama, faith is not simply political garb, something a focus group told him he ought to try. Instead, religion to him is transforming, lifelong, and real,” Mansfield writes, going on to compare Obama favorably to Christian Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who he says erected a “wall of separation” between their religion and their governance.

By contrast, “Obama’s faith infuses his public policy, so that his faith is not just limited to the personal realms of his life, it also informs his leadership,” Mansfield writes.

The book is published by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher. It’s due out August 5. “The Faith of Barack Obama” is expected to retail in Christian outlets and the Wal-Mart chain of stores, as well as secular bookstores. A motivational speaker and former pastor, Mansfield is the author of several books on faith as well as the co-author of former House Republican powerhouse Tom DeLay’s 2007 book “No Retreat, No Surrender,” a defense of his tarnished legacy sprinkled with fierce attacks on his opponents and on liberal causes.

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Divided we stand?
10.June.2008, 1.40 pm
Filed under: faith, politics, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

My pal Kevin brought up an interesting conversation starter in the ongoing dialogue on my presidential pick (see top right of this page; click to read it). It goes:

I find it remarkable that our country is able to remain as united as it is given the abortion debate. If any other form of “murder” (currently recognized as such) were made “legal,” we would a potential breakdown of society. Think of the millions who would refuse to pay taxes to a government that sanctioned the killing off of retarded children, or unwanted 2 month old “postnatal fetuses.” Or the millions who would perhaps view taking up arms to protect these lives?

So, let’s explore, shall we?

First off, abortion is a relatively invisible thing: The women who have abortions generally aren’t touting the fact, are they? I’ve never met a woman who said out loud, in my presence or within ear’s range, that she’d had an abortion… yet I’ve heard women speak openly (even fondly) of cocaine use, random sex, theft, blackmail… if abortion is as “OK” as the pro-choice would have us believe, why is speaking of it so taboo? If it’s just another medical procedure, why isn’t it talked about as such—I’ve heard my share of “TMI” tales from the OB/GYN office from my desk at work, you know.

So we see that abortion is taboo, even in the eyes of those who think it morally defensible. This implies, at least, that the pro-choice KNOW that there is a heavy moral divide between the choosers and the lifers… which is why pro-abortion is always couched in terms of “choice,” placing the emphasis back on the mother, and not simply “pro-abortion”—or, to be fair, “pro-legality-and-availability-of-abortion.”

Anyway, abortion’s taboo-ness seems to me to be what keeps America going, despite the huge divide. Truth be told, there is little real debate about abortion in this country, only rhetoric… The law is the law, and there’s no indication it’s going to be overturned anytime soon. It’s too good a campaign tool for politicians to give up, but it may in fact be too ingrained in society to ever be done away with. This is why states have attempted to place restrictions on abortions, albeit restrictions that usually get batted down by the appellate courts (mandatory ultrasound, etc.).

IF, however, the Supreme Court ever got a case that enabled it to strike down Roe, what is right now is muted divide would threaten to erupt into near-violence. In my opinion, women (as every minority) still feel slighted, despite the tremendous advances they’ve seen since the time of their grandmothers. Abortion is truly a symbol of something bigger, of the women’s rights movement in general. What did women really want? The right to abortion, or the right to vote? But the right to abortion came suddenly, on the turn of a single court case, and that at a time of great upheaval. So, it became connected to women’s rights in general, whereas it is a very specific right and has no real effect on wages, suffrage, equality or anything else.

The fact of the matter is that the pro-life and the pro-choice are both arguing over theoreticals… meanwhile, there is a poor, unwed pregnant woman in despair as to where she’ll find the time or the money to take care of a BABY—and I challenge anyone to present me with a woman who became pregnant and thought of the thing inside her as a fetus and not as a pending baby. The fact of its LIFE is what drives the abortion… the life and its perceived effect on the carrying woman’s life. And, sad to say, abortion is an historical fact of life.

I read “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” recently, and a notable throwaway line had to do with how a certain gypsy woman had taken some sort of special medicine, which made her miscarry. This was not uncommon in the 15th century and I would guess not uncommon to most of human history, at least wherever there have been people looking at too little wealth and imagining the troubles of another human pulling from the pool.

This is why I, personally, have a hard time seeing the “answer” to the abortion debate. We’d all agree that a woman who cannot afford (or stomach) having a baby simply ought not have it. But abstinence simply doesn’t pervade, contraception fails (or isn’t used) — and, sadly, rape occurs. Do I want this woman going into a back alley to get rid of her problem? Or taking some concoction that the FDA has definitely not approved, in order to force a miscarriage?

If I were a candidate for president, I might offer a sweeping reform: Any single woman with an “unwanted” pregnancy is offered free room and board at a government-run facility, to be admitted somewhere at the start of the third trimester (when pregnancy really gets demanding). These facilities, scattered throughout the country, would offer voluntary classes based in broad, ecumenical religious teachings on the sanctity of life; they would not be mandatory, but would be the main social offerings at said facilities. At the end of the stay, when giving birth (the medical bills also paid for by the state), the “choice” is given: Keep the baby or give it up for adoption. Either way, the woman with the unwanted pregnancy comes out ahead. Granted, it’s a few months of inconvenience for the woman, but not nearly as much as would be if she had to pay the bills for this “unwanted” baby. Meanwhile, job security would be protected by federal mandate that states an employer cannot fire and must re-receive a pregnant woman who leaves to be in the facility.

There are lots more thoughts… Hopefully you’ve got them.

OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT: A pragmatic endorsement
4.June.2008, 11.07 am
Filed under: faith, politics | Tags:

This post is meant to foster discussion. Please add your thoughts, disputes, etc. at bottom.

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable…the art of the next best.

— Otto von Bismarck, 1867

Short Version: Barring any unforeseen revelations about his character, criminal history or secret policy positions, I will be voting for Barack Obama in November. I suggest you do too. However, unless you read the Long Version, which immediately follows, do not email, call or otherwise bug me and try to argue why I should vote otherwise.

Long Version: First things first. I’m a 27-year-old white male. My family lives near the technical poverty line, although you wouldn’t know it to look at us. We have nice vehicles, a nice house, cable, Internet access, etc. I have a pretty good job and my wife, Shelley, is fortunate to be able to stay home with our child (and soon to be children). I was raised in a somewhat Baptist household, and now belong to a Presbyterian (PCA) church. I’m college educated, though not quite a college grad.

In November, I will be voting for the Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama.

Working in journalism, I’ve spent much of my time in the past few years keeping up with current events, and with a particular appetite for politics and a root word, policy. (I could, in fact, boast that I’ve read more contemporary history in these past few years than the average person will read in his/her entire lifetime—but my Moses-esque humility won’t allow it.) Through that reading, I’ve come to my current political leanings, which are as follows:

•Libertarian socially (let people do what they want if it doesn’t hurt me or my kids)
•Conservative fiscally (let me keep as much of my income as possible, to do with it what I wish)
•Hyperlocal bureaucratically (let the smallest possible group decide on its own what it wishes its piece of society to look like).
•Noninterventionist in foreign policy (stay out of other nations’ business when it does not directly harm national interests)

Sounds like a Ron Paul voter, no? But there one’s more crucial point:

•Pragmatic when necessary—and that moment is now.

If this were 1992, I’d be rooting for Pat Buchanan, or possibly crazy uncle Perot. If this year’s GOP nominee were Paul, Pat Buchanan, or possibly even Mike “The Huckster” Huckabee (one of the daring who, despite other inadequacies, supports The FairTax, which would make a huge difference to our economy and to small-business owners like myself), I’d likely vote for any of these.

Put another way, I don’t like Obama’s general policy stances on taxes, abortion, immigration, entitlements, government interference, and probably a host of other issues. That said, I don’t like John McCain’s stances on the war in Iraq—or war in general—or taxes, immigration, entitlements, government interference… but most disturbingly, his blazing globalism.

Not only does McCain support continuing the war in Iraq indefinitely, but he endorses the idea of a “League of Democracies,” a liberal position that even Obama does not hold. He mocks Obama for considering the diplomatic route in regards to Iran—despite the fact that this same diplomatic route, as practiced by conservative icon Ronald Reagan, is what won the Cold War. Nor do I appreciate the way George W. Bush’s “conservative” administration has spent and spent and spent our tax dollars, while cutting tax rates and allowing the American economy to fall into the gutter.

“Tax and spend liberal” has been a scare tactic used to great effect over the past 30 years… that and the newer claim that Democrats are “soft” on national security. Yet our nation is far less solvent since Bush took office, and our nation is certainly no more secure than it ever was.

Then there’s the issue of “free trade,” which is an Orwellian oxymoron. Anyone who will spend a bit of time reading Buchanan (or any host of other “paleoconservative” or “traditional conservative” authors) will find out that protectionism—the practice of imposing tariffs on imports and other measures designed to reward Americans for buying local and American industry for staying in America—was common course until the last 50 years, and America’s economy steadily rose during that time, making it far the most dominant the world has ever known. Contrast that with today, when so-called conservatives tout “free trade” as if it were a religion, neglecting to notice that American industry is quickly drying up, the Chinese economy is skyrocketing (and they hold the majority of our TRILLIONS in debt), and that other nations are taxing our exports to their countries, while giving manufacturers in their countries tax REBATES on their exports to us—meaning a double-edged punishment that makes buying Japanese cheap here and buying American nearly impossible there.

Obama? He’s spoken out against NAFTA and might possibly rework these disastrous trade policies. McCain? He’s a “Kool-Aid” drinker on free trade, and on the flawed notion of globalism in general.

“But,” you may say, “Obama is far to the left of Ted Kennedy!” I think that statement a bit much, but I won’t argue the point that Obama is going to be some miraculous “uniter”… his voting record is solidly left-leaning, and he has no practical evidence of being a “bridge-builder,” save for his smooth rhetoric.

Yet, practically speaking and using actual evidence, not rhetoric, as a standard, shows the lie. As a strongly conservative blogger recently noted,

“(The GOP voters’) grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, or a twentieth try,” observed leftist Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? “The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes.”

Republican appointees to federal courts far outnumber Democratic ones, yet the GOP continues to trot out “judicial reform” as the thing they’re going to aim for above all. It hasn’t fleshed out—the majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, which has no intention of overturning Roe, are GOP appointees; the judge who ruled California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional? Lifelong Republican.

And consider:

•The number of women undergoing abortions went DOWN overall during the Clinton administration, and UP dramatically throughout the Bush II years
•Unemployment went DOWN overall during Clinton years, UP overall during Bush II
•Real value of wages has gone steadily down during Bush II
•Federal funds went from surplus during Clinton to MASSIVE, RECORD DEFICITS during Bush II
•Federal government spending has gone WAY UP during Bush II

McCain shows no signs of changing many of these metrics… abortion rates have been shown to be very much linked to economics. So-called “conservative” GOP government has spent more than any Democratic administration ever did. And a globalist viewpoint, which looks at America as the biggest member of a global community, instead of looking at AMERICANS and their well-being as the crucial deciding factor in every single decision, has proven harsh over the short term and could likely prove fatal if allowed to go unchecked.

The millions we’re spending PER DAY in Iraq—a nation which did not attack us, had no capacity to attack us, and was NOT a state sponsor of terrorism—would be better spent here. The lives we’re losing won’t spread democracy across the globe—and no one asked us to do it in the first place! As most honest brokers understand, al-Qaida (and all radical Islamists) don’t hate us for who we are, but for what we do, which is meddle in the affairs of the Middle East.

Four years ago, I listened to Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention—and here I promise, no exaggeration—and after hearing him, I told Shelley, “This guy will be the first black president.” It is increasingly looking like I was right.

What was in that speech were some things I hadn’t heard from any politician before… seemingly genuine talk of faith, genuine talk of an America that didn’t want to hear about hot-button issues, but who shared more than they disagreed on… the signature mood of “Hope” (has he trademarked that word yet?) was there on display.

Once Obama is president—and that’s not a sure thing, by any means—I will be as critical of him as I have been of pretty much every politician I’ve ever heard. One thing I know is that politicians are flawed just as politics are flawed, and the American people are often not well served by either party.

But what it ultimately comes down to, to me, is the war. I don’t support it because it wasn’t right; I don’t support it because it was far from necessary. Saddam was a bad guy—but there are 50 others the world over, in Sudan and Shanghai and Minsk and Moscow. This war has destroyed our credibility, left thousands of our troops (and tens of thousands of Iraqis, if you care) dead, obliterated our nation’s wallet and left us digging deeper and deeper into debt with China, a nation we should truly be scared of in this new cold war—waged with economic weapons.

I don’t know that I want nationalized health care… but my company’s plan isn’t so hot. I don’t know that government should force carmakers to make what they want… but I do know $4 a gallon for stuff we rely on our “enemies” for isn’t working. I don’t know what Obama’s education cabinet or health cabinet will look like… but I’m frightened of a hothead like McCain, who (it’s been widely reported) rips the heads off of those who disagree with him. Our country’s had enough of a president that “goes with his gut”—I think we’re ready to elect someone who will surround himself with intelligent people, not ideologues, and then listen to those people. (This is how most presidents govern—Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, all surrounded themselves with experts, not ideologues.)

If I were to stand on principle, I’d probably vote Libertarian. Their party stances, though far from perfect, are far closer to my own than either Democratic or Republican platforms. But this is not a time for hollow principle… this is, in my judgment, a time for pragmatism. And my pragmatic side tells me that, hands down, in THIS MOMENT, an Obama presidency (as contrasted with a McCain presidency) is the best choice we have. My vote may not make a difference; of all 50-some primaries, Obama got by far the fewest votes in Kentucky (carried only two counties, and got mere double-digit individual vote totals in many in the eastern part of the state), so I’m pretty sure McCain’s a lock for our electoral votes. But maybe this post will raise some questions, not only on who to vote for, but on what exactly voting is meant to accomplish in the first place.