By Charlie Johnston
I am saddened by the trajectory of the world. Throughout my life, I have struggled to find ways of mitigating the consequences of the ever-growing disorder and malice that engulfs us. In some ways, I feel like the patriarch, Abraham, who kept pleading and bargaining with God to spare Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33). I keep praying that a certain evil may not come to pass, then when it does, I revise my prayer that if just this next evil can be stopped, then the rising storm might pass us over. These days, I ponder how, in the end, Sodom was destroyed. Neither the Lord nor Abraham could find as many as 10 righteous men there.
There is a substantial minority (I hope it is a minority) who persist in calling evil good and good, evil. Many of them are even ensconced in the top ranks of the Church’s hierarchy.
The latest call to impeachment is sheer, demonstrable madness. No longer can I posit that some of the leaders of this effort are misled. They are lying shamelessly, spinning furiously even when the documentation proving their allegations to be false are laid out right before them. The Democrats seem bent on proving that they can impeach a ham sandwich – and treat the real thing as equally inconsequential. Nothing matters but the pursuit of mere temporal power, freedom and fairness be damned.
More than this, I worry about the damage already done to our culture. Some partisans, inflamed with rage, don’t care about facts or evidence at all – just any narrative that will get them what they think they want. Other, more decent people do care, but are completely bamboozled by the narrative barrage – and so default to what their normal setting is. If they are Democrat, they parrot the leftist line. If Republican, they go to the right. Only a few examine the hard evidence. Many of those that do are horrified to see this is not just a partisan assault, but an assault on facts, evidence, the rule of law, and truth, itself. Untouched by the actual existential hardships and challenges that people throughout history have faced, moderns make up imaginary hardships to furiously rail against. God forbid that moderns ever face a challenge that can’t be solved by a Facebook petition!
I find it harder and harder to see a way forward that does not lead into catastrophic collapse throughout the world. I do not underestimate Donald Trump in America, but those Republican officials who are really willing to fight for the traditional American values of faith, family and freedom can be counted on two hands. That is not enough. I also find it harder and harder to see a way to recovery after collapse that does not involve visible, Divine intervention. I suspect that this is what God has intended all along. He always knew how far most people had drifted from Him, how badly most people had been seduced by the pursuit of power. I did not. I was frankly shocked when the rise of ultrasound technology in the late 70’s and early 80’s did not end abortion. I thought those who supported abortion were honestly misled and that, when they saw proof that this is a living human being, they would step back from the abyss. We only draw closer to it, perhaps thinking that if God won’t punish us for willfully tearing our own children to pieces, He won’t punish us for anything, that perhaps He isn’t there at all and so, the only thing with any meaning is the mad scrabble for power, riches and influence.
Since the Confirmation Name I chose is Abraham, I think a lot about the Abraham stories in the Bible. There is always more than meets the eye in these rich narratives.
In the tale of Abraham’s bargaining with God over Sodom, God knew from the beginning just how many righteous men were in that city. Why, then, did He indulge Abraham’s pleas? It seems to me God wanted to encourage Abraham to intercede for even the very worst – to share a portion of the heart of God and His mercy. God also wanted to reveal to Abraham the depth of depravity that had taken hold of that city, to open his eyes. Through this process, God expanded approvingly Abraham’s own instinct for mercy while simultaneously showing the extent of His own mercy and the need for His justice. And He showed us all how seriously He hearkens to our own calls for intercession, encouraging us to call on Him in all things.
I find myself seeking to find a few righteous people to offer to the Lord, praying that I may be counted among them. Thanks be to God, over these last few years, I have found many islands of deep and serious faith in action all across this great land. While I don’t think it is enough to hold back a great chastisement, I do believe it is already MORE than enough to help give spiritual refuge to many during a time of trial, bring many who are confused back to the hope that is in Christ and to play the vital role in rebuilding a healthy society, under God, truly devoted to faith, family and freedom. Let me tell you of a few I have visited these last couple of weeks.
Texas Right to Life (TRTL) held its annual Celebration of Life on Saturday, Sept. 28. It is the most effective Right-to-Life group in the country, by far. Once again, it drew a thousand supporters from across the state and raised over a million dollars. President Jim Graham announced that the board had decided that it would henceforth be an
overtly Christian organization. It still welcomes all fellow travelers, but its organizing principle is to call upon the Lord and seek to follow Him in everything it does. Graham said that, from now on, they are “all in” in the spiritual battle before us – and that their strategy for the next legislative session is to abolish abortion in Texas entirely. A great roar of approval went up from the crowd upon this proclamation. TRTL will not settle for being an uncertain trumpet in the battles before us.
The size of the crowd and the amount raised were particularly striking because many of the Texas officials and politicians who normally attend were not there this year. The Texas legislature had what, from a pro-life standpoint, was a do-nothing session – and TRTL called them out on it. Politicians hate groups which call them out when their performance does not match their rhetoric. Many (actually most) groups who start out with a principled stance get progressively sucked into mere influence peddling. Not TRTL. This crowd was largely the faithful – and those faithful were delighted that at least one group speaks on their behalf with fidelity.
Sadly, after the collapse of the suburbs nationwide for Republicans – including in Texas – many GOP officials are trying to be lighter versions of leftist Democrats. It’s a stupid strategy I have watched many Republican careers founder on in my 45 years in the political game. It just alienates your base while the opposition continues to vote for their home team. I never suggest doubling down on message priorities that have proven to be losers. Rather, I always look for specific ways to appeal to particular demographics in messaging that will resonate while holding fast to core principles. So does TRTL.
One of the things I most enjoyed about the program was when Vice-President Elizabeth Graham invited up four women to tell their stories. Each had been diagnosed with a critical problem with their pregnancies at about 20 weeks in – and each had been advised by their doctors to end their pregnancies with an abortion. Knowing that their children were unlikely to live as long as a week after birth, each of these women chose to have their child – and shared photos of the brief time they had with their little ones. They shared their stories of what a joy it was to have the time they did with these little people – and the hope they have that those children are now advocates for them in heaven.
As usual, TRTL focused on what it does, where the money goes. The new Joseph Graham Fellows were introduced. These are college-aged students who are given extensive formal training during the summer and then coordinate pro-life advocacy through campus organizations across the state. Almost 100 students participate in the program.
As a sporadic outside consultant to TRTL, I sit in and participate in their staff meetings when I am in town. These are amazing. The meetings start with a Scripture reading, after which each staff member offers their thoughts on the reading. Then staffers talk about accomplishments, both great and small. In the business portion, reviews are made of the people and organizations being helped by TRTL. The organization has become the go-to for people who are condemned by Texas’ forced euthanasia law, called the Texas Advanced Directive Act (TADA). General Counsel Emily Cook is practically on 24-hour call, ready to spring into legal action when anyone calls to let TRTL know that a hospital has condemned a loved one to death. Hideously, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops (TCCB) has been one of the strongest advocates of forced euthanasia, twisting themselves into knots trying to reconcile it with actual Catholic Doctrine. It saves hospitals a chunk of money – and both the Bishops and squishy Republican legislators love to curry favor with the powerful medical associations. Support by the TCCB for this hideous contradiction of Catholic doctrine is why I do not fully trust the otherwise admirable Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas. He has spoken boldly and courageously on the scandals in the Church. Yet he has been largely silent on TADA, which he could have a profound effect on – though at the expense of offending the other Bishops in Texas who prefer the approval of the world to fidelity to the Gospels and Magisterium. He is so fearless and orthodox otherwise, though, that I suspect he is somehow working quietly to put an end to this horror.
TRTL is the premiere defender of life, both at the beginning and at the end, in the world. There is no need too small for them to care about, nor any so big that they are afraid to get into the trenches and fight for both life and the Gospels. For these, they are attacked by squishy legislators and even squishier clerics. These clerics and legislators have their reward. TRTL is laying up their treasure in heaven.
Staffers are almost equally Catholic and Protestant, working together for life and for Christ. I noted admiringly at the Monday recap meeting following the Celebration of Life dinner, that their open advocacy of Christian values highlights the true divide in the faith today: it is not primarily between Catholics and Protestants, but between those who treat their faith as an ancillary cultural artifact and those who believe that God IS – and that whatever differences they might have, that the Divine Word is true and binding on us all. At TRTL, all the staff knows that God IS – and work to serve Him. I am both proud and grateful to be an ally and associate of this glorious organization that puts fidelity to faith – and action defending the defenseless – above all else.
The keynote speech at the dinner was given by Pastor Rafael Cruz, father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The senator introduced his Dad. The elder Cruz gave a barn-burner of a speech. He cited extensive specific examples of how Christian Pastors led the charge in the American Revolution, determined to fight for freedom, faith and family. He contrasted this with modern pastors who, he said, have largely hidden behind their pulpits, seeking to curry favor with the government and the world rather than boldly proclaiming the Gospel. He said he largely blames silent and cowardly pastors for letting us slip to the level of dysfunction we have in this country.
Pastors might be offended at his calling them out, but they should be terrified at how it electrified the crowd and led to a prolonged standing ovation. The pastoral practice of going along with whatever pernicious nonsense has cachet at the moment is not working out as well as some of these clerics believe, I don’t think.
I was delighted when I first walked into TRTL’s new office suite to find this beautiful picture of the Archangel Gabriel in the most prominent spot at the entrance to greet everyone who enters there. Of course, I have a special devotion to Gabriel, but the reason is even more personal than that. Last year, as I prepared to leave Texas, I
presented this image to TRTL at my final staff meeting, recalling that Gabriel is the Messenger of God, carrying God’s Holy Word to the world in times of both crisis and of opportunity. I said that God called this organization to carry God’s Word to the world, to share in Gabriel’s mission to be God’s messenger of life.
I had gotten the beautiful image at a conference in Dallas at which Cardinal Raymond Burke was the key speaker (the owner of the booth recognized me – and gave me a nice little discount – otherwise I could not have afforded it). It touched me deeply to see it at the entrance, recruiting all who enter to share in the mission of carrying God’s message to a world that badly needs it.
I started this leg of my journey this fall with a visit to Minneapolis/St. Paul. My hosts were Kris and Blake Rehfeld. They had previously hosted me when they lived in South Dakota, along with Kris’ dear friend, Nancy Davidson. Nancy passed away from cancer on Sept. 23, 2017, the date of the Revelation 12 sign in the sky. Nancy and Kris were inseparable. Amazingly, they once drove 700 miles in each direction to come to a prayer
meeting in Denver I was at. I was both astonished and touched – and told them I would not have done it. But they were what Thelma and Louise would have been if they had found God. Kris was the sober, dutiful partner in this magnificent team. Nancy always bubbled over with spontaneous enthusiasm. It delighted me when I was able to go spend time with them in South Dakota for a presentation a few years ago. While I was there, I had the best freshwater fish I have ever had, a Walleye dinner prepared by Blake – a dinner which made Walleye my absolute favorite freshwater fish.
When I headed out to Minnesota, where Kris now lives, I was a bit somber and wary. It was hard for me to imagine either one of these dear women without the other nearby. Ah, but Kris and her family were, once again, a delight – and I had a reprise of the Walleye dinner. Kris also gave me a supply of the Elderberry syrup she makes – which really did help relieve my cold symptoms when I was there the first time and which I have been taking (religiously, you might say) as I go along. We had a lovely and very lively presentation at the community center – one of the best discussion sessions after the presentation I have ever had. Everyone there was solid and serious and focused on how to keep faith in perilous times. Kris was a bit different this time. Somehow, Nancy’s spirit lives on in this lovely woman who always enjoyed being the sidekick to Nancy’s vibrant spirit. Kris remains sturdy and sober, but is somehow more vibrant and forceful. What a glorious friendship they still have!
When I first got to Minneapolis, I went to a festival right next to the Vikings’ stadium put on by People of Praise, an exuberant charismatic group that runs a private elementary school there. I went at the invitation of my friend, Kati Richey, one of the most gifted and prolific iconographers in America. She gave me a tour of her little studio, where I got to see many Icons in all states of development.
After the charismatic festival moved inside for a prayer service, one of the organizers grinned and asked me if I had ever seen something quite like it. I chuckled and said this
was rather sedate – that my great-grandfather had been a snake-handling Protestant fundamentalist preacher – so they were going to have to up their game dramatically if they expected to startle me. I appreciated the largely orthodox focus of the group. Though there was some speaking in tongues during prayer time, they did not make it the focus of their worship. I always worry when a group makes speaking in tongues, which St. Paul says is the least of the gifts, into their most intense focus. I was also delighted that the folks here focused on the prayer of doing good work rather than just flamboyant worship.
It was a delight to be in Kansas City again for several reasons. My coordinators, Joe and Connie Brickner, have become dear friends over the years. Joe still teaches part-time at Benedictine College and was once the basketball coach there. We have some Christian, conservative, and political activist friends there, so it was nice to wear all my hats for a
little while. The Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas is Joseph Naumann, a very orthodox prelate who is, perhaps, the most boldly and consistently pro-life Bishop in the country. He is, in fact, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops committee on life.
The only problem was that Connie was on a mission from God to make sure no corner of my stomach remained unfilled. I began the first diet of my life when I departed. At one point she made what she called “tiny sandwiches,” seeking both to feed Joe and me while making it seem like not so much. The first time she asked us if we would like a “tiny sandwich” we busted out laughing – and had one. They were excellent.
It was a relatively small group at my presentation, which allowed us to get into deep and wide-ranging discussions of events in the Church and in the world, and how to hold steady in faith as both are increasingly volatile.
The Brickners actually live in Shawnee, Kansas. As we were driving to an event, we passed through the bordering town of Mission. I mentioned that someone had asked me whether I would be speaking in Shawnee or in Shawnee Mission. They chuckled and said there is no Shawnee Mission, just the separate towns of Shawnee and of Mission. In an anomalous situation, there is one zip code that encompasses portions of both Shawnee and of Mission, so the Post Office started labeling mail to and from that zip code as Shawnee Mission, which has led some people to think it a real town apart from either Shawnee or Mission. I laughed and reminded them of the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where the delivery of mail addressed merely to Santa Clause to the protagonist of the story became the decisive evidence that there was a Santa Clause and that it was the hero of the movie, Kris Kringle. I had a mental image of the young Natalie Wood with her eyes closed saying intently, “I DO believe in Shawnee Mission, I DO believe in Shawnee Mission…”
The civil trial of Planned Parenthood against David Daleiden began last Wednesday and will continue for the next five or six weeks. It was an auspicious beginning – and jury selection was almost miraculous. The jury that was seated there in San Francisco is not the typical San Francisco jury. While it is not quite a Texas jury either, it is a good, solid Ohio jury. The opening days have been good for Daleiden and, once again, bad for PP – so bad, in fact that presiding Judge William Orrick is being very restrictive in the testimony he allows from Daleiden’s team while very permissive in what he allows the PP team. As you may recall, Orrick has extensive ties to PP.
He would not let Daleiden’s attorneys show clips from the videos that PP is suing over, though he did allow PP to show their favored clips. This is the central evidence of the whole case, but Orrick seems more interested in preventing anything damaging to PP to be shown or heard at all than anything else. When Daleiden’s attorney Paul Jonna sought to question a witness about the bonus structure in StemExpress organ procurement program, Orrick shut down the line of questioning by sustaining an objection from PP attorneys before any objection had been made. He also shut down any questioning over how the plaintiffs manage to keep a heart beating if the child is already dead. His rules are simply, if the facts portray PP in an unfavorable light, don’t allow them to come out at all. I don’t think it is working the way he intends it to. I suspect the jury is noticing the same pattern I have. Bottom line, Daleiden is set up, in the best case, for a huge win over the PP Goliath and, in the worst case, for a deep stack of appealable issues.
Over these last four years, Daleiden has been both patient and implacable, never weakening his case in exchange for a flamboyant bit of transient fireworks, but never backing off of the central issues at stake – that PP has been illegally selling baby body parts for profit. In sworn testimony in open court, that and other atrocities have already been established under oath in the preliminary hearing of the criminal case. Orrick is clear that that is not the issue in his mind. The only issue is whether Daleiden was acting within his legal rights by exposing the mendacity of the organization. Thank God Orrick was not a judge at Nuremberg! All the Nazis would have gone free and the Allies might well have been held in contempt of court for revealing what the fascists had done.
I have been praying that this trial will be turned into an instrument to topple the culture of death. Due to the obtuseness of PP, which does not understand that staying focused on narrow procedural issues while conceding the actual illegal and hideous practices does
not play well with most Americans, probably will not play well with even this San Francisco jury, and is helping to bring them into deeper and deeper disrepute.
Rarely do I speak with Daleiden that he does not ask me to pray for people he encountered on the PP side – while grabbing hold of the spark of humanity he finds in them, even in the midst of their inhumane obsession. He is the right man at the right time, relentlessly taking the next right step.
The stained glass window at the left at Mary Immaculate Church in Farmers Branch, Texas, is one of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. Besides the amazing water-color style, it creates the illusion of depth in person. The starry night sky looks like it is on a separate pane of glass behind the image of the Madonna and Child. I love praying before it when I am in the Dallas area.