Thursday, February 18, 2021

Remembering a Conservative Icon


I don’t remember the last time I listened to Rush Limbaugh.

That might come as a surprise for people who knew me in high school and college. Back then I was one of the biggest “ditto heads” around.

I started listening to Rush shortly after his show was nationally syndicated. My dad had WHO (the great radio station from Des Moines, Iowa) on as we worked around the farm, and that meant everyday at 1pm we would listen to The Rush Limbaugh Show and for 3 hours the Doctor of Democracy taught me what I needed to know to be a good conservative in the United States.

One of the things I have grown to appreciate about Rush was his ability to hold the attention of people for 3 hours on the radio. Being a pastor I put together sermons and lessons, and what Rush did everyday was amazing. There is no way I could go on the air 5 days a week and fill a 3 hour slot and make it interesting. The skill Rush had on the radio was amazing.

He basically invented political talk radio and became the first real conservative voice in the country. The secret to his success was that he was engaging and entertaining while providing a narrative the lined up with a more conservative worldview. This was a worldview conservatives felt was under represented in the main stream media.

The things that I learned from Rush are:
  1. The value of following the Constitution. This stuck with me from the early days of listening to his show: the Constitution provides the framework for our government to follow.
  2. Making the complex simple. Rush would say he was making the complex simple. In my teaching and preaching this is something I have tried to emulate. One of the keys to good communication is making things understandable. 
  3. The importance of living out what you believe. I think it was in See I Told You So, Rush wrote something like "Be a beacon of light for that which you advocate." That phrase has stuck with me all these years, and something I try to live up to.
  4. Influence people to make the right choice. Rush was pro-life. Something that he said in those early days of the program that I continue to think about was that he was in favor of people having a choice and he wanted to make sure that choice was life. This maybe be the idea that has influenced me the most over the years. I want people to have the liberty, which means they have the ability to make choices I think are wrong. Which means as a Christian I have responsibility to help people make the right choice.
There is no doubt that my intellectual and political life was influenced by Rush. I listened to him during those years that many of us start to think for ourselves and form our own opinions. I am grateful for the positive influence that he had that still lingers in my life today.

I have tried to recreate my journey away from conservative Republican to the Christian anarchist/libertarian view I hold today and I can't with any accuracy. The dates and specifics are jumbled in my mind. So I am not entirely sure what caused me to turn Rush off. 

I do remember four reasons why I stopped trusting what Rush said on air.
  1. He wouldn't answer callers' questions directly. The older I got the more I realized that Rush didn't always answer the questions that people had. I remember talking back to the radio and saying, "But that isn't what he asked!" Or, "Rush, you are missing the point." I came to realize that he really wasn't interested in answering questions, rather he used the calls to further comment on what he wanted to say.
  2. He didn't fairly represent the news articles that used on the show. As the internet became bigger and it became easier to track down the articles Rush used, I would go and read them. More often than not I would come away thinking, "That isn't what the article was saying." I am not saying this always happened, but it happened enough for me to begin to distrust what he was saying, especially when it came to the liberal side of things. 
  3.  It seemed to me that Rush got away from promoting conservatism and started bashing the left. This was by far the biggest thing for me. I wrote the following in post titled Where have the True Conservatives Gone?: "A third observation is that talk radio, and Rush Limbaugh I am primarily talking about you because you set the standard for everyone else to follow, has become anti-liberal rather than pro-conservative. Every time I turned on Rush through December and January he was talking about the Clintons (Clinton, Inc.). He wasn't talking about why conservative ideas were superior just trashing the Clintons."
  4. His support for war changed between Clinton and Bush. During President Clinton's Bosnia War I remember Rush explained how the United States shouldn't be the policeman of the world and how we shouldn't be nation building. He also talked about how there needed to be a goal so we have a definition for what victory is and an exit strategy. Fast forward to the President Bush's second term and the United States is deeper and deeper into this so-called war on terror and as I listen to Rush continue to support this war I have this realization that every reason he gave against President Clinton's Bosnia intervention could be applied to the War on Terror. His principle changed based on who was in office.

There was a good 12 year period in my life when Rush Limbaugh was the major intellectual influence in my life, especially when it came to politics. There was another 3 or 4 years as I gradually stopped paying attention to what he had to say. In the last 12 years I haven't listened to him at all.

From this perspective I see Rush as a very flawed man who struggled with relationships and addiction issues, yet who had the strength and perseverance to continue to do a radio program while loudly being denounced by his critics and facing some major health problems. He had the talent to make politics engaging and hold people's attention for three hours a day, five days a week.

Rush became the voice for people who felt like their principles and beliefs were under represented in the mainstream press. He became the leader of the opposition in a world of progressivism. After all, that is what conservatism is: opposition. It opposes the changes offered by progressivism.

Though I a grateful for the influence he had on me and my thinking, I had moved on from Rush. In the end there are too many differences in our thoughts for me to call him a hero. He was a radio legend who brought  thousands of hours of enjoyment to millions of people and for that he deserves respect.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Reflecting on a Scandal

I originally posted this to my Facebook page, but thought it was worthy posting here:

This past week the board of directors of RZIM posted this letter concerning the double life of Ravi Zacharias. You can find the letter here Open Letter from the International Board of Directors of RZIM on the Investigation of Ravi Zacharias.

Ravi Zacharias had a ministry that influenced many people. The news that has been confirmed recently of his moral failure is disheartening, especially if he and his arguments helped strengthen your faith. 

In the light of this  I want to remind us of a few truths. First, truth is not dependent on the life of the messenger. When Ravi spoke truth about God, about the condition of the world, and about Jesus all that continues to be true. His grievous sin does not invalidate the truth he taught.

Second, the way that we live totally impacts the message that we have. Unfortunately, the revelation of Ravi’s double life is going to undo all his years of public life. This is why Jesus taught his disciples to be salt and light. Both of those metaphors deal with living in such a way that we are able to influence the world around us. Our lives provide evidence that our message is true. When we don’t live up to the message it will cause people to doubt our message.

Third, we have a choice to make when it comes to sin. It is probably true, as the letter indicates, that more accountably would have prevented some of this from happening, but accountability is overrated when it comes to transforming our lives. Accountability might help us manage the sin, but it falls short of creating holiness in our lives. When we have sin we need to confess it and seek ways to get rid of it. The Holy Spirit is able to transform our lives, but we need to give Him room to work.

The greatest tragedy here is not the moral failure of Ravi but the women he abused and their reputations that were ruined in order protect Ravi’s reputation. This is what should truly break our hearts.

The Spiritually Mature Life: Having the Fruit

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, I started a new sermon series at Bethlehem Church called A Spiritually Mature Life. This sermon series is focused ...