Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mixed Feelings about Governor Bevin

In the summer of 1959 June and I moved from our beloved state of Missouri to Kentucky. We spent seven years there and came to love Kentucky as our second “home state.” In addition to being a full-time seminary student I was also a pastor during most of that time, and I still have good memories and great respect for many of the Kentuckians in our churches.
 Perhaps because of that past connection, I was especially interested in the gubernatorial election in Kentucky last month. That highly contested election had ramifications beyond Kentucky: it may have even been a harbinger for the presidential election next year.
 Businessman Matt Bevin was elected as the new Kentucky governor. I have mixed emotions, however, about Bevin (b. 1967), who will be inaugurated on this coming Tuesday, December 8.
 On the one hand, Bevin seems to be a dedicated Christian layman. He is also a dedicated family man: he and his wife have nine children, including four from Ethiopia whom they adopted.
 Their oldest child, Brittiney, was killed in a car accident in 2003 on Lexington Road near the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) about a month before her 18th birthday. (I used to drive down that road several times a week.)
 Brittiney had wanted to be a missionary, so her parents provided an endowment in her memory to fund a facility at SBTS “for the advancement of the gospel amongst the nation and nations.” It opened in the fall of 2012. As one who went to seminary in order to become a missionary, the establishment of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization is something I have to evaluate highly.
 But there are aspects of Bevin’s words and actions that are troubling. Supported by the Tea Party, he ran in the 2014 primary election against Sen. Mitch McConnell, whom he considered too liberal. Bevin lost that election, but then the Tea Party successfully promoted his gubernatorial campaign.
 One of his main appeals during his campaign for governor was his pledge to cut the states Medicaid program and close the state-run Kynect health insurance exchange. After the election he tempered his rhetoric somewhat, but Bevin’s election was not good news for the poorest people of Kentucky who have been greatly helped by “Obamacare.”
 As one who agrees with the Tea Party, Bevin opposes all tax increases and wants to decrease spending for the needy in the state.
 That seems highly questionable for a man whose net worth is widely estimated as being between $13.4 million and $54.9 million, who lives in a house costing over $700,000, and who pays more in tuition for his children to attend a private Christian school than the yearly income of many of the families in the state of Kentucky.
 Bevin has also said that when he becomes governor on Dec. 8 he will call for barring Syrian refugees from settling in Kentucky.
 By contrast, Steve Beshear, Kentucky’s current governor, has said that Kentucky should do “the Christian thing” and welcome all refugees who have passed extensive background checks.
 It seems to me that Gov. Beshear is right, and I wonder how “good” Christians like Bevin, many other Republican governors, and some presidential candidates can be so harsh in their rejection of Syrian refugees, many of whom are terrified children.
 Moreover, does the election of a businessman who has never held public office to be the governor of Kentucky mean the same sort of thing might happen in the presidential election next year?
 Perhaps. But I certainly hope not, for the sake of our nation.


  1. Leroy, I fear that ISIS may determine the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. ISIS has generated so much fear; "fear not" is a proscription that probably appears more times (or nearly as many times) as any negative commandment in the Bible. I know it's in the Hebrew scriptures from the pen of Isaiah of the exile; I know it's in the New Testament from the mouth of Jesus. (And my opening words for this comment are "I fear." Maybe Kiker needs to practice what he preaches?) Anyway, regarding refugees, I must try to follow the very clear teaching of Jesus regarding welcoming the stranger. If America, as a nation, has a policy of turning away refugees from the ME, then America, as a nation, will have a policy that does not welcome Jesus. Christian America?

    1. Charles, you are probably right that ISIS will likely be one of the main issues that will determine the outcome of next year's presidential election. But it is the "outsiders" who most resemble Gov. Bevin that seem to express most forcefully the xenophobia harbored by a sizeable portion of the citizens of this country.

    2. I certainly agree with your take on that.

  2. I don't understand your mixed feelings about Bevin. Clearly he's embodying the cruel and socially immoral philosophy of America's extreme right, and his affections are reserved only for those close to him. How is that any different from any other cruel and socially immoral demagogue in history? Someone we both look up to is quoted as saying: "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" The central tenet of the gospels, and apparently of Jesus' teaching, is indiscriminate love -- is it not?

    1. Well, you raise a good point, Anton. I guess I am trying to be generous to Gov. Bevin, who evidently seems to many Kentuckians to be a fine Christian man. I like to think that there is some good even in people with whom I do not agree. And the Bevin Center he set up at SBTS is at least to some extent similar to mission of Divine Word College.

      But, to say that I have mixed feelings certainly doesn't mean that that is a 50/50 mix. From what I have learned about him, I have far more negative feelings than positive ones.

      Still, I don't think it is wise to polarize people as either good or bad or to demonize people such as Gov. Bevin and all the Kentuckians who voted for him. Condemnation of those we disagree tends to cut off any possibility of dialogue and of seeking "a more excellent way."

      Yes, I think the central tenet of Jesus' teaching is indiscriminate love--but that means loving people such as Gov. Bevin and his supporters also.

    2. Well, there is a question of whether it's proper to condemn cruel and socially immoral demagogues, unless you think that simply identifying them as "cruel and socially immoral" is in itself a condemnation. I'm not talking about his followers, however misguided they are; Hitler had a few followers himself, and, for the most part, Hitler was fond of those close to him, too.

      And there is the question as to what it can mean in practice to love cruel and socially immoral demagogues. That's a tougher call. What does it mean, in practice, to "love" cruel and immoral demagogues.

      However, I would differ with you about the similarity between the SBC's missionary efforts and Divine Word's. I made it very clear at Divine Word College/Seminary that I'd have a real problem with their mission if it included trying to convert people of other religions to Christianity, mentioning specifically Hindus and Muslims. And my concern was affirmed, or at least not challenged. Unless the Southern Baptists have changed radically, they view their central missionary task as evangelism ("evangelism" is the first paragraph on the Bevin Center's webpage), and they don't exclude those practicing other faiths. Their mission stories talk about carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims, and we all know what that means. If Divine Word's mission is anywhere near to the SBC's, I won't last there long. But I know I wouldn't even be able to get my foot in the door of the SBC.

    3. Anton, thanks for writing again and giving me the opportunity to clarify my position on these matters.

      I question your charge that Bevin is a cruel and socially immoral demagogue, although he may, indeed, be that to a certain extent. But he is probably not much different or much worse, if any, than most of the sitting Republican governors who have opposed or prohibited acceptance of Syrian refugees into their states.

      Do we want to label all those politicians we disagree with for religious/ethical reasons "cruel and socially immoral demagogues"? And if we do, how can we have any dialogue with their supporters? Do we want to polarize the country even more, or do we want to work to find ways to work with those we disagree with for the common good?

      Concerning the Bevin Center and Divine Word, of course there is a difference in the stress on traditional evangelism. But I said they were similar to some extent. From what I have seen on their website, Bevin Center emphasizes domestic mission work as well as well as overseas work--and the former, and some of the latter, is not seeking to convert people of other religions. At least some of their work is related to helping people in physical need. And even if they talk about "carrying the gospel of Christ to Muslims," they would be doing that only by peaceful means--as Francis of Assisi sought to do long ago. I certainly would prefer Muslims to be challenged by the gospel of Christ than by the appeals of ISIL.

      On the night before her fatal traffic accident, Bevin's oldest daughter wrote this in her journal: " . . . my dangerous prayer is that You'll place broken hearted people in my path and fill me with You so that I can let Your love heal their pain."

      I find that a powerful prayer by a high school girl, and if her father wanted to keep that spirit alive, he can't be all bad.

    4. You don't think even THIS deserves condemnation?

    5. Of course I think that what Falwell, Jr., said was outrageous and should be staunchly rejected. I fully agree with what Shane Claiborne wrote about this: see

      But there is a difference between condemning what a person says (or does), and condemning that person. Claiborne says that he hopes Falwell will apologize, and so do I. I don't want to demonize Falwell or all of the Liberty U. students who cheered what he said. Thus, I favor an approach such as Claiborne took.

      (As you may or may not know, Claiborne spoke to the annual convention of the Mennonite Church USA when it met in Kansas City this past summer, and I was very favorably impressed by what he said--as I had been previously by his books that I had read.)

    6. I guess, in the end, Leroy, you and I are not going to agree on some of these things--notably on what we claim and how we critique things. In my view, promoting a policy in the richest country on earth guaranteed to deprive millions of people of health care is both cruel and socially immoral, and needs to be identified as such.

    7. Anton, I agree that denying healthcare to people is cruel and socially immoral. But I still don't want to say that people who seek to do that are cruel and socially immoral. It is not only Gov. Bevin who takes that position, but all (or almost all) of the Republicans in Congress who have repeatedly voted to eliminate Obamacare. Does that make them all cruel and socially immoral people. Perhaps. But what have we accomplished by so labeling the majority of our Congresspersons?

      I think a much better approach is to say that the position taken by Gov. Bevin or the Republican Congresspersons is cruel and immoral for the following reasons--and then go on to say why. That gives something to talk about, to consider in a rational way--to the extent that both sides are willing to engage in a civil conversation. To say that the people are cruel and socially immoral, though, cuts off the possibility of meaningful dialogue.

      And what would it mean to assert that the majority of our Congresspersons are cruel and socially immoral people? They are in office because of democratic elections. Does that make all who voted for them, and who continue to support them, cruel and socially immoral people also? If so, how can we avoid moving toward a "civil war" in which we kind and socially moral people seek to remove the cruel and socially immoral people even by force, if necessary?

    8. Leroy, good luck trying to engage today's Republican Party "in a civil conversation"! Pres. Obama hasn't been able to do it. Maybe you can succeed.

      All sarcasm aside, I'm sure you're right that my labeling some politicians as cruel and socially immoral is a non-starter. However, I suspect that your "I have mixed emotions" will be no more effective for civil engagement either.

      (Actually I'm not hesitant to say that today's Republican Party is both cruel and socially immoral, and that anyone who supports it needs to know that. What they conclude regarding their own moral character I leave to them.)

      I would add, too, that in my view there's nothing laudatory about Bevin's contributions to a missionary project whose first concern is to convert everybody to conservative Protestantism.

      Fundamentalists and ideologues (whether right or left) can be dealt with, so it has been my experience, only from a position of power; they are not fooled by liberal politeness. You can coerce them into civil conversation if you have the power but not by any clever rhetoric. I remind you of what happened when the fundamentalists got control of the SBC; even moderates with the most sophisticated and polite arguments were no longer welcome if they didn't toe the party line. So much for freedom of individual conscience guided by the Holy Spirit!

      You wouldn't know it from these exchanges, but I appreciate greatly your conciliatory approach; although I think it's ineffective in today's political climate--at least with certain issues. It's my approach, too, with most people willing to talk, debate, and think. If you can get the Bevins, Falwells, Limbaughs, and other Tea-Party-type folk to converse through polite civil engagement, I would be the first to applaud and admit I've been too rash.

      In the meantime--with regard to deliberately depriving people of health care--I'm calling it as I see it: a cruel and immoral act with implications for the character of those willing to do it.

    9. Anton, this has perhaps gone on too long and has taken too much of your time, but I appreciate your candor and the challenge of your strong position against that which you consider cruel and immoral.

      Rather than responding fully to this last comment, let me just say this: of course I fully realize that I am not going to influence people like Bevin or Falwell or Limbaugh in the very least and I am not going to be in any position to engage in any conversation with them, civil or otherwise.

      But I do hope to be able to engage in civil conversation with people who are supporters of people like Bevin (but maybe not of Falwell and Limbaugh)and are Republicans and, thus, likely to vote for whoever the Republican candidate for President is next year.

      While I will most likely strongly disagree with the Republican platform and will voice that disagreement, hopefully in a rational way, I will try not to make personal attacks on the candidate himself (and in case of the Republicans it will almost certainly be a man). That may be hard to do if Trump ends up with the nomination, which after yesterday seems highly unlikely. But I continue to affirm that we need to discuss ideas without attacking the character of the people holding ideas that we disagree with. And I also believe that we need to be respectful toward those we strongly disagree with, even though that may not produce any good results. But "fighting fire with fire" is probably not going to produce any good results either.

  3. Thinking Friend John Bush, who is in his early 90s and a dear church friend, sent this brief comment: "Doesn't sound like a g​o​od choice!"

    Here is my brief response to John:

    "I agree that Bevin doesn't seem like a good choice to be the governor of Kentucky, but evidently more than 511,700 (52.5% of those voting) Kentuckians thought so."

  4. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson, who for many years was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, shares the following comments:

    "I think Bevin is bad news for Kentucky. You point up several of his negatives for the state. He represents a version of Christianity that, at best, misses essentials. The most egregious are his plans to do away with Kynect and to cut back on the number who can enroll in Medicaid. You can recognize readily how far he misses the Christian mark by his ties with Al Mohler and Southern Seminary. Mohler was one of his major endorsers."

  5. Politics and religion are always a problem when put together, regardless of brand. My great-grandfather's first cousin, Ruby Laffoon, was governor of Kentucky during the great depression and is a great example of the evils of the mix. He loved to quote the Bible in with his politics. Although a "Democrat", his ways had little to do with democracy. He was a "boss" shyster. About the only good thing worth noting was creating the Kentucky Colonels, and name a fellow politician, Republican, Harlan Sanders (KFC) as one. Politics is a poor way of expressing religion, whether left or right. God's name is ground up and spit out in the process.

  6. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard comments from Chicago:

    "It is my understanding that only 30 percent of the electorate bothered to vote in the recent gubernatorial election in Kentucky. Since the vote was fairly close, Mr. Bevin may have won with only 16 percent or so of the electorate. This cannot be good for democracy and, unfortunately, it is hardly confined to Kentucky.

    A robust democracy requires an informed and involved citizenry, but how do we motivate our citizens to be informed and involved (and to vote)? I do not have a good answer, but I fear for the future of America, and of democracy generally, if we do not find a way to reverse the current trend."

    1. Thanks, Eric, for your comments. I had made the same observation, but did not include that in the article. It is truly a grave matter of concern when an elected official makes significant policy changes based on being elected by only 16% of the voting population.

      This will be one key to the outcome of the presidential election next year, no doubt. Will enough people vote to make the outcome expressive of the will of all the people, or will the angry conservatives turn out in such numbers that they will elect their candidate as we saw in Kentucky?

  7. a harbinger of next year's presidential elections, it seems to me.