The late president of Colorado Christian University, Bill Armstrong, was my friend and political comrade for 40 years. We lost him on Independence Day two summers ago, ending an illustrious career as a senator, businessman, evangelist, educator, and Christian statesman.
Armstrong’s last big play was helping CCU’s public policy guy, Jeff Hunt, land candidate Donald Trump to keynote the 2016 Western Conservative Summit — the annual rally on the right that I launched after Bill dreamed it up.
Ever the dreamer, he was, and what a force. I sure miss the guy. Sometimes, to clear my head when things get intense, I imagine writing him a letter. Here’s the latest one.
Dear Bill: Heaven being the idyllic place it is, you’re likely spared cable news, social media, and all the earth noise we put up with down here. But I bet you still keep current on the war of America's angry utopian left against our free institutions and the God who gave them to us.
So the ongoing attack on Colorado Christian University’s mission of truth and love, from those who feel threatened by it, won't surprise you. It shouldn’t surprise me either. I know better. But talking it over with you can help steady me for the fight.
Remember that California Senate Bill 1146 that would have put all of Christian higher education out of business in the guise of government neutrality between various moral codes and belief systems? While it was pulled shortly after your passing, progressives are sure to be back with something more nuanced but equally lethal to liberty.
The secular absolutists’ agenda aims first at California, then at the entire nation, to shut down any college classroom that gives the Bible and our country’s founding documents primacy over Darwin, Marx, and Freud. That includes our beloved CCU, as you often warned. To call it a war to the death is no exaggeration. And now I have new news for you as we enter 2018.
With middle America’s duly elected disrupter, President Trump, still in office and unbowed after a year of Russia lies and 25th Amendment fantasies, there’s now a campaign to discredit or demoralize people of faith who prefer Trump with all his flaws over the only alternatives, Hillary Clinton last time or (let’s say) Elizabeth Warren next time — or a Schumer-Pelosi-led impeachment drive in the meantime, if Democrats retake Congress.
As an elder in my church and a Bible blogger, who endorsed Trump after the primaries, I’ve been subjected to some of this lately. And I’m nobody. Lefty scolds have taken out after national figures like Tony Perkins and Franklin Graham for standing with the President. Here in Colorado they’ve jumped on CCU via the Centennial Institute’s own Jeff Hunt.
“Donald Trump’s True Believers,” a January 21 column by Denver Post opinion editor Chuck Plunkett, dishonestly twisted Jeff’s mild, pragmatic responses in a long interview to label him a “Judas" to the faith, enabler for the worst “Judas” of all, Trump himself.
Bill, no interview that you or I or CCU President Don Sweeting could have given Plunkett — short of our flatly disavowing Trump, withdrawing our support — would have fared any better than Hunt did in this cynical, prejudged hit piece.
The columnist had his narrative all ready to go before Jeff Hunt ever said a word. He served up one wife-beating accusation after another, such that any response from the interviewee other than “Amen” was deemed conclusive proof that all professed followers of Jesus are opportunistic hypocrites.
This was ambush journalism at its worst, turning Hunt “into a straw man to denigrate evangelicals,” as reader Michael Fisher said in a letter to the editor. (The Post piled on with a big followup spread including a photo, cartoon, and letters slanted 2:1 against CCU, the Sunday following.)
When Plunkett’s meteor first hit the papers and rattled the campus, I told Jeff exactly what I think you would have told him, boss: Wear the fake-news attack as a badge of honor. As Jesus promised, “Blessed are you when they say evil against you falsely for my sake” (Matthew 5:12).
Nor is this really even personal, I reminded him. They’re actually targeting the university itself and the broader faith community, along with the very right of we the people to constitutionally choose our own leaders from among imperfect alternatives with no veto by self-appointed elites.
It’s war, all right. But the left won’t win. They’re already starting to lose, in fact, if hitman Chuck Plunkett is any indication of the ill-prepared combatants they'll deploy. The man's arrogant disdain for Donald Trump and the countless Americans who support him is exceeded only by his risible ignorance of where modernity has led us, how our free society works, and what its biblically-inclined majority believes.
“Christians want power. Trump gives it to them,” he writes. Huh? Meaningful power in these United States slipped through the churches’ fingers half a century ago, and it only continues to ebb. Believers today will be more than grateful just for some breathing space to serve their God as he commands, untrammeled by an all-grasping government.
We work and pray for a shield against the next SB-1146, A Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court gives us hope for that and nothing more. What planet do you live on, Chuck?
“Even when his actions as president seemed non-Christian,” evangelicals have so far mostly supported Donald Trump, marvels Plunkett in his opening sentence. Now there’s an odd locution for you: “non-Christian.” It could equally describe most of the deeds, political and personal alike, of any president from Reagan and both Bushes to Clinton or Obama, who all got millions of religious votes from across the spectrum.
Why is there suddenly a rigid conscience test for any voter who both loves Jesus and and backs the current incumbent? Hint: it’s not because President Trump can be coarse, abrasive, provocative, and brash. Or because he has an unruly libido.
It’s because as middle America’s chosen disrupter of a failed establishment, and frighteningly good at it, he must be stopped — and one step toward doing so is to paralyze Christ-followers with the moral contradictions of their own (embarrassingly unbiblical) judgmentalism.
When a Jeff Hunt comes along and politely refuses to play that game, then HE must be stopped. Hence the Plunkett takedown, the Judas label, the anathema (from someone who signaled earlier in the piece that he’s abandoned his own faith; rich).
It’s a classic move straight out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, particularly the advice to make your enemy live up to their own standards — and to personalize the target, freeze it, polarize it.
In this case, however, they are badly mistaken about Christians’ actual standards in the realm of civil government. And this is another reason the left will lose, with people of faith ultimately benefiting from having had to fight the battle.
To follow Jesus Christ and love our neighbors in a fallen world, as you used to remind us, means wise discernment between rendering to Caesar and rendering to God (Matthew 22:21). It means seeking the welfare of the whole community where we happen to find ourselves (Jeremiah 29:7). It means living peaceably under our prevailing rulers and laws (Romans 13 and I Timothy 2).
Self-righteously condemning the irrelevant personal shortcomings of an otherwise beneficial public officer is not on a thoughtful Christian’s menu. We’re too painfully conscious of our own shortcomings, too aware of the ironies of history whereby bad rulers may accomplish good governance — and vice versa.
After all, Chuck, as Barbara Backlin noted in a letter to the Post, it was the pagan kings Cyrus and Darius who repatriated ancient Israel from exile.
Have beleaguered evangelicals, fighting on defense, always upheld this prudent, irenic ideal amid the bitter culture wars of recent decades? No.
Have we sometimes tried to religionize politics with “a zeal not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2)? Yes.
That’s why I say the intensifying battle of these Trump years may prove a blessing, if it forces us to some needed course corrections.
With increasing spiritual maturity, we’ll grow toward the calm, shrewd detachment from political ups and downs, heroes and villains, that enabled our Lord to shrug off the feared King Herod as “that fox” (Luke 13:32) and to smile at the childish excitability of influential religious leaders (Luke 7:32).
We’ll find our way forward with the unadmirable but policy-solid White House occupant in the practical spirit of Christ’s counsel to “make friends with the unrighteous mammon,” hoping that temporal concessions can buy time for eternal goals (Luke 16:9).
We’ll soldier on, “in season and out of season” (II Timothy 4:2) — we who have succeeded you as God’s stewards for Colorado Christian University — firm in the fight for CCU’s educational integrity and independence, never faltering, praying to earn His “well done” when the final reckoning comes.
So that’s it for now, President Emeritus Armstrong. Thanks for listening. Our affection and gratitude for you burn bright. Your example forever inspires us. Till next time - John