Tuesday, July 28, 2015


(This is really long, so I apologize in advance.  But I wouldn't have written it if I didn't think it was worth reading.  Grab a cup of coffee, and read to the end before you judge.) 

 I am a sixth generation Texan - my grandfather's grandfather arrived in this state (then a province of Mexico) in 1834.  I am at least a tenth generation Southerner - admittedly, as a Smith, tracing one's lineage can be difficult, but to the best of my knowledge, my family were Scots-Irish who came here in the mid-18th century or earlier.  My Dad's family were slaveowners; all my ancestors, on Mom and Dad's side, were from the South.  All fought for the South in the Civil War; my grandmother's grandfather, Jim Youngblood. actually fought in the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, and the Civil War.  If anyone should understand Southern pride, it's me.

   And the South has a great deal to be proud of.  We have good and decent people (and some delightfully amusing rednecks who make good evening news fodder), a great climate, we create huge amounts of jobs, and most of our people are decent, God-fearing Christians who try, to the best of their ability, to practice the Biblical commands to love their neighbors and their God.  There is no place in America that I would rather live and work than here in the South, especially in the sun-drenched and heaven-blest state of Texas!

   But after weeks of following the drama surrounding the Confederate flag on FB and other social media. I am fed up to the gills with the amount of sheer ignorance, a hundred and fifty years after the guns fell silent, over what the Civil War was actually about.   Why are so many people going hysterical over a battle flag that was furled in defeat in 1865?  The answer is simple: the vast majority of the people in the South have been lied to their whole lives over what the Civil War was really about.  In short, they have bought into the myth of "the Lost Cause" - that the Southern states seceded from the Union to preserve "states' rights" rather than to defend the institution of slavery.  This sacred Southern doctrine was actually created after the Civil War by none other than Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who barely mentioned slavery in his three volume "Rise and Fall of the Confederate States", written long after the war was over.  For him, it was a war of Southern liberation, based on the principles of our Founders - except for that rascally Thomas Jefferson, whose idea that "all men are created equal" was a pernicious bit of mischief that Southerners were all too eager to throw under the bus.   So what began as a desperate rationalization by a defeated traitor (I wonder why the North never hung him from that "sour apple tree" they were always singing about?) that became an article of faith, taught in Southern public schools to this day.  (I am ashamed to say that the official TEAKS for the State of Texas list "states' rights" as the primary cause of the Civil War.) 

    But what was the REAL reason the South seceded?  The best way to find out is to consult the primary source documents, something most of the people shouting in favor of the Confederate flag have never bothered to do.  Here are some quotes from the Texas Ordinance of Secession, passed by the State Legislature in 1860:
 She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery--the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits--a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy.

And, further down:
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color--a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States. 

  A lie, BTW, the Republican Party intended only to restrict slavery to its current borders, not to abolish it altogether.  But, all told, the Texas Ordinance of secession mentions slavery twenty-one times, while mentioning "rights" only five times in a context that doesn't refer to the right to buy and own slaves.  What about the other states in the South? Well, South Carolina was the birthplace of the Confederacy and the one state that had been pushing for secession for decades.  Here is a selection from South Carolina's Declaration of Secession:

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.
The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

   When you cut through the legalese, the bottom line was South Carolina was prepared to pack up its beards and leave the Union because of the election of a President who was morally opposed to slavery.  Incidentally, the idea of a Republican "war against slavery" was a Southern hallucination - Lincoln's First Inaugural clearly outlines his goal, that his purpose was not to wipe out slavery but to "restrict the territorial expansion of it."

     And, of course, there is the infamous "cornerstone speech" made by Alexander Stephens - it was made only a few months after the Confederacy was created, before the first battles of the Civil War had been fought, when Southern independence seemed like a real possibility.  Remember, a President has to speak to the world, while the VP's job is to throw red meat to the party faithful.  So what did Stephens say to the cheering crowds of the newly seceded Confederate States?

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind -- from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just -- but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

OK, maybe Stephens was having a bad day.  Maybe he was having a Joe Biden moment.  But wait - here is what he said one month later:

No truth is clearer than that the best form or system of government for any people or society is that which secures the greatest amount of happiness, not to the greatest number, but to all the constituent elements of that society, community or State. If our system does not accomplish this; if it is not the best for the negro as well as for the white man; for the inferior as well as the superior race, it is wrong in principle. But if it does, or is capable of doing this, then it is right, and can never be successfully assailed by reason or logic. That the negroes with us, under masters who care for, provide for and protect them, are better off, and enjoy more of the blessings of good government than their race does in any other part of the world, statistics abundantly prove. As a race, the African is inferior to the white man. Subordination to the white man is his normal condition. He is not his equal by nature, and cannot be made so by human laws or human institutions. Our system, therefore, so far as regards this inferior race, rests upon this great immutable law of nature. It is founded not upon wrong or injustice, but upon the eternal fitness of things. Hence, its harmonious working for the benefit and advantage of both. Why one r ace was made inferior to another, is not for us to inquire. The statesman and the Christian, as well as the philosopher, must take things as they find them, and do the best he can with them as he finds them.
The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth. They set out with the assumption that the races are equal; that the negro is equal to the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be legitimate. But their premises being false, their conclusions are false also. Most of that fanatical spirit at the North on this subject, which in its zeal without knowledge, would upturn our society and lay waste our fair country, springs from this false reasoning. Hence so much misapplied sympathy for fancied wrongs and sufferings. These wrongs and sufferings exist only in their heated imaginations. There can be no wrong where there is no violation of nature’s laws.

  And on and on and on it goes.  In every Southern state, there was almost universal agreement that the South left the Union in order to protect and preserve slavery.  In fact, shortly after his election, before most of the South seceded, Lincoln summed it up aptly in a letter to one of his old Southern friends: "You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, I think it is wrong and ought to be restricted.  That is the sum total of our difference."  No one at the time contradicted that.  So why can't we see it today?

   The Confederate battle flag is part of our history in the South.  It deserves to fly at Civil War battlefields and monuments, and over the graves of the men who died beneath its folds. They were men of courage and honor, even if they were on the wrong side of history.  (Let me add: the desecration of Confederate graves being carried out by angry blacks in some parts of the South is ghoulish, barbaric, and deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!)   But this massive dose of denial that pervades social media isn't about Southern pride - it's about historical ignorance.
Let's have a moment of truth here and realize that the war really was about slavery - that the South left the Union to maintain and protect their "peculiar institution."  That is why, to most American blacks, the Confederate battle flag is about as offensive as the swastika is to European Jews,  None of us would plant a Nazi flag in front of a synagogue, so why fly the Confederate flag where all our black neighbors can see it.  Instead, how about if we try to follow the Biblical injunction:

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."

Can we try that for awhile?

Monday, July 20, 2015


(I don't often post political topics on this blog, but I wrote this post for FB earlier this week and was pleased with how it came out and the discussion it engendered, so I thought it deserved a longer shelf life than the week or two it takes my FB posts to drop into oblivion.  The events of the last 24 hours or so only make me more sure of my conclusions in this post.)

I've watched politics my whole life, going all the way back to when I was 12 and Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in the 76 election. One factor has held through that whole time: the guy who is perceived as being more likable will always win. If you wouldn't have the candidate over to your house for a backyard barbecue, you won't vote for him. Let's run down the list:

 Carter vs. Ford - Carter was a simple, down-to-earth guy, a peanut farmer who had never been to Washington, who taught Sunday school at his church and sounded like a good ole country boy. Ford was a career politician - a very nice man according to all who knew him - but he was stained by his pardon of Nixon, and he sounded too much like a politician. Advantage: Carter.

 Carter vs. Reagan - Reagan was funny, charming, and great with a one-liner. Carter, by this point, had become a downright depressing individual - clearly out of his depth in the office and blaming his incompetence on America's declining virtue. So, a friendly, joking grandfather figure or a gloomy policy wonk? Advantage: Reagan

 Reagan vs. Mondale - Reagan was still his witty, one-lining, enjoyable self, with the added virtue of facing a near fatal bullet wound with incredible courage and good humor. Mondale was perhaps the most boring human being on the planet. A guy whose jokes will keep you laughing, versus a droning pedant who will have your guests snoring in five minutes? Advantage: Reagan.

 Bush vs. Dukakis - Bush 41 was less likable than his son, but there was still something endearingly goofy and awkward about this guy. Dukakis, on the other hand, was so cold-blooded that Dave Barry said of him: "You could never listen when he was talking because you kept waiting for his tongue to flick out and catch a passing fly." Goofy aristocrat vs. boring accountant - Advantage: Bush41

 Bush vs. Clinton - the awkward charm had worn thin and the President seemed increasingly detached from the people, while Slick Willie was funny, jovial, and very charismatic. Yes, he'd probably put the moves on your wife the minute you were out of the room, but he was SO ingratiating you would just make sure she was out of town next time you had him over. Beleaguered aristocrat vs. cool young governor - Advantage: Clinton.

 Clinton vs Dole - The GOP got a bad case of the stupids and nominated a certifiable geezer this time - a cranky old fart who always looked like he was going to accuse you of stealing his newspaper. Clinton's charm had worn off to some extent, but he was still more likable on a bad day than Dole was on his best day. Geezer vs. Likable Skirtchaser - Advantage: Clinton!

 Bush vs. Gore - W was, even according to his political rivals, a genuinely likable guy. Yes, he mispronounced stuff and didn't always come across as a particularly bright, but Gore was another Democrat without personality: droning facts and figures and accusing anything he disagreed with of being a "risky scheme" in that droning baritone voice of his. Country boy vs. boring professor of environmental science - Advantage: Bush.

 Bush vs. Kerry - W was still cruising on a winning war record and his undeniable affection for our men and women in uniform, while Kerry looked like a Yankee undertaker who would try to sell a grieving widow the most expensive casket in the shop. Aloof and unlikable, his Senate record also branded him, fairly or not, as a flip-flopper. Shady undertaker vs. the patriotic commander-in-chief - Advantage: Bush.

 McCain vs. Obama - Having learned nothing from the Dole-Clinton election, the GOP, in a year when their brand was badly damaged already, nominated a boring old geezer with a stellar war record against the coolest, most hip politician since Clinton played the clarinet on Arsenio Hall - and he was America's first non-white candidate to boot! Geezer vs. Hipster - Advantage: Obama.

 Romney vs. Obama - Here is the thing: I bet, in person, Romney is a far nicer guy than Barack Obama. But, in front of a crowd, he comes across as plastic and phony - I always said that if Wiley Coyote had ordered a "Presidential Candidate Kit" from Acme, when he opened the box, Mitt Romney would have popped out! Obama, despite his party's drubbing in the 2010 Congressional election, still came across as a cool cat who understood the plight of the little people. Mellow hipster vs. Canned Politician - Advantage: Obama.

So this brings us to Trump. Not to put too fine a point on it, the man is a jerk. He insults his rivals, tosses out offensive rhetoric about minorities that the GOP desperately needs to win over, and now trashes our veterans. So we have a guy who comes across as an annoying blowhard who would spend your entire barbecue talking about himself and how great he is, versus a field of candidates who are all more personable and likable than he is. Conclusion: Trump will drop like a rock once the primaries start, leaving people shaking their heads and wondering how this bozo ever held a lead, even briefly!

Monday, July 13, 2015


This review will be posted at UNRV.com shortly, but the author gave me permission to share it here:

The Redemption of Pontius Pilate by Lewis Ben Smith


Book Reviewed by Thomas A. Timmes


Pontius Pilate.  Who is he and why should I read a book about him?  Will this book add to my general knowledge of history and Roman history in particular?  I know he’s mentioned several times in the Bible’s New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be specific, and has a 2,000 year reputation as a bad guy.  Is there more to know?  The answer is yes, quite a bit, as I discovered.


I learned that the author did not have to create the story or characters out of whole cloth.  Quite a lot is known about Pilate from the accounts of Flavius Josephus, Philo, the Jewish philosopher, who is openly hostile to Pilate, Tactitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome, the writings of several early Christian church fathers such as Tertullian, and Jewish archival records.


The characters of the story are known historical figures:  Tiberius, the Emperor, Drusilla, his mother, Germanicus, his son, Sejanus, Tiberius’ confidant, Caligula, the future Emperor, Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, Caiaphas, Jewish High Priest, Jesus of Nazareth, healer and miracle worker, and several others.


I also discovered that Pilate and his wife Procula have been the subject of hundreds of books going back to the 1870’s.  Apparently, there is a hunger to know more about Pilate and why he condemned Jesus to be scourged and crucified even though he personally could find no fault in him.


Lewis Ben Smith has connected all the dots and shown himself to be a masterful story teller!  The Redemption of Pontius Pilate is a compelling, action-packed, and suspenseful tale of intrigue and betrayal.  The book is filled with relatable characters and historical events that showcase his knowledge of Roman and Judean politics of the era.  He has created a seamless and plausible account of the remarkable rise and devastating fall of Pilate, a Roman of high Equestrian status.


What went wrong with Pilate’s promising career?  This is where Lewis Ben Smith really shines!  The answer lies with Tiberius’ successor-to-be - Caligula!  Tiberius protects Pilate from young Caligula’s wrath by posting him far from Rome in the least desirable region of the Empire, Judea, a small but troublesome area within the Syrian Province.


Once Pilate escapes from Rome, his main concern is to maintain the Pax Romana in Judea, prevent Jewish complaints about him from reaching Tiberius, hunt down the Jewish Zealots, collect the taxes, and maintain a bevy of spies to alert him to possible trouble.  As a soldier, Pilate relishes combat with the Zealots and shows them no mercy when they are captured.  Crucifixion is the punishment of choice!

Pilate is depicted as an honest governor, but has a cruel streak that he constantly battles to control.  Twice he is reprimanded by Tiberius for offending the Jews and told to be more sensitive to their particular beliefs.  Pilate then hears about a healer who is attracting huge crowds.  His spies see and hear nothing to worry about, but the High Priest and Sanhedrin view the healer and miracle worker, Jesus, as a threat.  Pilate refuses to do anything about him and continues to receive condensed versions of what the “trouble-maker” is saying and doing.


Meanwhile Pilate and his Legionaries capture the Zealot commander Bar Abbas who now has a date with the cross.  About the same time, the Jewish police arrest Jesus for disturbing the peace and possibly upsetting Judea’s delicate relationship with Rome.  The High Priest demands that Pilate have him executed on the grounds that Jesus has declared himself a King and is in competition with Caesar.  Pilate steadfastly refuses to order the execution until the High Priest threatens Pilate with another written complaint to Tiberius.  Pilate famously washes his hands of the whole affair and approves the execution.


Two years later, Emperor Tiberius dies and Caligula is proclaimed the new Emperor.  At this point in the tale, Lewis Ben Smith reverts to the fictional aspects of his story.  Caligula wants revenge against Pilate and the hunt is on!  Caligula’s black clad Praetorians descend upon Judea and set the stage for an exciting conclusion.


I genuinely liked the book and highly recommend it.


Thomas A. Timmes is the author of Legio XVII: Battle of Zama

Thursday, July 9, 2015

How Should Christians Respond?

I write a column for the local paper called "Ask the Preacher."
In the light of the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, I got the following question and answered it last week:

Q:  What should we as Christians do about the Supreme Court's Ruling on gay marriage?
A:  There are several answers to this question, because it touches on both a political and spiritual level.
First of all, politically, we have to recognize that there simply is no practical way to undo this.  There are only two ways to overrule a Supreme Court decision: One of those is to have it overturned by a later court, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.  The other is to pass a Constitutional Amendment, which would have to be proposed by a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress or a 2/3 majority of all State Legislatures, and then ratified by popular vote in 3/4 of the states.  Bluntly speaking, public opinion has shifted so drastically on this issue that the odds of that happening are pretty much zero.  So same-sex marriage is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.
  Spiritually, what should we do?  I am only one man, a poor country pastor, writer,  and schoolteacher.  I don't have a perfect answer for everything. But based on my study of the Scriptures across a lifetime, here is what I believe: 
   First of all, we have to stand by what the Bible says.  I know there are some sincere and well-meaning Christians who have tried to say that maybe we've been reading the Bible wrong about homosexuality, and that a monogamous, loving, same-sex marriage is acceptable in the eyes of God.  I frankly wish this could be true - I get sick and tired of being labeled as a bigot and a hatemonger for defending the clear teaching of Scripture.  But I have read all the relevant passages very carefully, both the ones that speak about homosexuality and the ones that speak about marriage, and I just can't make them bend that way.  So either we cave on what is a pretty clear and plain reading of the New Testament, or else we take a stand on what the Bible says and, in the words of Jesus, "Marvel not . . . if the world hates you."
   Secondly, we MUST act in a loving manner.  If our response to this ruling is couched in terms of anger, bitterness, and ugly name-calling, all we do is confirm every negative stereotype that the world already holds about us.  My prayer for Christ's church is that we conduct ourselves in such a manner that those who differ from us will never be able to accuse us of hate.  Homosexuality is a sin - Scripture is crystal clear on that point.  So is lust.  So are heterosexual relations outside of marriage.  So is divorce. So is using obscene language.  I do think it's time we came back to the truth that all of us are sinners hopelessly lost without Christ; just because we don't struggle with one form of sin doesn't mean we can cast stones at those who do.