“Thankful that Vanessa & my children are safe and unharmed after the incredibly scary situation that occurred this morning. Truly disgusting that certain individuals choose to express their opposing views with such disturbing behavior.” This is how Donald Trump Jr. responded after his wife opened an envelope addressed to him that contained white powder, sending her to a Manhattan hospital yesterday.
In happier news, the most popular class at Yale University may surprise you. The course is titled “Psychology and the Good Life.” About 1,200 students, one-fourth of Yale undergraduates, enrolled in the course.
Their interest is understandable: a 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time on campus. A freshman agreed: “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb.”
In other news, this Time headline caught my eye: “Drugs, Alcohol and Suicide Are Causing Life Expectancy in America to Drop Dramatically.” Middle-age white Americans and those living in rural communities are especially susceptible.
How to “serve our principles”
Michael Gerson spoke last night at Dallas Baptist University for the Institute for Global Engagement Leadership Lecture Series. It was my privilege to introduce him and to lead a discussion with him after his brilliant address.
Mr. Gerson graduated from Wheaton College and worked as a writer for Bob Dole and Chuck Colson. In 1999, Karl Rove recruited him for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. He served as President Bush’s chief speechwriter and senior policy adviser and as a member of the White House Iraq Group.
Today he is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, a policy fellow with the ONE Campaign, a visiting fellow with the Center for Public Justice, and a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was named by Time as one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”
In his lecture, Mr. Gerson focused on the biblical doctrine of anthropology, which says that no insignificant person was ever born. Christians believe that all people are created in God’s image and are thus people of inestimable worth. According to Mr. Gerson, “We serve our principles best by loving people even more than our principles.”
Three ways to “inspire belief”
After leaving the White House, Gerson wrote Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don’t). He did so to “argue for idealism in a weary time,” claiming that the security of our country depends on idealism abroad and the unity of our country depends on idealism at home.
In City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, written with Peter Wehner, Gerson argues for a tone of civility in dealing with complex and controversial political issues. He claims that such an approach “has to do with reflecting a view of human persons and their inherent dignity. It means treating people with respect and good manners regardless of the views they might hold.”
Gerson and Wehner point to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where we learn: “There are three things, apart from demonstrable proofs, which inspire belief-namely, sagacity, high character, and good will. . . . If a person is thought to command them all, he will be deserving of credit in the eyes of his audience.”
First, we need “sagacity.” True wisdom comes from God: “The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Our culture needs nothing as much as we need God’s wisdom for our day.
Second, we need high character. Gerson and Wehner cite the example of George Washington: “In 1783, unpaid officers from the Continental Army threatened a military coup to overthrow Congress, which had run out of money. But because of an appeal to them by Washington, whom they revered, the officers voted to give Congress more time to pay them what they owed.”
Third, we need what Aristotle called “good will.” Scripture teaches, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). James asked, “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:11).
“The whole purpose of becoming a Christian”
In a society as stressed as ours, compassionate and principled wisdom makes an impact, especially because such grace manifests the character of Jesus. C. S. Lewis: “The whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. . . . Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
If you will ask the Holy Spirit to manifest his “fruit” in your life today, others will see his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Is there a better description of the character of Jesus? Is there a more compelling witness to our culture?
In his lecture last night, Michael Gerson asserted: “It is impossible to love our nation without at least trying to love our neighbor.” Do you agree?