Several years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Ben Carson during one of his speaking engagements in Cincinnati, Ohio. That encounter followed the release of the book, Gifted Hands, that chronicled the life of Dr. Carson, who at 33 years old became the youngest division executive in the history of Johns Hopkins Hospital when appointed Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. Dr. Carson became a household name after leading a team of 70 medical personnel in a remarkable separation of Siamese twins (the Binders) who were born joined at the back of their heads. In his speech that exceeded 90 minutes, Dr. Carson had a room of over 300 professionals sitting on the edges of their chairs. In the few minutes of our dialogue after the speech, I found Dr. Carson to be one of the most engaging individuals I had ever met.
Following Dr. Carson’s recent National Prayer Breakfast [NPB] speech, it comes of little surprise that he now has the ear of the nation regarding the state of affairs in America and particularly, American politics.
His speech crystallized themes were rooted in three passages from the Book of Proverbs and one from Second Chronicles. Over the next few minutes, Dr. Carson challenged the nation to pursue higher aims, rid itself of ideological dogma, seriously address our fiscal condition, and re-embrace personal accountability. To our nation’s political leadership, he offered perspectives on the national debt, a tax system that borrows from Biblical tithing, innovative solutions for healthcare, and other pressing concerns.
Was this speech appropriate for the event? Syndicated columnist Carl Thomas seems to think not. In response to Dr. Carson, Thomas writes in a February 12th article:
“His remarks were inappropriate for the occasion. It would have been just as inappropriate had he praised the president’s policies. The president had a right to expect a different message about another Kingdom. I’m wondering if the president felt drawn closer to God, or bludgeoned by the Republican Party and the applauding conservatives in the audience (there were many liberals there, too, as well as people from what organizers said were more than 100 nations and all 50 states).
If Carson wanted to voice his opinion about the president’s policies, he could have done so backstage. Even better, he might have asked for a private meeting with the man. As a fellow African American who faced personal challenges and overcame them, the president might have welcomed Dr. Carson to the White House. Instead, Carson ambushed him.”
Carson should publicly apologize and stop going on TV doing “victory laps” and proclaiming that reaction to his speech was overwhelmingly positive. That’s not the point. While many might agree with his positions (and many others don’t as shown by the November election results), voicing them at the National Prayer Breakfast in front of the president was the wrong venue.” [Full article here]
Unfortunately, Thomas’ comments deny NPB traditions and assert a false premise, then follows that false premise to an inaccurate conclusion. Namely, that Dr. Carson’s speech was inappropriate and that he should apologize. Indeed, the NPB has always been a place for challenging speakers to prick the conscience of assembled leaders from government, industry, community, and religion.
At the 42nd Annual NPB (1994), Mother Teresa of Calcutta, during the presidency of an abortion supporting President Clinton, Mother Teresa stated,
“And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.
By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.
And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.
Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” [Full speech found here]
At the 54th Annual NPB in 2006, Bono used the podium to raise awareness in what could have also been deemed “inappropriate”. The singer/songwriter and humanitarian cited fighting poverty, solving the AIDS epidemic, and clean water in African countries as moral mandates for our nation. He went on to state that America is long on charity, but falls short in the area of justice:
“Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it… But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality. Because there’s no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we’re honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it.” [Full speech here]
Contrary to Thomas’ premise, the NPB is often a pulpit to not only discuss faith, but also to provide a faith-context for domestic and international policy. So it is with Dr. Carson’s speech. A prophetic prism through which to view the questions before our society. For instance, in times past, I would have applied finance and economics principles to tax system alternatives. But in this speech, Dr. Carson offers a different perspective; one rooted in faith. That is, the flat tax proposition borrows from the wisdom of God’s system of tithing. One-tenth of income. Not progressive and not regressive. Not transaction-based (i.e., how much one produces/sells in a period), but simply a prescribed portion for all income brackets. Dr. Carson asks why must we hurt people more simply because they earn higher incomes? I have not been a flat-tax proponent, but Dr. Carson’s words are literally crashing my paradigms. And I must consider this notion of flat-tax more profoundly and through spiritual lenses. It is this opportunity for reconsideration on a range of policy fronts that is the blessing of Dr. Carson’s speech.
The timing of Dr. Carson’s words was. appropriate. In-fact, there is no better time than when government meets faith.
Dr. Ben Carson at the 2013 NPB
God ordained Dr. Carson for this season. Ordination, however, does come without criticism. In-fact, the two are like next door neighbors. And despite recent articles circulating in newspapers and throughout the blogosphere that read, “Ben Carson for President” and despite the recent appearances on Fox News, Dr. Carson knows the Scriptures well enough to know the words “Hosanna-Hosanna” comes just before the shouts “Crucify him”. And yet, Dr. Carson is a fresh voice in America’s deeply divided political wilderness. Someone who has committed his life to serving mankind. A project himself, who emerged out of the projects to be an icon in science. Someone who is not a political pundit so willing to cast aside his personal constitution simply to be invited to the presidential inner circle. And someone who transcends political parties.
The challenge to our nation is that of a poli-moral hearing test. Namely, once removed from the ecumenical enclaves of the NPB, we are now left as political parties, special interest groups, communities, households, and citizens to determine whether we are ready to hear a message that cuts across dogma. Human instincts will lead us to hear only what aligns with our preconceived notions. Digest what fits neatly with our agendas. This too is biblical reality in that even the Gospel, preached to heal the spiritually dead, is foolishness to those who are wise.
To this, Scriptures encourage, “He who hath an ear, let him hear.” [Matthew 11:15].
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