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Protesters rally near the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on Thursday in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Protester disputes Metaxas account of RNC altercation

And a strange campaign season enters its next phase

UPDATED Thursday, Sept. 3: A man identifying himself as the protester in a video circulating on social media disputes Eric Metaxas’ account of an altercation on the streets of Washington, D.C., after the Republican National Convention last week. 

Metaxas claimed a protester on a bicycle came at him in a menacing way before a video appears to show him swinging at the protester. The protester says that isn’t true. In a note from the protester’s Instagram account, he wrote: “Bottom line, though, is he attacked me. I wasn’t threatening or intimidating them. Sure I was talking [profanity]. But I gave them no reason to attack me. He had to lunge at me to punch me from behind. Charges will be filed.” (The protester didn’t disclose his name in his response.)

Religion Unplugged reported on Thursday that Metaxas sent an email to executive editor Paul Glader, repeating his earlier claims about the protester, and saying that Metaxas did try to “knock him away.” Glader reported Metaxas wrote: “It just happened.”

Below is our earlier report:

Maryland pastor Harry Jackson had a close-up look at an incident Thursday night that has received broad social media attention: He says a protester confronting guests leaving President Donald Trump’s speech at the White House repeatedly rode his bicycle very close toward Eric Metaxas—a Christian author, radio host, and Trump supporter. And a video of the incident appears to show Metaxas taking a swing at the protester. 

Metaxas responded to WORLD’s inquiries about the incident on Monday morning via email, saying he had “chosen to go off social media till now and not to comment on any of this.” He added: “For context, just so you know, the guy came at me with his bike and was very menacing for a long time.” Metaxas said he had been escorting his wife and Maryland pastor Harry Jackson to an Uber ride. 

I spoke with Jackson Monday morning, and the pastor confirmed he had been with Metaxas and his wife that evening. Jackson said after they left Trump’s speech at the White House, they had walked down a D.C. street for about 10 minutes while protesters cursed at them. 

Jackson said they turned down a side street to meet their Uber driver, and a protester on a bicycle kept swerving close to Metaxas while cursing Trump and them. (Jackson described the encounter as the bicyclist “playing chicken” with Metaxas.)

Jackson said the encounter was intimidating enough that he wondered if he would need to use his walking cane to defend himself. He said the protester came within a few inches of Metaxas, but he didn’t know if he physically touched Metaxas. The video only shows about six seconds before Metaxas appears to hit the protester.

The protester posted the video on his Instagram account, showing officers detaining him on the side of the road after the encounter. He wrote: “I got punched by a member of the RNC and get detained by the Secret Service for absolutely nothing.” Another video shows the protester telling police he didn’t touch the man. 

The protester’s Instagram account identifies him by the handle antidote503, and with the location Portland, Ore. He posted a photo and video a few days earlier indicating he was traveling from Portland to D.C. for protests: “@portlandresistance and I have arrived! dc let’s get to it.” (UPDATE: Religion News Service [RNS] reported a man identifying himself as the protester disputed Metaxas’ account. He declined to give his name to RNS, but said: “He attacked me. I wasn't threatening or intimidating. I was on a rented bicycle! He clearly punched me from behind.”

The incident was a strange note in a chaotic night, as other videos showed crowds of protesters surrounding couples and individuals after they left the White House. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he feared for the safety of his wife and himself as a crowd pressed in on them and the police officers around them, shouting at them. Paul called for an FBI investigation into what he called “interstate criminal traffic being paid for across state lines.”

The virus and the violence

Just two months remain before the Nov. 3 contest, and two issues may take center stage in the campaigns: the virus upending the world, and the violence upending some American cities.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden is making Trump’s response to the coronavirus a centerpiece of his campaign. One of Biden’s talking points: He would have handled it better than Trump. 

Hindsight does give clarity, but on Feb. 29—the day that news broke of the first coronavirus death in the U.S.—I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other reporters in a Wofford College gym while Biden addressed a crowd of hundreds of people packed onto bleachers at a campaign rally. Two weeks later, the CDC advised against gatherings of more than 10 people.

It all happened fast, and Trump will have to defend his response—a poll in July showed 60 percent of Americans disapprove of how he’s handled the pandemic. But Biden may have more success at persuading voters that his plan going forward will be better than convincing them that he would have shaped a better outcome.

Meanwhile, Trump is making urban unrest a centerpiece of his reelection campaign. During his Thursday night speech, the president warned that Democrats would “demolish the suburbs” and “confiscate your guns.” 

Biden’s gun control plan doesn’t include confiscating all guns, but Democrats may have missed a moment during their own convention when it comes to violence: They rightly lamented some of the tragic deaths of black citizens during police encounters, but they didn’t respond to the violence gripping some cities in the wake of protests. 

Biden has pushed back on criticism that he hasn’t spoken out forcefully enough: He says he condemns all forms of violence. But the issue will continue to surface as the campaign continues. 

Agenda addition

We noted that Trump’s recently released second term agenda didn’t include priorities related to religious liberty, pro-life concerns, or judicial appointments. It seemed odd, given the importance of those issues to some conservatives.

Late last week, the list expanded with a section that includes priorities on life, religious liberty, appointing constitutionalist justices, and protecting Second Amendment rights.

I’ve asked the Trump campaign for comment on the new section (and the concerns that it wasn’t originally included), and we’ll report any response.

Republicans and religion

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention raised some eyebrows on Wednesday night when he mixed Scripture and patriotic language. “Let’s run the race marked out for us,” he began. 

The phrase comes from the opening verses of Hebrews 12. But Pence continued, “Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all that she represents.”  That’s not in the book of Hebrews—the New Testament passage says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Pence added: “And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom, and never forget that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom—and that means freedom always wins.”

The second half of that remark partially echoes 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” 

Politicians invoking Biblical language isn’t new: President Ronald Reagan famously compared America to the “shining city on a hill” from Matthew 5. Two weeks ago, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said she was committed to “the word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight.” 

As a writer, I sometimes fold Biblical phrases into news stories, but it does require care. When a listener is expecting to hear the word “Jesus” in a Biblical quote, it’s jolting to hear a reference to the American flag instead. It also risks mixing hope in an imperfect, finite nation with the Christian’s eternal hope in a perfect Savior of people from all nations. 

It’s a good reminder that during another tumultuous election season, fixing our eyes on Jesus is the one thing that can keep Christians grounded, even if they do find themselves sometimes divided.

Editor’s Note: WORLD has updated this story since its original posting.

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AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Dong Yumei, left, harvests vegetables for volunteers in the Huangpi district of Wuhan in central China's Hubei province in April. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A food crisis in China?

Severe flooding, insect infestation, and COVID-19 may be contributing to a food shortage

Outside the popular Hunan chain Chuiyan Fried Beef in Changsha, restaurant owners set up two scales and asked patrons to weigh themselves before entering. After entering their weight and personal information into an app, the customers received the restaurant’s suggested menu items: for women weighing under 88 pounds, a beef dish and fish head; for a man weighing more than 175 pounds, braised pork belly, according to CNN.

As news spread of the restaurant’s gimmick online, netizens accused the chain of fat-shaming.

Chuiyan Fried Beef apologized, noting the weighing in was voluntary, and the restaurant was promoting a nationwide government campaign to cut down on food waste.

Other restaurants have also begun their own initiatives: In Wuhan, the Wuhan Catering Industry Association called on restaurants to restrict the number of dishes to “N-1,” or one less than the number of diners in a group. Typically in China, people share food family style. During banquets, they pile dish after dish onto a central lazy Susan. Other restaurants have promised to serve smaller portion sizes, while state media has criticized livestreamed binge eating, a trend that began in South Korea. Livestreaming platforms said they would ban users who waste food on their broadcasts.  

The impetus of these moves is a speech President Xi Jinping made Aug. 11 calling for the country to stop wasting food—a problem he called “shocking and distressing”—in order to persevere the country’s food resources. “Despite several years of bumper harvests, China needs to maintain a crisis mentality for food security, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Xi said. A month earlier Xi inspected farms in Jilin province, urging officials to ensure grain-supply security.

The focus on food waste brings to mind similar instructions by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1959 at the beginning of the Great Famine, in which tens of millions of people starved to death. Some believe China may be facing a food crisis as it deals with the fallout of the pandemic, massive floods, and insect infestations. But observers don’t know its severity since the government has not released much information outside of rosy outlooks.

Several indicators reveal the looming problem facing China. In recent months, heavy flooding has inundated large areas of southern China and caused the 3,900-mile-long Yangtze River and its tributaries to rise to dangerous levels. While heavy rains are typical in the summer, this year’s rainfall has far exceeded the norm, causing the worst flooding at the Yangtze in four decades. So far, the deluge has destroyed 13 million acres of farmland, affected 63 million people, and caused nearly $26 billion in economic damage.

For the first time since 1949, floodwaters rose over the toes of the Leshan Giant Buddha in southwestern Sichuan province, a 1,200-year-old world heritage site that stands 233 feet tall. Water inflows to the Three Gorges Dam are also expected to reach its highest levels since the dam started holding water in 2003, according to China’s Ministry of Water Resources. 

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Justice that restores

In Christ, God modeled the kind of justice that heals

On a recent Saturday, I didn’t speak to my husband for a whole day. Something had happened that triggered memories from our first year of dating, fanning a dusty cloud of hurts and wounds that I had assumed were long ago swept away. But no, there they were, settled in the dark corners of my heart, and all it took was one forceful blow to blast them out into the open. 

My husband, David, and I had a very rocky start to our relationship. We said things, hurt each other, shed barrels of tears. But we pushed through together, and three years later, we got married. Everything seemed fine, except I had unconsciously carried into our marriage a secret sack full of dust from the past—not just from our dating relationship, but from all the way into my childhood and teenage years—shovelfuls and shovelfuls of trauma, insecurities, and semi-healed wounds that leak easily when poked. We could be so full of laughter and love one day, and the next day, something happens that reopens 15-year-old and 3-year-old wounds that bleed into each other and become one big, messy, sticky gash.  

That’s what happened that Saturday when I woke up with a wounded heart and sought to draw blood from my own husband. I was cold and withdrawn, answered his efforts to make me laugh with curt responses, sat next to him but let my mind roam in the past and thought of all the times David had failed or wronged me. The person I love and committed to love became my adversary. Having no advocate except myself, I sought to enact my own form of justice on him. 

The justice of a hurt, unhealed person can be mean and reactionary. In my mind, I was righting a wrong—justice. But the problem was that it was a very retributive form of justice, one that sought to hurt the other to soothe my own hurt. By pushing David away, I ultimately hoped to punish him, even if that wasn’t a fully conscious intention. As much as I thought punishing the other would satisfy me, it only hurt me more to see him hurt. All my “justice” accomplished was more pain and turmoil for both sides. 

Like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot about justice—what it is, how it looks, where it comes from, and whose justice it is. I’ve been studying the Bible and praying for a godly understanding of justice, and I saw that word everywhere in the Scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. I don’t recall learning much about Biblical justice from the church while growing up. Any mention of “oppression” was almost always over-spiritualized, having little or no relevance to societal or systemic oppression. So it was eye-opening to recognize how deeply God cares about justice, to see Him not just as a personal God who saves and loves and comforts me individually, but as a God of justice and righteousness who cares passionately for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society, who desires His people to do justice. Justice originates from God, and only God is inherently, perfectly just. 

One term I’ve heard secular groups use a lot is “restorative justice”—a theory primarily used in criminology that emphasizes a cooperative process between both victim and perpetrator to repair harm done. But that’s actually a Biblical idea: The Bible refers more to restorative justice—one that makes room for recognition of wrongdoing, repentance, material restitution, and reconciliation—than retributive or punitive justice (Numbers 5:6-7, Leviticus 6:1-7, Ezekiel 33:11, Isaiah 53:5, Micah 7:18, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 19:8, 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 10-11, Galatians 6:1). 

These comprehensive, holistic, beautiful principles of restorative justice culminate on the cross, where the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made the restoration of our broken relationship with God possible. We became right with God and were made righteous due to His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. But it still came with a price: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ who willingly died for our sins. This mystery and power of the cross must become our model and framework of how we view, comprehend, and do justice in all sectors of our lives, from self to family to community to the world, from criminal justice to racial justice. Biblical justice doesn’t put one down for the sake of the other—it makes everyone, both wrongdoers and the wronged, whole. 

This is where we cross-bearing Christ-followers can lead the way to a fuller, richer, more satisfying model of Biblical justice. The entire narrative of the Bible points to God’s restorative justice at work in the world—restoring our relationship with Him and one another, directing us to see each other as image-bearers of God and to treat everyone with equality, fairness, and justice. We are tasked to create, restore, and sustain dignity in relationships with the same grace and love that God gave us.

But we don’t always do a good job at that. Today, we are seeing intense divisions and chaos in the United States not just because Marxism or critical race theory have indoctrinated minds, or simply because white supremacy has soaked into our institutions, but because we human beings—and I mean all human beings—have not followed the life-giving, wrong-fixing, reconciling justice that God displayed through Christ. Throughout history, we humans have taken advantage of people more vulnerable than us, or remained apathetic or oblivious to the injustice around us. Yet nobody is immune to committing injustice: We all share that sinful desire to be greater and better than others. One day the oppressed will cry out and in comes retributive justice: “You hurt me. I’ll make you hurt so you feel my hurt. I’ll make you pay.” 

That Saturday, as I performed my own twisted form of justice on my husband, I was miserable, and so was he. I was playing both victim and judge. The result was two victims standing before one mean and angry judge when what we both longed for was a perfect, loving, righteous judge. If we had been two strangers, our relationship would have been severed long before a relationship even existed (and that’s what’s happening in society right now). But as man and wife, bonded into a lifelong covenant under God, love and trust won. 

By that night, we were talking and listening to each other. In the midst of that conversation, my self-centered sense of justice shifted to a more cross-centered one: I was honest about what I felt, but my aim was to restore—not punish. It started from a place of love, then recognition of past wounds that weren’t adequately addressed, then transitioned into David asking, “What can I do to make things right?” and me acknowledging my own failures. And then we ended the night by saying, “I love you.” 

That’s just a small example of restorative justice practiced in real life, but what a reminder that what happened on the cross is not just something that happened more than 2,000 years ago. It was a world-shaking event that should continue to shake every person, every marriage, every church, every community to the ends of the earth.

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