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If you follow The Twelve with any regularity, you may recognize the name Marty Wondaal. Marty often comments on the post of the day, especially if the blog showed some left leaning tendencies.
A few months back, after my post, Let Us Not Grow Weary, Marty contacted me directly. He wrote, “I share so many cultural connections with writers at The Twelve, but my worldview seems so different. I find that tension fascinating, and am curious why that is so. I would like to make you an offer. Spend a workday with me. I own a small manufacturing business, and my daily job is to deliver products to job sites. I interact with many people every day, almost all being immigrants from all over the world. I drive a nice, spacious pickup with large rear seats. Bring a friend!”
I responded to Marty, “I am grateful for and impressed by your email, but even more by your willing spirit. I am actually touched by your offer to spend a day together. Given that you’re in Chicagoland, I know that isn’t going to happen soon. But it is very kind of you to offer.”
Unable to take up his offer to visit and ride along for the day, we agreed to a phone conversation. We also agreed that it would be more “interview” than “debate”—in other words, I wasn’t going to push-back or counter Marty’s statements. (You may do that in the comments, if you wish.) Additionally, we both wanted the conversation to be more about the deeper theological, biblical underpinnings to our politics than about the topics of the day.
SMV: Just to get started, Marty, tell me a little about your background, your family, your work, your church, your faith journey.
MW: I am married to Michelle. We have four boys, ages 23 to 11. We live in St. John, Indiana. For the last twenty years or so, we’ve gone to Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana. I grew up in Lansing, Illinois and were I was part of a Christian Reformed Church. I am a “child of the covenant.” I grew up a Christian in very culturally conservative settings. I went to Illiana Christian School. I grew up with 45 minute sermons that felt like 45 hours. But I don’t want to sound critical. I grew up knowing Reformed truths.
If I have some theme or paradigm for my faith, I think I would go back to the Heidelberg Catechism with its “sin-salvation-service.” I just read someone whom I respect a lot who said “God’s gift to us was his Son. My gift to God is how I treat others.” That’s how I would like to frame my life.
SMV: How did you find The Twelve? What led you here?
MW: I don’t remember. I think I stumbled across it. I read a lot. I’m especially interested in Christian colleges so I could have come across it when I was reading something by a certain professor or something like that.
SMV: In your original communication with me, you wondered how people with such similar cultural backgrounds as you and many of the bloggers on The Twelve could come to such different conclusions and have such apparently different worldviews. How would you answer your own question?
MW: My answer—and I’m certainly not one hundred percent certain on this—is my view of the nature of man. I’m a firm believer in total depravity. I’m a firm believer in the imperfectability of man. It’s not original to me, but I think that the basic breakdown between a left-leaning and right-leaning—for lack of better terms—view of the world is your understanding of human nature. Now I’m guessing that if you and I got into a deeper discussion, you would agree with me that the “T” in TULIP is true. But I don’t think a lot of people with a left leaning outlook really and fully embrace the depravity of man in their worldview.
(I shared here with Marty about the local tie-in of a recent column by E.J. Dionne that was in response to my Pella colleague, journalist Robert Leonard’s original column, both about human sinfulness and how our views on it may affect our politics.)
SMV: We said this would be less about politics and policy, and more about theology and those bedrock things that inform our politics. Are there other things you might add about that ?
MW: At the risk of trying to sound smarter than I am, I am western civilization-ist. I am a very big proponent of the Judeo-Christian paradigm, Athens and Jerusalem. I look back to the time of Calvin’s Geneva or the Declaration of Independence, maybe we could say the late reformation to early enlightenment, and it was all based on biblical principles. My fear is that we are getting away from that as a culture. We live in a gilded age with so much wealth and abundance—and in North America in relative safety—our culture has become decadent and our public philosophy has gotten away from God. We pay a price for that
SMV: Based on that, I would guess that things like multi-culturalism or immigration make you uneasy in that they could be seen as diluting or weakening those things.
MW: In my job in Chicago, I would estimate that about 70 percent of the people I come in contact with are immigrants and I would guess a large portion of them are illegal immigrants. I am actually a proponent of large scale immigration. I’m not a proponent of illegal immigration. The biggest struggle I have with immigration is that we live in a welfare state—and those two, open immigration and a welfare state cannot be combined. It is not sustainable.
SMV: Tell me a bit more about your work.
MW: I have a very, very small manufacturing business. I manufacture stone products for masonry applications. My employees are Hispanic, for the most part. In the Chicago area market, the vast majority of workers in construction related fields are not native born.
SMV: How do you try to live your faith in the workplace?
MW: You just have to be honest with the people you’re dealing with. For me, that starts with my employees. I’m not the world’s best boss but of the four employees I have, three have been with me since the start. We have a great relationship. They know that I treat them fairly. And with customers, I am a real big proponent of covenantal business relationships. I hate waivers and purchase orders and all the legal documentation that goes with bigger jobs. I would prefer to do my work with handshake deals.
Your reputation and how you deal with people is the way to build your business. The book of Proverbs is a great how-to book on how to do business. If you use honest weights and measures, if you do the other things prescribed in Proverbs, you are going to get ahead in life. I’m not a prosperity gospel believer, but if you just read Proverbs you realize how you should live your life and treat other people. I hope my customers see that.
SMV: Shifting more to today’s politics, let just talk about President Trump and your take on him. What would you say to the Christian critics of Trump?
MW: For a lot of things, they are right. Trump is a philistine. He’s coarse. He’s licentious. He’s spent most of his life as a libertine. He reflects the culture that elected him. Does he have concern for the poor? I don’t know. I know he comes from a gaudy apartment of Fifth Avenue. I would say that if there were what originally, twelve or fourteen Republican candidates for the presidency? Then, originally he was my fourteenth choice!
Trump is just like every other land developer I have ever come across. They are boisterous. They are self-promoters. They act like they could care less about what people think of them. They will insult you and keep coming at you until they get their way. They are always battling. Do you know what it takes to put up a project like Trump Tower in Chicago? How many people you have to either pay off or run over? I don’t want to psychoanalyze people, but I think of Trump as the kid from Queens who always wanted to be accepted by the people of Manhattan.
But I’ve been absolutely surprised—in a good way—by the things he’s accomplished already. Number one would be judges who are strict constitutionalists. I think the tax cuts are great and have done wonders for the economy. I like to think, and it does seem, that he is rolling back the regulatory state. And that is what I think really rules Washington. It isn’t the senators or president or judges. It is the bureaucracy that just keeps growing and growing—and that’s not good for a virtuous society.
As far as Trump himself, I don’t hate the guy. But I’m really a classical libertarian. I’m a constitutionalist. I’m a small government supporter. And on foreign policy, I am a non-interventionist. If I had to identify with a specific politician, I would say I’m along the lines of Justin Amash.
SMV: How do you hang in there with The Twelve? I can tell when you put up your comments that you’re trying to engage, but not incite. You want to offer a differ view, not be a troll. When there is so much out there on the web that might be more palatable or less aggravating, why do you keep following The Twelve?
MW: Being snarky is so easy and really seductive. I try to avoid it.
I think The Twelve represents the overwhelming outlook or slant of the Reformed and Christian Reformed colleges and bureaucracies. To me that is a concern. I went to Calvin College for two years and many, many family members went there. I understand why it and other Reformed institutions have the slant they do. They want to be respected by their peers—and their peers are all secular progressives.
That is a hard tightrope to walk—not to be completely offensive to your constituency and yet at the same time pursue academic respectability. If I were ever to end up standing in line next to Betsy De Vos at the DMV or the grocery store, I’d like to ask her, “Why in the world to you give millions of dollars to Calvin College or other places like that? They hate you!” That’s only partially true, of course. But the views of the faculty are almost all on one side.
I see a lot of lumping people into groups, identity politics at the colleges, not treating people as individuals. I see these colleges bending over backwards to apologize for their histories, for being racist, and then they call that courage and honesty. That’s not courageous. I think the honest and courageous thing to do, whether at Calvin or any of these institutions, would be to stand up and say “We desperately do not want to be racist. We are built on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Reformed theology. However much we may fall short, that is our aim—to be a virtuous place. And despite our failings, we think that in so many ways we are.” But people are afraid to say things like that. Then you’d get slapped down by secular academia.
SMV: Thank you, Marty for your time and your willingness to do this.
MW: Glad to do it. It’s always more interesting to talk with people with whom you don’t agree.