Saturday, July 31, 2004

Traditional Marriage: Not a Family Value

In light of all my talk about what family values are really about, I think it might be fitting to dredge up the ol' gay marriage debate again. I promised to leave it behind for a few weeks, and I've done that.

Let me make a bold statement: the crusade against gay marriage has nothing to do with family values. The evidence? A new report by the American Psychological Association, summarizing a mountain of psychological researech, has concluded that "same-sex couples are remarkably similar to heterosexual couples, and that parenting effectiveness and the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation."

So, families with a Dad and a Dad or a Mom and a Mom are just as well-adjusted on average as families with a member of each sex. If "family values" means promoting a healthy and happy family life, then pushing for "traditional marriage" doesn't promote family values.

A "Gasp!" update

Fox News also considers it newsworthy that Democrats can be religious. At least the article got one thing right:

"Analysts have said that religious Americans are typically drawn to the GOP's agenda on social issues."

An ineffectual rant every couple of months against gay marriage keeps Christians in the Republican camp despite the GOP's policies on war and poverty. Attention: you're being duped.

Friday, July 30, 2004

But, hey, he does oppose gay marriage!

The Bush White House today admitted that the federal budget deficit for this year will be the biggest ever. According to projections, the government will spend a record $445 billion more than it takes in. Bush had projected a $262 billion surplus in 2001 when he was selling his tax cuts to Congress.

Gasp!

You mean to tell me that Christians can be political leftists? Who would have ever thought such a thing was possible? I'm glad that Agape Press has informed us of this theoretical possibility. I thought for sure that Jesus was a capitalist Republican....

"Hunter [a professor of religion interviewed by Agape Press] says he intends to vote for John Kerry this fall, even though the Democratic Party supports abortion and special rights for homosexuals. According to the seminary professor, there are many issues that a considered biblical Christian ethics should inform, and not just those two. "

You mean to tell me that things like economics and war might relate to Christianity? You don't say!

Family Values and Universal Health Insurance

John Kerry's speech last night connected broader issues to the notion of "family values," and he argued that preaching family values should mean valuing families. A new drug approved by the FDA shows, more than ever, why universal health insurance should be a family value. The AP reported Thursday the drug Campral has been approved for the treatment of alchoholism. Doctors say that Campral eases alchohol withdrawal symptoms, and studies have shown that recovering alchoholics who are taking Campral are less likely to relapse than those given a placebo. Can you imagine the improvement in family life (the reduction of abuse, neglect, divorce, and joblessness) in this country if all alchoholics were treated with Campral? It is possible with universal health insurance.

The Rich Young Ruler: a non-canonical, historical perspective

One of the stories about Jesus most often pointed to by Social Gospel proponents is the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Mk. 10:17-27, Lk. 18:18-27, Matt. 19:16-26. In this scene, a wealthy young man asks Jesus how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells him to sell everything and give it to the poor and then to "come, follow me." When the rich young ruler refuses, Jesus tells his disciples that it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Conservative Christians have tried to escape the obvious import of this story in several ways. One of the most popular is to claim that it wasn't the man's holding on to his wealth but rather his failure to follow Jesus that was condemnable. A second is to evade the 'eye of a needle' aphorism by pointing to Jesus' statement that "for God all things are possible." The contention must be that the latter statement undercuts completely Jesus' condemnation of wealth: the rich, like everybody else, can't earn or buy their way into the Kingdom, but they (again, like everyone else) can make it if they have God.

Once a non-canonical gospel's version is considered, the conservatives' interpretation of the story becomes unsupportable. The Gospel of the Nazareans was an early gospel, composed around the same time as the New Testament Gospels and written in Aramaic. It was popular among early Jewish Christians but fell into disfavor in part because few among the wider Christian community could read Aramaic. See Bart Ehrman, The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings, 137. This gospel contains the same story found in the canonical gospels:

"Another rich man said to Jesus, "Master, what good thing shall I do to live?" He said to him, "O man, fulfil the law and the prophets." He replied, I have done that." Jesus said to him, "Go sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and come, follow me." But the rich man began to scratch his head and it did not please him. And the Lord said to him, "How can you say, 'I have fulfilled the law and the prophets,' since it is written in the law: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' and lo! many of your brethren, sons of Abraham, are clothed in filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many goods, and nothing at all goes out of it to them?" And returning to Simon, his disciple, who was sitting by him, he said, "Simon, son of Jonas, it is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven."

The Nazarean version is significant for several reasons: (1) it makes clear that Jesus' displeasure with the rich man is due specifically to his failure to give up his possession and not just due to his failure to "follow me," (2) it recognizes the "sell all you have" command as a logical application of the fundamental commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, and (3) it does not contain the 'all things are possible through God' qualification of the camel/eye of a needle aphorism.

Now that we're clear on what the story of the rich young ruler is all about (was there ever any serious doubt?), all we have left is to deal with people who are rich but don't know it.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Social Gospel take on Kerry's speech

There is one thing about John Kerry's acceptance speech that I want to point out.  Kerry criticized the Republican's claim to be the party of "values."  In his speech, Kerry pushed towards a broader understanding of what the term "values" means.  Hopefully, it's apparent that this is what I've been trying to do in these pages.  I don't agree with everything Kerry says, but I do agree that values are about much more than sex and curse words.  I'm not sure conservatives understand that.  Making sure our neighbors have health care, have a job, have a decent place, have enough to eat, etc. is a moral responsibility.  (Love your neighbor as yourself anybody?)  It is a question of values.  When voters pick a candidate that represents their values, I hope they understand that there are true value questions all over the map and not just in people's bedrooms.

The First Shall Become...

It's amazing what happens when you have policies that favor the rich....  They get richer even while the rest of us struggle!  According to a survey released by research firm Corporate Library, C.E.O. salaries rose by 15% in 2003.  Among top executives at larger companies (those that are listed on the Standard Poor's 500-stock index) compensation rose by a median of 22.2%.  C.E.O.'s in the telecommunications and securities commodities sectors now earn a median of $8 million per year.  Barry Diller, chief executive of InterActiveCorp, had the highest salary in 2003.  He received $156 million.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Barack Obama

I know we have some conservatives out there who cringe at the thought of watching anything from the Democratic National Convention.   Why this country is so divided and no one likes to listen to the other side, well that's a whole different post.  

Well we are out to change that, and it looks like others are too.  Read Barack Obama's keynote address last night at the convention.  Better yet, find the video of it online.  Tell me that that's not the America you grew up believing in.  Tell me that's not the country you feel is worth fighting for.  Why should our faith be used as "a wedge to divide us?" 

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Sin

Sin = Selfishness.

Name me one sin that isn't SELFISH in nature.   Go ahead, try me.  I bet you can't.

 

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Social Gospel and Social Vengeance

According to a Justice Department report released today, the number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system reached a new high of 6.9 million people last year.  This means that a full 3.2% of the adult population is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.  2,078,570 Americans are currently incarcerated.

Comparative legal scholar James Q. Whitman has concluded that the American criminal justice policy is based on retribution and reflects the "base human inclination towards vengeance."  Whitman says that Western Europe, by contrast, tries to rehabilitate its prisoners and attempts to prepare its criminals for reintegration and life after prison. 

Even the conservative, Republican-nominated Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has blasted American sentences as too harsh.  Indeed, Kennedy used vaguely Christian terms to condemn the current practice:

"[A] society is measured by how it treats the least deserving of its people. And two million people in prison in this country is just unacceptable."

Would a Christian criminal justice system be based on retribution and vengeance?  I don't think so.  The United States should look to the "tough love," rehabilitation model practiced in Western Europe.  The idea should be to retrain criminals and to deter crime, not to exact vengeance.

The punishment should not fit the crime.  We should not exact a life for a life.  Jesus rejected "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and adopted a stance of love.  Matt. 5:38-45.   We must rehabilitate, not avenge.

Charge!!!!!!

If the Bible was so critical to Jesus' message, why didn't He pass out copies at the sermon on the mount?

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Gender Equality and Divorce

One of Jesus' most striking statements on divorce is found in Mark 10:1-12.  In this passage, Jesus disputes the Pharisees traditional teachings on the matter.  The the Pharisees cite Deuteronomy 24:1 concerning divorce, arguing that "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife." 

But Jesus rejects this teaching, holding that "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

What is most frequently noticed in this passage is the limitation of divorce.  The Pharisees seem to permit it, whereas Jesus gives an unequivocal "no."  What is the less frequently noticed, but perhaps more important part of the passage, is the emphatic rejection of the sexual double standard.  Jesus makes a radical statement of gender equality

The teaching of the Pharisees permitted a man to divorce his wife, but apparently made no allowance for women to divorce men.  Jesus, on the other hand, makes the standards exactly the same.  Both divorce by men and women are (1) contemplated and (2) condemned in identical terms.  Thus, Jesus gives equal sexual standards here for men and women.

Does this make Jesus a feminist?

Friday, July 23, 2004

Hmmm...

The income divide in our nation's capitol is significantly larger than almost every other large city in America.  Hmm... could this help explain DC's rampant crime?  

Why Ike, whatever do you mean?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Hell, redux.

Like most Christians, lets assume that Jesus' teaching was divinely inspired - either that Jesus was God in person or that Jesus' message carried the authority of God...

Given that Jesus was divine, we must take everything that He said as direct revelation - with no superior - from God.  So, when Jesus says, "love thy enemy," and that He is speaking with the authority of God, how can this possibly conform with the "Christian" idea of hell and eternal damnation - the inherent opposite of "loving thy enemy?" 

If God is really practicing what S/He is preaching through Jesus, doesn't that mean that God too has to love his ememies?  Doesn't that mean that, rather than damning his enemies (those that don't live a certain way or take certain steps) to hell, God has to have compassion on them and love them, just as S/He teaches us to do?  Jesus never taught "love thy enemies that repent or that ask for you to love them."  No, Jesus taught only "love thy enemies," plain and simple. 

For us to claim that God damns those that are his enemies run completely contrary to what Jesus taught.  Assuming hell isn't a place where you'd send people you love, doesn't that mean that the only way for their to be a hell of eternal damnation is if God isn't practicing what S/He has already preached?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Civil Disobedience?

With poverty rising (see Bush Economy below), an unjust war continuing to claim lives, and an amendment pending which would enshrine prejudice into our founding document, there may be cause for some civil disobedience in these times.  A Utah citizen is following in the grand tradition of Thoreau, Ghandi, and King, however, for a very different reason: swear words in library books. 
 
An unknown person in Layton, Utah has been coming into the public library and turning swear words in library books into "darns" and "hecks" with a purple marker.  Such vandalism is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail.
 
Of all reasons to brave state authority, the best you can come up with is a few swear words in books that nobody reads?



A Christian Bookstore

There has been much discussion lately surrounding the "Left Behind" series of books flying off bookshelves around the country.   In a future post I will discuss the books themselves (as Nicholas Kristof did in the NY Times last week), but today I draw your attention to where it is many of these books are coming from - Christian bookstores. 

The whole concept of a "Christian" bookstore bothers me.  Maybe it is the seperatist nature of it, the putting on of airs as if none of the books sold there are morally culpable.  Or maybe it's the assumption that people take into the store, that they are somehow better people or more devout Christians for shopping there.  Regardless, the Christian bookstores we see today fall far short of what I think a true Christian bookstore should be.  And just what would that look like?

Well, for one, you wouldn't have to pay exorbant sums of money to get knowledge - it would be practically free.  People would share books, trading them off when they were through with them.  Everyone would be welcome there, not just Christians but people of all religious faiths and creeds.  Christianity wouldn't be on the defensive, hiding from the world - it would be out there for all to see and accept or reject, and putting the theology on solid intellectual footing through rigorous debate.  In other words, this bookstore would be open to everyone.  

Oh wait, maybe we already have something approximating a truly Christian bookstore:  the public library.

 

 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

"I, Robot"

Truly rare is the movie that can entertain and be both intellectually and spiritually fulfilling, but Will Smith's new blockbuster "I, Robot" is just that. 
 
Many people will undoubtedly see "I, Robot" as one writer's apocalyptic vision of a future where humans and robots live side by side.  This movie, however, is not about robots - it's about what it means to be a human being.  It's not about the future either, but rather what has always made man different from all other creation. 
 
In a day and age where Christians often chastise popular culture and seek to withdraw from it, it is ironic that a "Hollywood" movie showcases such profound Christian values.  "I, Robot" just does that.   A man giving his life to save those of others; a man saved from the brink of death now giving his life to fight the good fight; the contrast of humanity's capacity for good with its seemingly insatiable selfish desire to dominate and disregard the cost to others.  
 
Go see the movie. 

Whoops, wrong country

TIME magazine is reporting that the independent 9/11 commission will release a study later this week showing that -- while links between al-Qaeda and Iraq were nonexistent -- there were real links between Iran and al-Qaeda.  This emphatically shows the problem with the preemptive theory of war which both Bush and Kerry have endorsed.  We have the most sophisticated intelligence system in the world, and we still invaded the wrong country!  SOMEBODY (Iran) had links to al-Qaeda, but it wasn't Iraq.  SOMEBODY (North Korea) was developing weapons of mass destruction, but it wasn't Iraq.  SOMEBODY (Sudan, Saudi Arabia, etc.) had an acute humanitarian crisis, but it wasn't Iraq.   Maybe if we spent less time trying to "get them before they get us," and more time exploring strategies for avoiding war, we might have gotten it right.

"Genocide"

The horrific, systematic gang-raping, torturing, and killing perpetrated by militias in Sudan should have been mentioned in these pages a long time ago.  Amnesty International reported yesterday that 30,000 people have been killed, that a million have been displaced from their homes by bombs, and that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Sudan's western Darfur region.
 
I confess myself rather ignorant of both international and military affairs.  But it seems to me that the U.S. should be in the U.N. demanding peace keeping forces from the Security Council.  The international community must get together a force of peacekeepers and get this country under control.  While the U.S. should not act unilaterally, it should be pushing the issue in the U.N.

It also seems to me that Christians should be deeply troubled by this humanitarian crisis.  The Agape Press had three stories about gay marriage yesterday, but it did not mention Amnesty International's report.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Reality Check #1

Point me to the passages where Jesus talks about original sin.
 
Whoops, there isn't one.

The Bush Economy and "the least of these"

George W. Bush's website proclaims this "the best economy we've seen in years."  In Matt. 25:44, Jesus tells us that we serve God when we serve "the least of these who are members of my family...."  Well, Bush's pride in his economy certainly shows us how little attention he pays to "the least of these."  Those at the bottom certainly haven't seen a recovery.

The Bureau of Labour Statistics reported Friday that hourly earnings of nonmanagement workers fell by 1.1% in June -- the steepest monthly decline since mid 1991.  (Note that there was a George Bush in the White House then too!)  This June decline comes after workers' wages fell by .8% in May. 
 
5.6% of the nation is still unemployment -- the same amount as when this so-called recovery began.
 
No wonder Bush's sunny economic rhetoric doesn't resonate with the public.

Despite trouble for those at the bottom, strong corporate profits continue, as do higher salaries and bonuses at the upper end of the income distribution.  Ethan Harris, chief economist at Lehman Brothers, validates John Edwards's talk about Bush creating "two Americas": 

"There's a bit of a dichotomy. Joe Six-Pack is under a lot of pressure. He got a lousy raise; he's paying more for gasoline and milk. He's not doing that great. But proprietors' income is up. Profits are up. Home values are up. Middle-income and upper-income people are looking pretty good."
 
Where is all the righteous Christian indignation at Bush's patently un-Christian economy?  The Agape Press did not report Friday's numbers.  It was apparently too busy with gay marriage to notice.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Kerry Sell-Out #1

John Kerry endorsed most of the Bush doctrine yesterday, saying that he would be willing to launch pre-emptive strikes if necessary.  This means that both candidates are insufficiently reluctant to go to war and, thus, have taken un-Christian positions on the issue of war:
 
Kerry: "[I am] prepared as president to go get them before they get us...."
 
Bush: "We cannot let our enemies strike first."
 
Kerry is attempting to distinguish himself from Bush by saying that he would make sure the intelligence is good before acting on it.  Does he really think that Bush wants to use bad intelligence?  Surely Bush's position is to use good intelligence too!  So basically, as Christians, we now have no good choice on the war issue.  What a shame. 
 
A majority of Americans now say that the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq.  Now is the time for real leadership on the topic of war.  Americans are discontented and ready to be called to a higher ethical standard for war.  Instead John Kerry, of fear of being "soft," has raced to the right.  Me-tooism does not win elections Mr. Kerry.  Vision does.

Friday, July 16, 2004

African AIDS crisis, redux

A UN report released yesterday shows that AIDS is dramatically reducing life expectancy in Africa.  In many places, life expectancy is now as low as 33.

The Liberals are not Immune! (Part II)

Last Tuesday I chastized a group of secular liberals who have begun sneaking into churches to spy on their political activities, seeking to "raise awareness about the separation between Church and State."  In Part I, I discussed why church engagement in politics is constitutionally permissible.  Today I show why engagement in Christian politics is religiously required.
 
The religion Jesus preached was not something you could practice in the quiet of your home.  It was a communal, not an individualistic religion.  When Jesus preached his most famous sermon, he did so from the mountain tops (Matt. 5:1). 
 
Jesus repeatedly called his followers to create and enter "the Kingdom of God."  Many scholars dispute the translation of the Greek word "basileia" as "Kingdom"  (John Crossan argues, for example, that "basileia" simply means "rule" or "sovereignty" and does not imply monarchical rule.)  But if the Kingdom of God is not a literal kingdom, then what is it?
 
The Kingdom of God is "humanity organized according to the will of God."  (Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel 142).  Or, as Crossan puts it, it is "an ethical kingdom": "what the world would be if God were directly and immediately in charge."  Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography, 55-56.
 
It is clear that the Historical Jesus focused on this idea of the Kingdom of God.  There are twelve Kingdom sayings with multiple, independent attestation.  Thus, the Kingdom of God ideal is "situated...deeply and broadly within the Christian tradition."  Crossan, The Historical Jesus 266.
 
Jesus calls us, then, not simply to a personal, transcendental, otherworldly experience.  He calls us to create a society based on Godly principles.  And while I certainly disagree with mainline Christians as to what those Godly principles are, I agree that they have a responsibility to act publicly, politically -- and to construct a "Kingdom of God."




"Sell all you have and give the money to the poor"

Well, Hartford money manager George Weiss might not have carried Jesus' command in Mark 10:21 to its fullest.  But almost.  Weiss, who has a long history of educational philanthropy, has pledged $20 million to pay the college or vocational school tuition for however many of 400 Harlem public school kindergarteners beat the odds by graduating from high school and getting accepted.  Weiss intends to raise $30 million more for "extras" that he hopes will increase the chances that more of the 400 kids will make it.  These include reading specialists, social workers, and extensive summer programs.
 
Weiss has had a very personal relationship with kids who he's helped in the past, and he has refused to give up on program participants who go astray.  He has visited his kids in prison and given stirring eulogies.
 
Weiss's motivation?
 
"I just made a pledge with God: If you ever give me the financial wherewithal to make a difference, I would do something about education and have a high degree of caring and personal involvement."


John Edwards, Man of Faith

This from the Dallas Morning News, discussing John Edwards. 
 
The North Carolina senator grew up in a Southern Baptist church, but attended services irregularly as an adult. In 1996, his 16-year-old son Wade was killed in a car accident. Though he is reluctant to discuss it much, the tragic event led him to rethink his priorities.
He joined Edenton Street Methodist, where Wade had been active. He became part of a men's Bible study group and served on the church's administrative board. In the Senate he has been co-chairman of its prayer breakfast.
In contrast to Mr. Kerry, Mr. Edwards speaks comfortably about his faith ("my Christianity informs everything I do," he told The Washington Post earlier this year) and its social implications, especially the "moral responsibility," as he sees it, for government to do more to lift families out of poverty.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

War: another neglected Christian issue

The aggression, violence, and destruction of war is obviously the antithesis of the nonviolent, turn-the-other-cheek, selfless love preached by Jesus. Although I am not prepared, at this point in my life, to conclude that war may never be justified, it must certainly (at the very least) be undertaken only in cases of absolute necessity. Clearly Jesus would demand no less.

War, then, is a very Christian issue; another one obscured by the obsessive focus of mainline Christians on sexual morality.

Instead of voting their Victorian sensibilities, perhaps Christians should consider the more important issue of just war. The AP reported yesterday that President Bush has not learned his lesson from the massive intelligence failures that led up to the Iraq War:

"The United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past," Bush wrote. "We cannot let our enemies strike first." (emphasis mine).

Bush, then, intends not only to refuse to turn the other cheek, he intends to pound his enemies into submission before they even strike. Can you conceive of a more un-Christian position?

Topsy Turvy

As the AIDS conference in Thailand reports AIDS rates skyrocketing worldwide and deaths exceeding 3 million last year, the AgapePress (a prominent Christian news outlet) suggested yesterday that the United States is spending too much on AIDS research. Does this strike anyone else as problematic? Note that the story fails to acknowledge any AIDS deaths that occur outside the U.S.

The Pernicious Effects of the New Medicare Law

A study released yesterday by the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that private employers will cut or eliminate prescription drug coverage for 3.8 million retirees when Medicare begins offering such coverage in 2006. The problem is that the prescription drug coverage under Medicare isn't nearly as good as private prescription drug coverage. Thus, the Bush Administration itself is now admitting that many seniors will lose the drug coverage they already have as a result of the law and, thus, be worse off than they were before.

This administration is slick, and Christians must be careful. Even when it seems to be serving "the least of these," it is often not.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Liberals are not Immune! (Part I)

In these pages, I have regularly challenged conservatives. But the liberals are not immune -- either from challenge in these pages or from inane conduct worthy of comment.

NPR reported yesterday that a group of liberal secularists calling themselves the "Mainstream Coalition" has begun a "secret mission" of infiltrating churches to try to catch them pushing political messages and political candidates. The group intends to report such incidents to the government and to the media in order to "raise awareness about the separation between church and state."

Let the record be clear: there is nothing in our Constitution which prohibits churches from supporting political candidates and nothing which prohibits them from engaging in the political "marketplace of ideas." The "separation of church and state," a phrase which appears no where in the Constitution, is really just a shorthand way of referring to two different clauses in the First Amendment. These clauses bind only the government, and prohibit it from making laws (1) "respecting the establishment of religion" or (2) "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The point of these clauses has nothing to do with keeping religion out of politics. Rather, their point is to keep the government out of religion. The government, in other words, must not be allowed to compel people's religious beliefs either by favoring one religion over another (establishment clause) or by preventing people from practicing religion in the way they see fit (free exercise clause). The separation of church and state is, thus, a one-way separation. There is simply no good reason why churches shouldn't engage in politics.

Tomorrow, I will explain why engaging in "Chrisian politics" is not only legally permissible, but required if we are to truly follow Jesus.

Family Values

We here in America like to talk about family values. Consider this new report that the AIDS epidemic has robbed 15 million children of at least one parent. If we aren't helping as much as we can right now, just what kind of family values are we endorsing? How can we argue for protecting the life of a fetus when we aren't doing nearly enough to protect the lives of the world's suffering children?

Monday, July 12, 2004

How rich are you?

So middle-class American, just how rich are you? Go HERE, enter your annual income, and be ready to find out just how affluent you are. The result just may shock you.

And while considering just how rich you are, consider two things:

(1) Jesus saying it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (Matt. 19:24).

AND

(2) All of the luxuries we take for granted: running water - hot and cold! - indoor plumbing, fresh food from all over the world at our local grocery store, climate controlled residences... I could go on. We are richer then the kings and queens of yesterday ever were.

A Last Word...

After decrying the gay marriage debate as a distraction, I have let myself become distracted. Consequently, I am going to give retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong the last word on the issue and then leave it behind for at least a few weeks:

"It...needs to be clearly stated that, despite the homophobic caterwauling that goes on inside the Christian church today, Jesus never said a word in any gospel about homosexuality. This is why no gospel texts can be quoted in this current arena of ecclesiastical debate. Yet the record of this Jesus for standing at the side of marginalized members of his society or the victims of sexual prejudice is clear. If he had had the knowledge that we have today about the nature and origin of homosexuality, there is no doubt where he would have stood or on which side the loving Jesus of Nazareth would have come down. Prejudice, based on either a sense of gender superiority or on differences in sexual orientation, is one more barrier to a full humanity. Jesus steps accross that barrier as readily as he does all others. He call us once more to a new being, to enter a humanity without barriers, without the defensive stereotypes we apply to issues of human sexuality. He is a God-presence who relativizes every barrier that blocks our wholeness and thus our ability to be God-bearers to others."

A New Christianity for a New World 136 (2001).

Lynn Cheney Courageously Opposes Anti-Gay Amendment

Lynn and Dick Cheney have a successful lesbian daughter, Mary, who is working as director of vice presidential operations for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Although this fact hasn't stopped the Vice President from standing behind a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, it apparently has given his wife, Lynn Cheney, pause. In courageous public comments yesterday, Lynn put herself publicly at odds with her husband on the issue: "First of all, to be clear that people should be free to enter into their relationships that they choose. And, secondly, to recognize what's historically been the situation, that when it comes to conferring legal status on relationships, that is a matter left to the states," she said.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

"a war against Islam"?

It is my goal in these pages to say much more about Jesus than I say about President Bush. I apologize that my last few entries have centered upon the latter. It's just that the outrageous, relevant news keeps on coming.

A Washington insider close to the White House reported Friday that Christians "do not need to be concerned" about President Bush's favorable public comments about the religion of Islam. According to this source, the President knows "the real score" and does not really believe that Islam is a peaceful religion that has been hijacked by the lunatic fringe. It is politics, says the source, that keeps Bush from saying what he really believes: "that America is in a war against Islam."

I think that Jesus' parable about the hated, heretical Samaritans (Lk 10.33) tells us all we need to know here. We must remember that the parable of the Good Samaritan was a part of a larger dialogue between Jesus and a smart aleck lawyer. A lawyer stands up to "test Jesus," and asks him how he is to live. Jesus' response is that you must "love...your neighbor as yourself." (Lk 10.25). But the lawyer, not content, asks "And who is my neighbor?" (Lk 10.28). The parable about the Samaritan is Jesus' response to this question. In other words, we must love even those groups of people who we have the strongest desire to hate. And, yes, that includes even those with a different religion. (Note Jesus' choice of a character that Jews knew had religious beliefs that varied from theirs.) Loving them, moreover, is not something abstract; it means performing acts of love. Consult the "Want to Really Fight Terrorism?" post below for a perfect example of how this would translate in the modern world.

Gay Marriage, Redux

In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Bush devoted considerable attention to gay marriage, expressing again his support for the pending constitutional amendment which would ban it. Are Christians really going to let themselves be distracted by these tactics from the fact this administration has completely ignored Jesus' command to serve "the least of these?" Mt 25.45. Bush's comments on gay marriage, when considered in context with the announcement that the administration is slashing funding for section 8 housing (see below), shows how the administration uses social issues to pull wool over the eyes of Christians. How many millions of "the least of these" may say to this administration, "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me?" Mt. 25.44. But their cry is drowned out by gay marriage and Janet Jackson's breast.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Now on Google!

This is not the work of a Christian administration

The Bush Administration is cutting back on the Section 8 housing program. Section 8 provides vouchers so that 2 million families in poverty can afford decent housing. But the Bush Administration is reducing funding for the program and changing government regulations so that less families will be able to get the vouchers. The changes place an estimated 250,000 families at risk of homelessness.

"Under God," Redux

In my last entry I asserted that "Under God" was tacked onto the Pledge in the 1950s. Perhaps a little "Pledge history" is in order. The Pledge of Allegiance, interestingly enough, was penned in 1892 by a prominent Baptist Minister and Christian Socialist, Francis Bellamy. It wasn't until 1954 that the phrase "Under God" was added to the original Pledge. Cold warrior politicians felt that affirming a belief in God would distinguish us from the communists. Thus, for the majority of its history, our Pledge has not contained the phrase "Under God."

Friday, July 09, 2004

"Under God": a waste of energy and outrage

Michael Newdow, the California man who challenged the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, is reportedly preparing another challenge. Last month, Newdow's suit was tossed out of the Supreme Court on a technicality. Christian activits are already gearing up to meet the new challenge. The Agape Press -- a prominent Christian news service -- says "Those who believe in God are about to face another court challenge to their faith." Come on. This "under God" battle is another waste of energy and outrage. Christians get themselves riled up over the silliest, most irrelevant issues. We got along just fine before the phrase "under God" was tacked onto the Pledge in the 1950s. Surely we would do so again in the unlikely event that the phrase is removed. We must have less time spent on symbolic issues and more on issues of life and death: let's save the righteous crusades for things that really matter.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Time to question what you've been told

Funny how we believe things just because people tell them to us - especially racially tinged assumptions. If Bill Cosby is so concerned about the plight of Black children, how come he is still a billionaire?

The New York Times, editorial, July 8, 2004

The New Cosby Kids

July 8, 2004
By BARBARA EHRENREICH

It was such a dog-bites-man story that I almost skipped
right by: Billionaire Bashes Poor Blacks. The only thing
that gave this particular story a little piquancy is that
the billionaire doing the bashing is black himself. Bill
Cosby has been attacking the poor of his race, and
especially the youthful poor, for a range of sins,
including using bad words, "stealing poundcake," "giggling"
and failing to give their children normal names like
"Bill." "The lower-economic people," Cosby announced, "are
not holding up their end in this deal."

They let me down, too, sometimes - like that girl at
Wendy's who gave me sweet iced tea when I had clearly
specified unsweetened. She looked a little tired, but, as
Cos might point out: How hard can it be to hold a job, go
to high school and care for younger siblings in all your
spare moments while your parents are at work?

But it's just so 1985 to beat up on the black poor. During
the buildup to welfare "reform" in 1996, the comfortable
denizens of think spas like the Heritage Foundation
routinely excoriated poor black women for being lazy,
promiscuous, government-dependent baby machines, not to
mention overweight (that poundcake again). As for poor
black youth, they were targeted in the 90's as a generation
of "superpredators," gang-bangers and thugs.

It's time to start picking on a more up-to-date pariah
group for the 21st century, and I'd like to nominate the
elderly whites. Filial restraint has so far kept the
would-be Social Security privatizers on the right from
going after them, but the grounds for doing so are clear.
For one thing, there's a startling new wave of "grandpa
bandits" terrorizing rural banks. And occasionally some old
duffer works himself into a frenzy listening to Cole Porter
tunes and drives straight into a crowd of younger folks.

The law-abiding old whites are no prize either.
Overwhelmingly, they choose indolence over employment -
lounging on park benches, playing canasta - when we all
know there are plenty of people-greeter jobs out there.
Since it's government money that allows them to live in
this degenerate state, we can expect the Heritage
Foundation to reveal any day now that some seniors are
cashing in their Social Security checks for vodka and
Viagra. Just as welfare was said to "cause poverty," the
experts may soon announce that Medicare causes baldness and
that Social Security is a risk factor for osteoporosis: the
correlations are undeniable.

And the menace posed by the elderly can only get worse, as
ever more of them sink into debt. What's eating up their
nest eggs? In many cases, drugs. How long before the
streets are ruled by geezer gangs mugging us to support
their insulin and beta-blocker habits?

All right, before the AARP issues a fatwa against me, could
we please acknowledge that the demonization of welfare
recipients wasn't based on reality either? Contrary to the
stereotype, welfare moms in 1996 averaged two children per
family, not six, and in surveys always expressed a desire
to work, should child care become available. Incidentally,
only a minority of them were African-American.

As for the black youth who so exercise Cosby, their
pregnancy rates aren't "soaring," as he reportedly claimed;
in fact, they're lower than they've been in decades. Ditto
with crime rates. And if Cosby's worried about poor grammar
and so forth, why isn't he ranting about the Bush 2005
budget, which would end a slew of programs for dropout
prevention, recreation and school counseling?

Or, if he's looking for tantrum fodder, what about the fact
that a black baby has a 40 percent chance of being born
into poverty? You can blame adults for their poverty - if
you're mean-spirited enough - but you cannot blame babies,
and that's, in effect, what we're talking about here.

As the sociologist Michael Males, who monitors
youth-bashing outbreaks, told me: "Younger black America
today is struggling admirably against massive
disinvestments in schools, terrible unemployment, harsh
policing and degrading prejudices, and they're succeeding
amazingly well. They deserve respect, not grown-up
tantrums."

But it must be fun to beat up on people too young and too
poor to fight back, or the elderly rich wouldn't do it.
Cranky old rich people: now there's a demographic group
that qualifies as a genuine Menace 2 Society.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/08/opinion/08EHRE.html?ex=1090296659&ei=1&en=82dd7795e0c84b90

The cost of war...

Check out this website: http://www.costofwar.com/. The "compare to the cost of" feature is amazing.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Evolutionary Creation, Creationary Evolution, Creavolution, huh?

Scientists working in Kenya yesterday found a 900,000 year-old skull which fills an important gap in the fossil record of human evolution. Why is the fact of evolution such a threat to the faith of most Christians? I think that evolution is perfectly consistent with creation. God doesn't personally and individually pull up the sun every morning or send down the rains in the Spring. Instead, God created ingenious scientific laws and processes to govern these things perfectly. Just so, God designed the process of evolution and natural selection as a means of creation. Yes, God did intentionally create human beings. Evolution is the process by which She accomplished this phenomenal task.

Want to really fight terrorism?

Want to effectively fight terrorism? Do you think anyone that knows this little girl will ever become a suicide bomber?


A metaphor for the future

Christian group finds way to aid Iraqi girl with serious burns


04:47 PM CDT on Saturday, July 3, 2004


By RENA PEDERSON / The Dallas Morning News



It started when a distraught Iraqi dentist approached Dale Carnes, a member of the Blackwell private security company who was on patrol in April at an American compound near Baghdad.

The Iraqi man was desperate to get help for his 3-year-old daughter, Sara, who had third-degree burns over much of her body from a fire in her home. The burns were so severe that she was probably going to be seriously disfigured.

Mr. Carnes knew that the father was risking his life just by making contact with the U.S. personnel in Hillah, about 60 kilometers from Baghdad. "This man is literally willing to die to help his daughter," Mr. Carnes e-mailed his co-workers. "Truly there is no greater love than that."

Polish doctors in the international coalition evaluated the girl, saying she needed immediate surgery to decrease the heavy scarring. But no place in the region was capable of such a delicate procedure.

When calls reached Samaritan's Purse, a nonprofit evangelical Christian organization that provides aid to victims of war and poverty in more than 100 countries, the group agreed to help. Shriner's Hospital in Galveston, considered the best in the world at treating such burns, said it would treat the girl for free.

But how to get her out of Iraq at a time when every Iraqi was considered a possible threat by immigration officials? Calls and e-mails zipped back and forth from Texas to Washington to Baghdad. Could Sara fly out through Germany on a military plane? Nope. She would first have to travel all the way to Amman, Jordan, a dangerous day's drive, and wait in line like everyone else requesting a visa.

More weeks went by. More calls and e-mails ricocheted around the State Department and through the highest levels of the White House.

While the rest of the world was fixated on bombings and international summits with important men in suits, a determined little group of Americans kept insisting that the most powerful nation in the world must help a 40-pound girl.

"For the members of my team, Sara has kind of become a metaphor for the future of Iraq," Mr. Carnes wrote.

He said that the first week he was in Iraq, a translator told him that the best way to end the fighting and bring peace to the country was to start earning the trust and respect of the common Iraqi people. He felt compelled to do what he could.

The same translator later told him that the entire neighborhood around the Hillah compound was talking about how the Americans were pulling out the stops to help one Iraqi girl.

Last week, their efforts paid off. Sara Al-Humadi arrived in Galveston with her mother, Dr. Zainab M. Jafar, who is also a dentist. Wednesday morning young Sara had the first of a series of surgeries to repair her deeply scarred body. She may need to remain in Galveston for several months. That means she will celebrate her fourth birthday July 29 in the United States.

A Baptist church in Galveston recruited two families to host Sara, her mother and a translator. The church youth minister said Wednesday that when the call came in, "We said yes right away. And so they asked me, 'you realize these are Muslims, right?' and I said yes. And just to make sure there were no misunderstandings, they said, 'You realize these are Iraqis, right?' And I said, yes. This is about a child who needs help. It's about love."

Sara's story is also a testament to the frustration many Americans have felt as they watched the high-stakes struggle for the future of Iraq and wondered how they could help.

It's easier to come to the aid of one hurting child than to rebuild a ravaged country and subdue violent opposition. But it's a better vision for a future relationship than those painful prison photographs.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

An outrage...and an act of kindness

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An elderly, impoverished Turkish woman jailed for nearly a month after planting potatoes on state land has been freed after a sympathetic mayor paid her fine, a television station said on Sunday.

Refiye Maya, 76, was sentenced to 45 days in prison because she could not afford the 1.8 billion lira ($1,250) fine after her conviction for violating forestry laws, CNN Turk said.

Authorities discovered she had planted up to a half-acre (0.45 hectare) of potatoes on state property next to her farm in the northwestern province of Sakarya.

CNN Turk showed Maya, dressed in a traditional headscarf and baggy shalwar trousers, leaning on her cane as she slowly walked out of prison, assisted by police officers.

Maya served 27 days of her jail sentence before Mayor Ibrahim Karaosmanoglu of the nearby city of Izmit met her on a visit to a women's prison and learned her story.

"For years I planted potatoes and cabbages in that area, I didn't know it was a crime," Maya said after she left the prison's gates.

"Because we don't have any income, we couldn't pay the fine, and I had to go to prison. I will never, ever plant potatoes or anything else there again," she said.

Log it under the "much work to be done" file

A United Nations report released today suggests that we are losing the race against the AIDS virus. Last year, a record 5 million people were infected and a record 3 million people died. Fighting AIDS is now expected to be "more expensive than previously believed." (AP Report)

What Americans Find Morally Wrong

A recent Dallas Morning News special report, Snapshots of Faith in America, asked Americans what they considered to be morally wrong.

Act % of Americans who believe Act is morally wrong

Polygamy 91
Married man/woman having an affair 91
Suicide 79
Homosexual Behavior 54
Abortion 50
Having a baby outside marriage 45
Sex between an unmarried man and woman 36
Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur 36
Gambling 30
Death Penalty 28
Divorce 26

Monday, July 05, 2004

Jesus on Panhandling?

Last month, the city of Durham, North Carolina began a "crack down" on panhandling, making it a crime to beg between sunset and sunrise. Durham is just one example of a slew of cities, San Francisco among them, which are restricting panhandling.

Would Jesus support such measures? Absolutely not.

The first key to understanding Jesus' teaching on panhandling lies in understanding one of the most misunderstood of the beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven." Lk. 6.20. First, the translation of the Greek word "ptōchos" as poor is problematic. "Ptōchos" clearly does not mean "working poor" or someone who, through struggling, is still barely able to cobble together the necessities. The Greek word for people making a bare subsistence living is "penēs." "Ptōchos," on the other hand, is used to describe the propertyless poor -- the jobless poor who have been pushed into homelessness and begging. (John Crossan's Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography contains a discussion of the two different Greek words for "poor" at page 61.)

But why does Jesus say such destitutes are blessed? Are all beggars nice people? Of course not. The destitute, the homeless, are blessed because they are innocent. Only those who have been chewed up and spit out by the unjust system -- those who don't benefit from the system -- can claim to be innocent of its structural oppressions.

If this aphorism doesn't throw panhandlers in a different light, perhaps Jesus' command in Mt. 5.42 will. Jesus tells the crowds in the Sermon: "Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."

Jesus tells us, then, that the poor are not to be scorned, feared, or arrested. Rather, they are to be revered as innocents. Jesus teaches us not only that we must tolerate (rather than ban) panhandling but also that we must give to every panhandler we meet. Given that it is the system which we all perpetuate that put them in the position, it is the very least we can do.

Hell

It's almost impossible to grow up in America - or anywhere for that matter - and not have predetermined ideas about the afterlife. Taught by the church and reinforced by pop culture, I would imagine most Americans believe that hell is a fiery place where the devil lives to torment misguided souls for eternity. I disagree.

Every architect knows that his or her stamp is what defines a building. In every piece of the building, the architect's voice is present, regardless of how bad the contractor messes things up. The same is true with God in all of creation.

If heaven is to be defined as community or one-ness with God - as most Christians would agree - then hell must be the absensce of God. Assuming that God is the creator, i.e. the mind behind all existence, then it is only logical that nothing exists in hell, for if it did, God would be present in hell and the beauty of his own creation would be forever seperated from him.

My conclusion: hell is non-existence, for existence itself implies a connection with God. This idea of hell - one I believe Jesus espoused - is much more in line with the Christian doctrines of love and sacrifice than the typical church-going idea of eternal damnation. After all, any God that sits back and allows his own creation to suffer for eternity isn't one that any right minded person could call a "loving" God. John Calvin, you make me sick.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Heal the Sick...

A recent study has found that a simple daily vitamin pill can delay the progress of AIDS and improve quality of life of AIDS sufferers. This means that giving even a small amount can have a dramatic positive impact.

What's in a Name?

The Southern Baptists have defeated a motion to change their name. The Southern Baptist Convention organized under that same name in 1845. They split from the rest of American Baptists over the issue of slavery. Northern Baptists claimed that God condemned such inhumane practices while Southern Baptists staunchly defended the institution of slavery. The Southern Baptists should distance themselves from such an ignominious, un-Christian history.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Waste-of-Time Sunday

The American Family Association is promoting July 11th as "Marriage Protection Sunday," calling on all pastors to preach a sermon informing their congregations of "the serious threat which homosexual marriage presents." Clearly, this is just the beginning of the noise that mainline Christians will make as the election approaches and as more gay rights cases make their way to the United States Supreme Court. Homosexuality has, for the time being, replaced abortion as THE political issue for Christians.

There's just one tiny problem with this: Jesus did not condemn homosexuality. No account of Jesus' teachings, canonical or noncanonical, contains a single mention of homosexuality. This despite the fact that homosexual relationships clearly existed in Jesus' time. Jesus did teach on marriage and sex, but the issues that preoccupied Jesus were divorce (Mt. 19.7-9) and adultery (Mt. 5.27-29). These, not homosexuality, were the marital and sexual issues that concerned Jesus.

But even these sexual issues were only weak themes in Jesus' message. Jesus' real concern was with social justice. He repeatedly exhorted his followers to give food and clothing to the poor, to heal the sick, and to visit those suffering in prison (e.g., Mt. 25.43-46). Jesus' concerns with the poor, with the sick, and with the welfare of prisoners couldn't be more relevant to us today. This anti-gay marriage crusade is a distraction which takes time and energy away from the causes which really mattered to Jesus and the causes that Christians should be working toward now.

There is much good work that must be done. Let's stop wasting time trying to control who others want to spend their lives or share the bedrooms with.