Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Republican Party's real diversity problem

Six years ago a couple of conservative Republican friends excitedly sent me an e-mail that they were sure would foster "reconciliation of the races." I decided to click on the link, and it turned out that it was touting the candidacies of Michael Steele, who was running for the U.S. Senate in Maryland; and Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann, who were each running for governor in Ohio and Pennsylvania respectively -- all African-American and all as Republicans.

I quickly dismissed the publicity as irrelevant, saying that the conservatives who run the GOP wanted capitulation, not reconciliation. It turned out that they had the bad fortune of running for office during the Republican "meltdown" of that year, all of them losing easily and with Ed Rendell, the victorious Democrat in the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania, even saying that he received a lot of votes because Swann was black.

I bring this up because South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is planning to nominate Tim Scott, touted as the first black Republican to enter statewide office since Reconstruction, to the Senate to replace Jim DeMint, who is taking a position with the Heritage Foundation. Some folks are making this appointment into a big deal -- which it isn't, especially when you consider that Scott is a hard-core conservative and a tea-party sympathizer. In that context, in many eyes nominating Scott to such a position is a lot like nominating an ex-slave to promote the positions of the slavers.

But the problem with Scott being in the Senate is not merely, or even primarily, about race. Rather, it's about the unwillingness to address ideological diversity -- or, more accurately, the lack thereof -- in the party.

Since the 1980s, when the political right began to take firm control of the former "party of Lincoln," it has systematically pushed out "apostates" who dared to deviate from its ideological line. Even after it took unexpected losses, especially in the Senate where tea-party adherents ended up being crushed at the polls, last month, it still remains committed to the death to the principles of "less government." (In practice, however, only for themselves.)

Such an unyielding stance was bound to cost it politically because it willfully, and in some cases deliberately, alienates much of the electorate, as evidence by last month's election. Trouble is that it doesn't get that, always blaming its defeat on "political correctness," hostile media or a lack of understanding of its views, nor does it talk or listen to anyone else.

Some have said that the Republican Party will soon become a relic of history à la the Whigs, which it eventually replaced. That may be overstating things a bit, considering that it still remains strong in the South and rural America, but unless it makes an effort to communicate with the rest of the country it will be relegated to permanent minority status as a whole. And nominating racial minorities to prominent posts won't change that.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No easy answers: We can't just run away

Last week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. is still very much in the news, if for no other reason than people are trying to figure out how to keep that from happening again. Such things as re-instituting a ban on assault weapons, obliging teachers to be armed and even "returning God" to public schools have been proposed.

What should be obvious to us Christians is that, since we live in a world full of evil, things like this happen and all the security in the world won't change that. However, it isn't obvious because too many of us have a worldly mentality in that we think that we should sail through life without any serious difficulty -- massacres happen only to them.

More to the point, it seems to me that too many believers have forgotten that there is an invisible war going on all around us. We may pay lip service to that from time to time but don't have a handle on its full import, which is why we offer simple political and cultural solutions to what is, ultimately, a spiritual problem.

Which may get you to thinking: If we had a return to Godly principles or even if people had converted to Christianity, could this have been averted? Wrong question. One parent of a victim who had moved to Newtown from the New York City area said they had done so because they thought it was "safer." I don't claim to know the spiritual condition of that parent, but if that person were really following God he or she might not have moved to that town in the first place. (Recall in Genesis that Lot had moved to Sodom because it was a wealthy place and he thought he could make money there.)

Indeed, I've noticed that the majority of these recent massacres since Columbine High School in 1999 have taken place in "safe," upper-middle-class areas, not the 'hoods that are considered cisterns for violence. That was even the case here in Pittsburgh, which saw two in 2009, with one young man mowing down three city policeman in April and a middle-aged man spraying gunfire at during a women's fitness class at a suburban shopping mall in August.

I think it would be more appropriate to focus not on the actual tragedy but the aftermath of such -- what God does in response. Most of us have experienced bad situations where He in His perfect timing had to intervene and did. As John Eldredge once said, "God loves to come through." So while we wait and grieve with those who have suffered loss and violence, we also know that God will come out of it.

That can't happen, however, if we try to escape it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A new strategy to fight abortion

It appears that, at least for now but perhaps permanently, the fight to restrict legal abortion has finally been lost.  Many of us who want to see it banned once again pinned our hopes on a Republican winning the presidency and the Senate but saw them dashed earlier this month, with President Obama decisively winning another term and Democratic representation in the upper chamber increasing.

One thing that was clear to me years ago and I hope others eventually understand:  From the start we've pursued a flawed strategy, which will have to change if we're to make any headway.  Bottom line, today we need to be focused on a "consistent life" approach rather than just focus on ending legal abortion.

Our original mistake was to allow abortion to be deliberately uncoupled from issues of poverty, racism and other forms of social injustice when some of the organizations we supported adopted abortion as its primary moral crusade.  That had the effect of forcing people to choose between supporting candidates who were "pro-life" but failed to address those other issues, leading to massive internal conflict.  (It's how the overwhelmingly anti-abortion African-American community ends up voting much of the time for pro-choice political candidates, such as Barack Obama.)  That's why we end up being accused of "having a love affair with the fetus," as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said about two decades ago.

We also didn't focus very much, if at all, upon the bad relationships between men and women that cause unwanted pregnancy in the first place -- and I don't necessarily mean between a couple, either.  Probably most of the girls who get pregnant in the first place, as well as their mothers, have bad relationships with significant men, often their fathers, and are looking for warmth and nurturing.  What causes those?  Well, way too many factors to say.

Then you had the two Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate who made inappropriate comments about pregnancy and rape, one wrongly suggesting that a woman's body can shake that off and the other saying that pregnancy from rape "is a gift from God."  (On a theological level that may be true, but it's simply not kosher for a politician to say that.)  Both ended up being crushed at the polls after leading their respective races.

I think that, if the anti-abortion movement wants to be viable, it ought to leave the conservative movement and the Republican Party altogether.  Well, isn't the GOP the "party of life?"  Oh, no, it isn't.  Remember that the vast majority of registered Republicans, especially those who aren't Christians, couldn't care less.  (There's a reason you don't see the issue of abortion addressed in conservative secular media.)  Rather, the movement has used the issue to get our votes for the sake of its true agenda:  Political dominance by any means necessary.  But with the GOP on the ropes politically, it's taking us down with it.

Want to be truly "pro-life"?  Then show concern for the environment in which we will have to raise those children.  Air and water pollution, economic injustices, lack of social opportunity -- these things also affect the sanctity of human life.  If we do so we actually might convince others that abortion is indeed a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Misplaced worship

A video clip of a recent remark by actor Jamie Foxx referring to "our Lord and Savior Barack Obama" has been burning up Facebook, to predictable outrage from folks who didn't vote for him.  "He's not the savior of anything," they're sneering.  Of course not, and I don't think either Foxx or the audience who cheered that statement truly believes that, either.

Rather, I think that Foxx was trying to make a point -- recall that his adversaries spent the past four years trying to defeat him by whatever means they deemed necessary and in the process focusing on issues that had nothing to with governance.  And even now people are saying "I fear for my country ... " just because Obama was reelected earlier this month despite their aggressive campaign to keep him from a second term.

Foxx's point?  He was saying to the haters, "You ain't boss here."

Going deeper, too many of us Christians who lean conservative have convinced ourselves that adhering to that agenda was key to our nation's economic and spiritual prosperity when the Scripture doesn't even come close to saying that.  Worse, we have our own demigod, Ronald Reagan, to justify our nostalgia kick, never mind that he paid only lip service to the "culture war" and that his economic policies ultimately resulted in disaster.  Remember that he raised Federal taxes many times more often than he cut them, a sign that "supply-side economics" just didn't work, and -- horrors! -- even cut deals with Democrats.

To this day many Republicans say when they find themselves in a quandary, "What would Ronnie do?", never mind that it was Reagan himself, not the ideology he championed, that was popular.

But we also have become idolatrous in believing that the removal of the folks we consider God's "enemies" (read:  liberals and Democrats) would be efficacious to God's intent.  That we were unable to dislodge Obama and, before him, Bill Clinton from their places of power should give us pause.  But I doubt that it will.

And that's the message that Foxx was trying to deliver.  It's not that Jesus was on his side -- He wasn't on ours, either.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A call for repentance

The 2012 general election proved to be a disaster for Christian culture warriors.  Not only did President Obama, whom they bitterly opposed, win another term but Democrats also picked up seats in the U.S. Senate and -- more ominously -- voters in three more states approved referenda allowing same-gender matrimony.  As can be expected, some of them have called on the nation to repent.

They, however, forget one thing:  Judgment always begins with the household of God -- that is, with His Body, the church.  And before it calls on the nation to repent of its sins, it needs to get its own house in order.  It is my conviction that its failure to address its own sins at least indirectly caused the situation about which they're complaining today.

Let's go through the Ten Commandments to show you what I'm talking about.

1) "You shall have no other gods before Me."  But look at just how many folks have made politics into a god, with folks making statements that God would judge us because we didn't outlaw abortion or send gays back into the closet.  Anyway, there is one thing that God will judge us for -- and (surprise, surprise) it's not those big two.  (I'll get to that later.)

3)  "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God."  So how do we place His name on policies that He never endorsed, even implicitly?

7)  "You shall not steal."  That also includes hope for the poor, which I'll also deal with down the road.

9)  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."  If you haven't heard, the gossip about President Obama counts as such.  No, he's not a Muslim or a socialist -- the true socialists will tell you that he's certainly not that -- and he was born in this country.

To their credit, the majority of evangelical churches keep their pulpits politics-free and are not participating in the hand-wringing I referred to earlier.  Now, this is not the same as avoiding political issues -- last month the pastor of my church preached a series on homosexuality -- but he never intended it to divide people in that way.  The problem with the culture war is that every victory represents gloating and every defeat means depression ("What's going to happen to us?"); however, that speaks to a lack of trust in God to preserve His people.

The primary criterion on which God does judge is -- wait for it -- how nations treat the powerless, and that's where the church has definitely fallen short.  For the past three decades many conservative Christians have pursued a corporate-friendly ideology that has had the effect of damaging the economic and political prospects of those of lesser means, never mind that the Old Testament prophets denounced unjust economic systems; I see nothing in the Bible that suggests that following Christ means that you have to oppose, say, labor unions.  Even with Sodom and Gomorrah, God took them out primarily because of how their citizens neglected the poor; the sexual perversion came out of that (Ezekiel 16-49 and 50).  And it seemed that Lot, nephew of Abraham, even moved there because he saw it as a place where he felt he could make money.

Going farther, while many of us actually talk about caring for them, the best thing that can be done for them is to give them the dignity, opportunity and power to make their own choices.  But that also includes voting, and it's an open secret that, over the past couple of years, Republican-dominated legislatures passed voter-ID laws (many struck down or, here in Pennsylvania, delayed) ostensibly to keep them from voting again for Obama -- and, perhaps more telling, against them (their often-transient lifestyles lead to the lack of ID).  However, I can't think of any Christian leader who spoke out against the true intent of such laws -- did they really believe the spin that they were needed to combat fraud (which in practice is virtually non-existent)?

Which leads to another issue:  Why aren't we concerned about the rights of others?  I still haven't forgotten that many of the opponents of the civil-rights movement were conservative Christians -- perhaps even then they feared the loss of their privileged status -- and the words of Martin Luther King Jr., in their proper context, would still convict them today.  They've over the years tried to sanitize him, his "I Have a Dream" speech supposedly declaring color-blindness when he meant nothing of the sort and insisting that he was a Republican partisan (not in 1964 he wasn't).

Bottom line, we in the church need to repent of one thing:  Selfishness based on idolatry.  We need to remember that whatever we have -- a house, a car, money in the bank, the social status that come from them etc. -- are but gifts from God and still belong to Him to be used for His purposes.  It seems to be that, for some of us, government exists only to protect "my status and my stuff," and that has to change before God can move the way we want Him to (and in the way He Himself desires).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 2012 general election: What really happened

I saw this coming, even if many other people didn't.

Despite polls showing a tightening race for president, incumbent Democrat Barack Obama ended up defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a fairly comfortable margin in the electoral and popular votes earlier this week.  Pundits have been trying to analyze what happened:  Demographic shifts and a superior organization benefiting Obama, for example, but those don't begin to explain what became a fairly easy victory in a race whose results were supposed to be determined by a weak economy and fiscal instability.

I offer another hypothesis, albeit one that may rankle some:  The pro-Obama electorate didn't simply vote for him; it also voted against the conservatives who run the GOP.  More to the point, it repudiated their class- and culture-war politics, their collective smugness and their Machiavellian tactics that have been their hallmark for the past two generations and especially their campaign against Bill Clinton in the 1990s.  And given their reaction, they still don't get that they sowed the seeds of their own demise.

Message to Karl Rove:  Rejection sucks, doesn't it?

The seeds of this Republican debacle actually trace back to the 2006 Republican meltdown, with the promised "quick war" in Iraq -- essentially being financed on credit -- that continued to drag on, the "jobless recovery" and the Jack Abramoff--fueled lobbying scandal causing voters even in the South to flee the Republican Party; yet the party brain-trust never noticed that a counter-revolution that would permanently threaten its power was already under way.  Here in Pennsylvania, then auditor-general Bob Casey Jr., namesake son of a now-deceased former governor, was recruited to run against the extremely vulnerable incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum; Casey's campaign ads referred to excessive Federal tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that Santorum supported and that drained the government of revenue.  Casey, of course, won going away -- and an issue was born.  (That helped indirectly to spawn last year's Occupy protests in major cities.)

Then you have the incessant attacks on the president -- that he wasn't a native-born American, that he was a Muslim or socialist, the photo-shopped photos of him and wife Michelle engaging in questionable public behavior; GOP politicians vowing that they intended to force him out of office; the complaints about his health-care bill; the twisting of his words in the movie "2016:  Obama's America"; and so on.  It became Clinton redux, only more open because their media apparatus had been exposed as fraudulent.

But don't forget Romney's words to some well-heeled donors about the 47 percent.  The GOP-sponsored voter-ID laws passed in several states, supposedly to maintain "ballot security" but ostensibly to keep pro-Obama voters from the polls.  (Thank you, Mike Turzai, for speaking the truth.)  The destruction of ACORN, whose sin was registering people to vote.  The attack on public-sector labor unions, especially in Wisconsin.  All these had the cumulative effect of building a base of political progressives the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 1960s -- and it was ready to fight.  That might be what the president was thinking when he uttered the words "Voting is the best revenge" to an Ohio audience.

Given the long-term ramifications of the elections, this might be the year that the conservative movement, with its inflexibility and unwillingness to talk or listen to anyone else outside its purview, begins to collapse.  Many of its adherents still believe that maintaining a strong conservative message will eventually carry them to victory; however, most of Romney's opponents did and sank like a split-fingered fastball.  Add to this the reality that, if you take a strong stance on any issue, you also give the opportunity for folks to vote against you -- and you might lose.

Friday, November 2, 2012

THE most important election?

Earlier this week I became aware of an article written by a Louisiana pastor insisting that Tuesday's general election was the most important in American history.  Similar to the thought process of a lot of other evangelicals, he wrote that God was primarily concerned about three things: Abortion, gay marriage and support for the state of Israel.  And while I don't recall if he mentioned President Obama by name, the implication was clear:  "God help us if he's reelected."

With all due respect to my brother down there, his screed is blasphemous.  (And that's not an adjective that I choose lightly.)  In referring to the same old cultural bugaboos, he ignores not only American history but also much of the teaching of the Word of God.

Let's take abortion first.  Most people don't realize that in this country abortion has generally been legal (in that laws restricting the practice originally didn't exist until the turn of the last century); however, according to the book "Blinded By Might:  Can the Religious Right Save America?", it was quite common, especially in major cities.  However, such laws were enacted by that day's liberals, with considerable popular support, and had nothing to do with religion or faith.  Keep in mind that abortion was never directly addressed in Scripture, either.

We began losing the war against gay marriage about five years ago, with more and more people -- especially those younger than 30 -- becoming supportive of it, I submit in reaction to conservative evangelicals using the gay community as a political piñata for the sake of fundraising.  Indeed, only half-a-dozen passages refer to homosexuality and all of those symptomatic of those who reject God.  As for Israel, not even God established that nation forever for its own sake; it still needed to obey Him.

If God does judge a nation on anything, it's treatment of the poor (read:  socially, culturally and politically powerless) in society, with entire chapters, especially in the Old Testament, written on that subject. James 1:26 reads, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" -- and not simply as a diaconal issue, either. Yet few evangelicals even make that consideration, so fixated they seem to be with issues of power and convenience.

In addition, I remember 20 years ago when many Christians warned against a Clinton presidency, with Randall Terry's church in Binghamton, N.Y. improperly taking out about full-page advertisements in USA Today and the New York Times opposing him.  In addition to flouting IRS rules about churches endorsing or opposing candidates, such demonstrated a lack of trust in God to preserve His people in an age that folks were "turning away from him."

And that represented the blasphemy I referred to earlier.  Because, in the end, God will always get His -- no matter who is president.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A resurgence of Marxism? Why and how it might happen

Folks have been complaining virtually since the time that he was inaugurated that President Obama is a socialist.  But it's more likely that, should Mitt Romney be elected president and conservative Republicans become politically dominant again -- which I don't anticipate -- we would see a resurrection of Marxism.

Come again?  Wouldn't conservative principles bring prosperity to all?  Uh -- no, only a privileged few, who would then jimmy the system to make sure they stayed at the top of the food chain.   Indeed, similar to what we had during the second term of George W. Bush, the "jobless recovery" and all that.

What does that have to do with Marxism?  Only everything, because a lot of people are oblivious to the very conditions that create the climate in which Marxism can thrive.  What's required first is an economic elite that uses its power to perpetuate it and run roughshod over those of a lower social status.  Then, you have to have a religious elite that works hand-in-glove with the economic elite to give it moral sanction.  (Indeed, I consider the 1980s the "dark days" of evangelicalism because during the previous decade it had literally been bought off. If you think I'm kidding, consider that issues of poverty have always been all but ignored in Christian broadcast media.)

A history lesson from the Great Depression, which followed the "roaring '20s":  Only a relative few, mostly in urban areas, enjoyed the perks of wealth that came largely through the stock market and the financial sector; on the other hand, the rural Midwest was suffering through a drought and times were hard elsewhere.  But what did it matter?  Well, we soon found out after the stock market crash, which led to 25 percent unemployment.  And the church, which should have critiqued the culture, to my knowledge was nowhere to be found.

It was during the Depression that Marxist ideology became noticeable, if not all that popular, in America, and the political left was understandably quite concerned.  So President Franklin D. Roosevelt, among other things, placed restrictions on banks and other financial institutions to keep them from raping the system the way they had before.  The business community, which wasn't hurting all that much, deeply resented him as a result.  (And he was ready for a showdown, uttering his famous clause, "I welcome their hatred.")

Organized labor also did its part, purging its ranks of Communists and even receiving support from Roman Catholic clergy.  It was also fortunate that the civil-rights movement started in black Southern churches rather than with the small Communist cells that were operating in Southern cities in that day.  (Even despite Martin Luther King Jr.'s consistent denunciation of Communism, he was still vilified as a Communist.)

The elites, however, began fighting back in the 1950s, organizing and funding think-tanks that promoted free-market ideology with few if any restrictions, and by the 1980s organized labor in the private-sector was pretty much dead.  Moreover, the religious right was born in the late 1970s as a reaction to the Carter Administration's threat to check into the tax-exempt status of private Southern academies that he suspected may have been founded to circumvent court-ordered desegregation of public schools; it too hated on labor unions and "government."  (That was why they tried to remove Bill Clinton as president -- it correctly saw him as a major threat to its worldview.)

But right now the modern conservative movement has a real problem.  In a recent column in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. made this salient point: "Romney, [vice-presidential hopeful Paul] Ryan and the entire right know that their most deeply held belief -- the one on which they won’t compromise -- is rejected by the vast majority of Americans. That’s their faith that every problem in the economy and in society can be solved by throwing more money at rich people through tax cuts." 

And that's the place where Marx's "Communist Manifesto" might get a hearing.  Keep in mind that he didn't so much call for "class warfare" but recognized that it already existed.  (The Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, make the same point, but those passages are completely ignored by most evangelical Christians.)  So if we don't want a resurgence of Marxism, it would behoove us "to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God" [Micah 6:8b].

Saturday, September 29, 2012

'Laziness?' Perhaps not

About 12 years ago, while researching an enterprise story on the stigma of mental illness, I came across this clause: "Trying to find depression among the indigent is like trying to find emphysema among coal miners."  That is to say, all too common.

I can't say I was too surprised, because before then I had suspected that the problems in the 'hood weren't so much cognitive but emotional and thought that folks there might benefit from a good therapist.

For the past 30-odd years and even now, you have a lot of people complaining about "the poor" and their alleged freeloading from the rest of society. I have no doubt that it happens, but today I believe that there's more than "laziness" involved.

It might be clinical depression. I'm serious, as someone who has suffered from such since age 10.

Consider the symptoms: Sleep disturbances, whether sleeping too much or not enough. Changes in appetite, whether greater or less. Irritability. Feelings of hopelessness. Loss of interest in normal things, including hygiene. Thoughts of death or even suicide. That could very well be driving some of the nihilistic behavior that goes on there, including sabotaging economic or educational opportunities, gang violence etc.

And trust me -- it's not something that you can simply "snap out of"; some professionals have suggested that it's caused by a brain chemical imbalance (and thus often treated with medication).

So why don't folks simply go in for treatment? In the African-American community there's still a resistance to such things because of cultural mistrust of the medical profession. On top of that, there's still a stigma attached to mental illness -- the subject of my story in 2000 -- that keeps people from admitting that they need help. (In that story I wrote, one of the subjects was an associate pastor of a thriving evangelical church that had had a breakdown.)

Frankly, I don't know how to solve this problem on such a mass level, but from 1983-5, during my darkest hours, a group of students I met through a church rallied around me and gave me hope. They didn't judge me; they didn't think of me as weak. Gradually I began to take steps to rebuild my then-shattered life; to this day I shudder to think where I would be, if anywhere, had I not met them.

I've heard that the church referred to as a "therapeutic community," and that's what I was privileged to find. But we can't be that when we've already determined their character -- we need to learn the stories, hear the  pain, rail against the injustices -- in short, give them voice. I would say that such people need to be not demonized but heard.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

'2016: Obama's America' -- don't bet on that

You may remember four years ago that James Dobson wrote a hysterical screed complaining what might happen in America by 2012 -- of course, this year -- were Barack Obama elected president.  Any of you remember his predictions?

Of course, I don't.  And I also don't remember any of them coming true.

That's why I'm not going to bother with the current movie "2016 Obama's America," based on the book by conservative "scholar" and American Enterprise Institute fellow Dinesh D'Souza, which is supposedly based largely on Obama's books -- but which does pretty much the same thing.

Oh, I have every reason to believe that the movie will be more painstaking and more comprehensive than Dobson's rant, which I did read.  It will be slicker.  It reportedly has interviews, including with a half-brother in Kenya.  But the spirit of fear of change is the same, so it wouldn't be worth my time and money.

You see, D'Souza makes several mistakes.  One, he falsely assumes that everyone is driven by a fixed, unchanging ideology.  (Obama, in his renomination acceptance speech at last week's Democratic National Convention, said, "Times have changed, and so have I.")  Two, D'Souza apparently believes that Obama has the power to enact his agenda no matter what, conveniently forgetting that he has to deal with a Congress that can't get its act together and many of whose members intended to sabotage him from the outset.

What I'm seeing thus represents projection -- that is, that's what D'Souza would do were he in those shoes, which is a poor way to make an argument.

This represents also yet another desperate attempt to marginalize another sitting president, Bill Clinton of course being the first, that conservatives don't like.  With the passage and subsequent SCOTUS sanction of the Affordable Care Act, which the political right fought tooth-and-nail merely for political purposes; voter-ID laws either being threatened in court or running afoul of the Voting Rights Act; a campaign in several states questioning his eligibility to run in the first place; and his taking down of Osama bin Laden, they, clearly obsessed, simply paint themselves as just this side of crazy.

Which also tells me that they don't themselves possess the qualities to run a country.

The REAL theological implications of a Romney presidency -- not what you might think

The Republican candidate for President of the United States is unabashedly pro-life and pro-family.  He comes from and has always had a solid family life with not even a hint of scandal. He attends religious services regularly and tithes consistently.

Yet, according to one poll, 18 percent of evangelical Christians said that they wouldn't vote for him.

We're of course talking about Mitt Romney, the former governor of the state of Massachusetts who is not only a lifelong member of but also a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints, more popularly known as the Mormon Church.

Frankly, because we live in a secular republic and we're not electing a pastor-in-chief, I personally don't have a problem with his membership in what most orthodox Christians, myself included, consider a cult.

I do, however, had a problem with how he's made his money, which is where the theological problems come in.

I say that because too many Christians worship business leaders as the epitome of cultural virtue, fitting into the American myth of the "self-made man."  In Romney's case, however, it doesn't consistently apply.

For openers, he was reared with that some of that money, his late father George an executive at American Motors and a former GOP presidential candidate in his own right.  Later on his former firm Bain Capital practiced what has been derided as "vulture capitalism," tearing firms apart and making huge profit but at the expense of their workers and supporting his numerous homes and foreign tax shelters  (That's why his tax returns, more accurately his refusal to release them, have become such a hot topic in the campaign, especially considering the last Republican in the White House, George W. Bush, whose absolutely insane economic policies helped to wreck the economy, constantly cut taxes for the super-wealthy -- including Romney.)

So where's the "theology" in all this?

Well, consider what the Bible says about the rich, in too many passages to mention here.  There's nothing wrong in itself with having that kind of wealth; however, folks can become so attached to it that they forget that God gives it for specific reasons, to be a blessing to the community.  (One of the lessons of the parable of the rich fool, not mentioned in the text but understood in that culture, was that he never consulted with his neighbors as to what he should do with his bounty.)  Moreover, those of us who "have it" too often lord that privileged status over everyone else and develop an "entitlement" mentality, assuming that, "if we can get it, you can too," not understanding the opportunities that we were given that others may not have had (and we also don't talk about how to expand such opportunities).  One reason the Pharisees hated Jesus was that they subscribed to such a "health-and-wealth gospel" which He exposed as fraudulent.

Please understand that I'm not talking about "welfare handouts" or "economic redistribution"; doing so just muddies the waters  More to the point, because virtually everyone wants to work, folks need to know where jobs are and how to get them, an important issue these days because of the unstable economy.  Oh, one other thing:  Simply giving more leeway to "job creators" hasn't done the trick for some 30 years now because all they do, and will continue to do so, is pocket that money and spend it on lobbyists to maintain their status.  (Virtually all employers are rich people; however, most rich people are not employers.)

I will not tell you whom to vote for -- that's between you and the LORD.  I will say, however, that the consequences of your vote are not just political; they're ultimately theological in nature and say something about your relationship with Him.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why Romney can't win

The Tampa-based pep rally called the Republican National Convention ended on Thursday with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney officially emerging as the standard-bearer and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his sidekick to face the Obama/Biden ticket on the Democratic side.

Although the election apparently will be closer than I had originally predicted -- last year I was thinking a blowout of Johnson/Goldwater proportions -- I still don't foresee any scenario of "regime change."  That's especially the case after what will likely be a campaign bounce for President Obama after the upcoming Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Here are my reasons:

1) In all the time that he's run for president, Romney has never, ever articulated a comprehensive, inclusive vision for this country that contrasts to Obama's -- in other words, he has become little more than the "not Obama," and that's not good enough.  In 1996 and with reality setting in, Bob Dole was reduced to saying, "I"m not Bill Clinton!"  True dat. Romney has had to shift his positions so radically over the years that no one is sure just what he actually believes; remember that he was elected governor of arguably the most liberal/Democratic state in the union but moved rightward during the primaries after going up against a number of fellow Republicans with more conservative bona fides.

2) Romney's support as a result is suspect. According to Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Alter and quoting from a survey by Public Policy Polling, Virgil Goode, the candidate of the Constitution Party, has 9 percent support in the swing state of Virginia -- 9 percent, more than enough to give the state to Obama, that would normally go to Romney.  Let's also not forget about Ron Paul, who was refused a speaking slot at the convention because he wouldn't endorse Romney.  (Paul's support, while not particularly wide, is very, very deep.)

3) Republican "dirty tricks" to try to keep Democratic voters from the polls are being fought in court and thus creating more of an incentive to vote not only for Obama but also against the GOP.  The Justice Department has invalidated recently-passed voter-ID laws in several Southern states, including Texas just a couple of days ago, because they went against the 1964 Voting Rights Act.  Just yesterday a Federal judge in Ohio allowed early voting in that state, favoring urban (and thus pro-Obama) voters when it was previously permitted but recently outlawed by the Republican governor and legislature in that state.  Earlier this year, another statute was declared unconstitutional in Wisconsin.  And as I write, Pennsylvania's voter-ID law has gone to the state Supreme Court, with a ruling to be delivered later this month.   (Interestingly enough, Gov. Tom Corbett had wanted the court to delay a ruling until October.  Wonder why?)

4)  Ronald Reagan is still dead. Reagan remains the only conservative political candidate whom moderates actually liked; the trouble is that the conservatives still haven't learned that the country voted for him as a person, not as a conservative.  As such, the likes of Newt Gingrich and Joe Scarborough are saying that "when we promote a strong conservative message, we win,"  If that were the case, we'd see a Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain or Rick Perry leading the charge against Obama, but voters -- Republican voters, mind you -- didn't buy any of them.

Furthermore, the tea-party movement, which officially is non-partisan but so far has backed only Republican candidates, wants to cause political change but only from the outside, without being involved in the actual process.  Its insularity and resultant unpopularity have become such that, at least here in Pennsylvania, Democratic political candidates actually ran campaign ads that they "stood up to the Tea Party."

Romney will thus need to find a way to counteract all of these things working against him.  I see no way for him do that.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Voter ID laws -- an affront to God

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. 

-- Proverbs 31-8-9

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

-- Philippians 2:3-4

I have come to the sad conclusion that the voter-ID laws recently been enacted in states by and with Republican-dominated legislatures represent sin against Almighty God.

I know what you may be thinking:  You need a photo ID to, among other things, cash a check, board an airline flight or buy liquor.  Why not to vote?  Remember, however, that those are not rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  (Indeed, the law enacted in Wisconsin was voided by its own constitution.)  Voter fraud?  Virtually non-existent, thank you, Chicago notwithstanding, and even the supporters of such laws admit as much.  Illegal aliens?  Sorry, but for obvious reasons they tend not to vote anyway.

Let's cut to the chase:  This is really about vote suppression, more accurately an attempt to keep people likely to cast their ballots for Barack Obama away from the polls; the Republican Party can't fairly make its case in such communities, so this represents a last-ditch effort to regain power.  The late culture-warrior Paul Weyrich said in 1980, "I don't want everyone to vote," and here in Pennsylvania, GOP state Rep. Mike Turzai even bragged that this state's law was intended to "deliver Pennsylvania to [Mitt] Romney." 

Here's the problem:  The conservative ethos, which is ultimately about concentrated power and wealth at the expense of everyone else, directly counters the aspirations and interests of the poor and especially African-Americans -- hear me, folks, directly.  There are reasons why 90 percent of blacks support Democratic candidates generally, with 95 percent voting for Obama in 2008, and they're not about "welfare goodies" or any of that stuff.  (And his race has nothing to do with it, either.)  Do you think that the Fox News Channel went after ACORN for no reason?  Remember, ACORN sponsored a major voter registration drive targeting the poor.

The law here, upheld last week by a Commonwealth Court judge, is especially onerous because you need a state-required ID with an expiration date -- no store, work, college or military ID would be accepted.  (Many poor folks do not have driver's licenses, which is why it's an issue.)  You can get free state ID cards fairly easily, but, as newspaper reports have indicated, even workers at the state Department of Transportation, which issues them, are a tad confused about the new law and likely to be overwhelmed with requests.  And considering that the political right despises bureaucracy anyway, PennDOT probably won't be able to hire enough workers to process the crush of applicants.

You see the diabolical genius in all this.

But here's the rub:  If liberal Democrats were trying to suppress your right to vote, wouldn't you scream bloody murder?  Heck, you might even consider it "anti-Christian."  So where is the outcry among God's people, especially since many of those being potentially disenfranchised are fellow Christians?

Because I've heard those complaints, I already know that many Christians consider the current president a socialist (nonsense, according to the real socialists) and even a Marxist (ridiculous, because Marxism ignores the spiritual and Obama doesn't do that).  I must warn you, however:  If you ignore the concentration of economic power in the hands of fewer and fewer people, and especially justifying such rapacious capitalism as Godly, you will help to create conditions under which Marxism can occur -- a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will.

The Pennsylvania law has been appealed to Superior Court, and I don't know when a ruling will come down.  Needless to say I hope it will be struck down, but even if it isn't it still qualifies as an unjust law -- and we all know, or should know, just how God feels about unjust laws.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why "abstinence" doesn't work

This may or may not surprise you, but I don't hold out much hope for teen abstinence programs such as "True Love Waits" or the "Silver Ring Thing," the latter taking place at my church several years ago, having any effectiveness in keeping Christian teenagers from becoming sexually active. Believe me, I don't condone sexual conduct outside of marriage.

But the programs, from what little I've seen of them, leave one major issue out of the discussion: How we as fellow believers in Jesus Christ regard each other.  Without that, the ceremonies become nothing more than just that -- ceremonies to make people feel good but eventually turn to naught.

Indeed, I don't think that a whole lot kids are having sex.  But here's the problem:  The popular kids are, especially male athletes -- which should make sense, because they're the ones that attract girls in the first place.  Many of these same Christians who fear teens having sex will watch these same boys play football on Friday nights and even glory in their victories.  And when you get that kind of near-worship on a consistent basis you often end up not feeling accountable to anyone.  (I'm not saying that all athletes act this way, but those Christians that do play will tell you that the temptation is always there.)

But I digress.  It seems to me that, rather than trying to keep kids out of the sack, we should teach them to regard each other as "brothers and sisters" -- and model that behavior.  Say if some guy tried to hit on your sister -- his name is seconds to live, right?  And if someone picked on your brother, you would rush to his defense, right?  So why don't we treat people in the household of faith like that?  I personally experienced considerable rejection from Christian women because I wasn't what they wanted, and I'm not alone in that.

Just consider whom we choose as elders, pastors or "leaders" in the church -- not always the most spiritually qualified but often those that give off the right vibe, have the right resume, display the right "image."  That's just like the world, frankly, and shows us to be at times hypocritical.

I've been fortunate to have experienced a better way.

My first year in college, at Georgia Tech, I fell into a campus ministry sponsored by a downtown Atlanta church, with many of the women attending Agnes Scott College, a women's liberal arts school located in a suburb.  Let me tell you that there wasn't a woman in that group that rated below a 7 -- yes, they were that pretty.

But I never even thought about asking any of them on a date.  There were several reasons for that, mostly due my own immaturity, but even beyond that the group felt like a true family.  To wit, looking back I really did feel as though these women were my sisters, not pieces of meat or playthings.

That sense of belonging was so strong that, at the beginning of a square dance that the fellowship sponsored at the church, I invited what I considered the homeliest woman there to be my partner.  Out of pity?

Honestly, no.  She simply was the one closest to me, and I didn't give it a second thought.

And that kind of attitude is missing in fears about teen sexuality.  Rather than focus upon the consequences of such for themselves, it seems to me that we should teach kids to learn to care about each other to the point that they would want the very best for each other (think "I just couldn't do that to her/him").  That's the kind of selfless love that not only nurtures but also that the world finds attractive, if for no other reason than it's different.  And then we wouldn't need all these programs to attempt in the flesh what should come naturally by God's Spirit.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A prayer that God can NEVER accept

May his days be few;
    may another take his place of leadership.

May his children be fatherless
    and his wife a widow. 


-- Psalm 109:8-9

It should never cease to amaze me just how much hate goes on in the name of Jesus Christ, but this has broken through the floor.  The above verses have been directed by resentful conservative Christians toward President Obama in the hopes that God will remove him from office later this year; there's even a T-shirt available for sale with that Scripture reference.

Well, I've got bad news for you:  God isn't pleased with that attitude -- at all.  And I would go so far as to say that if you subscribe to it, you will be sorely disappointed in November.

The reason should be simple:  God raises up and takes down leaders for His own purposes, not to suit anyone's private agenda.  Moreover, he will never long allow any ideology to be tied to His Kingdom.  That's why things have occasionally gone well under liberal presidents and poorly under conservative ones -- even when, according to a conservative worldview, they weren't supposed to.

Recall that a similar attitude of "Christian" contempt was displayed 20 years ago toward Bill Clinton.  The Binghamton, N.Y. home church of Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was so frightened that it went so far as to take out full-page ads in USA and the New York Times imploring Christians not to vote for him.  (Improperly, as it turned out, as under IRS law churches are not permitted to endorse or oppose candidates.)

Not only that, but it gives the impression that "conservative" principles are required to "save" this country from perdition, economic, political or otherwise.  Trouble is, the facts put the lie that notion.

Under Clinton, who was in fact far less liberal than he was accused of being, the economy was relatively good.  (Which is one reason he survived his impeachment.)  And besides, he knew how to run a government.  Indeed, had he not been term-limited out he might still be in the White House.

Under George W. Bush, however, those same conservative principles, coupled with imprudent but conservative-supported military action in Iraq, tanked the economy and he had to abandon such principles to right the ship.  As much as you may have despised the auto and bank bailouts, keep in mind that (at least with the former) the collapse of GM and Chrysler would have had a ripple effect on the rest of the economy.  To wit, they may have saved your job.

But back to Obama:  I guess that I shouldn't be surprised with all this hatred toward him, which frankly is based on envy -- which, of course, is sin.  After all, it seems that many conservatives believe that being in power is their birthright and that anyone who doesn't support that agenda to the letter must be illegitimate.  But since they can't sell that bile to much of the rest of the country, especially in urban areas, they simply denounce him, raise dubious issues surrounding his birth, call him divisive and even a racist ... the list goes on.  They really need to get over themselves.

Moreover, other Republicans who ran for the presidency this year represented a joke.  Remember Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum?  Can you imagine God endorsing any of these folks, whose only claim was that they oppose everything that Obama does?  Is that any way to run a country?

I believe, and have often said, that Obama is guaranteed another four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. -- if for no other reason than to show conservative Christians that He does, and they do not, run the show.  But also remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:  "Bless and do not curse ... "  Seems that some folks haven't read that part of the Scripture.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

More than just chicken

Chick-Fil-A has apparently struck a nerve. Or, perhaps more accurately, its chief executive officer Dan Cathy has done so.

The Atlanta-based fast-food firm, probably best-known for keeping its stores closed on Sundays in line with Cathy's Christian commitment, has recently drawn the ire of the mayor of Boston, Mass., for being anti-gay-rights.  Specifically, Cathy supports organizations that oppose "gay marriage" and, if my facts are correct, at least one that supports controversial "reparative therapy" for gays to change their orientation; as a result, the mayor is trying to keep Chick-Fil-A stores from opening in that city.

I don't pretend to know his motives -- whether those are his true convictions or thinks he will win gay votes in the process -- but he's wasting his time and energy.

The reason is simple:  Probably most of the folks who oppose same-gender matrimony consider that conviction bedrock and, on this issue, won't bend to the whims of popular culture.  And I mean absolutely never.  From a conservative Christian perspective, it's an issue of improper behavior, not one of "orientation."

Some on the political left have tried to frame same-gender matrimony as a civil-rights issue and especially comparing it with the oppression of African-Americans in the South.  But the analogy fails because sex, sexual expression and marriage simply aren't Constitutional rights.  Besides, one's race is often obvious, while sexual orientation doesn't have to be.

One contributor and a number of posters to Sojourners' left-leaning "God's Politics" blog have said that they would no longer patronize Chick-Fil-A.  They have that right.  They ought to understand, however, that not only will a boycott be ineffective but that it has already sparked a backlash, with supporters targeting Aug. 1 as a day they will specifically patronize the store.

In addition, as I mentioned, Cathy will not change his stance; remember that he keeps his stores closed on Sundays even though he could probably make way more money with an "after-church" rush.  So I don't know what the mayor of Boston is trying to prove.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who really built the business?

President Obama's critics had a field day when he made a speech a couple of weeks ago with the admittedly ill-timed remark "You didn't build that."  Of course, he was specifically referring to infrastructure such as roads, sewer and water systems and bridges for which government maintained responsibility, but it sounded as though he was specifically referring to businesses.

But his ultimate point was correct -- in more ways than he knew.

A lot of business owners complained that the president was pooh-poohing their hard work with that clause, although if you heard the entire speech in context you would realize that he was doing nothing of the kind.  Rather, he was criticizing the sense of entitlement and freedom from responsibility that they seemed to embody.

The big issue, however, is that those who run businesses do not operate in a vacuum.

Say if you always wanted to own your own business, you put a plan into place and ultimately become successful.  Nothing wrong with that -- but here's where you do owe more to people than you may realize.

First, you had to get the education from somewhere, either in college (which someone had to pay for) or through direct mentoring, so someone had to show you the ropes.  Then, you needed to get capital for financing, mostly likely through a bank but also perhaps through some program, whether private or public.  Then, you had to deal with suppliers.

And -- more importantly -- you had to build a customer base, for without customers all your hard work would go for naught. (I'm probably missing some steps here, but you get my drift.)

Also, if you're a Christian you have to understand that God ultimately gave you these things and that your business, but not just that, exists ultimately to glorify Him.  He requires you to treat your customers and clients with equity and justice, giving them good value for what they're paying and give your employees a fair wage or salary.

One of the major dysfunctions in our economic culture is that too often we focus exclusively on the bottom line and cutting costs, forgetting that our "investments," whether in taxes or people, represent the lifeblood of our economy.  I sometimes think of Jesus' parable of the talents, his point being that we are but stewards of God's created order, and if we simply hold on to what we have because we're afraid of losing it, down we'll do so anyway.

Basically, being in business is not simply about making money, although that's certainly necessary.  Rather, it's part of a social contract for which we all need to take responsibility.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No solution in sight

During this presidential campaign, the million-dollar question remains:  Which of the presidential candidates will be able to fix the economy?

The short answer is that none of them -- Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or Ron Paul -- will.  For that matter, neither will Congress or any other lawmaking body.

The slightly longer answer, however, is that the rotten economy isn't primarily a political problem anyway -- it's a cultural one going back to the 1980s, when the nation was sold a bill of goods called "supply-side economics," the idea, of course, being that if government regulations were removed from business the economy would improve.

It didn't work, but you could argue that it really wasn't supposed to work.  Because the cultural change that it spawned proved to be "bottom-line" economics, where the focus is almost exclusively on short-term profit at the expense of long-term investment.  And that, more than anything else, is sabotaging the economy.

How so?  Well, let's start with the assault on the "welfare state" and unions, which began in earnest in the late 1970s, the former amid complaints about "big government" and the latter, corrupt union bosses.  Now, these were subject to debate; however, the ultimate goal, really, was to concentrate power in fewer and fewer hands -- in essence, to build an aristocracy.

We also saw "merger-mania," which -- far from creating jobs -- actually destroyed them, especially in middle management, which fueled the recession that pushed George H.W. Bush out the door (though Reagan should have shouldered the blame).

We now have an economy based far more on speculation than trade and manufacturing; let's not forget that the recovery that took place under Bill Clinton was largely on paper, thanks to the "dot-com" boom.  Why, for example, would drug companies make their products virtually unaffordable and health-insurance firms cut service and raise rates?  Simple -- to keep stock prices up.  (And the CEO's would be fired for not doing so.)

Anyway, look no further as to why the business community is doing virtually nothing to cause change -- it's already gotten what it wants.  That's what President Obama meant when he said, to the consternation of some of his critics, that the private sector "was doing just fine" -- it actually has a lot of cash on hand that it simply refuses to release.

A few months ago on "60 Minutes," a merchant in Iowa complained that he couldn't get a bank loan to finance his business because the banks just won't lend.  That shouldn't surprise.

Bottom line, there is no solution coming on the horizon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How to put Jesse and Al out of business

It's a matter of faith to some that civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are in fact "race-hustlers" who have made their respective careers by causing trouble that didn't exist.  I understand that.

And I'm not sure that's correct.

I say that not because I support or agree with them.  But they do call attention to an issue that some would rather drive underground -- that of an underlying racism that still affects our nation.

However, they have never operated in the South, where racism was not only open but also decreed by law two generations ago.  Jackson has long worked in Chicago; Sharpton, New York, so the kind of racism they would address wouldn't be obvious to many.  Some years ago Jackson even traveled to Peoria, Ill. to try to defuse a situation where a race riot in a high school resulted in the African-American students receiving harsher discipline than the white students.

So how do we put them out of business?  By doing the hard work of addressing issues of race.  Because, whether we like it or not, there really is a divide that has to be crossed.

Now, that's harder than it sounds, because it may mean stepping out of an ideological comfort zone.  Saying that poor African-Americans are lazy and prefer to collect welfare rather than work in fact displays a lack of understanding of that history.  It would help to abandon the talking points and learning about what actually happens.

I often tell my white conservative friends that, even in these days of affirmative action, if they and I were up for the same job or promotion and everything else being equal, on a statistical level they would most likely get it.  Racism?  Not necessarily.   But because they are white they would more likely know the people who make those decisions, and considering that 90 percent of job openings aren't even advertised, if you don't know someone on the inside you're at a disadvantage.

And that's why building intimate relationships across those lines is crucial -- but few people actually do it.  It's especially a problem in evangelical churches, where it wasn't even addressed until the late-1980s with the Promise Keepers movement (and founder Bill McCartney even said that involvement dropped when he began to do so).  That said, "my side" also needs to take some risks as well, not assuming that every person with a white skin is racist -- I grew up that way but repented in my teens.  There will be misunderstandings, of course, but doing so will take good-faith efforts from everyone involved.

One of my favorite movies is "Cry Freedom," the true story of a white newspaper editor in South Africa who was challenged to learn the truth about a black activist he had savaged.  Because the editor did and came to understand the context in which the activist operated, he eventually became an activist in his own right -- and suffered some of the same consequences in the process.

To wit, it's time for us to be willing to identify with the downtrodden.  If enough people did so, Jesse and Al might have little or nothing to do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Once more ... with feeling

You may have heard about the story in today's New York Times about yet another right-wing attempt to unseat President Obama, this courtesy of one Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade and who the article says plans on resurrecting the Jeremiah Wright controversy of 2008, "[doing] what John McCain wouldn't let us do," according to the proposal, originally timed for the summer's Democratic National Convention.

However, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the publicity surrounding it actually served Ricketts' -- and the Republican Party's -- purposes more so than the actual campaign.

The contempt in which conservatives hold Obama simply isn't news, nor are the racist attitudes of some of them, which is why I'm questioning the whole enterprise.  By having this come out now, they place the media in somewhat of a double-bind.

For openers, by putting the story on the front page, the Times allowed the conservative movement to justify its long-standing persecution complex, that "they're out to get us" -- even though the campaign, which would clearly be race-baiting, would be reprehensible in its own right.  But if it were placed on an inside or back page or ignored totally, the rest of the readership would complain that the paper would be kowtowing to the right.

It will be interesting to see the letters that the Times publishes in the next few days, whether readers will complain about Ricketts or they believe that the paper was simply duped into becoming part of the campaign.  The apostle Paul talked about folks who "invent ways to do evil," and we may be looking at just that.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Apocalypse now?

You may remember that four years ago James Dobson, writing for the non-tax-exempt Focus on the Family Action, published a fictional "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America" basically saying what might happen during an Obama administration.  In it he made references to terrorist attacks in American cities, churches possibly losing their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform same-gender marriages, Christian publishers being driven out of business, doctors and nurses forced to perform abortions and other statements that darkly warned about the future.

In addition to Dobson's screed being irresponsible and arrogant, it has turned out that none of these dire predictions have come true -- as have virtually none of the other wild prophecies that come about whenever a liberal Democrat ascends to the presidency or any other position of authority, some of which took place when Bill Clinton got to the White House (one woman I personally know saying that, under Clinton, Christians would be persecuted).  But that won't stop the doomsayers from insisting how bad it will be when "they" are in power.

If any of you wonder why we have so much incivility in American politics these days, start there.  In that mentality the opposition is not simply wrong but primarily the embodiment of pure evil and is never to be even considered human or worth negotiating with.  Neal Gabler, who at the time was working on a biography of the late Sen Edward Kennedy, had it right in an op-ed piece published in 2009 in the Los Angeles Times when he aptly referred to conservative ideology as "religion" which needed to be defended to the death if necessary.

I have another name for it:  Idolatry.  Such an attitude spits in God's face because it makes Him come across as unable or unwilling to preserve his people especially in the "worst" of times.

More to the point, when folks complain about "losing their 'freedom,'" what they really mean is that they fear losing their privileged status.  "I don't want to lose all I've worked for," some may say -- but who gave them the opportunity to work in the first place?  Who placed them in a situation where they were able to get a solid education to make enough money to live in a nice place?  Yet these same people often act entitled and project that onto those they see as beneath them, leaving God's Kingdom out of the picture and forgetting that what He gives He expects to be used for His purposes, not to be hoarded.

Especially during the civil-rights and anti-apartheid movements was the resistance to justice most prevalent.  The book "Eyewitness: The Negro in American History" ran a snippet concerning one group called SPONGE -- "the Society for the Prevention of Negroes Getting Everything" -- that was organized at that time in the South.  And during the movie "Cry Freedom," based on the true story of the relationship between a white South African newspaper editor and a black activist, a white police official said to the editor, "We're not going to ... give this all away."  (It should be noted that in both cases activists were often called "socialists" -- more accurately, communists.  In that context Charles Stanley's warning, also after the 2008 election, about "creeping socialism" during his "10 Things to Pray For" concerning the president should make your blood run cold.)

Well, don't "liberals" do the same thing when they talk about conservatives?  Honestly, no -- they don't need to because conservatives make their aims very clear, whether they're frank as to their intentions or you can simply connect the dots and figure things out.  Moreover, they don't have the same apocalyptic mindset as to what might happen because they have far less to lose; if it comes out, which isn't all that often, it's based on experience.

For example, speakers at the national convention, I think in 2006, of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, which has always been despised by the political right, roundly criticized then-President G.W. Bush for his policies and prosecution of the war in Iraq; the Bush administration responded by threatening to "look into" the group's tax-exempt status.  To that, the NAACP said, "We dare you," and Bush backed down.  You see, when you have a history of seeing people die and go to jail for what they believe in, which it does, you won't be intimidated by even a president.

Which leads the to ultimate point:  Why are we American Christians afraid to die or go to jail for Christ?  Is it because we want to live a comfortable life and not have to engage in spiritual warfare?  Where do we think we are -- heaven?  This is one time I wish that, were we faced with Armageddon -- which we're not -- those followers of Jesus would say, as President Bush once did, "Bring it on."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Changing the rules

Of late a video depicting alleged voter fraud in Washington, D.C. has swept across the Internet, buttressing conservative concerns about a possible stolen election.

But wait a minute -- that video was made by conservative activist James O'Keefe, whose previous undercover operation supposedly "exposed" ACORN staffers engaging in a prostitution ring. The ensuing controversy ended up with the disbanding of the organization, even though it was eventually exonerated of all wrongdoing.

What was ACORN's sin? In essence, registering poor African-Americans to vote -- for Barack Obama for president.

The larger picture is that the conservative movement that now runs the Republican Party is now doing a number of things to attempt to depress Democratic turnout in order to keep Obama from a second term. GOP lawmakers in at least six states, including here in Pennsylvania, have passed laws now requiring photo ID to cast a ballot, knowing full well that the cost of obtaining one might be prohibitive. (In three Southern states the Justice Department found them in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and a law in Wisconsin turned out to be unconstitutional.)

But that to me suggests that the conservatives don't have confidence in either its candidates or its agenda to do things above board -- and for good reason. The Republican front-runner for president, Mitt Romney, simply isn't sufficiently conservative for its base, while Rick Santorum, now a solid second, has a large number of critics outside that base who won't vote for him because of his extreme positions, especially on social issues.

What else are the conservatives doing? You remember that brouhaha in Wisconsin last year about public sector unions? Well, the majority leader of the senate up there admitted that part of the reason it wanted to destroy them was to deny at least some funding for the Obama re-election campaign. Here in Pennsylvania, where a majority of voters are today registered Democrats, the legislature was talking about allotting electoral votes based on the partisan composition of Congressional districts rather than by popular vote -- which, not coincidentally, would favor Republicans. (I don't recall the status of the bill.)

There's a history of such, by the way. In 1992, conservative activists filed suit in Federal court in Little Rock, Ark. to have Bill Clinton removed from the presidential ballot, for no other reason that they were likely to lose. (The judge immediately threw it out.) That failing, others had Clinton impeached on what turned out to be silly, politically-motivated charges related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I wonder why they're complaining about "cheating" now -- projection, perhaps?

Eight years later, House Majority Whip Dick Armey insulted Kweisi Mfume -- I wish I could remember the details -- who at the time headed the NAACP, which for the first time in its history had conducted a voter-registration drive and which has always been on the right-wing hit list. That same year, enough votes from African-Americans may have been invalidated in Florida to give George W. Bush the presidency, so when Obama ended up on the ballot in 2008 the black community was motivated to vote, in larger numbers than ever before.

That's the backdrop of the latest video -- as things stand now things look bleak for the Republican Party. And that's why all these concerns about "voter fraud" represent dealing from the bottom of the deck.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Political gamesmanship and the culture war

Last week, as the result of the pounding he's taken as the result of his remarks condemning Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh admitted that he may have fallen into a trap.

I rarely have reason to agree with him, but he may be right this time.

While I have no way to know for sure right now, I suspect that the recent controversy surrounding the health insurance mandate for contraception, which has a lot of "culture warriors" aflame, may very well have been instigated by the White House -- a deliberate strategy to keep the Republican Party at war with itself. (Of course it could be just dumb luck, but that seems unlikely.)

The reason is simple: The "culture war" is at bottom a losing proposition for the GOP.

Two things to consider: The folks who support "traditional morality," including anti-abortion activists and opponents of same-gender matrimony, generally aren't interested in the political process in that they see compromising -- the "art of politics" -- on their positions as tantamount to ultimate defeat. These are the people who are driving the candidacy of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has always run on those themes and is currently second in Republican primaries and caucuses.

However, they don't seem to understand just how relatively few of them there are; indeed, candidates rarely run campaign ads on such issues, whether for or against, because voters as a rule just don't care. The now-nearly-invisible tea-party movement understood that, which is why it as a whole was silent despite its supporters' likely commitment to traditional morality.

Moreover, with the "religious right" practically defunct since 2006 and U.S. Catholic bishops regarded cynically by many Catholics because of a number of sex-abuse scandals in that church, neither group can provide the prophetic leadership needed to rally the troops. And let's not forget Pat Buchanan's "culture war" speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, which many believe caused even many Republicans to vote for Bill Clinton that year. Bottom line, by taking what many consider to be hard-and-fast stances, such folks manage to make people vote against them.

Which is just what the Democratic Party wants. (Getting Limbaugh, who has inordinate power in the GOP these days, off his game and possibly off the air certainly won't hurt the cause.)

Clearly, this is a problem for whomever the Republicans finally nominate this summer. While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now in the lead, would probably be the strongest Republican to run against Obama when it comes to political positions, many conservatives see him as "Obama-lite" and won't commit to endorsing him. But GOP honchos also probably understand that a Santorum victory might drive away even more voters because of what they might consider his extremist rhetoric.

Assuming that this represents a Clintonian set-up, the birth-control flap is certainly cynical and divisive politics. But it will probably work -- and that's the bottom line.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tit for tat?

The ongoing imbroglio concerning Rush Limbaugh's remarks last week have created yet another side issue. And it is a side issue which deflects from his overall modus operandi, which created the problem in the first place.

I've noticed that some conservatives, while properly disavowing his reference to a Georgetown University law student seeking health insurance for birth control medication as a "slut" and "prostitute," have in turn noticed that liberal commentators have made similar remarks toward conservatives. In one instance Bill Maher supposedly referred to former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin with a word I will not use here, and because I have a lot of left-wing activist friends on Facebook I see the kind of language that they use -- and certainly don't condone it.

There's a difference, however: When liberals slam conservatives, it's always based on what conservatives say and do, not what they believe. A distinction without a difference? I don't think so. Every single liberal broadside against a conservative I've ever seen or heard, without exception, is in response to either an arrogant pronouncement or a punitive policy that says to the rest of the world, "Screw you." That kind of attitude cannot but create an atmosphere of animosity, and since 2004 the left has decided to fight fire with fire.

More to the point, I see a lack of self-awareness on the part of the right on just how it regularly insults people not of its party, as though if you question it on anything its reaction is "Yo' Mama!" or an equivalent taunt. In my experience it accepts no criticism, even constructive, and considers any challenge as a personal attack. (One example: Former president George W. Bush referring to "the politics of personal destruction" when someone questioned his policies.) You wonder if it's really secure in what it believes if it has to eliminate or browbeat any opposition.

I don't listen to talk radio or watch cable news at all, largely due to time constraints but also because I don't want to participate in the sludgefest. However, it's not enough to call for "civility" -- those who create an atmosphere of divisiveness in the first place must be identified, confronted and repudiated. Immediately.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why Rush needs and deserves to be shunned

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
-- John the Baptist, Matthew 3:8

Rush Limbaugh is probably in more trouble right now than he's ever been in.

Of course, last week the radio commentator lambasted as a "slut" -- and worse -- a Georgetown University law student who was asking for insurance coverage for contraception. Limbaugh's intemperate remarks caused a firestorm across the country, with folks (especially on the political left) calling for a boycott of firms who advertise on his show.

Seeing the threat of perhaps being a liability, Limbaugh issued a tepid apology, saying that he didn't mean it to be taken personally.

Sorry, but that's not enough. Keep in mind that he has made his nearly quarter-century career, let alone millions of dollars, making insults and personal attacks on people he doesn't like. He, as much as anyone, is responsible for the political and ideological polarization in this country, and I have yet to see any signs that he will change his ways.

I am not going to tell people not to listen to Limbaugh's show because they can make that decision for themselves. However, if you're a believer in Jesus Christ, Who demands a change in attitude and lifestyle to follow Him, you listen to him at your own risk because his on-air conduct mocks the kind of character that we Christians should strive to maintain.

"But he's witty," you may protest. Big deal -- the devil can be witty, too. Really, the kind of hate-filled resentment demonstrated regularly on Limbaugh's show should never be part of any Christian's diet, if for no other reason than it's "worldly." I personally will not be impressed with any "apology" he makes until he also shows remorse for trashing people on a regular basis and renounces that way of doing business.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The legacy of Malcolm X -- one Christian's perspective

If you didn't already know, today is the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, best known as the foremost spokesman for "black nationalism" during the 1950s and '60s and who built the Nation of Islam into a major cultural force in the African-American community of that day. Needless to say, in many households he is still revered.

The truth be told, I truly wonder just what he accomplished throughout his just under 40 years of life.

Born in Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb. in 1925 to a pastor who was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, he eventually found himself in prison, I'm not sure why. But while there he fell under the spell of Nation of Islam teachings and, upon his release, became a major force not only in NOI but also in the black community. That is, outside the South.

That last item is important, as Malcolm, who used the letter X to replace his "slave name," once admitted, "I don't know nothing about the South."

I'm sure he felt that, with his extremely angry rhetoric, he was speaking out for the powerless in the 'hood, but the NOI's references to whites as "devils" put a lot of people off. (They certainly would have put me off had I heard them back then.) And those kind of pronouncements kept Martin Luther King Jr. from meeting with him during the Southern civil-rights movement; while King was firmly committed to nonviolence, Malcolm never was and King felt -- correctly, in my view -- that Malcolm would cause unnecessary bloodshed.

Now, Malcolm, as a Muslim, would have maintained that strict Islamic moral code -- no alcohol or tobacco, and he certainly refrained from eating pork -- and to this day NOI members are quite disciplined, but sometimes these things have nothing to do with truth. I can't even think of any legislation he had passed, what kind of positive effects he had as far as economic empowerment or anything else. Moreover, according to Dinesh D'Souza's book "The End of Racism," he even met with Klan leaders in 1961.

And here's another irony: He died in part because he repudiated racism.

In 1964 he took the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca and was shocked to see -- white Muslims. He would eventually leave the NOI in part because he said that it wasn't teaching true Islam (and in fact, orthodox Muslims consider the NOI a "cult"). For the rest of his life Malcolm -- who took the name al-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz -- dedicated himself to Islam, taking much of the African-American community with him. (The NOI eventually collapsed, being revitalized only a couple of decades ago under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan but having only a fraction of the membership that it had at its peak.)

I think the lesson for us Christians is that we need to be aware and militant about social injustice -- because God certainly tells us to be so. Otherwise, we risk having folks outside the faith remind us of our failures. And let me leave no doubt: In the final analysis, Malcolm does represent a failure of the church.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More than 'Courageous'

On Sunday I finally got to see the film "Courageous," produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. and released in September. I admit that I found myself rooting for the lead characters, a quartet, three white and one black, of sheriff's deputies in Dougherty County, Ga., which includes Albany; and a Hispanic man who started out as a laborer and, by the end of the film, had worked his way up to management of a textile mill. The film culminates in a shootout between some deputies and street gang members, including a leader, who end up being arrested for drug possession and distribution.

The underlying message of the film is that men need to step up and reclaim their rightful roles as fathers -- which, of course, is a worthy goal. That said, however, I detected a number of weaknesses in how that message was portrayed.

1) There were no grandfathers in the movie; indeed, the only reference to any of the men's own fathers that I recall was Deputy Hayes' biological father, whom he said he never knew or even met. As a result, you never got a sense of what their own dads may have or hadn't taught them, whether actively or passively; you best believe that their own upbringing would have a major impact on who they became. It seems to me that, in pledging more responsible fatherhood, the men in question should consult with some older men, perhaps their own fathers if they're available, to learn how to become not just fathers in particular but men in a general sense. It was good that the men committed themselves to Biblical principles; still, they needed to see them worked out in the lives of other men that they respected.

The larger issue is the lack of true community that's required for children to develop, in times past usually including extended family such as uncles, aunts and grandparents. Since the 1950s our culture has focused on the nuclear family as being the be-all and end-all of what we call "family," and I don't think that the dissolution of our culture, which began then, is a coincidence. The old African proverb still applies: "It takes a village to raise a child." (We Christians don't always realize this because almost all of us are involved in such a community -- the local church.)

2) The legitimate Biblical concept of economic justice was totally glossed over, most noticeably with the one deputy who, it turned out, had been stealing drugs that had been seized as evidence with the intent to sell them and ended up being arrested. I caught that he noted the difficulty of raising a family on an annual gross salary of just $36,000, which is a little less than what I make for a job that's far less demanding and has less prestige. (And I'm single and childless.)

In times past in the African-American community, in large part due to racism, men were often unable to find work that paid enough to feed, clothe and shelter their wives and children; to make ends meet, in many cases the wives had to get jobs, often as domestics. Needless to say, that caused friction in the home and the men, feeling useless, either left or ended up getting kicked out. Situations like that cause children to lose respect for Dad; as a result he can neither teach his sons to become men nor "cover" his daughters so that they don't fall for the charms of the lech up the street.

Bottom line, a man needs work that pays well enough so that not only his family can survive financially but also that he doesn't always have to take second or third jobs that would take him away from them. Indeed, the very concept of "sabbath" represents, really, a guard against workaholism.

At the end of the movie, Hayes asked one young man who had shown interest in his daughter but was caught up in the shootout with the gang why he got involved with it, and he responded, "I don't have anybody, man." Sorry, but that also is a tad simplistic -- drug-dealing has always been a lucrative business and many in some areas see it as the only way to make any money and thus gain status. "Family" has little to do with it.

3) Being that this was the Deep South I was stunned, for reasons I've already mentioned, that racism was completely ignored. Christianity Today reported that Sherwood Baptist Church has thankfully been involved in racial reconciliation efforts in that city and thus has the authority to speak about that but chose not to; however, Albany was one of the first cities after Montgomery, Ala. that Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to integrate during the civil-rights movement. Furthermore, according to that same article, some of those same racist attitudes from back then still exist today. (One of my roommates at Georgia Tech, who was white, came from that city; he told me over 30 years ago that it experienced "white flight.")

4) One scene that jarred me was the promotion of Javier, the Hispanic man, who was asked if he would fudge a shipment -- when he said he wouldn't, he was offered the position because management said was looking for someone with integrity. It's more likely that companies would look for someone who would lie to make more money and believers certainly aren't immune; let's remember that Bernie Ebbers and the late Ken Lay, both CEO's of their respective corporations and who were supposedly devout Christians, were busted for unethical behavior.

5) There was virtually no mention about the men's marriages in "Courageous," a problem because a strong marriage is virtually a must to raise Godly children; I recall the saying: "The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother." The deputy who was caught with the contraband was divorced; another, who had just finished his rookie year on the force, had fathered a child out of wedlock. (In fairness, the same church also produced the movie "Fireproof," which focused on marriage but which I haven't seen.)

Basically, the producers of the film tried to make things as black-and-white -- no pun intended -- as possible. But in the process they isolated fatherhood from issues that surround it and thus, I believe, ultimately sabotaged the message they were trying to convey.