Category Archives: Politics

Topics on political understandings and engagement.

A Christian Call to Action Towards Ending Gun Violence

[This is a letter I shared with my congregation, Trinity United Methodist Church, this past Sunday February 18, 2018.]
img_1795This week, my heart has been very heavy. By now we have all seen the news of Wednesday’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL. As a parent, I think of all those parents and grandparents who sent their children to school that morning, never to see them alive again or to discover that they have been hospitalized from gun shot wounds and other related injuries.

I send my children to school every day. To think that this could never happen here in their schools is folly.

Today, I will yet again lead us in prayer for the victims of Parkland, FL, their families, their community, and our elected leaders. I will pray…

…just as I prayed after the Columbine High School massacre,

…and after the massive shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, CO,

…and as I prayed after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School,

…and as I prayed after a large-scale shooting in an office building in San Bernardino, CA,

…and as I prayed after the massacre at an Orlando, FL, night club,

…and as I prayed after the widespread carnage at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, NV,

…and as I prayed after a gunman invaded a church in Sutherland Springs, TX, killing over two dozen worshippers,

…and as I prayed a just few weeks ago for a shooting at a high school in Marshall County, Kentucky.

There are so many others, too.

I have to confess to you that I am getting very tired of simply praying. I’m running out of words, and I have run out of patience. I believe God wants us to pray, yes. I also believe that God has put us on a divine mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In other words, as disciples of Jesus, we are in the business of bringing about real change and eternal life in a world bent on violence and death. We do this in fulfillment of what we pray every Sunday: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, it is time for us to act towards ending all this senseless gun violence and death. I know there are controversial issues involved in this crisis- issues such as gun control, mental health care, and law enforcement procedures. I know we all don’t see eye to eye on these hot-button topics, and that may make talking about gun violence and forging a way towards ending it a difficult task. But I also believe it’s time to step outside of our familiar political/ideological belief systems. It’s time to get humble, to listen, and to courageously advocate for some common sense solutions that will most likely touch on the issues of gun control, mental health care, and law enforcement.

We are conservative and liberal and everywhere in between. But we’re not dealing with a conservative or a liberal problem, or a Democrat or a Republican problem. We’re dealing with a human problem whose perpetrators and victims go well beyond any notion of party or ideology.

Therefore, we cannot be afraid of having a conversation about how to end gun violence, and then we cannot be afraid of stepping out to be advocates for the lives of our neighbors, most especially our children.

In the face of this crisis, it’s tempting to sit back and mindlessly watch the endless talking head debates on TV, to point our angry fingers of blame and to get cynical about the state of our world. It’s all too easy to throw up our hands and surrender to the magnitude of the problem. However, it is increasingly clear that we cannot afford to sit in idle fear any longer. To do so puts the lives of our neighbors, ourselves, and our children at grave risk.
In response, I would love for you to share with me your ideas and thoughts. What would you like to see Trinity do? How would you be a part of it? What steps can we and you take right now to be Christ’s disciples who work for an end to gun violence in our schools and communities?

Again, I ask you not to respond merely from within a familiar ideological framework. Let’s put aside bumper-sticker slogans, the usual talking points, and shrill arguments. These tactics are too easy, too unimaginative, and frankly too dangerously safe. Let’s stretch out, because clearly the ideological liberal and conservative trenches that many people shout from are not serving our country well. It’s time to extend ourselves across the breach, stand in the gap, and forge a new way ahead. Nothing short of precious human life is at stake.

In the coming weeks, I will offer us some opportunities to prayerfully discern and brainstorm some Christ-like ways for us to advocate and work for safer schools and communities shielded from the threat of gun violence. I ask you to join me in the effort. And as we pray, may we follow God’s prompting to act in courageous ways for the protection of our communities and schools, all in the name of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.

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My Ancestors Came from S***hole Countries, Too

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The Gray Family from Aberdeen, Scotland

Lately, I have rekindled my interest in geneology and joined Ancestry.com. I joined to find some more information about my father’s family. Instead I have immersed myself in researching my mother’s lineage. It’s very true that whenever you start digging into your family’s past, you never know what you’re going to find.

One of the most interesting facts: on April 19, 1850, my 17-year-old second great grandfather William Gray landed in New York with his family. They were from Aberdeen, Scotland. William Gray was among a large wave of Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 19th Century journeying to America to escape widespread poverty. Eventually he met and married my second great grandmother Hannah Shalloo, an Irish immigrant from County Cork.
After moving to Dearborn, Michigan where his mother and father stayed for the remainder of their lives, William Gray moved to Kansas. There, William and Hannah had children, raised a family, and lived and died as a farmers. William Gray’s obituary states that the Grays were among the pioneering families of Kansas.

Fast forward to 2018. Yesterday, President Trump was reported to say that he no longer wants immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries whom he derided as “shithole countries”. Instead he favors immigrants from Norway. (?) While the President later denied that he used that specific term, the same Washington Post article that broke the story mentions past comments he has made disparaging immigrants from poorer countries and racial minorities in general.

If I could have a moment to speak to President Trump, I would say these words: “Mr. President, my ancestors came from s***hole countries, too.”

19th Century Scotland and Ireland were racked in poverty. Famine, premature death and disease due to failing crops pushed many to leave home just to survive. Scots in particular are fiercely proud of their country and family. For people like my grandparents to leave their ancestral home to settle in an unknown country speaks to the desparation they lived in.

When they arrived in America, they came to a country that was growing increasingly wary of their presence. They were poor. They were culturally different. They soaked up jobs and homes. In fact, by the 1890’s, under a cloud of Irish and Scottish xenophobia, the United States government sharply curtailed the number of Scotts and Irish who could immigrate here.

And yet, where would our country be today without people like my grandparents, William and Hannah Gray— poor Scottish and Irish immigrants from economically impoverished countries?

It’s clear that Mr. Trump does not possess a broad vision of America’s greatness.

I personally know people from these “s***hole countries” he describes. They are friends of mine from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe. I have visited the extreme poverty they came from. In America, these immigrants have become very successful citizens.  They bring their skills, their culture, and the story of their lives to our country. They are entrepreneurial, hard working, wonderful people. They have already made America great. Mr. Trump’s derision of these countries is an affront to them and to thousands upon thousands of men and women who immigrate to our country legally from the places he deems to be nothing but excrement.

Mr. Trump’s vision of America does not make room for us to be the America we have always cherished- a country of opportunity, freedom, and dignity for all people. He has defined America’s greatness by excluding and demeaning whole segments of the American and world populations. That is not America. It’s certainly not the America my grandparents and so many others came to in which to live, thrive and prosper.

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭23:9‬

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Pastor Robert Jeffress, Your Statement on Trump’s War Footing is Dangerously Unbiblical

Dear Pastor Jeffress,
In your August 8 statement, you made the startling claim that, “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.” You based your statement on a reading of Romans 13 which says,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭13:1-4‬

IMG_1521While it’s true that God has established and empowered secular authorities to exercise justice, your application of this scripture is reckless and unfaithful to its original context and intent. Thus, your statement is an alarming case of biblical prooftexting and therefore dangerously unbiblical.

For you to personally commend President Trump’s fiery rhetoric against the North Korean regime is your prerogative. You’re just as free to do that as others are to condemn it. However, I take grave exception to your theological implication that God also commends Trump’s words and actions. That God has entrusted presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, and dictators with the sword of authority is established in scripture. However, to also suggest that God has given President Trump the green light of heavenly blessing to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea is one of the worst and potentially most deadly pieces of unbiblical theology I have ever encountered.

Let’s look again at what the Bible says.

In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul was establishing the church’s relationship with the governing authorities. For these Christians residing in Rome, Paul was pointing straight to Caesar and the local authorities Caesar empowered to maintain his rule. Everyone knew that Caesar was no friend of the church. In fact, Emporers Claudius and Nero both persecuted Jews and Christians, using them as scapegoats for Roman civil unrest or disaster. Nevertheless, Paul urged the church to respect their governing authorities by following the law, paying taxes, and giving honor as required. After all, these authorities derive their power from God who is the source of all power and authority.

This, however, does not mean that God sanctions everything that these authorities do. Far from it. John the Baptist confronted King Herod’s adultery with his brother Philip’s wife, which would inevitably lead to John’s imprisonment and execution. Jesus warned his disciples to “watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” The book of Acts reports that an angel of God publicly struck down King Herod when he refused to acknowledge God while relishing the divine accolades the people were giving him. The Old Testament is filled with example after example of God punishing kings and rulers when they abused their power.
Back to your argument, Pastor Jeffress, if we were to follow your “divine authority and sanction” thinking to its logical conclusion, then we must also reasonably assume that God has given Kim Jong Un the authority to build nuclear warheads to protect his people and stamp out whatever he deems to be evil. And why not? God has given this despot the authority, so according to your theology, it must be good for him to use it to advance whatever he deems to be good, too.

Still, let’s assume that we arrive at the dreadful point in which all diplomatic avenues are closed and war with North Korea is the only remaining deterrent to their launching nuclear weapons against the United States and our allies. I don’t envy the terrible decisions Presidents of the United States must make to protect the American people and our interests abroad. Putting our country on a footing towards war is a weighty decision many Presidents have had to make, and President Trump may be yet another President to push that button. War with North Korea would devastate millions of lives in Asia, and for the first time in history, might even unleash retaliatory nuclear war. Foreign policy experts agree that there is no good way to deal with North Korea. For that reason alone, President Trump and our allies certainly need our prayers for wisdom and guidance.

Yet no one should ever gleefully declare as you have that war and threats of war against North Korea is God’s will, simply because the President has the authority to crank up the American war machine and you happen to endorse his actions. You, the President, and all the rest of us could use a dose of President Lincoln’s humble theology:

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.

While some might try to use these words from Lincoln to claim God’s moral authority in their great struggle, Lincoln’s intent was quite the opposite: do not assume we are perfectly in God’s will. Do what we believe to be right, but do so knowing that we operate alongside God’s sovereign will, and that may not be within our side of the struggle. God may ordain something very different with consequences farther reaching and devastating than we could imagine, as Lincoln stated in his Second Inaugural Address.

All this said, it is clear, Pastor Jeffress, that you have taken scripture out of context and have twisted it to claim divine approval for President Trump’s rhetoric. That, sir, makes you a false prophet espousing a dangerous kind of theology that will ill-serve this nation or any other. I doubt you possess the wherewithal to recant your statement, but it would be a much welcomed and needed thing to do, for the good of the church, our nation, and the world.

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Filed under Bible, Politics

After The Election, Will You Be a Divider or a Healer?

Barring an election night dispute, on Wednesday morning we will wake up to a world in which the 45th President of the United States will be President-elect Donald John Trump or President-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton. When we head out for the day, almost every person we meet will feel elated and optimistic or scared and angry. The rest will have slumped into an apathetic “whatever”.
We can also expect that the President-elect will have to work with a divided Congress, nation, and world.
The Senate will most likely revert to Democratic control while the House remains under Republican control, meaning that whoever is elected President will face the same potential for gridlock and who-will-blink-first-showdowns we’ve seen for the past six years.
Outside of the Washington, the President-elect will face an American population more bitterly divided than at any time in our history, second only to the tumult leading up to our Civil War.
Beyond our shores, he or she will face a Middle East on the brink of region-wide war and nuclear proliferation, a crumbling European Union, the continuing rise of China, a North Korea with expanding nuclear weaponry, and a growing Russian geopolitical domination that has been decisively anti-western.
During times of such peril and division, we look to our leaders to be the great problem solvers and peacemakers. Yet how many presidential and congressional candidates have we elected to “fix the mess in Washington” and provide leadership to the free world, only to find them mired and absorbed into the same messes? It proves that our leaders are a reflection of We the People, and if we are divided and unable to resolve our own conflicts, how can we reasonably expect the politicians we elect to do any better?
img_1030So no matter who becomes the next President-elect this week, you and I will have an equally critical choice to make. Will we be a divider or a healer? Will the things we say, the attitudes we harbor, and the way we treat our neighbors and our leaders stir up further division or offer a balm of healing? While our choice of the next President will be highly consequential to our country and world, the way you and I choose to carry on in the wake of this election will be even more consequential. It’s a choice each of us will make, intentionally or unintentionally, and our choices will reverberate for years to come.
I think we all know what divisive behavior and attitudes look like. So let me offer some ideas on what a healer looks like.

  • Healers carefully measure how they talk about leaders with whom they disagree and the folks who vote for them. Instead of launching ad hominem attacks, resorting to shrill cries that the sky is falling and the antichrist has arrived, or parading around unchecked, unsubstantiated statements about the other side, healers listen and then calmly share their views with the intention of establishing common ground.
  • Instead of looking at the other side with incredulity and spite, healers try very hard to understand what others are saying and what drives them to say those things. Healers empathize with what’s at stake within opposition voices, even when they disagree with how opposing voices see the challenges in our world and their proposed remedies.
  • Rather than taking to social media to spout off their political and social views, which really takes no discipline or real courage to do, healers think twice about what they post. Healers aim to share things that move their social network to think deeply and join in respectful conversation.
  • Instead of attacking the character, intelligence, and perceived motivations of leaders they disagree with, healers respect the office of that leader and offer alternative ideas, even passionately, with the motivation of reaching consensus, not victory over the opposition.
  • Rather than mocking and vilifying opposition voices, healers make every opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation based on respect for the other.

All of this points to a critical question: after this election, will you be a healer or a divider? If you say “neither” while complaining about our divisiveness, your abstention vote goes right to the dividers. Those who sit in apathy and quiet cynicism are just as deadly to our communal health as the ones who are actively dividing us. They simply add to the negativity.
So… in the post-election season, I’ve got several ideas for you to try.
First, if you can’t control your propensity to gloat or rant on social media, do the rest of a favor and go read a book, take a long walk, or sign out for a few weeks or months. Please.
Second, find someone who voted differently than you and have lunch. Make it your goal to learn more about their desires, fears, hopes and dreams. Then establish some places for you both to come together. Short of that, just listen to understand. It will be worth it.
Third, trust that no matter what happens, people are people, and so are you. If you can’t identify with other people- the “them” people- on some basic level, then make that a worthwhile goal. Listen and identify with people on their terms. Sure, if you do, the partisan dividers will call you weak-spined, unprincipled, a sell out, etc. Whatever. Any effort you make will bring healing to our nation and world.
And remember, anything we do to bring healing to our nation and our world, no matter how small or quiet, will indeed make a huge difference, mostly because there are so few healers out there. But you and I can be one of them, if we dare to have the love, courage, and grace to do it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:9‬

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Trying to Be Reasonable in an Age of Hotheaded Sloganeering

Facebook is a funny place to be sometimes. That’s funny as in weird, conducive to eye-rolling, and even downright frustrating. All you have to do is dropkick any public issue into the fray and watch what happens. Every issue becomes hot-button. People post and repost memes and videos to spout off their views. If you have a view, you probably have a hashtag. (Hashtags are the new bumper sticker.)
DebateAll of this is symptomatic of folks talking at each other and past each other without truly listening to each other. Many of us don’t seem to have the time or the interest to have open, respectful conversations anymore. Or perhaps our cynical natures have written that off as a worthless endeavor. Some tip their hat to it and dabble in a meaningful conversation here and there, but then go right back to ranting out their viewpoints.

This is an angry, fearful, sardonic, pessimistic era in which we live. We question and make assumptions about everyone’s motives. If you voice an opinion, prepare yourself for the backlash. Everyone wants to be heard, but few choose to listen. Compromise is a pathetic word for sellouts and the noodle-spined. Humor and sarcasm are barely distinguishable. And any attempt to be a calm voice of reason in this climate requires an endless supply of patience and persistence. I’m finding that out for myself.

Now I don’t want to saint myself as the wise, reasonable one among a crowd of sinful loudmouth partisans. I don’t want to be the curmudgeonly hermit who holes himself away as the virtuous remnant of reason. In other words, I don’t want my contributions to unwittingly add to the swarm of negativity I think I perceive in others.

But if we’re all going to behave differently, we have to diagnose the problem and give it a name. The name I give it is Hotheaded Sloganeering.

  • Hotheaded– easily angered, easily offended, quick to jump to conclusions about the opposition
  • Sloganeering– the repeated use of soundbite-sized arguments and statements to solidify support for a view or a cause

For example, last week I wrote a piece about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem. I offered what I thought was a reasonable approach by saying that Kaepernick is well within his rights to free speech, and that what he did represents the very best of our American liberties for which many have fought hard to protect. Note: I did not evaluate the merits of Kaepernick’s actions or the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of what he did. I simply hopped off the bandwagon of criticizing Kaepernick’s fundamental rights as an American to not honor his country’s flag or anthem in the name of protesting the injustice of racism.

However, I’ve since then heard a lot of the following: “Sure, he has the right to do that, but he shouldn’t have. If he’s a real American, a grateful American, then he should be standing for the country who lets him do that. He should be barred for doing that. He’s totally out of line. If he doesn’t like this country, then he should leave it.”

And then I heard others say, “All you flag wavers are always telling black people to protest peacefully. Kaepernick does, and you demonize him, too. You just want black people to sit down and shut up, or in this case, stand up and shut up. That’s because you feel threatened if black people should rise up and become equals to you.”

[Sigh…]

While we’re busy shouting at each other we’ve failed to see that we are all trying to figure out the same thing- what it means for America to be America and for all of us to be Americans with dignity. Racial equality and patriotism. Two aspects of this same issue. Yet people take their aspect of choice, hold it up high as the sole battleground of the American struggle, and charge full steam ahead.

Meanwhile we find ourselves caught in a web of cognitive dissonance, character assassinations, and competing angles of the same issue.
The only way to break this logjam of unreason and disrespect is to make a concerted effort to experiment with another tactic. Humility.

Humility is tough to pin down because the moment we think we have it, we’ve probably lost it. That results in a self-assuring pride parading itself as humility. There’s a lot of this false humility out there, and I have to admit I’ve been found guilty of possession, too. Yet despite the lesser angels of our nature, I have discovered that the test for genuine humility is the ability to listen with the purpose of understanding.

Let the guard down. Put aside fear and suspicion. Bring a curious mind and heart. Look for reasons to respect different voices. Be open to the possibility that our ingrained presumptions are incomplete and inaccurate. Let others be themselves and show grace towards the unintentional things they do or say that cause us pain. At the same time, learn where others’ wounds are and the unintentional things we say and do that throw salt into those wounds. Respect that those wounds are real. Expect that the way forward will take some time to discern and that it will be a lot more complex than we think. Hang in there, anticipating that there will be some bumps and bruises along the way. But if we can do all this, the way forward will be life-giving and will bring more of us onboard together.

It’s tough to be reasonable in this age. Peacemaking is not for wimps. Sometimes it seems like an elusive quest to find people who will partner with us and stay in it for the long run. However, I’m convinced that no matter the issue or challenge we face, our work will stand the test of time. It will certainly long surpass the shallow notions and futile efforts of all the hotheaded sloganeering we hear around us… especially on Facebook.

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Is It un-American to Sit Out the National Anthem?

There are very few things closer to the American spirit than football. If anybody wants to see quintessential Americanism, they need to hang around during football season. They’ll get a dose of American hyper-competitiveness, parties, wagers, fist pumps, plenty of yelling at the TV and just 60 minutes of the fun, fast brute violence of highly paid gladiators slamming, pushing and scraping for points on the gridiron. Now that’s America. (Oh yes… Go Skins!)

Equally American is a certain pre-game ritual at almost every sporting event. For a few moments there is absolute silence as a lone voice performs one of the most difficult songs for a vocalist to sing, our National Anthem. One is expected to stand, gentlemen to remove their hats, and face the flag while placing their right hand over the heart. That’s the standard thing for any American citizen to do. At the bare minimum, everyone in attendance is expected to stand as a sign of respect. Refusing to stand is often scorned as dishonorable and decisively un-American.

Or is it? Can we give that another look?

The American experiment has been a struggle between competing values. That has built our greatness and has continued to define American excellence. For example, at our founding, we made a radical declaration that all people are created equal with inalienable human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; meanwhile 20% of our population were forcibly enslaved. Even after the abolishment of slavery 151 years ago, we have still struggled ensure equality and dignity for all African-Americans. That struggle has pushed us to live into our credo.

Another example: We want and need efficient representative government, but there’s also this keen vigilance in the American spirit to be on guard against any governmental intrusion into our lives. We celebrate our freedom and rugged individualism while despising even a hint of tyranny. However we expect our government to protect those freedoms and “promote the general welfare”, with force if necessary. Just don’t tread on me.
Colin KaepernickRecently a national football player put himself into the middle of another clash of competing American values- American patriotism vs. our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Enter the San Fransisco 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a very talented athlete who at times has been no stranger to controversy.

During the playing of the National Anthem at a preseason game, Kaepernick refused to stand with everyone else. His sit out was widely noticed and roundly booed. Later he stated,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

As expected Kaepernick has been fiercely criticized for his sit out of the National Anthem. People have accused him of being un-American and furthering disunity. We’ve heard the usual refrains of, “If he doesn’t like our flag, he’s free to leave.” “There are thousands of soldiers and sailors who have died under that flag protecting his freedoms. He’s dishonoring them!” And of course, the internet trolls came out en masse to graffiti his Twitter account with racial epithets.

Were Kaepernick’s actions and statements justified? Was his behavior un-American? Those are two separate questions.

Without commenting here on the justifiability of Kaepernick’s sit out, I do say this:

Colin Kaepernick’s conscientious sit out of the National Anthem demonstrates what is best about America.

There have been and continue to be kingdoms, empires, and nations who would have severely penalized Kaepernick’s behavior as disloyal and even treasonous.

But that would never happen in the United States. In fact, embedded in our founding documents are Kaepernick’s rights to freely speak, even against his own country. He can pontificate. He can refuse to participate in patriotic exercises. He can even burn the flag of the country who guarantees his right to do so. And while he does any of that, his country’s law enforcement and entire legal system stand by to arrest and prosecute anyone who threatens his wellbeing or his ability to speak freely.

As a Christian, I have had brothers and sisters throughout the centuries who been restricted by their government to assemble, worship, and speak out when necessary against the evils and injustices of that country. I am blessed to live in a nation that protects my right to conscience, even if my loyalty to Jesus ever kept me from participating in patriotic exercises.

That reality alone builds my pride in what is best about America.

So Colin, as a fellow American, I salute your right to sit out our National Anthem as a very American thing to do. For my own reasons I won’t be joining you, and later on I might share why. But in the meantime, you have my support to exercise your conscience. I will defend you for it, too. But far more importantly, the United States of America, including those who defend and uphold your liberty, stand behind you, too.

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Why Christians Have a Hard Time with Satire

Yesterday I published a blog post about a fictional visit from Jesus to Liberty University. I was exposing the absurdity of asking Christian students to purchase guns for self-defense by presenting a Jesus who retracts his teachings on non-violence and promotes the “kill them before they kill you and others” attitude we heard from Jerry Falwell, Jr. I was trying to create a Jesus who would affirm Falwell’s thinking and take it to its logical conclusion.

The conclusion: if Jesus adopted Falwell’s approach, he probably would have bypassed the cross. Jesus would have destroyed the people trying to kill him and established a new political dynasty which would not differ too much from any other regime of his day or ours.
obs_20110726001I tried to use humor, wit, and biblical theology to create a satirical response to Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s reprehensible call to action, exposing how unfaithful it is to the teachings and example of Jesus. And yes, it was a lot of fun to do.

But the response was rather… muted. Maybe my post wasn’t all that good. That’s always a distinct possibility. Or maybe I offended people into stunned silence. But that hardly happens on social media these days.

In the meantime I’ve been waiting for angry people and church members to call or email me, complaining about how blasphemous I was. How dare I mock Jesus like that?? That’s usually the response to satire that involves some aspect of our faith.

When Monty Python’s Life of Brian was released, it created a massive firestorm of protest from Christian groups who lambasted it as anti-Christian blasphemy. Bring it up today, and it still gets the ire of many. It was satire! And it wasn’t mocking Christian faith or Jesus. It wasn’t even mocking religion in general, although some used it as such. Life of Brian was a satire of the sorry state of organized religion and how we often (mis)represent the gospel.

So why do Christians have a hard time with satire these days, especially when it invokes Christian motifs and figures? I think there are several reasons, and I’m sure you could list off more:

  1. Being culturally marginalized has got us defensive. The church is in a tough spot. For 1,700 years, we found ourselves at the epicenter of culture and government. Now, we’re increasingly on the margins of both, and we don’t know how to handle that. Whenever the culture jabs us or we even perceive that they’re jabbing us, it rubs salt in our wounded pride.
  2. Humor and religion don’t often play well together. Let’s face it. Dealing with God is serious business. It requires our very best and our utmost devotion. Humor, however, is a distraction. The very nature of humor is to knock us down a peg, to enjoy our imperfections, our limitations, and the things that would normally shame us. In fact, humor is an antidote to shame. But… humor is also an antidote to pride. High-mindedness is a pathway to pride and arrogance. Humor- and yes the Bible contains humor!- has a humbling effect. It invites us to avoid the extreme of taking ourselves too seriously. So humor can and should play a role in our life of faith.
  3. People are hyper-sensitive these days. Sorry. I’m sure someone just got offended by that. It seems as if there’s a cultural weed infesting our First Amendment right of free speech: freedom from being offended. Very little can be openly discussed and debated without things devolving into ad hominem attacks. Disagreement is the new scandal. Words must be weighed very carefully to make sure some segment of an audience doesn’t feel belittled. (Warning: raising this point will garner a Scarlet I for being insensitive).It’s hard to say anything of consequence without issuing qualifying statements to soften the blow on people’s sensibilities. In this climate, humor and satire have become the greatest casualties.

Given all this, is it any wonder that Christians have a hard time recognizing and understanding satire? There’s a good deal of satire in the Bible, including from people like Jesus and Paul. It serves a purpose in getting our attention and encouraging us to think and do differently, more faithfully, more Christ-like.

So… on that note, fellow Christians: lighten up, will ya?

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Jesus Keynotes an NRA Rally at Liberty University

This just in! A stunning revelation that Jesus Christ- yes, the actual Jesus of Nazareth- miraculously appeared at a scheduled National Rifle Association rally at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Upon inspection of the wounds in his hands, feet, and side with residual scarring on his forehead, Jesus’s identity was confirmed.

In the words of Liberty University’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr, “We had been praying for some time that the Lord would show us how to better protect our students from the kinds of violence we’re seeing on other college campuses. The Holy Spirit convicted us that we must meet potential violence, especially from Muslims, with the strength of arms. Every student must be armed and ready to defend themselves and their classmates from any violent threat. Well, that led us to the National Rifle Association’s assistance and… to our great amazement… our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was kind enough preach to us. Although I have to admit, I’m somewhat puzzled by the conclusion of his address.”

I, Pastor Chris Owens, have attained an exclusive transcript of Jesus’s keynote address to the NRA and Liberty University. The following are his remarks:

[Jesus walks onto the stage wearing two gun holsters with a rifle slung to his shoulder.]
jesus-gun-500x3001-630x378“Thank you, thank you, one and all for having me here today. I bring you greetings and blessings from my Father in Heaven and the Holy Spirit who has been trying to get your attention recently. I’m grateful that you have now heeded the call and have gathered together for this momentous occasion.

“Back in my day we didn’t have guns and rifles. We had swords, and I want you to know, my friends, that I would have been a proud, card-carrying member of the JSA, the Judean Sword Association.”

[thunderous applause]

“Yes! Yes! Those Romans were a severe threat to our people and to me. They oppressed us. They terrorized us. They certainly were not good Jews like us. And so the night before I died, I encouraged my disciples to sell a cloak and buy a sword. That’s right. I was beginning to come to my senses and I realized that the only way to fend off those heathen Romans was with a strong show of force. If any of those pigs dared come near us, they’d find a blade in their belly.”

[several minutes of applause]

“Now it’s true that I rebuked poor Peter for cutting off the ear from one of the guys arresting me in the Garden of Gethsemene. He was only trying to protect me with the sword I commanded him to buy. But I told him to put his sword away. Then I warned him that all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.

“However, I have had a few thousand years to think things over. So now I say unto you:

Whoever takes up the sword will LIVE by the sword. And whoever carries a gun will LIVE by the gun!”

[several minutes of rapturous applause with multiple refrains of “Hallelujah!! We praise you Lord Jesus!!”]

“Yes, thank you my friends. You know times change. Things that were good for people a long time ago are not relevant for us today. Your esteemed president Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr. led me to see that.

“It is a matter of common sense and even a good American duty to protect ourselves from the threats of people who hate us and want to harm us, especially those Muslims. In fact Donald Trump is spot on. Don’t even let them into your country anymore. You never know when one of them will turn on you.

“And when they do- and believe me, they will!- I want you to do the responsible, moral thing, and shoot them down where they stand. Then there’ll be fewer Muslims to terrorize the world.

[several minutes of applause and shouts of “USA! USA!”]

“Now, I know many of you remember my teachings about turning the other cheek and not resisting an evil person. Those teachings of mine have bedeviled you for 2,000 years, and I am truly sorry for that. Please forgive me for I did not know of what I said.

“How naively irresponsible I was for commanding you to be a bunch of pathetic wusses. How are we to stop evil people if we don’t take ’em out? Isn’t a bullet in the head of an aggressor the most loving, compassionate thing we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones? No more bad guys means peace and prosperity for us!”

[several minutes of applause, shouting, and gun shots into the sky]

[A hand of a young man in the front row goes up.]

“Yes, my son. Do you have a question?”

[The young main said, “Lord, didn’t you also say that we are to love our enemies and love our neighbors as ourselves? Have you revised that as well?”]

“Absolutely not, my friend! Loving our neighbors and our enemies are timeless principles which must be freshly applied to your context.

“Who are your neighbors these days? Aren’t they good Christians like you?

“And as for loving your enemies, the guiding principle is this: live to love another day. I mean, how can you be good, nice, loving followers of mine if you’re dead?? How can love prevail if evil people kill the true lovers?

“So I say this: love your enemy with an AK-47 at your side. Love ’em with all your heart. And the moment they begin to threaten you, show them the full force of good Christian love! Live to love another day, my friends!!”

[several minutes of applause, praises, shouts, and gunfire with a burning effigy of Mohammed.]

“Friends, I must leave you now. There is one more thing to be done. I am going back in time to correct a few errors. I am God, after all. I can do that.

Jesus with a rifle“Those nasty religious leaders who had me arrested and that fellow Pontus Pilate who condemned me to die– they’re dead men now. Yessir. How can I continue to love the world and bring about the kingdom of God unless those bastards are filled with lead?

“Greater love has no one than this: that he should take up arms to protect his friends. Crosses are for defeated weaklings! Sin, death, and evil– mow ’em down with everything you’ve got!!

“Farewell, my friends! Keep your ammo well stocked!”

[Jesus leaves the stage, and there is stunned silence. Suddenly a voice from the crowd says, “Does that mean we can sleep in on Sundays now?]

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So You Really Want to Keep “Religion” Out of Politics?

Okay, I’m going to rant here for a minute. I ask your forgiveness in advance if what I’m about to say somehow offends you. Too bad… The politically correct gloves are coming off, and I make no apology for that.

This is called a losing, unjust cause

This is called a losing, unjust cause

I am getting sick and tired of the thoughtless bumper-sticker memes, slogans, and feel-good tripe out there suggesting that religion just “butt out” of politics, most especially the gay marriage/marriage equality debate. It’s same old yada-yada that there is this “constitutional separation of church and state.”

That it false. The phrase “separation of church and state” is attributed to Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. You can read all about that. It’s not in any of the founding documents, and meant something completely different from the “kick religious voices out of the legislative process” sentiment that is out there now.

To all the folks who want religious people to just shut up about the legality and Constitutionality of marriage equality or any other important issue we face, let me remind you of a few things.

  • Major movements in civil rights and equality in America were spearheaded and championed by people of faith, including suffrage and equal rights for ethnic minorities.
  • There are many strong proponents for gay marriage/marriage equality who are from the faith community. Do you honestly want them to shut up, too? [pregnant pause] I didn’t think so…
  • There are people of faith seeking to influence all kinds of issues, including the issues you care about, and are most likely voicing your opinions in the places where laws are debated and passed.
  • There have been awful times in human history in which the church’s silence was either purchased or coerced. A prime example: Germany in the 1930’s. Hitler and the Nazi Party would have never risen to power if the Catholic Centre Party of the German Parliament had not been intimidated into silence. Now before anyone flies off the handle at this, I’m not comparing anyone to Hitler or the Nazis. But the point is, when the voice and influence of the faith community has been shut out, terrible things can and have indeed happened.
  • Laws are statements of what we value, what we hold to be right and wrong, and what we affirm to be just and unjust. What informs how we make these decisions? Isn’t it our philosophy, our values, existing law and tradition, and our morals? For most, faith is foundational to how we understand all of those things.

Now, I don’t believe that religious voices should possess any more power or influence than anyone else. I don’t believing in forcing you to legally abide by my religion or religious convictions. But that does not mean we don’t have a voice at the table. Our Constitution does uphold, in freedom of speech, the right of the faith community (and everyone else!) to be a voice in any pressing issue. Our prophetic voices cannot be silenced, and no one–God help us– will ever silence us in any arena, especially the political arena that molds and shapes our laws.

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From a Skeptic: Bravo, President Obama

Okay, confession time.  At best I’ve been at best a skeptic of President Obama’s leadership and some of his agenda. (That does not necessarily indicate how I voted. I voted for candidates I was skeptical of because given the choice, that was best alternative.) But last night I saw a very different President Obama at Newtown High School. Apparently, he gave his speech writers the day off, writing most all of what he shared. The effect: it was deeply sincere. He spoke as a parent and as a man. The teleprompters were gone.  He wasn’t stumping or campaigning for anything. He was there in Newtown, Conn. as President of the United States consoling a grieving nation while promising to lead us all forward.
Obama NewtownIn the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, we needed a caliber of leader we rarely see in today’s American leadership– a true statesman. A statesman is one who rises above personal vantage and partisan politics to speak to the nation, on behalf of the whole nation. And in the great and widening political gulf of polarized two-party politics, that is indeed one rare bird to spot. Miring himself in partisan squabble, Obama has only occasionaly shown that kind of statesmanship in the past. But last night, he perfectly embodied it in a timely, powerful way.

For that he has my deepest respect.

I heard the President say several things:

  • He began addressing our grief and need for consolation in very personal, spiritual terms.
  • He praised the wonderful example of the people of Newtown, Conn., something I’ve rarely heard so far in all the reporting and commentary. The message: they are far more than victims.
  • As a society, we are judged by the way we value and care for our children.
  • We cannot go on the same. Something must change to prevent this kind violence from happening again.
  • The President will bring together law enforcement, mental health professionals, educators, and parents to find solutions. (Let’s pray something truly does come out of this. We can’t stand yet another fruitless commission.)
  • We must not be afraid or held back by politics on our way towards the solutions we need.
  • Then the President ended on another spiritual, highly existential note as a way of moving us forward.

I know that talking heads from both sides of the aisle are presently combing this speech for clues of the President’s political agenda. I’m sure he already has ideas of what he wants to do. But I saw hardly any of that on display last night. It was very much a gentle but strong rallying together of our great nation.

We’ll see how long the President can sustain last night’s rally, but for today, he gets an A+++ from me and from many others who haven’t always been on the President’s bandwagon. I’ll be praying for the kind of leadership it will take to unite our nation towards the solutions we need. He’s going to need it! But for now:

Bravo, Mr. President.

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