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The Conversion of Donald Trump

June 25th, 2016 No comments

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According to Politico and other sources, James Dobson of Focus on the Family informs us that Donald Trump recently accepted “a relationship with Christ.” This is news because…?

I know many evangelical Christians. I was trained in a seminary that must be considered “evangelical” if we define that to mean grounded in Scripture. Most evangelicals I am acquainted with are gentle, generous, loving people. I believe that Mr. Dobson is sincere in his characterization of Mr. Trump’s conversion – to have now achieved the level of “baby Christian” as Mr. Dobson puts it. I applaud Mr. Trump’s decision and sincerely hope that as he matures in his Christian walk he will come to express Scriptural traits such as devotion to justice, righteousness, love, and mercy.

The election of 2016 is not to elect Pastor in Chief, a position, if it existed, for which Trump would be spectacularly unqualified. It is to elect the President of the United States. A President’s duty is not primarily to spread the gospel or even to espouse its principles, but to uphold the principles embedded in America’s founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Arising out of the anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment, these documents are unique in that while they do not express or demand a religious devotion, at the same time they do not condemn or forbid one. The Constitution prohibits both the official establishment of a religion and infringement of the exercise of religion. Contrast this with later revolutionary liberal regimes, in France and in Spanish America, that violently persecuted the Church. The United States achieved religious toleration in an era that was characterized by both religious intolerance and intolerance of religion. That is one expression of its genius.

I believe as a Christian it is my duty to live out the principles of my faith in my public life. Calling myself a Christian means that I profess to be a disciple of Christ. I believe that the Christian life is a process of becoming more and more like Christ. But, as someone well trained in evangelical theology, I believe that one does a disservice to the gospel when one conflates its principles with any political party. Even a rudimentary understanding of the Bible has to yield concession that no political party in the United States can be labelled “Christian,” nor can the United States itself be considered a “Christian” nation. The idea of a nation as instrument of exclusion is itself contrary to the Christian eschatalogical vision of a universal brotherhood of humanity enlightened by the love of God.

I think I might also add here that what came to be known as the “wall of separation” between Church and State not only protects the State but also the Church. As Christians we know that our faith demands allegiance to Christ before all else, as determined by our conscience. When the State comes to represent Christ, we are enslaved to it, rather than our conscience. Martin Luther King, Jr. astutely observed, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

So when it becomes news that Donald Trump has accepted “a relationship with Christ,” one wonders at the public fascination. Does Mr. Dobson hope to sway conservative voters who also happen to call themselves Christian? Or do some hostile to Christianity having the public ear seek to hold this up as an example of Christian hypocrisy? Or perhaps both? Any way you look at it, it denigrates both the message of the gospel and the principles of the United States.

I am re-posting an old post about this issue from January 2015. It addresses some of the same issues pertinent to the stories of Mr. Trumps conversion, and gives a general framework for understanding why the United States is not a Christian nation. I hope you will find it illuminating. Readers who are interested in exploring this topic from the point of view of an evangelical pastor are invited to examine Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. 3/30/07 ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Zondervan, 2007.

Franklin Graham is What’s Wrong with American Christianity – Dispatches From Exile: History, Philosophy, Theology, Culture

Duke University in North Carolina announced that the Muslim Call to Prayer would be observed on Fridays, conducted by members of the Muslim Student Union. The university administration gave as motivations for this action a demonstration of their commitment to religious pluralism and a desire to promote a different view of Islam: a peaceful, prayerful …

Making Sense of Sublime Nonsense

June 24th, 2016 No comments

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An explanation of contemporary right-wing fundamentalist politics, written in 1964. (Sorry I couldn’t reduce it to a meme)

One reason why the political intelligence of our time is so incredulous and uncomprehending in the presence of the right-wing mind is that it does not reckon fully with the essentially theological concern that underlies right-wing views of the world. Characteristically, the political intelligence, if it is to operate at all as a kind of civic force rather than as a mere set of maneuvers to advance this or that special interest, must have its own way of handling the facts of life and of forming strategies. It accepts conflict as a central and enduring reality and understands human society as a form of equipoise based upon the continuing process of compromise. It shuns ultimate showdowns and looks upon the idea of total partisan victory as unattainable, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with which it is familiar. It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time circumspect and humane.

The [right-wing] fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this: it is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities.It cannot find serious importance in what it finds to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism. Whereas the distinctively political intelligence begins with the political world, and attempts to make an assessment of how far a given set of goals can in fact be realized in the face of a certain balance of opposing forces, the secularized fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of that which is absolutely right, and looks upon politics as an arena in which right must be realized. It cannot think, for example, of the cold war as a question of mundane politics — that is to say, as a conflict between two systems of power that are compelled to some degree to accommodate each other in order to survive — but only as a clash of faiths. It is not concerned with the realities of power — with the fact, say, that the Soviets have the bomb — but with the spiritual battle with the Communist, preferably the domestic Communist, whose reality does not consist in what he does, or even in the fact that he exists, but who represents, rather, an archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling match. He has not one whit less reality because the fundamentalists have never met him in the flesh.

The issues of the actual world are hence transformed into a spiritual Armageddon, an ultimate reality, in which any reference to day-by-day actualities has the character of an allegorical illustration, and not of the empirical evidence that ordinary men offer for ordinary conclusions. Thus, when a right-wing leader accuses Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a conscious, dedicated agent of the international Communist conspiracy, he may seem demented, by the usual criteria of the political intelligence; but, more accurately, I believe, he is quite literally out of this world. What he is trying to account for is not Eisenhower’s actual political behavior, as men commonly understand it, but Eisenhower’s place, as a kind of fallen angel, in the realm of ultimate moral and spiritual values, which to him has infinitely greater reality than mundane politics. Seen in this light, the accusation is no longer quite so willfully perverse, but it appears in its proper character as a kind of sublime nonsense. Credo quia absurdam est.[1]

[1] Richard Hofstadter, A Vintage Book, vol. v-317, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage Books, ©1963), 134-36.

We Don’t Have to Settle for This

June 20th, 2016 No comments

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The debate over the ratification of the Constitution was probably one of the most intense and divisive in the history of democracy. But one thing that was not in disagreement was the overall premise behind how to elect officers in the new national government. It was by design that only one half of one branch of government was to be chosen by “the people”: the House of Representatives. “The people,” in most places, and for the most part determined by the States, consisted of wealthy property owning white males. This was not primarily because of misogyny or racism, but because the framers (and most of “the people”) believed the unpropertied masses, easily driven by mob mentality, were unfit to govern.

The President was not (and is not) directly elected by the people. The President is selected by an Electoral College, and as the link demonstrates (Article II, Section 1), the method of choosing electors was (and, with some exceptions, is) left up to the States.

What this means is that the two party system and the methods employed to determine candidates for President today is extra-Constitutional. This is one of the reasons there has been so much controversy this year in the Primaries: each State and each Political Party can devise and has devised their own rules for selecting candidates. There is no mention of political parties in the Constitution, and most of the founders believed “faction” to be the enemy of democracy.

What this all means is that there is nothing to prevent us from revising the method of selecting candidates. Just because “we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t mean we should continue, and the repugnant choices offered up by our current method provide the best indicator that the system is broken and in dire need of repair.

The biggest problem seems to be that collectively the will is absent to effect change. But the power is there if we choose to use it. Hand-wringing and moaning won’t make things better; neither will continuously “choosing the lesser of two evils.” It’s time to stop thinking small about tweaks that might fix various symptoms of our political dysfunction, and start to consider ways to fundamentally remake — and preserve —  American democracy.

U. S. Electoral College: Presidential Election Laws

The official U.S. Electoral College web site, providing current presidential election state electors timeline and roles and responsibilities, laws and requirements, and vote distribution. Use the Electoral College Calculator to predict who will win the next presidential election. View the electoral votes, popular votes, electors, and certificates of past presidential elections.

The Enemies of Democracy

June 18th, 2016 No comments

Citizens who do not know history are not equipped to make intelligent decisions about public policy. Citizens who are armed only with technical education are not equipped to make moral choices. Teddy Roosevelt once remarked, “To educate a man in mind and not morals is to educate a menace to society.” Our current political climate, motivated by fear, misinformation, and lies, is the inevitable outcome of devaluing humanities education. Voters are not educated in the facts, and do not possess critical thinking skills to be able to distinguish truth from falsehood. Privatization and corporatization of education are the tools of oligarchs and the enemies of democracy.

What’s Really Happening to the Humanities Under Neoliberalism?

The number of college students majoring in English, according to some contested reports, has plummeted. In general, the humanities are taking a back seat to more “pragmatic” majors in college. Students, apparently, are thinking more about jobs than about general learning. Given this trend, should schools be scaling back on the humanities?

Christ and the Gay Bar

June 17th, 2016 No comments

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When I read about Christian preachers celebrating the deaths of gays murdered in Orlando, I just shook my head. Here we go again. I know there are a lot of people who call themselves Christians who draw attention to themselves with these Trump-like antics at every opportunity, particularly at precisely the wrong moment. But I also know these two things: they are fringe groups promoted by sensationalizing media to smear an entire religion, and they do not represent Christianity. Sound familiar? What didn’t get reported in the mainstream media is that far more Christians reacted with love than hate. The difference is that those Christians acted in ways that didn’t seek to draw attention to themselves. But their efforts were much more concrete and helpful than the vapid “thoughts and prayers” offered by the Congress.

Because there are so many different expressions of faith in a religion claimed by 2.2 billion people, there is in fact no way to pin down what Christianity is. Even Christians in small denominations cannot agree on what they believe. When I was a seminarian I used to engage in very heated arguments about minute points of theology that were of interest to only a tiny few and of importance to none. We can’t even agree on the most fundamental doctrines. So to make any kind of definitive statement about what Christians believe is to be deceptive both to ourselves and to whomever we are speaking. But any group calling itself Christian who claims the Christian Bible – Old and New Testaments – cannot avoid these two scripture passages.

“All have sinned.” (Ro. 3:23) How disheartening to watch our public conversation descend into angry finger-pointing. We delight in pointing out the sins of others. But there is very little introspection. The biblical doctrine is that we all stand condemned before God. None of us can live a sinless life. No matter how sinful my neighbor is, my sin is no less. If sins were arranged according to severity (I’m not sure they ultimately are), surely self-righteousness would be close to the top, because self-righteousness, while it stands in condemnation of your sins, ignores my own, and keeps me in darkness. Acknowledging my own frailty leads to appreciation for our common humanity. “I am not different from you brother. I too am weak and in need of forgiveness.” Acknowledging our own fault leads away from judgment, intolerance, and hate.

Which leads to the second passage, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NABRE). Now, if you think Jesus is telling us here to have warm fuzzies for each other, you have missed the point entirely. When Jesus says love as I have loved he means with a total outpouring of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the other, even the enemy, with no thought of reciprocation or reward. This is what John means when he writes “God is love.” Jesus poured out his life on the cross to free from the bondage of sin even people who despised him. And Jesus says, in this passage, that this is the kind of love which will identify his followers. If self-sacrificing love is evident, we are witnessing Christ, if not, not.

We are not called to judge; the world has already been judged. We are called to love.

The other day the Republican Lieutenant Governor of Utah Nelson Cox remarked as follows when speaking about the tragedy in Orlando, “calling people idiots, communists, fascists or bigots on Facebook is not going to change any hearts or minds.” Those things are not love. They are judgments.

If we desire peace, in our hearts and in our world, we must lay aside judgment and embrace love.

Ken Burns Eviscerates #Drumpf

June 13th, 2016 No comments

So before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process, divided our house, to fight against, no matter your political persuasion, the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements; a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter; who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens a free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims; a man who took more than a day to remember to disavow a supporter who advocates white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan; an infantile, bullying man who, depending on his mood, is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties and long-standing relationships.

Filmmaker Ken Burns Delivers Blistering Takedown Of Donald Trump At Stanford

For 216 years, our elections, though bitterly contested, have featured the philosophies and character of candidates who were clearly qualified. That is not the case this year. One is glaringly not qualified.

#WontBackDown

June 12th, 2016 No comments

Despite what the headline says, there was no concession, no HRC endorsement. When he says we must unite, he doesn’t mean we the Democratic Party establishment. He means #NotMeUs  #SeeYouInPhilly

Bernie Sanders says Democratic Party must unite to defeat Trump

Bernie Sanders, speaking outside his home in Burlington, Vermont, says Democratic Party must now unify and focus of defeating presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump.

I’m Not Going to Choose Evil

June 10th, 2016 No comments

As long as we continue voting for evil, we will continue getting evil. I am not voting for evil. I am not voting for Hillary Clinton. And I am not voting for Donald Trump. And let the chips fall.

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If you are a parent you know or even if you’re not you can imagine that it sometimes takes creative sleight of hand to get your kids to do what they have to do in order to function in the scenarios we place them in, like school. For example, I would imagine that most schools require students to wear shoes and socks, but many children, maybe most, would rather not. And children can be stubborn. If you choose for them what they are going to wear they can rebel, making it difficult to move them forward. So if you were to pick out a pair of blue socks for the child to wear and she protested, you might offer a pair of red socks and tell them they have a choice. You can see this is not a real choice, the kid is going to wear socks, and they are going to wear the socks you give them, but the illusion of choice diffuses the situation. The kid complies.

This scene is analogous to the current state of our so-called democracy. The two-party system has become so embedded in our politics that we can’t imagine life without it. But the two party system consistently fails to produce candidates that appeal to more than a fraction of the population. The rest are left with the unpalatable task of choosing “the lesser of two evils.”

This is relevant today because as the 2016 primary season comes to an end the two major political parties in the United States are poised to nominate as candidates for President historically corrupt and unqualified candidates. Both of these candidates have fervent supporters, but they only represent a fraction of the population. Most of us are left to decide either to vote for a candidate we really dislike, or to forego the election altogether.

The 2016 election is singular only in how comparably awful the choices are. The “lesser of two evils” scenario is so common it is the default situation for most voters. That might explain the low rate of voter participation in the United States. A Pew Research Center report from 2015 shows that of all eligible voters only slightly more than half are even registered to vote. That places the United States fourth from last in voter turnout in 34 OECD countries.[1] This is the country that introduced representative democracy to the modern world; that has always held democracy central to its national identity; the country that has sacrificed millions of lives for the right to vote.

A much overlooked fact relative to this situation is that the way our elections are conducted is mostly extra-constitutional. The Constitution doesn’t make any provision for political parties. For the most part the methods of election, particularly in regards to the election of President, are left up to the States. And even though the way we conduct our elections is codified into law (much to the frustration of Bernie Sanders supporters), there is nothing in the Constitution that would prevent our restructuring the franchise in a way that provided better representation of the popular will.

But that is a topic for another time. What I’m really thinking about here is this “lesser of two evils” situation. For many years I chose not to vote in Presidential elections because I have long believed (and still believe) that if I don’t have something to vote for I shouldn’t vote. Voting is election – choice. My vote is my choice. It doesn’t make sense for me to choose what I don’t want. It’s that simple. When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008 I felt I finally had a Presidential candidate that represented my values. Not exactly of course but enough to make me excited about the prospect of an Obama Presidency.

With Obama now completing his lame duck term I was again faced with the prospect of no choice until Bernie threw his hat into the ring. Anyone who has taken the time to learn about Bernie Sanders (I mean do research, not listen to establishment pols and the MSM) knows that he is almost unique in American politics. He is honest, consistent, humble, and deeply cares about justice. He is a once in a lifetime (if that) candidate. I don’t agree with every one of his positions, but I believe he embodies the true progressive American spirit more than any candidate in nearly a century. It now seems fairly clear that he is not going to be allowed to win. We played the game by their rules, such as they are, and we lost.

Although the discourse between the candidates in the Democratic primaries has been mostly civil, the discourse between their supporters has not. I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around but what remains at the forefront of my recollection is the picture of Barbara Boxer flipping me off. Of course, she didn’t flip me off, but she flipped off Bernie supporters who were angry because they had just watched an election being stolen. So by proxy then, she flipped me off.

Now, I can understand this. In the heat of battle, we tend to be less than civil. What I find odd enough to be almost comical, though, is that now that the contest seems to be settled, the very group that vilified us and our candidate, the ones who stiff-armed us and flipped us off, expect us to support their candidate. I for one never thought Hillary Clinton was Presidential material, and after watching her in action for the last six months I am even more convinced of that, if it were possible. But I am presented with the argument that while she may have her faults (indeed, she has many), she is at least better than Trump. We Bernie supporters are told if we don’t throw our weight behind Hillary, Trump might win. And then it will be our fault.

I really don’t like to use this kind of language in my writing but folks that’s just plain bullshit. If Trump wins the election it will not be because Bernie supporters refused to support Hillary, it will be because the DNC and the Democratic Party establishment were incapable of offering a candidate who deserves my support.

As long as we continue voting for evil, we will continue getting evil. I am not voting for evil. I am not voting for Hillary Clinton. And I am not voting for Donald Trump. And let the chips fall.

[1] Drew Desilver, “U.S. Voter Turnout Trails Most Developed Countries,” Pew Research Center, May 6, 2015, accessed June 10, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/06/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/.

Revolutions Break Things

June 8th, 2016 No comments

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Now we hear the voices of the establishment sucking up to Bernie and his supporters with saccharin “congratulations,” probably hoping we will forget how they stiff-armed us and flipped us off and expecting us to fall in line like good little faux-progressives. “That was cute kids, but now grownups are talking. Let’s get serious.” They are right in pointing out that Bernie’s campaign has already had a lasting effect on American politics, but I am not optimistic about the political revolution if we simply settle for the two awful choices we have been given. Bernie said, and he’s right, that it’s too late for establishment politics, and the last time I looked up “establishment politics” in the dictionary I saw an illustration of Hillary Clinton. If Bernie’s movement is to mean anything it can’t be absorbed into and tamed by the establishment, even under the guise of “the lesser of two evils.” If our political revolution is to be a real revolution it must remain a threat to the establishment. Revolutions are not timid or cautious. The whole purpose of a revolution is to break things.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

June 6th, 2016 No comments

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Well, Hillary “won” another primary. The corporate media are poised to declare her the “winner” of the Democratic Primary. I find it disheartening that evidence of electoral fraud is ignored by the media as it is whitewashed by the Democratic party establishment. I am not a kook and I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there is too much irregularity that is in plain sight to just ignore the corruption of the Democratic establishment and the collusion of the corporate media. Things like: suddenly restricted access to polling places in Arizona and Puerto Rico, thousands of voters “disappearing” from the rolls in districts where the opposition was strong in New York, votes “disappearing” from the count only to be re-added later to another candidate, and an announcement days ahead of time by the corporate media the exact moment on June 7 when they will declare Hillary the winner, when the votes won’t be counted until July 25. The Democratic party approach to elections appears not to have changed much since the days of Boss Tweed.

We are inundated by reports of how Donald Trump is dangerous and unfit to be President. That electing him President will open the door to fascism. But, ironically, Trump won all of his elections fair and square, even against the wishes of the Republican Party establishment. Contrast that with the tactics of the DNC and the complicity of the corporate media. Are they not a much better example of totalitarianism? What we are seeing is an illusion of Democracy. Don’t believe me? When the Sanders campaign was surging in Nevada before the Feb. 20 caucuses, Harry Reid sought to calm nervous Hillary followers by pronouncing in no uncertain terms that she *will be* the nominee. No question there. And this was before more than half of the Democrats in the country had voted, including those in his own state.

So while I have no doubt that watching a Trump Presidency would be the equivalent of watching a circus tent burn down in the middle of the show, a Hillary Presidency would be a subtler, Orwellian erosion of popular sovereignty. It is already so in the Democratic Party, and will soon be so in the nation if Hillary is elected, that the individual vote is irrelevant. As in a banana republic, the winning candidate is chosen ahead of time by the powers that be. Voting is a show. And in this case, the powers that be are the 1% who control the body politic for their own benefit.

Will Americans continue to be silent? To be distracted by gorillas and manufactured social divisions while their rights inexorably dissipate? Or will the traditional American love of liberty finally rise up to re-take the reins? In the 1960s JFK made a telling observation about a world that was rising up against economic totalitarianism that today should be taken as an ominous warning for the Democratic Party, “Those who make nonviolent revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.”

Hillary Clinton is at least as dangerous as Donald Trump. I can’t in good conscience vote for either. So the only thing left for me to do is to “get on my knees and pray we won’t get fooled again.”

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