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Archive for August, 2017

“…to bigotry no sanction…”

August 21st, 2017 No comments

George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport 17 August 1790

Washington Letter

Touro Synagogue is America’s oldest synagogue and a national historic site. Find information on history, services, tours and accommodations.

Wake Up!

August 18th, 2017 No comments

You see how it works? Heavily armed nazis marching through the streets with torches spewing hate against Jews and Blacks and you guys are all defending Confederate statues. Wake up people!

“We understand justice very differently…”

August 18th, 2017 No comments

Text of a letter from the Great-Great-Grandsons of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson concerning the removal of a statue to their progenitor in Richmond, Va.

“Last weekend, Charlottesville showed us unequivocally that Confederate statues offer pre-existing iconography for racists. The people who descended on Charlottesville last weekend were there to make a naked show of force for white supremacy. To them, the Robert E. Lee statue is a clear symbol of their hateful ideology.”

“The Monuments Must Go”: An Open Letter From the Great-Great-Grandsons of Stonewall Jackson

Dear Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and members of the Monument Avenue Commission, We are native Richmonders and also the great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson. As two of the closest living relatives to Stonewall, we are writing today to ask for the removal of his statue, as well as the removal of all Confederate statues from Monument Avenue.

The “Lost Cause” should not be glorified

August 16th, 2017 No comments

Statues are not erected to educate, they are erected to glorify. Taking down statues that glorify a lamentable past is not erasing history. It is claiming the present. In a way, it represents the best outcome of a critical understanding of history, because it indicates we have learned that who we once were is not who we want to be. The mythos of the “Lost Cause” is historically inaccurate. It is an invention. The Confederacy did not come into existence to defend liberty but to perpetuate slavery.[1] There was nothing glorious about it. And it’s about time we accepted that.

Analysis | How other countries have dealt with monuments to dictators, fascists and racists

The waning days of the Confederacy did not look so different from the last hours of Nazi Germany. As Matthew Schofield of McClatchy Newspapers explained: “Flags were torn down while defeated cities still burned, even as citizens crawling from the rubble were just realizing that the governments they represented had ended.”

[1] Please don’t take my word for this; read the words of those who moved to destroy the nation: The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States

Once again the nazis

August 16th, 2017 No comments

“All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

“Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.” – W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939” (Germany invaded Poland on that date, beginning World War II)

The Poetry of Tragedy

August 15th, 2017 No comments

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the independence and partition of India. Most Americans know little about Indian history and the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. If you only know the movie Gandhi, then you will believe that the British and indigenous peoples (Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim) shared common liberal values (i.e., a secular state based on popular sovereignty and individual freedoms). But liberalism, a European invention, did not dominate Indian politics.

Before the independence of India, there had never been a unified Indian “nation.” What we call India was a collection of states and districts that eventually came under the direct control of the British Crown. At the time of partition, there were approximately 1600 different dialects spoken on the Indian subcontinent, in other words, 1600 different ethnic identities. The idea of a unified liberal state, championed by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, was a Western invention.

Islam entered the Indian subcontinent beginning in the 8th century. The tragedy of Indian history is that Islam, with its insistence on the one-ness of God, is antithetical to the dominant religion of India, Hinduism, with its multitude of Deities. This antipathy led to conflict and violence between followers of the two religions.

When India came under the rule of the British, religious tensions faded to the background, but conflicts remained. The Sepoy rebellion of 1857, which eventually led to direct British rule, was sparked by resentment of Indian Hindu and Muslim soldiers (Sepoys) against the British use of either pork of beef fat in its ammunition. When the country moved toward independence in the 20th century its major proponent was an alliance of Hindus in the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi and Muslims in the Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

It was Gandhi’s goal to unite all of India into one new liberal state. But when the prospect of independence became real after World War II, the old animosities between Muslims and Hindus resurfaced. Fearing persecution, Jinnah insisted on a separate Muslim nation. The British eventually conceded to allow the creation of two states: India, with a majority of Hindus and Sikhs, and Pakistan, with a majority of Muslims. The plan was hastily drawn up and the border (the Radcliffe line) defined just five days before independence.

The problem with the line was that, while it was true that there were a majority of Muslims in the area designated Pakistan and a majority of Hindus and Sikhs in the area designated India, there were Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims in every district of the subcontinent. Fearing discrimination by the majority, religious minorities in both regions were displaced, seeking homes in the country dominated by their religion. The resulting suffering during the mass migration of millions led to mob violence and brutal attacks on both sides. An estimated million people died.

And what was gained? Take a step back in your mind and marvel that millions of people suffered and many died trying to cross an imaginary line because of fear and mistrust based on ideological differences. All of this suffering was created out of fabricated disunity, and all of it could have been avoided by political leaders recognizing the “other” as neighbor.

History does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme. And here we sit in the United States in 2017 tapping our feet to the rhythm of this tragic ode.

Indian Independence Day: everything you need to know about Partition between India and Pakistan 70 years on

70 years ago, Partition came into effect, dividing British India into two new, independent countries: India and Pakistan. At midnight on August 14 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, gave a famous speech which hailed the country’s decades-long, non-violent campaign against British rule: At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

Enough

August 13th, 2017 No comments

This country was born with an open wound. The pain of this open wound caused so much division that eventually the nation tried to commit suicide. Then the wound was closed but the infection remained. That infection festered until it burst the skin, and the nation covered it with a band-aid. With the band-aid it looked like the wound was healed for a time but it continued to fester.

The election of a black President exposed the putrefying sore, and eventually the band-aid was completely ripped away, leaving a mass of stinking bloody pus.

Covering it over never really helped. In fact, it just allowed the wound to get worse, continuing to cause damage to the whole body. Now it is completely exposed.

Racism is not a political issue. Do not be confused or distracted by apologists for hate pointing fingers at the “other side.” It is not a left vs. right issue. It is a right vs. wrong issue. We do not have to agree on anything else to agree that the symbols of the hateful ideology Americans sacrificed to vanquish have no place in our public discourse. If you are not willing to condemn them, you are with them.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict…[an individual] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” – Elie Wiesel

Oh look! A squirrel!

August 12th, 2017 No comments

Wonder why there’s been so much war talk lately? Dictators will find an enemy when they need a distraction.

By opting for military action, the Galtieri government hoped to mobilise the long-standing patriotic feelings of Argentines towards the islands, and thus divert public attention from the country’s chronic economic problems and the regime’s ongoing human rights violations of the Dirty War.[15] Such action would also bolster its dwindling legitimacy. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War)

Analysis: Trump ‘military’ talk on Venezuela unnerves LatAm

President Donald Trump’s talk of a “military option” in Venezuela risks alienating Latin American nations that overcame their reluctance to work with the Republican leader and had adopted a common, confrontational approach aimed at isolating President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government.

No, God did not give Trump authority to bomb Korea.

August 10th, 2017 No comments

‘God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,’ evangelical adviser says

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The only Christian characteristic we may assign to Donald Trump is the example of the unrepentant sinner. That evangelical Christians have embraced him is mystifying. Christians are afforded every constitutional liberty in a democracy that everyone else enjoys. But the Christian who claims membership in the Body of Christ is constrained by a higher authority to stricter standards. In a classic example of the thinking “the end justifies the means,” evangelicals embraced Donald Trump out of their concern for cultural issues and the courts such as LGBT rights and abortion. The assertion publicly made by self-appointed Christian leaders during the campaign was, “we are not electing a Pastor in Chief.” It would seem that some evangelicals hope to force their version of morality on non-Christians by means of an instrument that violates their stated core moral principles. It’s like hoping to use a broken hammer to fix a broken hammer.

Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, a Donald Trump sycophant and apparent denier of the central Christian message (“For God so loved the world…” John 3:16), has issued a statement in response to the President’s ill-considered off-the-cuff threats to North Korea affirming that “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un” presumably using nuclear weapons. Perhaps anticipating pushback from other Christians (such as myself), he went on to note that Christians who disagree with his startling claim “are not well taught in the scriptures.”

In the same way that I learned the futility of engaging Trump supporters using logic and reason (or at all really), I have learned not to argue theology with believers who have so distorted the Christian message, particularly those who conflate the Kingdom of God with the United States and the People of God with the Republican Party in the United States. But, as one well taught in the scriptures (at one of America’s finest Evangelical seminaries), I feel compelled to respond to this tortured treatment of the thirteenth Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans., Specifically, Jeffress bases his argument on verse 4 which states, “For he [the ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. ” The underlying assumption here, obviously, is that Trump is God’s chosen instrument with the power of Caesar to punish the evildoer Kim Jong Un. 

Now it is theologically sound to point out that Donald Trump’s authority derives from God, because all authority (even Satan’s) does. And it is also reasonable, based on Christian principles, to judge Kim Jong Un, with his desire to wreak nuclear havoc on his neighbors, as an evildoer. But it takes a wild leap of the imagination to assume, therefore, that God by means of this verse has assigned to Donald Trump the authority to endanger lives both in the United States and Asia by unleashing war on the Korean peninsula.

One of the very first classes new seminarians take is called “hermeneutics,” dealing with the accurate interpretation of scripture.  Having earned a Ph.D from the University of California and also studied hermeneutics at seminary, I can say with confidence that the critical eye with which Christian academics approach the interpretation of Biblical texts is at least as rigorous as that used in secular academia. In hermeneutics the student is taught methods by which a text written in the far past can be mined for meaning in today’s world. The process is straightforward: first determine what the text said to the people is was written to, and then frame that message for contemporary life. Context is everything. To take literal passages out of context and apply to them random meanings in support of the issues of contemporary society has led to tragedies throughout the ages. One may state with certainty that the Bible does recount that Judas “went out and hanged himself” (Mt. 27:5), but it is a violation of the clear meaning of the text to then affirm that Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) Yet this is what Jeffress has done.

The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Roman Empire in the first century. The Roman Empire was a pagan one with little sympathy for or understanding of Jewish monotheism and their intricate laws, but they tolerated and even protected it. Paul’s experience before the Roman proconsul Gallio (Acts 18) demonstrated that the Roman official had no interest in interfering in religious affairs. With this tacit approval of the pagan authorities to practice their religion in freedom, it was prudent for Christians, who the Romans associated with Judaism, to demonstrate upright behavior through conscientious observation of Roman secular law. This is stated not only by Paul here but by other apostles in other letters to the early Churches (1 Thes. 4; 1 Pet. 2). Christians were admonished to be upright in their adherence to the law to silence critics and demonstrate that they posed no threat to the Empire.

It is in the sense of maintaining peace and order that Paul assigns authority to the ruler as an instrument of wrath: an instrument in opposition to wrongdoing and social disorder. C.S. Lewis summarizes the reach of the secular ruler in his book Mere Christianity:

…it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden— that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 199.

Paul’s description of the relationship of the Christian and the state is in effect an admonition to do as Jesus commanded, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) Jesus acknowledges that the state has a valid place in God’s order, even if it is not a “Christian” state. But Jesus’ command sets limits on the allegiance Christians owe to the state. Paul himself noted in his letter to the Philippian Christians that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” (Phil. 3:20) We are to consider ourselves resident aliens and obey the laws of the Empire inasmuch as they do not violate our conscience. But we must also be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience to laws we cannot in good conscience obey. That is why Peter and the apostles replied to the demand of the Sanhedrin to quit preaching Jesus, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) That is also why the martyrs were willing to suffer execution for publicly maintaining their allegiance to Christ.

Considered within the context of Paul’s purpose for writing, and not to cherry pick a biblical phrase that supports a predetermined worldview, we see that the subject of the first seven verses in Romans Chapter 13 is the relationship of the Christian to the state, not the authority of the ruler, whoever he may be. How then does a biblical scholar make the astonishing leap from a call for exemplary behavior on the part of Christians to God giving Trump authority to nuke Korea? I suggest that Mr. Jeffress is preying upon scriptural illiteracy (already abundantly demonstrated by Trump) buttressed by a fusion of bad theology and US jingoism, none of it supported in scripture.

The New Testament is deafeningly silent on the issue of rulers crushing their enemies. But it has a lot to say about love. When the New Testament puts forward love as a Christian ideal, it is not the flawed human emotion, rather it is the self-sacrificing action Jesus accomplished on the Cross, to create a way for lost humanity to once again enjoy Shalom, the peace of God. Jesus had no reservations about his sacrifice, he did it for no personal gain, and in fact he did it for people who were his sworn enemies. The Apostle John shows Jesus teaching his disciples how the world will know they are his followers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Just as I have loved you. That is the high bar that is set for Christians.

Paul also has much to say about love. In fact, it is the subject of the next three verses in Romans 13 following his discussion of citizenship. He admonishes “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) Who is my neighbor? In answer to that question Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-35). After telling the story of the Jew who had been rescued by the Samaritan (read: Jews and Muslims), Jesus asks his questioner who was neighbor to the victim. The man replied, “The one who treated him with mercy.” In response to this Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

I submit that for a Christian leader, or any Christian for that matter, when asked to consider the prospect of setting out on a course bound to negatively affect thousands if not millions of innocent lives, the considered response ought to keep this call to mercy foremost. Trump may or may not have valid worldly reasons for initiating a war with North Korea, but we can be reasonably certain his authority to do so does not derive from Paul’s advice to Christians about how to behave in a pagan Empire.

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