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As if we needed Cardinal Dolan to tell us…

September 23rd, 2017 No comments

“We are called not to politics or partisanship, but to love our neighbor,” it continues. “Let’s reject the forces of division that insist we make a false choice between our safety and our humanity.”

Cardinal Dolan: Steve Bannon’s comments on immigration are ‘insulting’ and ‘ridiculous’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said claims by a former senior adviser to President Trump that Catholic bishops advocate for immigrants for economic benefit and to fill pews are “preposterous and rather insulting.”

Welcoming the Stranger

September 7th, 2017 No comments

Excerpt from Paul VI “Populorum Progressio” (1967) 

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.

Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A surprising ecumenism

July 15th, 2017 No comments

Which feeling underlies the persuasive temptation for a spurious alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism? It is fear of the breakup of a constructed order and the fear of chaos. Indeed, it functions that way thanks to the chaos perceived. The political strategy for success becomes that of raising the tones of the conflictual, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism.

Religion at this point becomes a guarantor of order and a political part would incarnate its needs. The appeal to the apocalypse justifies the power desired by a god or colluded in with a god. And fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it.

 

LA CIVILTÀ CATTOLICA

Editor-in-chief of Antonio Spadaro S.J. La Civiltà Cattolica , Presbyterian pastor, Editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of Marcelo Figueroa L’Osservatore Romano In God We Trust. This phrase is printed on the banknotes of the United States of America and is the current national motto.

Amen.

February 22nd, 2017 No comments

 

San Diego’s Catholic bishop urges citizens to be ‘disruptors’ and ‘rebuilders’ in Trump era

Even before the White House announced stricter immigration policies Tuesday, there were signs of opposition. Addressing people “of all faiths and no faith,” San Diego’s Roman Catholic bishop on Saturday urged Americans to be “disruptors” and “rebuilders.” Donald Trump, Bishop Robert McElroy noted, had campaigned for the presidency as “the disruptor.”

διαβάλλειν – The one who creates division

February 20th, 2017 No comments

In Christian theology, the Devil is an angel who defied God, and thus became morally corrupt. His name is Satan, which translates to “the accuser,” but he is also called the Devil, which derives from the Greek word διαβάλλειν (diaballein), which is generally rendered “slanderer.” Both names are appropriate because in the Christian narrative world Satan stands before God accusing humanity of rebellion, which is a slander because the division between humanity and God was instigated by Satan himself.

Bishop Robert Barron notes that the construction of the word dia-ballein combines two Greek words: dia – through, and ballein – to throw. Adding those words together creates a sense of casting asunder, or division. One must be cautious in assigning meaning based on pure etymology because words often take on meanings removed from the component parts (under-stand doesn’t mean to stand under something), but in this case I think the interpretation is useful because one can see how accusing and slandering will cast relationships asunder and cause division.

When God created humanity ‘in his image,’ he created us in a love relationship that mirrored the love relationship of the Trinity. In the Trinity there are three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) whose relationship with each other is a total outpouring of love, called perichoresis. The image of God in humans is the total outpouring of love by humanity for God, just as God pours himself out to humanity. In the Genesis story Adam and Eve stand for all humanity, and God has provided everything for their needs, given them autonomy and dominion over the earth. We read his instruction not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a threat: if you do it you will die. But in fact it was a warning: creating a division in our relationship will bring about the death of our love relationship. It is not, “if you put your hand on the stove I will burn you,” it is, “if you put your hand on the stove you will get burned.”

The narrative continues with the arrival on the scene of the serpent, widely understood to be Satan. Satan tempts Eve with the promise of hidden knowledge and lies to her about the consequences of giving in to that temptation. But, alas, she is helpless to resist, and she sins, and Adam includes himself in her sin. And the sin immediately resulted in death, as God had warned.

The reader may wonder how the act resulted in immediate death when the Genesis narrative shows Adam and Eve living for hundreds of years outside of Eden. But the death God warned against was the death of the love relationship. As Paul writes, they moved from love of the Creator to love of created things, and after they were never able to devote their full attention to the love of God. Their affections were divided, which removed them from the total self-giving love of God. Thus, they were divided from God. That is death. The Serpent, Satan, the Accuser, the Slanderer, had successfully brought about the fall of humanity, casting asunder the wholeness of humans, and casting asunder their relationship with God.

The curse of humanity throughout recorded history has been the operation of this division manifest in uncountable ways. Humans are not only divided from God by their disordered affections, they are separated from each other by the breaking of God’s Spirit. The result is all of the calamities known to man.

Dia-ballein. To cast asunder. Division is the fate of humanity, and as we look about us today we lament the division we see in American politics, as if it were something new. Of course it is not new but at times it is more pronounced and noticeable. Although this spirit of division is undeniable, in the national discourse its cause is debated. To the conservatives, it’s the liberals To the liberals, it’s Trump. To the immigrants and minorities it’s the whites. To the whites it’s the “other,” whoever that happens to be at the moment (Naive Americans, Blacks, Irish, Catholics, Asians, Eastern Europeans, Italians, Okies, Hispanics, Japanese, and now Muslims). There are accusing fingers pointing in every direction. Each side, at least in its own mind, has truth and righteousness on its side, but the result is ever deepening division, to the point that one wonders if it is possible to heal.

Donald Trump was elected after running a campaign that sowed division. It began with the accusation that Mexicans were sending “rapists and drug dealers” and continued with attacks on Muslims, the press, the courts, “political correctness.” To some this aggressive speech was refreshing, stating openly what they had long believed but were afraid to vocalize. Others, like the KKK and other white supremacist organizations, openly celebrated that at last their hateful ideology was becoming mainstream.

Now, I am not saying that Donald Trump is the Devil, but I am saying that Donald Trump is doing the Devil’s work. Because the Devil’s work is to accuse and slander, skills Donald Trump has mastered.

But Donald Trump is not alone. Since the election, and particularly since the inauguration, liberals have responded to the provocations of the Trump administration by pointing accusing fingers not only at Trump, but against those who support him. It may be argued that their anger is righteous, but we must also concede that the result of this anger is not righteousness but more anger and more provocation. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. If Donald Trump’s opponents are able to succeed in ending his presidency, it will not heal the division.

In a secular society like the United States, few are willing to consider national political and social problems in spiritual or religious terms. But it is clear that the strategies employed to solve these problems do exactly the opposite. Can we concede that peace cannot be restored or created by vanquishing our opponents? If so, then we may consider an alternative strategy.

Here, Christian theology comes to the rescue. The narrative that begins with the rebellion of humanity against the love of God, that sows division, ends with unity. The climax of the Christian story of salvation is the death and resurrection of Christ. The consequence of that event is that Christ has overcome death and division and restored the unity of man and God by restoring the love relationship. Theologically, this is accomplished by the death of the human spirit of division and rebirth in God’s Spirit of love and unity. That’s what Jesus means when he tells Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”

The biblical Christian outlook is that it is only by the death of our separateness can we be restored to union with God. When we become Christians, we receive the Spirit of Christ. There is only one Spirit of Christ. The result is that those who are living in Christ are all one, and the sign of that unity is the self-giving self-sacrificing love that Jesus modeled on the cross. When John writes “God is love,” he says implicitly that wherever self-denying self-sacrificing love is evident in the world, God is visible. And Jesus himself says that this is how his followers can be identified.

When Mohandas Gandhi was leading Satyagraha (truth war) against British rule in India, it was not difficult for him to find many willing to risk their well-being in violent revolution. It is perhaps symptomatic of the fall from grace that the human heart tends more toward vengeance than justice. But Gandhi insisted that no one could be his follower who did not surrender their inner urge to violence, even in thought. It is not enough to be nonviolent when one is incapable of mounting violent resistance. True nonviolence requires a nonviolence of the heart: a tendency to love and compassion rather than anger and punishment. The strength of Gandhi’s nonviolence was that even if he had the power to vanquish the British by force, he would rather have reached out in brotherhood. This is the Christian way.

And this must be our way. The truth is, the image of God is in all of us. We must learn to recognize that image in everyone we encounter. It is not likely that we will ever achieve substantial agreement on politics, but it is possible for us to love each other even if we disagree. South Africa in the time of apartheid could not have been any more divided. One way that President Nelson Mandela helped to heal that division was by reaching out to his opponents to work on projects they could agree on. “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

I don’t think we should expect instant reciprocation. We may in fact receive violence in return for our love. But we must never give in to violence. We must have the courage to receive the blows of the enemy, knowing that our suffering will be the instrument that will save us both.

The alternative is to continue to divide. And this is the work of the one who creates division.

Approaching Moral Death

November 30th, 2016 No comments

He’s quite concerned about insulting inanimate objects, but he has no problem with bombing children.

Trump’s Call to Strip Flag Burners of Citizenship Renews Decades-Old Debate

The obstacles include the precedent that the Constitution does not allow the government to expatriate Americans against their will, through a landmark 1967 case, Afroyim v. Rusk. They also include a 1989 decision, Texas v. Johnson, in which the court struck down criminal laws banning flag burning, ruling that the act was a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment.

Thanksgiving Peace in a Troubled World

November 25th, 2016 No comments

ship-in-storm

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Php 4:4–9.)

As I considered passages that might be appropriate for Thanksgiving I ran across Paul’s exhortations to the Christians at Philippi near the end of his letter to the church there.

Those Christians would have been familiar with negativity and anxiety. Scholars have estimated that the Christian church at Philippi was probably about 2% of the population. Very few of the local elites would have been included, and the greater part of the church membership would have been at the lower echelons of a status driven society, consisting mostly of poor Greeks and slaves. Philippi was a Roman colony, awash in the paganism of the Roman Empire, a promiscuous and idol worshipping culture similar to our own. In this letter Paul calls upon the Christians to live in a way that challenges the culture, which he acknowledges they are doing. But obviously, a minority challenge from the lowest level of society to the prevailing darkness would have produced anxiety in the community.

As someone who seeks to live “in Christ,” I identify with the plight of the Philippians. I have long felt that, far from being a Christian nation, the culture of the United States more resembles the paganism of the Hellenistic world. For me, this was made abundantly clear in the political process we had to endure this past several months. I allowed myself to become emotionally involved in the event, forgetting, as Paul reminds us, that “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Php. 3:20)

I think I am not the only one who has been adversely affected by the negativity of the season. I sense there is an air of bitterness and anxiety that was not resolved by the outcome of the election. Angry words are being exchanged, along with accusations and even acts of violence. The election didn’t solve anything. It seems to have deepened the divide.

So Paul’s advice to the Christians at Philippi is relevant to our own situation. He begins by essentially commanding the Philippians to rejoice. He emphasizes the command by repeating it. “I say again, rejoice!” This is not a passive admonition to “don’t worry, be happy.” The verbs in this passage are imperative.

How can Paul seriously expect worried people to respond positively to a command to rejoice? He can because he is not suggesting simply that one will oneself into joy (“lighten up!”). He is issuing a call to action. “Make your kindness known to all,” he tells them. And not to leave them scratching their heads, he follows this call to action with specific instructions.

The first thing they must do is to pray with thanksgiving. He actually prefaces the call to prayer by reminding them that “the Lord is near.” Some interpret this as a reminder of the Parousia, the second coming, but in the context of this call to prayer it more likely points out that Jesus has promised to be with us always (Mt. 28:20). So they (and we) have every reason to be grateful. We can pray with thanksgiving because we know the Lord is near, that he hears us. Our trust in the nearness of Christ in our afflictions and anxieties, if it is real, allows us to live with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

I think that last phrase deserves a little attention, because we are apt to think that Paul is writing in hyperbole. We are used to this, surrounded as we are with overblown descriptions of everything from laundry soap to toothpaste, and so we might dismiss it, as we do most advertising. But Paul didn’t live in a culture soaked in advertising, and when he writes that something surpasses all understanding, he means it. How can one understand a people who live in spiritual peace in the midst of troubled times? Are they daft? Paul assures us later in the letter that he has “learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Php. 4:11 NIV)

How? Paul instructs the Philippians to two counter-cultural actions. The first is to focus their attention on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or gracious, in short anything that speaks of the sovereignty of God in a fallen world. It is true that the world is fallen and because of that we are beset by corruption in everything, but at the same time God’s signature is still to be found: in nature, in our loving relations with those close to us, in acts of love and heroism and charity great and small. Paul here suggests that we can train our minds to notice these things first and above all. In other words, to notice God first and above all. That alone is enough to overcome the darkness of the world.

But he goes on. Paul instructs the Philippians to “keep on doing what you have learned and received and seen in me.” To know exactly what Paul means by that we have to look further back in the letter where he writes,

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Php. 2:1-11 NABRE)

A central theme of all of Paul’s writing is the idea of being “in Christ.” Being in Christ means the abandonment of what he calls the flesh, meaning things of secular life, and adopting the Spirit, which is that our motivation becomes entirely identified with God’s will. And what is God’s will? Is it that we satisfy our worldly desires? Is it that we triumph in politics, accumulate worldly treasures and honors, vanquish those who persecute us? No. It is that we pour ourselves out completely in our service to those around us. Even those who don’t like us, who we may not like very much. Jesus blessed and forgave those who were nailing him to the cross, and then he gave up everything for a world that despised him. That is God’s nature. And if we are in Christ, it is that nature we are being conformed to.

It may seem overwhelming. But we are not alone. The Lord is near. That is the source of our thanksgiving. That allows us to act with charity even in the midst of persecution. That is what gives a sure hope in the future. And that is where we experience the God of Peace.

No More War

September 11th, 2016 No comments

o-pope-francis-weekly-570

What I am about to write will no doubt be found offensive by many. It is not my intention to offend, but I do hope that, presented with facts, the reader might pause to consider a point of view not driven by the establishment media/entertainment machine (and in this I include not only what we call the “mainstream” media, but much of the alternative media as well).

The events of September 11, 2001 had a profound influence on the United States and the world. Anyone who was alive and aware on that morning can well remember the shock. The coordinated attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the failed attempt to destroy the White House left the nation groping for answers. For a brief moment much of the discord of American life and politics was silenced, replaced by a sense of brotherhood and unity not felt since December 8, 1941. Throughout the country people stood in solidarity with New York, political wrangling in Washington ceased, and we even rallied around a President who on any other day would be detested by a large part of the population.

We had been attacked, but we were strong. We would survive. We would overcome the attacks, gain our revenge, punish the evildoers, and emerge triumphant, just as we had against Japan in World War II. The only problem was, unlike in 1941, nobody really knew who had attacked us. When shock and sadness turned to anger and cries for vengeance we were ready to kill somebody; we just didn’t know who. This cartoon by Breen captured the national mood well.

9-11-01-eagle-sharpening-talons-color-by-breen

But American unity is not always a pretty thing. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor the nation generalized the enemy to be all who looked Japanese and subsequently engaged in a wholesale internment of people of Japanese descent, regardless of their citizenship, patriotism, or innocence; an episode that is embarrassing to admit even today. Similarly, after 9/11 many Americans concluded that the enemy was Islam; anyone who even looked Muslim was an enemy. I have a Sikh friend who wears the traditional beard and turban, whose property was vandalized after 9/11 because he was mistakenly identified as a Muslim.

Between 1941 and 2001 the country had officially internalized the lessons of World War II and subsequent events so that the President quickly affirmed that while the United States would diligently pursue whoever had attacked, our enemy was not Islam, and that there are many loyal Muslims in the United States and its military forces. Six days after the attacks President Bush visited an Islamic Center where he spoke eloquently against the harassment of Arabs and Muslims living in the United States and about the need to respect Islam.[1]

Sadly, this is a battle in the War on Terror the enemy has won. The goal of terrorist organizations has been to assume the mantle of representing Islam and to characterize American response to their attacks as a holy war against Islam. Their propaganda strategy, I think, was for local consumption, but it has succeeded probably beyond what they could have dreamed among Americans. This is not universally true but a large and vocal group in the United States continues to associate terrorism with Islam and counts all Muslims as enemies, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This sentiment can be demonstrated by a sample from social media,

learnaboutislam

Images like this reflect the success of terrorists in hijacking Islam in the Western imagination.

In one sense it is understandable. In the aftermath of an unprovoked attack the victim is not likely to try to reason out the situation. If someone who is close to you suffers innocently at the hands of another, it is only human to lash out, whether the target of our wrath is guilty or not. And I’m not going to try to convince anyone that the generalization of 1.7 billion people as terrorists all intent on killing Americans is absurd, for the simple reason that anyone who can be convinced by logic already knows it is absurd, and the rest will remain unmoved.

Instead, what I want to do is to turn the tables. If we can generalize our enemy to be Islam, even though the real perpetrators are tiny cabals claiming to represent Islam, and in that we can find justification for waging war against any and all Muslims wherever they may be found, then how much more will it be possible for Muslims to view all Americans as their enemies? About three thousand people died in the 9/11 attacks and perhaps as many have succumbed to health conditions related to dust and smoke in the aftermath.[2] In contrast, in US wars after 9/11 in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, civilian casualties are conservatively estimated at approximately 1.3 million people.[3]

That is a staggering number. It is so enormous it fits into the category Stalin referred to when he remarked “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” But the statistic represents in reality single tragic deaths multiplied in number by millions. Over a million tragedies. And if we in the United States can remain angry fifteen years later at the tragic death of someone we never knew and are unable even to name, how can we expect people in the Middle East and Central Asia not to be angry at those who rained death from the sky on their children, their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends and sweethearts? If we can blame the deaths of three thousand and more innocent civilians on 1.7 billion Muslims, is it unreasonable for innocent victims of American military action to blame three hundred million Americans?

The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, April 7, 2013. The U.S.-led coalition confirms that airstrikes were called in by international forces during the Afghan-led operation in a remote area of Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (AP Photo/Naimatullah Karyab)

If your kids were among these victims of American bombing, do you think your first reaction would be to say, calmly, “Well I know this was done with American weapons by Americans but they are only responding to 9/11 and so it’s ok they killed my kid — he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?” I don’t think so.

I think you would react the way you did react after 9/11 and curse America and all Americans and begin to nurse a cancerous resentment that would blossom into irrepressible hatred. And just as the 9/11 attacks caused American wrath to rain on the just and the unjust alike in many corners of the world, so America’s response causes unending blind hatred against us. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying I’m not the one doing the bombing. The bombing is being done in our name, and when we don’t speak against it, when we allow it, we are complicit.

The candidates for President of the United States for the two major parties are committed to continuing America’s reign of terror in the Middle East. One of them sounds relatively reasonable and prudent and the other foams at the mouth, but they are both counseling policies that would either directly or indirectly result in the deaths of more innocent people, with the very predictable result of creating more mortal enemies. It may be unpopular to suggest on a day devoted to chest beating patriotism that we ought to strive for peace through peaceful action rather than “peace through strength” (translation: aggression), but I feel obligated to do it all the same. I’m not suggesting devoting ourselves to peace is an easy thing to do in a world of provocations, but I am affirming it is the only moral thing to do.

No more war.

[1] George Bush, “Islam Is Peace” (Speech, Islamic Center of Washington D.C., Washington, DC, September 17, 2001), accessed September 11, 2016, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html.

[2] Joanna Walters, “9/11 Health Crisis: Death Toll from Illness Nears Number Killed On Day of Attacks,” Guardian US (New York), September 11, 2016, accessed September 11, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/11/9-11-illnesses-death-toll.

[3] Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of The (Washington, D.C.: Physicians for Social Responsibility, March 2015), 15.

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.

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