Evangelicals Struggle with Self-Identity

The National Association of Evangelicals issued a statement yesterday aimed at clarifying widespread misunderstanding of evangelical beliefs and practices.

Their longing for clarity arose out of the fact that a growing number of people consider “evangelicals” to be a political grouping rather than a religious one.

The NEA  statement is clear about how they see themselves, “We identify ourselves by our spiritual convictions in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus Christ alone and living out our faith in everyday life, especially sharing the good news of Jesus with others.”

Unfortunately, the NEA is deluding itself if it thinks such statements are meaningful.

No matter whether it is fair or unfair, the vast majority of Americans do not know evangelicals by their spiritual convictions or actions. They do not see evangelicals doing the work of Jesus. They do not see evangelicals worshipping at church, leading foreign missions, feeding the hungry, etc.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. welcomes President Trump to Liberty University.

Instead, they know evangelicals primarily through their well-publicized association with President Trump and the Republican party.

They hear that white evangelicals are the most stable part of the Republican base. They read headlines about 80% white evangelical support of Trump. They see photographs of evangelical leaders clustered around Trump in the Oval Office. They hear about leading evangelical figures giving full-throated support to Trump.

Not surprisingly, they believe what they see and hear—that Trump trumps Jesus and politics trumps faith in the hearts and minds of most white evangelicals.

Evangelical claims of faith are not enough to overcome the overwhelming media coverage—much of it coming from evangelical sources—to the contrary.

God knows, even if evangelicals don’t, that this confusion about evangelical identity was foreseeable and predictable.

Jesus certainly lived his life differently. He did not seek standing with the prevailing powers of the day, he confronted them. He did not seek his own base of power, he gave his life for others. He did not subordinate the gospel to other purposes, he lived it. His priorities were clear and his identity remains clear thousands of years later.

However, white evangelicals chose not to follow Jesus’ path. Instead, they intentionally embarked on a path to gain political power and use it. They have followed that path for decades and show no changes of changing.

They formed the Moral Majority in the 1970’s with the avowed purpose of profoundly impacting public policy. They have given their time, work and money to this effort.

At first, their work resulted in most white evangelicals supporting Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. Over the years, however, their movement slowly became more identified with Republican policies and the Republican party. By the 2016 presidential election, white evangelicalism was seen by most, even themselves, as being fused with rock-ribbed Republicanism.

And, they got what they wanted. They got political power. They got their Supreme Court nominee. They have the president’s ear and consider him to be their savior, at least in a political sense.

In the process, they have become who many people consider them to be—Republicans seeking and using political power and wanting even more.

White evangelicals should recognize that they have reaped what they have sowed. Any group or organization that lashes itself so completely to the policies, positions and practices of another group or organization loses its original identity. It literally becomes something else.

The NEA and their members may want to insist on their high-minded faith and devotion to Jesus, but no one will pay attention.

Instead of touting things that will be ignored, they might undergo a long needed self-assessment. Perhaps then, they return to the starting point of many Christian journeys  and become like the tax collector Jesus describes in a parable. In Luke 18, Jesus explains that the tax collector went to the Temple, beat his breast and prayed, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

After telling the parable, Jesus said that this man “went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

One thing we Christians always can use is a bit more humility before God and humankind and a bit less lust for power, however alluring it may be.

 

Children’s Health Plan and the Axe that Looms

The White House/Administration/Trump continue to be careen on their helter-skelter, immoral course.

Their latest outrage is an attempt to cut the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was renewed for a six-year period earlier this year.

Known more widely as CHIP, this program provides health coverage to nearly 9 million children in low-income families in all 50 states.

It is widely-recognized as successful. It turns out that, just as predicted, children’s health improves with access to medical care.

In addition to its medical and policy successes, CHIP also saves the country money by reducing expenditures on other health care programs, particularly Medicaid. CHIP does this because of the better medical outcomes that result from treating children earlier and in a doctor’s office as opposed to later and in an emergency room.

Nonetheless, it is under threat of the knife.

Indeed, it is on the chopping block to the tune of a $7 billion reduction because of the ballooning budget deficit that the administration is salivating to reduce.

It matters not to the White House that the deficit results primarily from its ill-advised 2017 corporate tax cuts. Those will remain as is, although there are rumors of some wanting additional reductions.

One might wonder why children should go without medical care while the country injects more cash into already-profitable companies, but that is just the way the United States rolls– or, careens– today.

One does hope that our white evangelical brothers and sisters (Where are you Franklin? Jerry, Jr? Rev. Jeffrees? Mr. Perkins?) will use their new-found political muscle to prevent this reduction.

Unfortunately, their political agenda may be too crowded with issues other than the just treatment of children.

 

America’s Sacrificial Lambs: Our Children

Child sacrifices are one of the more gruesome practices of humankind. Genesis 22 describes a chilling scene of one that almost happened.

God tells Abraham to sacrifice his young son, Isaac. Abraham dutifully begins to obey, no questions asked and no emotion shown.

Instead, he soon packs what is needed for the task and leaves for Mt. Moriah with Isaac and two servants. It was there that Isaac would die.

When they arrive, Abraham tells the servants to wait while he and his son find a place to “worship.” He and Isaac then leave for a short hike to find God’s preferred site. Ironically, Abraham gives Isaac the wood to carry while he takes the knife and “fire.”

When they arrive at the appointed site, Abraham builds an altar, puts wood on it, binds Isaac and places him the wood. He then lifts his knife to kill him, to sacrifice his son on altar to God.

There is no indication what Isaac and Abraham were thinking and feeling as the events unfolded. Instead, it played out rather matter-of-factly—like another day, another sacrifice to make. Ho-hum.

So it seems to go in our country. Another day, another sacrifice to make. Or like yesterday, seventeen sacrifices.

Child sacrifice was common in ancient cultures. Today, we think of it as a primitive, barbaric act, something too horrific to imagine.

Unfortunately, we routinely do it as a culture. We are the primitives. We are the barbarians. We are the ones who sacrifice our children. We are the ones with blood on our hands.

We sacrifice them on altars made not of wood but of political power and zealotry. Our gods are the NRA and a particular interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

God stayed the hand of Abraham that day, but our country does not seem to have the ability to take any meaningful steps to stay the hands of mass murderers, even in our public schools.

Admittedly, there are laws against murder and there are some restrictions on the sale of firearms.

But, there have been twenty-five fatal school shootings since Columbine. There have been over 150 mass shootings (defined as shootings where four or more have been killed by a lone shooter) since Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower on August 1, 1966 to gun down twenty-five people.

In the last twenty-four hours, the governor of Florida, attorney general of the United States and president of the United States have made statements deploring the act and vowing to end school shootings.

But, the fact is that our governments have done . . . nothing.

And, our body politic has done . . . nothing.

And, more die.

Christians believe that sin is endemic to human beings. Our task as our culture is to seek ways to curb this particular manifestation of sin.

Unfortunately, that requires a national effort and a political effort that includes both political courage and citizen revolt against these murders. To date, all these elements have been missing.

If you are one who cares, then by all means pray for the victims, witnesses and their families. Pray for the law enforcement officers and other first responders who had to see and wade through the carnage. Pray for doctors, nurses and health care personnel who cared for those who were brought in for treatment. Pray for the shooter and his family.

Then, phone, write or email your legislators at all levels of government. Give money to candidates who will change the status quo. Write letters to the editor. Rage on social media. Do anything you can to reduce the carnage.

 

 

What Would Jesus Tweet?

One of the more disappointing aspects of the fealty white evangelical leaders pay to Donald Trump is not so much that it reveals their potent lust for political power (He talks to us! He does our bidding!). Power’s siren song has lured many irrespective of religious beliefs.

Nor is it their unfortunate over-identification with conservative political policies. They unabashedly remain true to this Caesar not only on matters like abortion and judicial appointments, but also military funding; making and threatening war; harassing immigrants, Muslims and DREAMERS; repealing Obamacare; opening the treasure trove of deep tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy; and on and on.

Like the lust for political power, however, belief in the ultimate truth of personal policy preferences is a common human failing.

No, instead of such things as these, the most regrettable moral failure of these church men is their steadfast refusal to condemn or even mildly criticize Trump’s notable and numerous personal excesses or, as we mainliners might say, and evangelicals used to say, sin.

We can even dismiss the whole sex thing from this analysis, including the infamous ‘grab their pussy’ video; the twenty or so women who have accused him of varying degrees of sexual assault; and, the supposed ‘hush money’ settlement with Stormy Daniels. After all, the video is only thing known to be true. As a result, many conservatives, including these leaders, refuse to consider their veracity.

But what in Jesus’ name would our Lord make of Trump’s ever-lasting pursuit of money; continual attacks on other people; new-found pastime of toying with people’s lives (immigrants, legal or illegal, Muslims, refugees, DREAMERS, etc.); naked bullying of those having less power than him; and, continual dog whistles to racism and white supremacy?

There is no need to beat a drum about the golden rule, drone on about the most important commandment, tell of Jesus’ example of love and sacrifice or cite chapter and verse of the Bible to condemn such conduct.

It simply is clear that a Jesus ethic condemns lusting for money, disparaging others, beating them down, or encouraging racial, ethnic and other types of divisions.

After all, it is doubtful that Jesus would do things like mock a person’s disability (he healed them!); tweet about a woman’s weight or urge watching her sex tape; or, accuse an judge of racial basis because he is a “Mexican.”

Yes, I know. It is hard to see in another person’s heart. However, this president gives the world an up close, 20/20 view into his heart—and it is ugly.

Similarly, some would say that he can confess any sin and all sins. That also is true, but at some point confession needs to include at least a feigned attempt to alter one’s conduct. Trump rarely even apologizes.

It is unfortunate that the failure of leaders like (Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell, Jr.) has ramifications beyond being a mere personal failure.

Indeed, they have not only reaped a whirlwind but a hurricane, tornado and tsunami as well.

They have abandoned the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the Christian ethic.

They have ignored a ripe opportunity to proclaim any type of moral standard for the nation. Trump has everyone’s attention. Calling him out would be a highly publicized event.

Their failure combines with myriad other forces to make it more likely that the United States will continue its slow slide toward abandoning any widely accepted ethic of appropriate personal conduct.

This, in turn, will ensure that the types of excesses Trump so amply displays will be adopted by others and metastasize across American society.

 

 

It’s Hot in Hell

My conservative brothers and sisters– real meal deal, red meat conservative evangelical Christians– often claim that America is going to straight to hell.

They are the ones who nod in agreement when preachers blame the latest devastating hurricane (e.g. Katrina, Irene, Sandy, et al) on American LGBTs; rail against government spending while warning against anyone taking their Medicare; roll down their car windows upon seeing a homeless person and yell, “Get a job;” and, claim to believe in the in the “right to life” while staunchly upholding the death penalty.

I used to roll my eyes at their beliefs, but am coming to believe they are right, at least in their conclusion about where we are headed. If it is not to hell, than it is to someplace equally as dreadful.

Several events of the last two weeks well illustrate our national downward journey.

Gianforte

Gianforte: A kick butt kind of guy

Yesterday, Montana elected a temperamental, violent man as their congressman. The night before the election, he assaulted a reporter. Here is a recording of the assault.

When the news went public, his press office issued a dishonest explanation. Meanwhile, some applauded his action and others justified it. The best Republican leaders could do is whimper, “He should apologize.”

No, they should condemn his physical attack on the free press.

Ironically, as they ignore or attack freedom of the press, this man, his supporters and Republican leaders beat their chests about the freedoms of speech, religion and bearing forearms and how their opponents are trying to subvert them.

We need freedom of the press far more than we need another hothead in Washington.

The assault took place after he was asked about our second revolting item of the week– the CBO score on the cruel-hearted Republican take-away-healthcare bill.

That score said that, if the bill is enacted, 23 million Americans will lose healthcare coverage and millions of others, including many with preexisting conditions, will be priced out of coverage.

Instead of owning these outcomes and their real goal of using the resultant savings to hand a tax cut to the rich, Republicans have the temerity to run a series of national ads claiming that the bill increases coverage and reduces premiums while also protecting those with preexisting conditions.

In other words, they lie and present night as day and fact as fiction.

These have also been the weeks the Seth Rich conspiracy theories have circulated, a conspiracy born in conservative minds with no basis in fact. The claim has aired on Fox News, the Sean Hannity show, other conservative media and interviews with former House speaker and should-be felon Newt Gingrich.

The story has been thoroughly debunked, but some undoubtedly still hold onto it.

Its airing was devoid of decency and unneeded misery for the Rich family.

Our president has been abroad during much of this. His visit to Saudi Arabia, including a meeting with numerous Arab heads of state, reportedly exceeded expectations.

Apparently, our gets along well with autocratic despots, including those in Saudi Arabia and Qatar who excel in exporting their vicious version of fundamentalist Islam that radicalizes young minds.

Leaders Meet For NATO Summit

Trump at NATO meeting

By contrast, however, Trump embarrasses us among our European, more democratic allies (do they still let Erdogan in?) by lecturing them on his misguided understanding of NATO funding and shoving people aside to get in front of cameras.

At least we were spared seeing Trump respond to revelations about his son-in-law’s entanglement with the Russian investigation and the release of his budget requested that balanced the United States budget by double counting $2 TRILLION.

This is Republican America were up is down and bad is good.

If it is not hell, it is close enough.

And it not the fault of LGBTs or any other liberal bogeyman.

 

Damn the Poor!?!

Trumpcare and the administration’s budget submission propose slashing the social safety net by about $1.7 trillion over the next ten years.

Most of the savings would be stuffed into already bulging pockets of the well-to-do, the top 1% or 2% of income earners.

Meanwhile, the cuts would not only target the poor, but more particularly those who are children, disabled, sick or hungry.

These proposals show the lie that were Trump’s campaign contentions not to cut Medicaid.

You can find articles on the impact of these cuts here, here and here. Here is a rather sad article on the rationale behind the cuts and how a Russian news reporter schooled Trump’s budget director on some aspects of it.

Christians who support this war on the poor don’t even have a fig leaf to wear in justifying these actions.

If you believe scripture, while we may not like it or understand it, God wants fairness and justice for the poor.

Bible verses attesting to God’s concern for the poor:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 23:22

“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land . . . buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat. The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” Amos 8:4; 6-7

“Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” Matthew 19:21

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35

“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” Mark 12:40

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Luke 4:18

“So he replied to the messengers, “‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.'” Luke 7:22

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Luke 12:33

If Trump’s budget and healthcare proposals are enacted, tens of millions of Americans will be worse off than they are today.

According to the latest Census figures, about 45 million Americans live in poverty and over 16 million of those are children.

According to the same figures, about 30 million Americans live just above the poverty line and, again, about one-third of these are children.

Some, such as Franklin Graham say in earnestness, and with faith and hope, that Trump is sent by God.

If that is true, my thought is that if these proposals are to be believed, God sent him not as a blessing but as a curse.

 

An American Mean Streak

Many Americans are proud of our individual freedoms and acclaimed generosity.

However true these qualities may be, our continuing struggles with racism, nativism and xenophobia indicate we still struggle how far those freedoms and generosity extend.

Indeed, racism, nativism and xenophobia are on ample and sometimes heart-breaking display in the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration laws. Some of those actions are hard-hearted.

Last month, a mother of four was ripped from her family and deported to Mexico. Maribel Trujillo Diaz had lived in Fairfield, Ohio for the post several years. A native of Mexico, she is the mother of four children, ranging in age from three to fourteen, including one with special needs.

Interviewed earlier this year,  Trujillo said that she crossed the border in 2002 to flee threats from a drug cartel and “find a better way of life.” She has been living here since then, and has had work permit for the last several years. That permit was due to expire in July.

That made no difference to ICE, which arrested her in early April, irrespective of the work permit, her job and a clean criminal record. After her arrest, a trio of high-placed Ohio officials, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown asked ICE to reconsider their decision to deport her.

ICE declined and proceeded with its action. Trujillo has now been “removed” from the country and become another statistic, while her children apparently remain motherless in Ohio.

Two articles covering her deportation are here and here.

It was reported this week that immigration arrests increased 38% over the first 3 months of 2017 compared to the same period last year. The Administration contends that its policies have emphasize the deportation of criminals. An article on that is here.

That is false as ICE “criminal” figures include anyone charged with an offense. Moreover, one of offenses included within the figures is being in this country without proper documentation. In other words, the government includes arrests of suspected immigrants without papers in its statistics. These things obscure the truth.HOew

There are now scores of reports like the one about Ms. Trujillo.

It is true that Trump’s deportation policies are working as he intended. Their consequences include arresting mothers at home in front of their minor children, ripping families apart, ridding the country of the “menace” of high school valedictorians without proper papers who hope to attend college here; and, hauling away people recognized as pillars of their community.

This is a national shame.

I say this because of personal and religious views.

My mom’s lineage is pure Anglo-Saxon and rather well-to-do. It is family lore that her father’s line in America began when a forebear was sent by England’s king sometime in the early 1700’s to serve as a royal official in the Carolinas. After that, the family became prosperous farmers, well, to be honest, plantation owners in South Carolina. We don’t like to talk too much about that odious slave-owning history.

Instead, I consider with some pride that I am from my father’s line of Scotch-Irish-English mutts.

We have no idea when that line began in the United States, although my theory is that a an ancestor was on the lam from the law in England and stowed away on an American-bound ship to get a second chance at life. There is something mutt-like, populist and hopeful in seeking to improve one’s life through radical risk and hard-work.

I view most immigrants out of this lens. My interactions with undocumented immigrants have been consistent with this. To a man and to a woman, they have been friendly, hard-working, humble and hopeful.

My Christianity also reinforces my inclinations toward sympathy and understanding.

There are some Bible verses to the contrary, but the heavy weight of both testaments emphasizes just, fair and even generous treatment of the foreigner, stranger and alien.

This is easily seen with even a casual reading of the Bible or the simple consideration that, in their own ways, Jesus and the early evangelists were at one time or another “foreigners, aliens or strangers.”

I deplore the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented workers. It has led not only to the deportation of so-called dreamers, but split families, swept up innocents and weakened local law enforcement.

You will find several hits on these items if you google “deportation of mother,” or “deportation of dreamer,” or “sanctuary cities.”