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.

 

 

How Many More?

The list of horrific shootings in America has added another slaughter to its bloody number.

This latest mass murder is also the worst in American history, with the exact number of dead and wounded still rising as this is being written. Right now, the number killed stands at 59 and the number wounded at over 400.

We do need to ask how many more sons and daughters of America must be sacrificed at the feet of the idols that are the National Rifle Association and a radical, expansive reading of the Second Amendment?

We need to be clear that the majority opinion in Supreme Court course recognizing an individual right to keep and bear arms explicitly cited a number of weapons prohibitions that would be allowed.

Justice Scalia wrote for the majority in the landmark case, District of Columbia v. Heller. He stated in his opinion that allowable prohibitions on this right include: concealed weapon limitations; limits on the rights of felons and the mentally ill; laws forbidding the carrying of weapons in certain locations; laws imposing conditions on commercial sales; and, prohibitions on the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

One can safely assume that an automatic weapon such as the one used in the Las Vegas shooting, as well as in other recent slaughters, is a “dangerous and unusual weapon.”

Just by way of review, let’s remember that the applicable language in the Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This language does not clearly do anything other than apply to the keeping of well regulated militia. Nonetheless, the Heller court did some high-stepping around the language to find that the Second Amendment to our Constitution confers an individual right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense and hunting (presumably birds and animals other than people).

Thus, it is not the Second Amendment that allows people like the Las Vegas shooter to prey on scores of innocent people and consign scores of others to the class of “surviving family,” but the boot-licking Congress of the United States of America.

One hopes that both the Congress and the NRA will help bring the slaughters to an end.

Let us also remember that the recent history of the United States is that we are far more likely to be killed by a home-grown Anglo psychopath than we are by any Muslim terrorist, no matter where born.

Who You Are

This is a sermon from Acts 7:55-60 and I Peter 2:2-10 that I preached on Sunday. It has been reworked a bit before adding it here. It speaks to an issue that confronts many of us today as we get “siloed” together with our group and drown out other opinions and don’t see other people.

Overview

Stephen’s execution is a horrific example of a widespread human tendency that sometimes turns lethal.

Background

Before he was martyred, Stephen was one of those who came to believe in Jesus sometime after the day of Pentecost. After that, he rose to be a deacon in the Jerusalem church. His primary work there was to distribute food and other aid to the poor.

Unfortunately, as happened with Jesus, and continually happened to his early followers, Stephen became controversial. He did so basically because he talked and taught Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ being the long-awaited messiah.

Over time, his beliefs and actions upon those beliefs gained a growing number of enemies. Some of them accused Stephen of blasphemy, of saying untrue and profane things about God.

Stephen’s trial

We don’t do it in America these days, at least not formally, but back then in Israel, there were people who policed blasphemy. You might remember them. They were who arrested, tried and convicted Jesus of blasphemy. We know them as the Sanhedrin, the group of men who together ruled and enforced the Jewish religion. So, just as Jesus had been drug in to respond to charges, Stephen was drug in to respond to similar charges.

To be fair to the members of the Sanhedrin, I left out of today’s reading some verses that tell some hard and harsh things Stephen said to them. He spat out that they were traitors and murders who were unfaithful to God.

If any of them were sleeping, those words woke them and flipped their anger switches. You can imagine that as Stephen spoke those words, he got their full attention and they leaned forward to hear what else the man might say.

It was then that Stephen crossed the line. The Bible says it was the Holy Spirit who led him to do it. Medieval paintings portray the moment the Holy Spirit did that, with Stephen looking worshipfully and beatifically up to heaven where he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen then voiced his vision. His words transformed his judges into his executioners.

Stephen’s execution

 

Stoning of St. Stephen, Saint-'Etienne-du-Mont

Stoning of St. Stephen, by Saint-Etienne-du-Mont

To use a modern term, they got weaponized. They covered their ears, shouted to drown out his voice and charged toward him as one. Then they dragged him out of the city and stoned him until he was dead. As the stones broke his bones and tore his skin, Stephen prayer his last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

 

In those words, he echoed words Jesus prayed as he hung from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is likely that none of his executioners heard those words. They had long since quit listening to him, devoting themselves instead to ensuring that his voice was permanently stilled.

The Human Condition

The horrible irony is that Stephen did not die for blasphemy nor did he die for speaking falsely about God. Quite the opposite, he was stoned for speaking what he believed to be the divine truth of Jesus Christ.

Another way of looking at it is that he died because he said some his judges and executioners disagreed with. He offended them and they hated him and killed him because of it.

Friends, be careful if anyone who offends you. If anyone does, be careful how you react to them.

This mob shows us what people are capable of when we judge others; think of them as beneath us; consider them to contemptible or unworthy. Oh, what horrors can happen when we see a person or group of people in those ways.

The long, sad history of America’s tolerance and practice of slavery, followed by decade after decade of hard-hearted, dehumanizing and sometimes murderous racial discrimination bears sad witness to this.

Of course, racial discrimination continues in the United States as we speak. On Saturday, white supremacists demonstrated in Charlottesville. Va. with KKK-type torches blazing while they chanted that they would not be replaced. Never mind that the term “white supremacist” alone defines them as a hate group that menaces others and that the torches linked them to the viciousness of KKK lynchings and terrorism.

To be sure, people in other countries also are guilty of dehumanizing, demonizing or murdering others.

The most-cited example is the Holocaust and Nazi incineration of millions of Jews and others they considered inferior and unworthy. Last week, we also learned of Chechnya’s brutal and often torturous or murderous treatment of LGBTs. Yesterday, we learned of Syria’s mass murder and incineration of its own people.

We have the same human tendency

We might absolve ourselves not only of the stoning of Stephen but also of the examples of hate I just listed. Unfortunately, we have the same seeds within our hearts and minds. We have the same tendency to judge, belittle, condemn others.

Oh, I wish I could escape that fact for myself but I cannot because I am guilty, too.

The ugly truth is that no matter what Jesus might tell us, we still judge people. And, no matter what Jesus might tell us, we are not good at loving our enemies or praying for them. Even worse, we sometimes we do not even try. And, we sometimes we can even pick up a prejudice or even hatred without noticing. It comes naturally. It is as if we inhale from the air around us. Indeed, in some way that is just what we do. I know because I was born into a racist family and early in life had no idea there was another way to be.

It would be nice if we could be like Stephen and remain faithful to God in all things, especially as the worst happens to us. And, I understand that we might still consider ourselves above all the things I have described. After, we rightly think that we did not raise stones at Stephen, we did not own slaves, and we do not hate anybody that we know of.

Some questions to consider

Let’s look at ourselves though.

Do you refuse to listen to perspectives that challenge your opinion or worldview and look dimly on those who voice them?

Do you narrow your eyes and fur your brows at people who practice other religions?

Do you look askance at foreigners or undocumented immigrants and consider them unworthy?

What are your views of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals?

Whatever your answer to these questions, when we look at the world around us we see that there are many people who have fallen prey to judging, demonizing, and hating not just individuals but entire groups of people.

In fact, we in America are good at judging people and dividing out people who are not like us; people who do not believe what we believe; people who look or act differently; anybody who are different from us in some way that we think is significant.

We in the church are part of that. We cannot ignore that. It is for sure that recent polls indicate many people think we are the worst ones about clinging to our views and shutting our minds to those of others.

We may not be that bad, but we are likely just about as guilty as the rest of this fallen world. We’re just as guilty of dehumanizing, even demonizing, those people we deem to be “the other,” those people who fall into our definition of evil,

I think of the growing Republican-Democrat, Liberal-Conservative division. And the noticeable way many people regard those with different skin color or those who follow other religions.

There are others whom we might judge, too. The homeless, even though most are veterans or children. The addicted, even though many are those who have given up hope or fallen prey to something they cannot fight alone.

And we judge the poor or the sick or the inmate, even though Jesus tells us that when we seem them, we see him.

Who we are and what we are called to do

Peter tells us, though, that we are to fight against this all too prevalent human tendency. He says we are to aspire to something better, something higher, something divine.

He says that God calls us to be the kind of people who hear, see and remain open to “the other.” He says God calls us to see them as God’s children who are made in his image just as we are. He says we are called to do that because God has made us to be his living gospel.

Let’s remember together today’s reading from I Peter 2:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Peter says that once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people. For us, that means in part that we are called out of the darkness of judging, dividing, hating, resenting, and demonizing and into the light of love, acceptance, conciliation and reconciliation. We are called not to live out of our basement selves but our highest selves.

Peter tells us who we are: God’s people. God chose us and united us so we might testify to the greatness of God’s work. Through the power of the gospel, all of us are brought together into one holy nation. That is Peter’s version of what Paul said that we are the body of Christ.

Irrespective of whether we think of ourselves as a part holy nation or part of the body of Christ, it does not mean that are to bask in our glory. It means that we are called to do the demanding work of offering love, grace and mercy to all of God’s children. It means that we are God’s people knit together by our experience of God’s love; that we are God’s people knit together by our experience of God’s grace; that we are God’s people knit together by God’s mercy. And, that of our common experience of God’s grace, mercy and love, we are called to show that some grace, mercy and love to others.

Stephen’s prayer shows us that, in Christ, there is another way. We do not have to succumb to the human tendency to judge, belittle or demonize the other Instead, like Stephen praying for his murderers, we are free to love people whom the world around us say that we should reject or even hate. That love doesn’t make our differences and disagreements fall away, but it allows us to accept and hear others despite those differences or disagreements.

As the Sanhedrin did, it is easy to cover our ears, and it is hard to keep our hearts and minds open to people we do not understand, people who are different from us, people who challenge our ways of thinking, people whose existence might even require us to change our ways of thinking.

But “the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness and into marvelous light” call and empower us to take on this holy work.

If we look to him, like Stephen did, God will give us the strength to love and show grace and mercy . . . and live out the truth that we are his people.

Amen.

Democrats! Relax, Breathe in– and Get Ready to Work

Talk about disappointed and angry white males, I’ve been out of sorts since late Tuesday night. I haven’t killed anybody, but have embarrassed myself with two seperate rants. Forgive me, Customer Service Department at Express Scripts!

Teeth-gnashing, second-guessing and fault-finding began after the first vote totals began. It continues today, as it will for some time. May we not circle the wagons and shoot in. Instead, let’s breathe in, relax and take some time reflecting and assessing. Along the way, there are a few things to consider.

  • Democrats didn’t turn out. As of this writing, Hillary has received 59,938,290 votes. Obama received 65,915,79 in 2012 and 69,498,516 in 2008.
  • Republican vote was also less than four years ago. Trump received 59,704,886,less than the 60,933,504 that Romney received AND less than McCain’s 59,948,323.
  • White, male working class voters did come out in greater numbers for Trump, especially in the heretofore “Blue Wall” states that Trump won.
  • However, if the Democrat vote had turned out in those states, Hillary would have won.
  • Don’t believe the pundits and their opinions right now. They were wrong last week and for months and even years before that.
  • We don’t need to address the discrete issue of jobs and opportunities for angry white males in the Rust Belt or elsewhere, but jobs and opportunities for both genders in all parts of the country. This especially includes inner cities and Greater Appalachia.
  • We are weaker in local and state offices than we are in presidential vote. Talk about your ground game! It turns out that there is one we have ignored.
  • Sexism, racism, nativism and xenophobia affected some voters, but we will never be able to figure out who or in what proportion. So, we don’t need to call anybody “deplorables,” but need to focus instead on our goals and tactics.

Meanwhile, let’s also remember that we our values to use in deciding upon those goals and tactics. In her concession speech, Hillary said:

“So, let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear: making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top; protecting our country and protecting our planet; and breaking down all the barriers that hold anyone back from achieving their dreams. We’ve spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American Dream is big enough for everyone — for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities.”

You might say it a little bit differently, but those are values worth working and fighting for.

“Incivility” Happens– Sometimes for Good Reason

I may be a heretic. Like me, you probably are dismayed at the increasingly shameful and vicious language often used in social media and other public discourse.  Like our climate, it seems to get worse every year. However, while much of what we think is “uncivil” can only be condemned, a sweeping condemnation goes too far. There is a time and place for “incivility.” We might like to think of him as “Sweet Jesus,” but at times he acted uncivilly by the standards of the day.

hillary-shooting-target-nbcOn Thursday, the New York Times had an article quoting some Trump supporters promising a  “revolution” if Hillary wins. One went so far as predict they would do “whatever needs to be done to get her out of office.” It is likely that  some of our Christian brothers and sisters feel the same. On Wednesday, the Diane Rehm Show had a program on civility and public discourse. Most of the show’s panelists condemned “incivility.” One defined it as violating some vague standard of “politeness,” whatever that means. Another was more precise by defining it “as claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else in the process.” That is a more useful definition.

However, Jesus acted “uncivilly” at times under either definition. For example, in Matthew 23:27, he spewed venom on scribes and Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” Whew! He wasn’t being Sweet Jesus, and those are only some of the insults he threw out that day.

In addition, he periodically described people in other disparaging ways: dog, pig, snake, fox (in those days, it connoted a “weasel”), fool and brood of vipers. Moreover, one day he cleansed the Temple of merchants and money changers, overturning tables and driving them away with a whip. Sounds uncivil to me! It offended more than a few that day (they wanted to kill him!) and would have gone viral today: “#sonofmangoesberserk!”

In addition to these words and actions of Jesus, Paul was no shrinking violet. He called the Galatians “foolish” and later added that he wished those wanting circumcision would go the whole way and castrate themselves! (Gal. 3:1, 5:12) He also lambasted Cretans, “Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” (Titus 1:12-13a)

True, both he and Paul say and do a lot of other things that urge peaceful and harmonious discourse. Here are a few teachings:

  1. 5:7-9, “Blessed are the merciful. . . Blessed are the pure in heart. . . Blessed are the peacemakers. . .”
  2. 5:22, “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
  3. 5:44, “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
  4. 3: 8, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
  5. 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
  6. James 1:9, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Just as we do, Jesus lived in a time of political, cultural and religious and unrest. At times, he spoke and acted in ways that violated “civil” norms of his day. There are times that Christians may be called to do the same in our times. What are some consideration for us to have in deciding our path? More on that next week.

Our Painful Election

Our presidential election faces voters with choosing between a knee to the groin or a right cross to the chin. Either are bad. (If you want to throw in the two major third party candidates, all are bad.) This morning’s news gives us the most recent examples about Trump and Hillary. as if we needed more.

The latest from WikiLeaks shows additional dishonesty, smarminess or questionable conduct (choose your preferred description or add one of your own) by the Clinton Foundation. The Washington Post story about is here. A report by Bloomberg News reveals, in addition to other questionable activities, an admission by the Trump campaign that they are actively trying to suppress voter turnout. That report is here. Both stories are based on the words of a staffer and not the candidate, but let’s not quibble over that. There is no way to avoid: the choices we have are bad and the worst since it least the 19th century.

Even if you disagree with that and love your candidate, whomever wins will have a difficult time governing because he or she will be considered illegitimate by about half of the country. Even worse, some Trump partisans hate Hillary and threaten violence if she wins.

hillary-nbc-1200-800The picture illustrates the hatred that hatred for Hillary that is within the hearts of some Trump supporters. It was taken at a Trump rally on October 27 and depicts Hillary being hung effigy. There are also Trump supporters who wear a t-shirt which features Hillary’s face as a target. And, of course, all Trump rallies include the infamous chant, “Lock her up!” All is over the top nasty.

For their part, although they neither have the hatred of Trump nor have promised violence if he wins, a good number of Hillary voters (maybe the clear majority) consider Trump to be a narcissistic, misogynistic, repugnant, bigoted, racist, sexist bully.  Full disclosure: I am one of these and will vote for Hillary– reluctantly.

The likeliest outcome of all of this is that irrespective of who wins our country is destined to suffer through additional turmoil and division for the foreseeable feature. What roles are Christian to play in this? More on that tomorrow.

 

Republicans Unite: #NeverTrump

Last night, the Donald again displayed the most important factor that disqualifies him from being president: given a choice between the best interests of the country and his self-interest, he will choose the latter every time.

His life has been devoted to himself. He has shown no ability or inclination to change that focus. A president needs to have the capacity to put the country first. He does not.

We most recently see this in his explicit threat to throw the country into turmoil over the election results (note that today, he did say he would not dispute the results, “if I win”). We have seen this in his lifelong pursuit of fame, fortune and celebrity. We even have seen in this election cycle in two new ways. First, in how easily his thin skin is pricked into absurd reactions, most notably his belaboring the “size of his hands” and vouching for the size of his penis. Second, last Spring during the Republican primaries, when he questioned the results of primaries that he lost.

Even good Republicans who quiver at the thought of another Clinton presidency need to wake up to this. They need to vote for Hillary. Do they want a self-centered egomaniac making decisions about war and peace when his foremost considerations as president will revolve around his ego?

Would he sell out allies if Putin stroked him around the ears? Would he use nukes if North Korea belittled him? Would he jail political opponents? Shut down press outlets? Deport American citizens?

We do not know how far his hubris might reach. We should not try and find out.