“Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive”

Today I direct your attention to a piece by Stephanie Paulsell at Christian Century entitled “Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive“.

The rise of the #metoo movement over the past year has brought to light numerous examples of men who professed to be pro-woman yet whose actions toward individual women revealed them to be anything but.  The moral is clear:  It is not enough to say that you are something, you also have to back it up with your actions.  Which means that in the present political climate, it is not enough to think our way out of it or profess our way out of it, we also have to practice our way out of it, deliberately and with intentionality.

There are many ways to do this in the public sphere.  But there is much to do in our private, day-to-day existence.  Paulsell gives several practical examples:  Make eye contact, say hi, and make small talk with people who are different from yourself.  Acknowledge these people and show them respect.  When you do that, they feel safe and experience belonging and connection.  When you do the opposite, when you avert your eyes or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid them, then they feel isolated and fearful, and with very good reason in the present political climate.

Other things you can do:  Don’t rely on the internet and social media so much; get out there in the real world and meet people face-to-face.  Go to places you haven’t been and meet new people.  Resist the urge to express yourself via the same old slogans and catchphrases everyone else is using, even those with whom you agree, but instead find new and fresh ways of expressing yourself.  Surround yourself with books and read vociferously:  read fiction, read the Bible, read history, and think deeply about how these things relate to the world in which we currently live.

These practices will help to transform not just our political culture but our faith communities as well.  Listening to sermons is all well and good but when we gather to be the Church by feeding the hungry and otherwise caring for the vulnerable among us, then we have the opportunity to practice being the people and communities that we are called to be.  Then our faith communities and our society will be transformed.

Evangelicals: Just Shut Up About Sex Trafficking

My fellow evangelicals:  You have just forfeited every last shred of moral authority that you ever had to speak on the issue of sexual slavery/trafficking, which remains one of the greatest and most profound evils of our generation.

You just nominated Dennis Hof as the Republican candidate for a seat in the Nevada state legislature.  Hof owns a strip club and five brothels, and is the bestselling author of “The Art of the Pimp”.  What’s more, several women, including a former sex worker of his, have accused him of sexually abusing them.

Yet you supported him without even so much as batting an eyelash.  An influential pastor in Hof’s community closed his eyes and prayed, giving thanks to God when his victory was announced.  “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that”, he said.

So just shut about sex trafficking.  You have nothing to say to anyone, anywhere, about this grave injustice.

Shane Claiborne Is A Menace to Your Children

This is real, people.  This is happening.

Shane Claiborne and other evangelicals like him are a menace to your children because they are not wholehearted, unmitigated supporters of Donald Trump.

ICYMI:  Shane Claiborne and a group known as “Red Letter Christians”, so called because they attempt to follow as closely as possible the words of Jesus, which appear in red in many Bibles, held a revival service this week in Lynchburg, VA, home of Liberty University and a bastion of unmitigated support for Donald Trump.  The university and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., one of Donald Trump’s most vociferous evangelical supporters, banned Claiborne and the Red Letter Christians from campus, threatening them with a $2,500 fine if any of them dared to set foot on Liberty University property.  They forbade the student newspaper from covering the event.  Falwell refused to answer any correspondence from Claiborne.

Why?  “An organization has a duty to the parents to protect their kids”, said Rev. Jonathan Falwell, Jerry Falwell’s brother.

Only about 350 people attended the event, including a dozen or so Liberty students.  (Some of you might be curious about that.)

From the New York Times writeup (“FAKE NEWS!!!!!!!!!” cried all the Donald Trump supporters who have long since left the room):

Mr. Claiborne still wanted to lead a group onto the Liberty campus and hold a prayer vigil — or at least leave a gift for Mr. Falwell, who had just opened a new $3.2 million gun range on campus. Mr. Claiborne had ready a hand plow that he made from a melted-down handgun, a literal following of the Bible’s instruction to “beat swords into plowshares.”

They decided instead that the Liberty police would not dare arrest an 83-year-old. So that afternoon, the Rev. Tony Campolo, co-founder of the Red Letter Christians, entered the front door of Thomas Road Baptist Church, and left a red box with the bewildered receptionist.

Inside the box, tied with a ribbon, was a stack of prayers, written on index cards, from the participants of the revival.

“Dear Liberty, I am praying for your campus,” said one. “The Jesus in the Bible speaks of love and acceptance. I hope you learn to speak of this too.”

Evangelical Trump Supporters: You Have a Choice to Make

Today I give you an instance of the Church being taken to task–hard–and very much deservedly so–by the world.

By this point all of the Donald Trump supporters have long since left the room, so I feel reasonably safe in sharing this.

Evangelical Trump supporters:  You had a difficult choice this past election.  I will grant you that.  I wish there was some way both those jokers could have lost.  Some of you may have had legitimate concerns–economic concerns stemming from the loss of American manufacturing jobs and the devastation this has wrought upon certain areas of the country, national security concerns stemming from the Paris terror attacks of 2015 and other similar incidents and a fear that lax immigration policies like those typically favored by Democrats could lead to similar incidents here on American soil.  I could go on.

But an alarming number of you are still with Donald Trump, still hanging on his every word, still very much in his corner.  I will be honest:  If you are still with Donald Trump after Golden Showers, Stormy Daniels, shithole countries, grab ’em by the %@#!!* and all the rest, then you have completely and totally forfeited every last shred of moral authority you may have once possessed to tell me I can’t cuss, have a beer, or kiss a girl before I’m married to her, or that I am a godless liberal atheist who is bound for hell if I do not believe in a literal six-day creation.

This MSNBC video (all the Donald Trump supporters who have long since left the room would scream “FAKE NEWS!!!!!!!!!!”) lays it out there plainly:  You can continue to hang on every word of Donald Trump, or you can believe the words of Jesus Christ.  The choice is yours.


Benjamin L. Corey on American Fundamentalism’s Alarming Comeback

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Benjamin L. Corey entitled “How Christian Fundamentalism Is Making A Concerning Comeback In America“.  It first appeared during the height of the 2016 election season yet now is just as poignant as ever, if not more so.

Christian fundamentalism first appeared a century ago.  That movement was rooted in fear–fear of the then-new concept of evolution (replace evolution with gay marriage and you’ll be right where we are today), fear that the nation was growing too liberal and drifting from God and that it would all come crashing down if they didn’t take the nation forcibly back for God–you get the idea.  But fundamentalism eventually drifted to the lunatic fringe and was supplanted by evangelicalism which sought a kinder, gentler approach to attaining many of the same goals as the fundamentalists.

Now here we are a century later and the fundamentalists are suddenly back with a vengeance.  Much is happening in the current climate yet Corey notes 3 items of concern:  Many Christians believe they are “losing” and are panicked as to what that means.  Right-wing extremists who would otherwise have nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism, or Christianity for that matter, are joining the ranks and giving them critical mass.  The leaders of this new fundamentalist movement are telling their followers that they have to do something right now.

When Christian fundamentalism faded into the shadows and focused on building arks and trying to debate scientists, there was little cause for concern and much cause for amusement.

But when those people get panicked? When they begin broadcasting their racism, xenophobia, and homophobia to the masses, and begin finding like-minded people to join them? When they have leaders traveling the country, fanning the flames of fear and warning them that this is their last chance to take control? When they’re no longer content to debate the legitimacy of the King James Version versus the NIV, but instead are focused on how to control the Supreme Court?

Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I’d keep my eye on.

Donald Trump’s War on American–and Christian–Ideals

By this point I am fairly certain that most if not all of the Donald Trump supporters have long since left the room, so I feel fairly safe in saying what I am about to say.

Now I generally do not talk about politics.  Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion is not a political blog, and I have no intention of making it thus.  I do not have the taste for it, and I feel that there is little to nothing to be gained by it.  Political subjects are excruciatingly contentious and political convictions are very deeply held; thus nothing can be accomplished by talking about politics save to convince the already convinced.  Although there is the possibility that some of you out there are sitting on the fence and open to being convinced by a reasonable argument.

Yet there are occasions when the need to talk about politics is inescapable.  These seem to be recurring with alarmingly increasing frequency in the present political climate.  Indeed there are times when silence on an issue is complicity with the worst among us.  So talk about politics we will, when I feel it is necessary.

ICYMI:  There was a government shutdown last weekend.  This was triggered–in part, at least–by inflammatory and racist remarks from our current president during an important meeting with high-ranking legislators.  Specifically, he referred to certain regions of the world as “shithole countries”.

So where to begin here?  I think it best to begin with the obvious.  The statement that we need more Norwegian immigrants and fewer from “shithole countries” is racist.  That’s all there is to it.

Some defenders of Donald Trump might argue that the above statement is not racist–it is just a way, albeit a crude one, of arguing that we need a more skilled immigrant pool.  It isn’t.  That argument goes like this:  “We need a more skilled immigrant pool.”

But is that really what Donald Trump said?  At first he owned it but later he attempted to backpedal, saying via Twitter that his comment was “tough, but this [the profanity] was not the language used”.  His supporters went on the offensive forthwith.  They heaped all manner of reproach upon Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator who was in attendance at the meeting in question and who first reported Donald Trump’s comments, impugning his integrity in no uncertain terms.  “Dicky Durbin,” they called him.  “Never trust a Democrat,” they said.  “All they do is lie, cheat, and steal.”

Yet this much is undeniable:  Whatever Donald Trump said, profanity or no profanity, it was so harsh that it was found shocking by all who were in the room.  And at no point has Donald Trump denied the underlying sentiment.

This is not without precedent.  While on the campaign trail Donald Trump said of undocumented Mexican immigrants:  “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”  He has routinely stoked the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Obama is of Kenyan citizenship.  He claimed that the “Central Park Five” were guilty despite DNA evidence which clearly indicated no such thing.  He attempted to implement an unconstitutional “Muslim ban”.  He equivocated on the Charlottesville protests/murders, saying that there was violence “on many sides”.  Given this prior record, Donald Trump has long since forfeited the benefit of any possible doubt.

Yet the issue here is not whether or not Donald Trump uttered a profanity in that meeting.  It is much deeper than that.  Our president believes that certain people are disqualified from immigrating to the United States by virtue of the living conditions in their country of origin.

There is no way in hell to square this with our deepest and most cherished ideals of who we are as America.  For immigrants who come here, it isn’t about healthcare or economic benefits or social services or whatever.  Well, there may be some who look at it in terms of all the great social services/healthcare/welfare programs that we have here and how can they get in here and mooch off of all that.  I don’t know.  But for the vast majority, I would be willing to bet that it is about the freedoms we all take for granted, freedom to speak, work, worship, and advance, and the possibility of a better life, if not for themselves, then for their children or their children’s children–all things they could never in a million years hope to attain in their countries of origin.  Our highest ideal of who we are as a nation is a place where all can come and better themselves, become whatever they are capable of becoming, and we are all the better for it.

Furthermore, there is no way to square this with who we are as Christians and as evangelicals.  The countries which Donald Trump disparages as “shithole countries” are places where evangelical Christianity is burgeoning.  In many parts of Africa, growth of evangelical Christian communities is off the charts.  Africa is on track to become the largest evangelical continent.  In other words, many of the people living in those “shithole countries” are our fellow evangelicals.  Evangelical Trump supporters:  That is worthy of pondering.  Will you sit back and let our president disparage your fellow evangelicals because they come from places with less than desirable living conditions?

But it’s bigger than that.  As Christians, we believe that all people are created in the image of God, and that all people are people for whom Christ died.  Regardless of the living conditions in their country of origin.

If you are an evangelical, ask yourself:  How do I square these things with Donald Trump’s belief that certain people are disqualified from immigrating to the United States by virtue of the living conditions in their country of origin?

And now I will answer you:  You don’t.

Think about this through the lens of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to support a president who besmirches your brothers and sisters in Christ because of the living conditions in their countries of origin…no.  There is no such case to be made.

Am I advocating open borders or an unrestricted immigration policy?  No.  Much of the Democratic rhetoric on immigration is just not consistent with present-day economic reality.  In prior generations, when our economy was largely industrial, anyone from any part of the world could come and plug right in to our industrial economic machine and make a decent living for themselves.  But that picture has changed and we need an immigration policy which takes that into account.  And yes, we do need a more skilled immigrant pool.

But it is inexcusable to speak of certain parts of the world with less than desirable living conditions as “shithole countries”, or to support and/or defend a president who does so.  All people, including those who come from such countries, are made in the image of God and are people for whom Christ died.  As such, they deserve better than that from our president, and they deserve better than that from us.

Roy Moore: A New Low for Evangelicalism

As mentioned in the previous post, there is now a beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world.  As you have probably suspected, this is just a crush, exactly the sort of thing experienced by young teenage boys who are just starting to find their way in the world of love, romance, and dating.  (That I, at my advanced age, am still capable of such a thing–well, I leave it to you, dear reader, to form your own estimation of me in light of that.)

Crushes suck, but when you get to the other side you would gladly do it all over again.  Every time.  Why?  Because there is a payoff:  You have this beautiful young woman on the edge of your world and you are trying oh so hard to be the very best you that you can possibly be because she’s oh so worth it…

And then there’s Roy Moore.

ICYMI:  Alabama just had a special election to fill one of their US Senate seats.  Roy Moore was the Republican candidate.  He lost.  It was in all the papers.  (Kids:  Old school slang.  Ask your parents.)

Moore was the odds-on favorite in this election, until allegations surfaced that he had had inappropriate sexual relationships with as many as nine different women, some of whom were way underage.

Formerly the chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, Moore was an arch-conservative firebrand who said and did all the right things to reach those who believe that we need to “take our country back” for Jesus Christ–outlaw abortion, run off all the gays and the Muslims, put prayer back in public schools, the whole bit.

When the allegations surfaced, the big question was whether Moore’s evangelical supporters would stick with him.  They did.  To the tune of 80 percent, according to all the exit polls.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was emphatically in Moore’s corner.  “I have been dismayed and troubled,” said Dobson, “about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment.”

This is where we are in evangelicalism:  I now feel exactly like an English professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

I have spoken previously in this space about the “post-evangelical wilderness”.  Despite what you may think, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is not simply some fanciful construct created by young punk bloggers living in their parents’ basements with nothing better to do with their lives than sit around all day in front of their computer screens and write whatever strikes their fancy. This post-evangelical wilderness is a real place inhabited by real people with real stories.  I found myself in the post-evangelical wilderness through a series of life events/challenges which all converged over the course of the previous decade, when I suddenly looked up and found that I was no longer quite the young hot-blooded evangelical that I had been back in happier times–and also that the world of evangelicalism around me had quietly morphed right before my very eyes into something almost unrecognizable to me.

This has accelerated over the past year, as I have watched my faith–the faith that proclaimed the Gospel to me and discipled me and gave me a spiritual home through a goodly portion of my collegiate and young adult existence, and has been very good to me over the years–sell its very soul right out from under me, linking arms with some of the worst specimens of humanity to elect a president who is the complete and total opposite of anything even remotely Christ-centered or Christ-shaped–even going so far as to claim that as a Christian I have a moral imperative to support this president.

This Roy Moore thing has just dumped several truckloads of nitroglycerine on that fire.

Almost two decades ago, and it really doesn’t seem that long ago at all, evangelicals, including me, were all up in arms because of allegations that our then-president Bill Clinton was having inappropriate sexual relationships with White House interns.  We believed that he ought to be impeached because character matters.  The Democrats and the liberal media all doubled down on their support of their guy and they all called us out of line because look at all the good things he was doing and how dare we get our panties all up in a wad over some quaint pedantic notion like character because what he does in his bedroom is his own business.  But we persisted because by God CHARACTER MATTERS!!!!!  But now here we are and suddenly character doesn’t count for jack shit.  Not when there’s tax reform legislation to pass and Obamacare to repeal and Supreme Court justices to appoint and Roe v. Wade to overturn and we’ve got to have our Republican majority so we’re giving you a president who brags incessantly about sexually exploiting women.  And if you don’t like that then by God we’ll give you Roy Moore the child sexual predator.

The world outside of evangelicalism is watching this shitshow.  We know that some things are right and others are just wrong.  We know that Jesus treated people with love and respect, especially those on the outer fringes of society, and that he calls on us to do likewise.  Moore’s treatment of the women with whom he had relationships flies in the face of this, and to believe that his positions and/or voting record excuses all of this–no, people.  It doesn’t.

Every person with whom you will ever come eyeball to eyeball is a person created in the image of God, and a person for whom Jesus Christ died.  Thus, every person has intrinsic worth and deserves to be treated in that fashion.  Roy Moore’s actions fly completely and totally in the face of this.  It is therefore impossible to support Roy Moore while maintaining that people have intrinsic worth because they are created in the image of God and because Jesus died for them.  The two just don’t square.

Think about this through the lens of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to support Roy Moore and his inappropriate sexual relationships with underage women–no, people.  There is no such case to be made.  That’s all there is to it.

I cannot possibly imagine myself going after this beautiful young woman, trying oh so hard to be the very best me that I can possibly be because she’s oh so worth it–and then telling her that I supported this toxic waste dump and all his inappropriate relationships with underage women.