Brother West and the 4th of July

A few years ago I went to hear Union Theological Seminary Professor Cornell West give a lecture at the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s Winter Convention (I know what you are probably thinking “they have enough young Socialists that they need to break their conventions into seasonal gatherings?”). For those who have never seen an interview with Cornell West I suggest you give him a quick YouTube watch. He is funny, compassionate, smart, and even if you disagree with his politics he will make you think.

I first heard Brother West (as he so often is called) being interviewed by Sean Hannity. This was during my early days as a “Young Republican.” I remember being shocked to hear such openly “Socialistic” arguments coming from someone with a PhD (Again, I was pretty young and didn’t know much about nothin!). His argument, that “George W. Bush was a Constantine type Christian” thus someone that would use Christianity to mask his plans for political power, really shocked me at the time.

What endeared me to him, and I guess really challenged my notion of what it means to be a Christian, occurred when I started to notice how he referred to everyone as “Brother” or “Sister.” I grew up in Church and feel very at ease referring to people as “Brother Dave” or “Sister Jean.” As a kid I learned early that by invoking “Brother” or “Sister” before a persons name indicates that they are “one of us” and we can know they are a “believing Christian.” So when I heard him use “Brother” when describing people like Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney, I was taken aback.

The use of those signifiers also represents a certain element of “affection” and “Christian Love.” I always appreciated, especially as I got older, that calling someone in Church your Brother or Sister really helped establish a sense of solidarity. It made me feel like these people were more than just my friendly neighbors in Church. So to hear Cornel West use that when describing his “enemies” made me really think.

By the time I went to hear Cornel West speak I had done a complete change in politics and thinking. I was still a Christian (I will always remember the day I went to see Cornel West speak because the previous night I learned that I received a full scholarship to attend seminary- I ultimately didn’t go but that story can be saved for another blog), but my convictions and outlook on the world went through a radical shift. I no longer believed that “Jesus promoted Capitalism” or that “Christians should support war.” I felt more of a conviction to act out Christ’s mission to what he described as the “least of these.”

But hearing Dr. West speak and hearing him repeatedly refer to Conservatives as “Brother” and “Sister” again brought me back to why I was originally intrigued by his message and delivery. As the talk came to an end Dr. West asked if anyone in the audience had questions. There were many of the usual questions on policy, predictions for upcoming elections; however, one person asked him “why does he choose to call people that we as Socialists consider evil as “Brother and “Sister”?” His response is something I think about almost everyday. He told the crowd “I call everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or ideology Brother and Sister because we all come from God and we are all in this together. I believe in redemption and hope. So I believe that people I disagree with, and who are enacting policies that hurt the poor, my “brother” because I have hope that one day this will change.”

Dr. West answer is something that I try to live out in my home, office, and even here on my blog. It’s also why I have struggled with feelings of patriotism. As a Christian I always felt that my biggest sense of identity came from my faith. I always felt like “sure I’m an American and that’s great. But if I was born anywhere else that would be okay too because I would still be a Christian.” Christianity,  and not my identity as a student, Democratic Socialist, PhD Student, or even Father and Husband, has been the foundation for how I view myself in this world.

I really started to feel this more and more as I considered issues of war, death, and violence. I started really to reflect on passages from Scripture like Acts 10:34. In this Passage we read “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” I started to question the increasing pride for our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan that so many of my friends in Church were supporting and at times referring to as “the will of God.” I started to ask myself “if we all derive from God than why should differences separate us? Why should death on the battlefield of one person, who is from the same human family as myself, receive more of my feelings of sorrow and grief than another?” I would ask myself “why is killing okay at all”?

These are heady questions that philosophers, scholars, and theologians have wrestled with for years. They don’t have easy answers. The scriptures, however, offer the answer that I feel is most complete. As Peter said, God does not show favoritism. God loves us all equally. God is also the Father of us all. I can be mad at my earthly brothers and sisters but I can never hate them. On this 4thof July I will continue to do my best to love all my earthly brothers and sisters in the same manner that God does. I will pray that Christ gives me power to “show no favoritism.”

 

 

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Owning Up to Our Mistakes: Peace and Honesty Can help Solve Our Immigration Problem

Asking fore forgiveness can be one of the hardest things to do. I grew up in a household where my parents and siblings were all believing and practicing Christians. Asking for forgiveness was a very natural thing to do. So as I became a Social Worker and ventured out into the troubled waters of peoples emotional and personal problems I noticed quickly that some people were dying, both emotionally and spiritualty, because they could not own up to their mistakes and seek out forgiveness from others.

One young client that I worked with for a few months had been arrested at 15, sent to a Juvenile facility for a year and a half, and when I met him at 17 was trying to “get his life back together.” This young man had substance abuse issues, anger management trouble, and was showing signs of deep depression.

As I got to know this client more we began to talk a lot about the guilt he felt in putting his mom through traumatic episodes. He would often tell me that he knew “I will never get over all the bad things I’ve done in my life if I don’t just tell my Mom I messed up. I need to tell her I’m sorry for causing her pain. But I’m from a place where we don’t say sorry for nothing. Saying sorry isn’t something I do.”

It was hard to see this young man struggle with his inability to forgive himself. This inability to accept his mistakes and take action to move forward was impeding him from making some of the personal choices he needed to get his life “back on track.” I could tell that if he didn’t forgive he may lose his life to the forces of violence and personal destruction that defined so much of his early life.

Forgiveness, which is hard for a person, can be even harder for a country and its political representatives. With the issues occurring at the border, however, I think asking forgiveness and owning up to the mistakes of our past, will save us from becoming a spiritually and emotionally dead country. Asking for forgiveness isn’t easy and requires bravery but I believe that as a people we can take the steps necessary.

When we see families and children being separated at the border I think we all, regardless of your political ideology, feel some sense of sorrow for those people. Even if you believe that these people committed a crime and should be forced to face the consequences of their actions, I believe that in your heart of hearts you feel empathy for the children. I think as American’s, and Christians in particular, we must focus on this empathy and think critically about the role our country has played in fomenting this crisis.

On Long Island I witnessed first hand the evil barbarity that the MS-13 gang can wage against innocent victims. Much has been written about the two young high school girls brutally murdered at the hands of MS-13 gang members in Brentwood during the fall of 2016. At the time I was working for a politician in that area, even driving my car down the street where the murders took place to pick up canvassers who were working for our campaign, the night of the murders. Those murders shook our office and the community.

I never hide the fact that I’m a “progressive” who is way far to the left of many members in the Democratic Party today. However, after witnessing the brutality of MS-13 I agreed with President Trump’s call to do more to crack down on this vicious gang.

My general curiosity (And overall nerdiness) lead me to look into the historical origins of the gang to get a better sense of their past. I read a very insightful article by Harvard Writer in Residence Daniel Denvir who explained “MS-13 was born in Los Angeles amidst the refugees fleeing President Reagan’s dirty wars in El Salvador, and became a transnational gang that ultimately did so much to destabilize El Salvador.” I learned that many young people were fleeing El Salvador in the 1980’s because the United States government was backing a repressive Right-Wing government that oppressed its people. In the 1980’s we saw thousands of people coming to America to escape these well documented “death squads” that would kill and pillage poor towns that they deemed “communist coconspirators.” And these young kids who fled the violence in El Salvador were prone to the protection and sense of family being offered by the newly created MS-13 gang.

As the Administration of George W. Bush and Barack Obama began to focus on deporting illegal immigrants that committed crimes back to their country of origin, I learned that El Salvador was having increasing troubles dealing with members of MS-13. Locals were referring to these transplants to their country as the “American Menace.” In a nutshell, the people of El Salvador were forced to deal with a problem that America helped start and then exported.

America in the 1980’s was in a “Cold War” with Soviet Russia. Any country that appeared to be embracing “communist practices” would immediately receive attention from the CIA. El Salvador was of particular interest to the American government because the U.S did not want a left-wing government taking over and aligning with our Soviet enemies. So in the name of “national security” we helped lay the foundation for the chaos that occurred on the streets of Brentwood, Long Island.

This has come to a head as the President; Republicans in Congress, and the American people demand action to be taken on the Mexican border. What we miss when we say blankly that these “immigrants are illegal and committed a crime” can be found in the research of Stephanie Leutert of the Brookings Institution. She writes, after years of field research in Central American countries, “For Central American residents, control of these gangs over their neighborhood likely means a weekly or monthly extortion payment simply for the right to operate a business or live in their territory. The price for failing to provide this money is death. All it takes is a neighbor or nearby shopkeeper to be gunned down for failing to pay the adequate fees, and it becomes clear that the only options are pay or flee.”

This reality should force all Americans of good conscious to grapple with the reality of the immigrant experience and the need to address these issues with empathy, love, and justice. Martin Luther King Jr in a sermon once said that people who are “hard hearted” can hear facts and figures, moral arguments, and persuasive reasoning but still remain cold to human suffering. I believe that the start of turning our country away from a “hard hearted” response to the peril immigrants face is by asking for forgiveness and being honest.

In Ephesians 5:11 Paul tells Christians to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” In facing the reality of our countries past in helping create and export violent gangs like MS-13 we can begin a process that helps us renew our collective spirit.

We must also face the reality that when it comes to foreign policy our country has not had a very “Christ-centered” approach to dealing with our brothers and sisters across the globe. As author Madeline Rose in the recent issue of the Nation Magazine explains, “Ten years ago, 80 percent of international humanitarian assistance went to the survivors of natural disasters-floods, droughts, and hurricanes. Today, violent conflict is the primary driver of humanitarian need, with more than 90 percent of all global assistance going to crises fueled by this cause.”

As the country, which spends and exports more lethal weapons than 7 of the world’s largest industrial nations combined, we have not been sowers of peace. We have sown chaos, violence, and pain. We must admit to this and ask forgiveness from God, our neighbors, and from each other. This is not easy but it can be done. We must ask Christ to lead us as we seek to make things right and help the world heal from the pain we have caused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Bible tells me So (Well, at least those parts that support my politics)

In the midst of the horrible tragedy occurring at our borders, and in light of the Trump Administration’s decision to separate Immigrant children from their families, a Biblical debate has emerged in popular media. From the New York Times down to the New York Post, editorial pages and blogs have been filled with arguments over the theological, moral, and Scriptural ethics of the Administrations policies. Usually, when the bible is used as a lens to critique public policy I get scared that the media will find the most uninformed, close minded, and hostile representative from the Evangelical community to speak on “God’s behalf.” I was pleasantly surprised to see a mix of views presented.

This all started when Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed a news conference regarding the Administrations “zero tolerance policy” on illegal immigration. When questioned about the Trump Administrations “Child Separation” policy, the Attorney General brought up Romans 13. For those unfamiliar with Romans 13 it’s a Chapter in the Bible where the Apostle Paul encourages the Christian community to ““Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” In essence the scripture is calling on Christians to recognize that God has a hand in establishing the rulers, leaders, and regimes of this world. This Chapter has often been referred to as a  “bludgeon” by scholars because it can be used selectively to grant moral support to awful political, social, and economic abuse.

Anyone that has ever read one of my blogs will know that I’m not a big fan of those called by the mainstream media to speak on behalf of Evangelical Christianity, however, I was pleasantly surprised that most mainstream evangelical leaders were quick to deplore the Attorney Generals misuse of scripture. The Reverend Franklin Graham, who I previously criticized for zealously supporting the Trump Administration in the past, publicly denounced Mr. Sessions invocation of scripture and referred to the Trump Administrations policy of separating children from their families as “disgraceful.” I believe it’s extremely important to recognize, even when it’s coming from someone I vehemently have disagreed with in the past, when someneone speaks truth and advocates for justice.

Conservative Evangelical leader Bob Vandeer Plaats is another “mainstream representative” of Evangelical Christianity that went against an administration he enthusiastically supported in the past. New York Magazine even reported that Mr. Vandeer Plaats has a creepy photo of Trump, the Bible, and a Cross adorning his office wall. These “enhanced support techniques” (this my attempt at political humor considering Vandeer Plaats support of Sen. Ted Cruz and his ‘torture loving’ rhetoric in the Republican primary) have not blinded him to the moral realities of the Trump Administrations policies. Writing in the New York Times Vandeer Plaats says “As a Christian, I find that the Bible’s Book of Micah offers a guiding principle of doing right: “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (emphasis added). This is biblical. That means we should execute justice, yes. But not with the kind of cruelty we’re reading about from the border with Mexico.”

It’s refreshing to see people put the Scriptures ahead of their political ideology. My Friend has a saying that he often invokes when we applaud people for doing what they are supposed to do. My friend will say “you don’t get points for breathing.” While I know I shouldn’t be singing the praises of someone like Mr. Vandeer Plaats who has supported some of the most immoral anti LGBT laws in the past and who openly uses derogatory terms to describe Gay men, however, I think as a Christian who believes in redemption and will forever believe that we all fall short of God’s desires and need grace, I would like to pray for him to continue progressing and opening his heart to the troubles facing God’s children.

So often mainstream Evangelical Christians, when it comes to Conservative political leaders, are more like the Jewish masses written about in John 7:49 “The foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them.” I pray that more people awake to the call for peace and social justice that scream to us from scripture. I believe that the evangelical community has a real opportunity to make “justice roll down like waters” and drench our country in a spirit of love and peace. Lets continue praying that this is only the beginning of a new movement to link Evangelical belief with the cause of people suffering both at home and abroad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was there Room for Jesus at the Stone Wall Inn?

On my way to the office this morning I passed a couple taking some pictures in front of new sign posted on a busy intersection. I was a bit nervous for the couple, Brooklyn traffic still makes my stomach sink every morning, and wanted to see what was on the sign they were standing in front of. As I passed the couple and looked back I saw that the sign was a big rainbow flag stating “Brooklyn Celebrates Pride.”

As a white heterosexual male I have to admit that I didn’t realize it was that time of the year. Usually I’m made aware that it’s Pride season when all my Conservative Christian friends post pictures equating New York Cities Pride Parade with the on goings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The New York parade hasn’t occurred yet so the fact that Pride is being celebrated by millions wasn’t in my consciousness.

As I continued driving I started to think about the couple. I couldn’t help but think about their lives, their story, and the struggles they faced. In my heart I know it can’t be easy for our gay brothers and sisters to live a life completely free of worry, care, and judgment. I always wonder and marvel at the strength it must take to live in a society where some question their humanity, love, and sadly in most churches, their faith.

I write about issues of Social Justice because I’m a “Jesus person.” I’ve been a Jesus person all of my life. It’s really all that I’ve ever known. Its what defines who I am and why I live my life the way I do. Jesus has kept a tight grip on my heart since I was a little boy and he has never let go.

I say all this because in a week filled with news of suicide, nuclear war, and dictatorship, I sometimes wonder if the cares of this world take my eyes off of Christ. I’ve been wrestling in my head with those arguments that claim homosexuality is a choice, a manifestation of sin, deplorable, etc. I’ve been wrestling with the reality that we all fall short of God’s expectations and desperately need mercy.

I’m not a theologian, biblical scholar, or Christian philosopher. I’m a simple person that feels Jesus has called us all to live out what Scripture says in Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I want to spread humility, love, and compassion in the same manner is was shown to me through the life of Jesus.

I know that Pride began when Gay men and woman began to fight back against brutal police oppression at the Stone Wall Inn in 1969. I know that day was the beginning of a people awakening to express their humanity. I pray that as a follower of Christ I stand always with the oppressed. I want to stand with “the least of these” even when doing so might raise the eyebrows of “good church folk.” I want to stand for grace and salvation because that is what Jesus gave to me. If I’m wrong than it will be only because I’m a fool for Christ and the hope he inspires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Amendment V. The First Commandment

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”

1 Corinthians 10:23

 

On Monday my Social Media was abuzz with opinions regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cake Shop Vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I would say that the opinions of my friends, much like that of the country was a clean partisan split. Interestingly I found that those friends who I can label as self proscribed “Christians” were the most outwardly happy with the Courts ruling. This is not all that surprising, however, it does raise an issue that I think Christians should think about in greater depth.

Some quick background on the case: A Christian baker in Colorado was asked by a gay couple to make a wedding cake for their upcoming ceremony. The baker declined and explained to the couple that he believes making the cake would violate his Christian values. The Civil Rights Commission of Colorado (A government entity) found the baker in violation of the couples civil rights and levied fines. The Supreme Court (I will leave it here just to give a quick cursory telling of the story) found that the Civil Rights Commission violated the rights of the baker.

Now, as an exercise in political thinking I found the Courts decision very interesting. What really sparked my interest, however, was an article in the New York Times documenting more cases like this that will test boundaries of “religious freedom and civil rights”. One such issue the Times discussed was a Bill recently passed in Oklahoma (SB 1140). This bill essentially allows private adoption agencies the legal right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples when placing children. This Bill, which before reading the Times I was unaware of, will most likely push the “Christian Rights vs. Gay Rights” debate to the forefront of the Supreme Court in the coming years.

I don’t know all that much about adoption/ child welfare issues. I did work, for a very short period of time, as a Social Worker who would visit with newly adopted children and families to help offer services as they transition into their new lives together. For the most part I came across very loving parents and very excited children. They were always so happy to have a new place to call home and new people to call Mom and Dad. What I did learn during my time in the field, is that those children waiting to be adopted face the constant fear of instability, sexual assault, educational neglect, and emotional abuse. Children waiting to be adopted too often experience fear when living every day in group-homes, foster care facilities, and in some foster homes.

While I was not responsible for finding foster kids adoptive homes, I did hear stories from other Social Workers who had this job, and these stories still shake me. I was told of a thirteen year old child that was given one meal a day by his foster family, beaten for minor infractions like spilling milk, and forced to eat his own vomit after getting sick. Luckily, in this story the authorities learned of the crimes that occurred while the child was in foster care and they were able to find a nice adoptive family to take him in. Authorities also were able to persecute the foster parents who committed the gruesome crimes. In this instance the child was lucky. I often pray that this is not the reality being experienced by any of the over “107,918” children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted by a loving family.

After learning about SB 1140 I did a quick Google search just to learn a little more about the law. I came across many “Christian” organizations making the argument that this law is necessary because it will allow religious organization the ability to “provide social welfare services congruent with Christian values.” I found a few op-eds from Christian writers who saw this as a victory for “Christian liberty”, “Godly values”, and “traditional families”.  I did not see, from any Christians at least, statements on how this will positively impact (according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services) over 9,000 kids in Oklahoma in need of adoption.

I understand that for some Christians there is a belief that sexual politics is an arena where there can be no compromise. While I don’t share this view I would never ask someone to act in a manner that violates his or her deeply held spiritual convictions. However, since the people speaking in these op-eds and in the media are proclaiming to be fellow “Christians” I feel as though I can engage in a little debate and push back on these feelings.

In the beginning of the blog I quote 1 Corinthians 10:23. Here we see the Church struggling with issues of ethical Christian living. The Church in Corinth is asking what it should do about issues regarding a proper diet, morals, etc. The answer given in the Scriptures is one that speaks to our current times. Essentially we are told that since Christ came to renew our minds and hearts there no longer should be worries about trivial matters like diet. We are told that everything is now permitted, however, we must realize that we can’t go “overboard.”

We learn in the scriptures that Christians should feel free to eat anything they want, however, as good brothers and sisters of Christ they should realize that this freedom may have to be put aside for the greater good of others. Many Pastors will use this scripture when teaching about things like alcohol consumption. They usually will say things like “sure, you can drink alcohol as a Christian just don’t be a drunk and act in ways that would embarrass Christ. You should be careful though and realize that there may be a Christian Brother or sister that is struggling with alcohol abuse. It may not be wise to drink around them. So in essence, yes, as a Christian feel free to drink in moderation, just recognize that this freedom comes with a responsibility.”

I think this teaching serves as a great parallel to something like SB 1140. In America we are granted freedom of religion and freedom to engage in faith and moral traditions that proscribe certain standards of behavior. However, we are Christians first and Americans second. We are often looked at as examples of “good behavior” even if we don’t mean to be. Yes, maybe some Christians feel that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt because it violates Church teaching. I argue this does not outweigh the duty we have as Christ centered individuals to continually work to be the salt of the earth.

As Christians we must ask ourselves this question: does allowing private organizations the ability to refuse children in our care an adoptive home simply because we find an individuals lifestyle to be “sinful”? It may be legal but does it edify the spirit of Jesus and the witness of Christ’s saving grace?

I would ask Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin, who at an event organized by Franklin Graham stated “I’m not scared to walk my faith because my faith plays a role in the decisions I make” to stop and consider those children who may be victims. I would ask all those Christians who publicly stand against the L.G.B.T community to ponder if its “sin” they are against or if it’s the feeling of being outwardly “righteous” that makes them stand in condemnation of our Gay brothers and sisters?

As Christians we have always lead movements for peace, justice, and love. From abolishing slavery, to establishing Unions and marching for civil rights, Christians have a heritage we can be proud of. I pray we don’t tarnish that heritage because it’s politically expedient.

 

 

 

 

With Friends Like These Who Needs Enemies?

Last year a Harris Poll was conducted to determine just “how happy” average Americans are. The poll (http://time.com/4871720/how-happy-are-americans/), found that only 33% of Americans responded that they are “overall happy.” Why are we such an unhappy group of people? Some on the left would say it’s probably because Donald Trump is our President. The Right would retort that it’s “godless” liberal values that are making us increasingly unhappy.

I have no real opinion or thoughts as to why, as a people, Americans are unhappier than others. Sometimes I believe it stems from living under a capitalist economy those forces us to work and toil harder and harder to scratch out a meager living. At other times I believe we may be so unhappy because we are all longing for spiritual fulfillment. And some days I assume that the entire nation is comprised of New York Knicks fans that suffer with year after year of losing, dashed hopes, and relentless heart break (you can insert my fellow Jets fans in place of the Knicks if you prefer).

Happiness is a very hard thing to define, measure, or even understand. I know Social Work literature is filled with studies that show variables like “community, faith, family, purpose, and work”  are things which make us feel more “content”, which is also often translated into feeling happy. Any Social Worker worth their salt will look to these variables and often suggest that clients experiencing depression, loss of hope, and those who are unhappy, reach out and connect more with sources of contentment.

So often in American life we resort to our “tribal camps.” Associating with those that think, believe, and behave like we do, naturally makes us feel more comfortable, and dare we say “more content”? This is why so often I find myself going to left leaning websites to read articles that document a sense of justification for feeling the world needs to be a more progressive place. This always makes feel safe, accepted, and content.

However, on Tuesday  I decided to venture out of my zone of contentment and read a few articles from a Conservative website. I thought “hey why don’t you be more opened minded and see what the other side has to say.” I have to admit that I was a bit nervous at first but after ten minutes it wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t come across anything to grotesquely right wing that would upset my “snowflake” sensibilities.

I was intrigued by an article posted on the website ( I won’t share the article or the site. I don’t want to stir unnecessary debate/ hurt feelings of those who may frequent the site.), regarding an update on Democratic Senatorial Candidate Chelsea Manning. For those who may not be aware of Chelsea’s story I will give a really quick overview: Chelsea Manning was born Bradley Manning. Manning served in the military as a specialist in Technology and intelligence. Manning was essential to providing organizations like Wikileaks and the New York Times  with classified information that informed their reports on abuses carried out by the United States Government during the Iraq war. Manning was subsequently arrested and sent to prison for giving out classified information. While in Prison, Manning declared that she was now identifying as a female and will be changing her name from Bradley to Chelsea. She has since been released from prison and is currently running in the Democratic Primary for Senator in Maryland.

I was intrigued that an overtly Conservative website would post a story about Chelsea manning’s health. Apparently there were some reports released that claimed she tried to take her own life. The report explained that Chelsea is okay and is recuperating. The story was pretty dry and self-explanatory.

I ventured past the text of the article and saw some of the comments. This is what really struck my interest. A self-identifying “soccer mom” whose username for the website (which I will make up to protect her identity) literally was along the lines of “ChrstianGal4Jesus” had the first comment on the story. Her comment, which I’m directly quoting, was “I know this makes me a bad Christian but I don’t care that she is okay. She is a traitor. She is lucky she wasn’t shot and killed.”

“ChristianGal” was very sincere and honest with her comments. While I was in a bit of shock to see her so openly state that she didn’t care that Chelsea Manning was okay, I felt compelled to take a second and think about what she said. I was struck that she was honest in feeling that her remarks exclude her from “polite Christian company.” I appreciate honest people that are self-aware. I was disappointed, however, by the amount of people that responded positively and told “ChristianGal” not to be ashamed. There were, at my last check, which was noon on Wednesday, over 20 responses affirming “ChristianGals” feelings and explaining her lack of empathy did not make her a “bad Christian.”

In Evangelical circles it’s very popular for people to say “I hate the sin and love the sinner.” Essentially, this statement is trying to clarify that a Christian is not personally hostile to another individual, but that they are merely hostile to a belief, action, or behavior that can be considered sinful. Evangelicals are very quick to offer this statement as a response to LGBTQ issues. It’s a common troupe for explaining why Evangelicals generally do not support things like “gay marriage”, “gender neutral bathrooms”, or “same sex adoption.”

I think most Evangelicals  generally are sincere when they make this statement. Sure, some may be overtly homophobic, racist, or sexists, but I think there are some who generally cannot accept certain things they deem to be “ behavioral choices.” I’ve begun to wonder, however, if this statement is starting to serve as a mask for a deeper anger.

In Romans 12:2 Christians are told not to “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Essentially, Christians should not allow the world, society, popular culture, etc. to take such a prominent role in our lives that it drowns out the saving grace of Christ. We should be believers in Christ, who spend day and night trying to reflect a love so deep that “it passes all understanding.” Can we love, when hating on social media feels so right?

I think its getting increasingly harder for Christians to decouple their thinking from that of the President, Congress, Conservative Pundits, and right-wing Facebook memes. I focus on “Conservatives” only because unlike Christians on the political left who have never had an Evangelical Liberal to admire (I exclude former President Jimmy Carter because I could write a book on how totally not progressive he was but I’ll save that for a later post), politically Conservative Christians have been well represented in the halls of political power. A Conservative response to Chelsea Manning is one of anger, betrayal, and maybe even hatred. A Christian response is one of love, empathy, and hope for a renewal of her spirit and mind. A Conservative response to “ChristianGal” is one of affirming her feelings of discuss; A Christ like response to “ChristianGal” is a word of life affirming love and correction.

A Muslim friend told me that he is disappointed in Christians. He believes that Christians are not holding President Trump to the same standards that they held for President Bush and President Obama. He stated that “Christians may be self-righteous at times but at least they came from a moral place. Now, its like anything goes. Its like they are okay with living in Sodom and Gomorrah.” I don’t think we are anywhere near Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe we are human, imperfect, and in need of love. We can make this right. We must go back to the basics. We must become friends with those in the world. We must not become like the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Leaders Have Eyes but Fail to See

My Sister, a former public school teacher (and overall just a gosh darn good person), had a response to last weeks school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that really sums up how so many of us feel. After seeing a friend post about the shooting on Facebook she simply replied, “oh come on.” Her response gave voice to the sad reality we are all now living in. When we hear of a school shooting we no longer feel shock, fear, anger, or even dread. Instead, we start to feel annoyed.

It’s sad but so powerfully true that school shootings have ceased being tragedies in our collective conscious. We start to wonder if people can just be decent enough for a few months so that we don’t have to feel awful every time we open a newspaper, turn on social media, or watch TV. Very rarely, if we are being completely honest with ourselves, do we personally feel any sense of the tragic reality that friends, family, and community members must be feeling at a time like this. Like normal people we try to be empathetic and say a prayer for mercy and peace to be on those impacted by the tragedy.

Sometimes, however, an occurrence within the greater overall tragedy will lead us to experience something more. For me this occurred in the Parkland, Florida shooting after hearing the fear and shock it created in my children. With Santa Fe, unfortunately, I was moved to pray for the victims and the community but didn’t feel anything beyond traditional empathy for those involved in the massacre.

This changed after hearing the response of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Maybe its just simple “Northern Liberal” stereotypes of Texas and Texans but after hearing the Lieutenant Governor, whom I assume is a Christian or at least claims to be (Again, this is part of my northern liberal bias) talk about the tragedy I found myself exceedingly angry. It’s worth reading at length his comments on what happened.

 

       GOV. DAN PATRICK: We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies and, particularly, violent video games, which now outsell movies and music. Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence, may have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of video, violent games.

 

This is standard “Conservative thinking” and nothing is inherently evil or wrong with these statements. In fact i agree and think the increasing violence of American society is quit disturbing. However, it’s the thinking,  behind the statement that brought my blood to a boil. Mr. Patrick speaks as if he is not someone in a position of authority who can impact the situation. This is a complete “passing of the buck” when it comes to moral leadership.

For a moment lets compare the statements of Mr. Patrick with his record in office. I mean its fair to say that since he holds the second most powerful position in the State of Texas that he has some control over policies that lead to the outcomes he decries as being potential causes of Santa Fe’s violence:

“Students are desensitized to Violence”-Mr. Patrick helped push school funding per child to the lowest levels in decades. Texas now spends the second least amount per student in the United States. The low spending levels are blamed on teacher turnover, cuts to after school programs, counseling, etc. All things that will help kids do things OTHER THAN SIT AROUND AND PLAY VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES.

“Devaluing life and the Break up of Families– For an elected official so worried about the “break up of families” and the “devaluing of life” one would wonder why Lt. Governor Patrick would have spear headed efforts to cut Medicaid funding. Medicaid provides care to poor, indigent, disabled, older individuals. Medicaid, as explained by a report released from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, shows that if Medicaid continues, “to be cut nationally, 22 million deaths will occur as a result of insufficient care.” What better way to help stop the so-called Devaluing of life than to gut a program that’s actually responsible for saving life?

I could go on and on (anyone interested do a simple Google search of Lt. Dan Patrick legislative agenda and you will find plenty of more examples) but I think you get the picture. Its not Mr. Patrick’s politics, per se, that in the midst of the tragedy got me so angry. I think what got me so upset, after I came to learn that indeed Mr. Patrick is a self identifying Christian after all, was a video he made for his reelection campaign titled “Stand for Christ” (https://www.danpatrick.org/standforchrist/) In the video Dan highlights his faith in Jesus and adherence to the scriptures as signs for why he should receive Christian votes. This use of Jesus and the scriptures makes his statements after the Santa Fe shooting that much more blood boiling to me.

In scripture (James 2:15) we read the apostle ask us a simple question. He asks “What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, go in peace; stay warm and well fed, but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?” James is basically asking us to “put our money where our mouth is.” If someone is needy, facing a health crises, or experiencing physical danger, well wishes and sympathetic comments won’t help him. Similarly, all the “small government” and “family values” policies are not going to protect our children from gun violence. Jesus is demanding his followers to follow up their faith in God with real concrete action.

I try to be as non-judgmental as possible when it comes to another Christian’s faith. Its getting harder and harder to do that in light of recent events. It pains me to see another Christian, like the Lieutenant Governor, professing Christ but neglecting opportunities that can help usher in God’s grace on this world.

Mr. Patrick is publicly invoking the name of Jesus. He is telling us that we should consider him to be a “man of God.” This is all wonderful but as any “man of God” who has read Mathew 7:23 will know, Jesus is not keen on people that claim to have faith in him but who outwardly, and inwardly, are ravenous wolves. In Mathew 7: 23 Jesus says “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Jesus is declaring here that in the end there will be people whom “outwardly appeared to be the most religious, the most moral, the most “Christian”, but who in reality are morally depraved.

I pray this is not the case for the Lieutenant Governor. I believe that Christianity is the expression of a hope, which passes all understanding. Tonight, after thanking God for protecting my children, family, and loved ones, I will pray for the Lieutenant Governor.