An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Dear Mr. Graham,

Asking presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to repent being gay is like asking you to repent breathing. You do not choose to breathe. Gay people do not choose to be gay. Both are endowments by the Creator.

Maimonides, the great Torah scholar of the Middle Ages, compiled a list of commandments from the Old Testament.  There are 613.   A few deal with homosexuality.  Trotting out these few passages invites a biblical pissing contest that is neither helpful nor unifying for the body of Christ.

To argue that you take the Bible literally does not hold water.  When was the last time you admonished someone for gossiping (Lev. 19:6)? What do you do with people in your community who have tattoos (Lev. 19:28)? When was the last time you told women they could not wear slacks because women should not dress as men (Deut. 22:5)? You may also need to discard some of your clothing since the mixing of linen and wool is forbidden (Deut. 22:11).

And let’s not forget the Big Ten (included in the 613). I find it curious that the current occupant of the white house has broken at least four of the Ten Commandments and you seem to have no problem whatsoever with this. 

In the New Testament there are 1,050 commandments that are roughly divided into 800 headings. A very few deal with homosexual behavior. You may remember Jesus (he is big in the Christian tradition). In his ministry he never said a word about homosexuality.  Not. One. Word. Zero. Nada. Zilch, Zip.

With 613 commandments in the Old Testament and 1,050 in the New Testament, it seems to me you have better things to do than focus on a few verses out of context as a way to marginalize people.  It is so not like Jesus. I have been a pastor, preacher and teacher for forty years.  I expect more from you than petty proof texting.

Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for those who made their living off the backs of the poor, those who lived far beyond the means of the majority of people and those who colluded with the Roman occupation.  I imagine these topics are a little close to home.  Your net worth of 28 million dollars, your annual salary of over a million dollars, your private jet and other “perks” of the job do not square well with Jesus’ teachings about wealth and poverty.

You may recall the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek.  They are rich sources for exegetical work when doing Bible study.  Further, studying the heilsgeschichte of the time is crucial for faithful interpretation.  You should have learned the word in seminary, but in case you didn’t it means “the situation,” “what was going on at the time,” or “how God was working in the lives of people during that time.”  This may come as a shock to you, but you are capable of failing (Gal. 6:1).  So am I, I mean to suggest nothing other.  However, the Jesus I try to fashion my life after loved everyone, turned no one away, welcomed all people and gave hope to those who were downtrodden.

There are few populations more downtrodden that the GLBTQI community.  Harassment, violence, discrimination, rejection and religious judgement are the daily fare for many. For teens, rejection by their parents (citing religious teaching) contributes to the skyrocketing rate of suicide.  Mr. Graham, your job is to give hope not take it away.

We are, all of us, instruments of salvation history.  Our work is judged by whether we have furthered the love and grace of God in Christ or driven people away because they do not fit our definition of what it means to be “Christian.”

I hope one day you discover someone you love is gay. At that moment your dogma will collide with your love. I sincerely hope that love wins.  In the Jesus Christ whom I meet in Scripture, the last word is always “love.”

Rethinking Resurrection

Though the details vary from gospel to gospel, it is clear that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. The courage of the women who went to Jesus’ grave early on Easter morning cannot be overestimated.  Jesus’ grave was guarded; even in his death he was a threat to the political and religious systems of his day.    

The women who went to the grave were on their final errand of love. It is often in such heart break that resurrection begins. In going to the grave they bore witness to Jesus’ teaching that love is stronger than death and perfect love casts out fear. And perfect love is not love without error; it is love that trusts its source. 

There are few details given in any of the gospel accounts.  We are given just enough to discern a truth, even though it is not necessarily related to the accounts as presented.

It is a consequence of modernity that we think in linear terms. The dawn of movies and other recording equipment has changed how we understand reality.  The resurrection stories are not intended to be a movie script.  The truth of the story goes beyond the words recorded.   

The empty tomb is not the point.  The point is that somewhere along the line his followers recognized him in the faces of those he loved when he walked this earth.  They recognized him in each other’s eyes when they spoke the words he gave them and when they remembered that following Jesus on the way was the only thing that mattered.

John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey, suggests in his book, The Easter Moment,  that it was the scared and sacred sharing that transformed this group of confused women and men into a mighty witness to an even mightier truth. They recognized Christ in their midst and were strengthened by sharing a meal in Jesus’ name. 

And IN TIME they found their voices and their courage and carried on.  The truth of the resurrection became real when God’s loving power was felt in their hearts and in their gathering. Whether or not the tomb was empty is beside the point.

They heard the words and followed the simple directions from the angel, but it didn’t become real until they had some time to sit with it. We hear the words and understand them, but Easter does not become real until our own lives are transformed by it. 

Easter is a moment that changes all other moments. We don’t think too much about eternal life until someone we love dies.  We don’t think much about the promise of God’s sustaining love until we are ill and think we might die.   We may not think much about hope until it eludes us; we may not think much about joy until it returns to us on the heels of despair. 

The promise becomes real in the stuff of our own lives.  And it happens again and again as the stuff changes. 

Albert Schweitzer wrote, “To those who would follow the risen Christ, whether wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the conflicts and the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship.  And as an ineffable mystery they shall learn in their own experience who he is.” 

But Easter is never just about us. It’s also about the passions at work in Jesus’ earthly life, like his love for the ones no one else paid any attention to. Easter is about his willingness to speak truth to power and lay bare the corruption that masqueraded as faithfulness.  Jesus was all about an upside down kingdom where the last were first and the first were last.

Resurrection is at once deeply personal and totally communal. The Easter holiday is not the anniversary of an event, it is the reminder of new life born of discipleship and community.

The resurrection stories are a mix and mess of mystery and human bewilderment, and we do well to remember it is not the empty tomb that made believers of them.  It was their fellowship with one another, their shared doubt and faith, their growing awareness of his presence as they lived the life he showed them.

And so for us, Christ is present in our fragmented lives, calling us to wholeness. Christ is present in our sadness and grief, unfolding a way to healing. Christ is present in the midst of all that comes to an end, with a promise of presence and unfailing love. Christ is present in the struggle for peace, going on ahead of us to show the way. Christ is present in the yearning for justice, calling us to repentance and lives made new. Christ is present in our fear of death, calling us to the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Christ is present in our fear of life, saying follow me.

 

Rethinking Sacrifice

If you grew up within ten miles of a church, you probably heard the phrase, “Jesus died for our sins.”  The ten dollar theological word is “substitutionary atonement.”  The gist is that Jesus had to die to appease an old-pissed off-white guy-with-a-beard-god because all of humanity was so wretched. Sometimes I get the wretched humanity part.  People do some pretty awful things to each other.

The pissed off old-guy god is more problematic.  While many people think that the God of the Old Testament is all wrath and condemnation and the God of the New Testament is all love and light, both are off the mark.  First, it is all the same God. There’s only one God.  That’s one of the important things about the Judeo Christian tradition.  Second, the God portrayed in the Old Testament is the God who created all of everything and then loved it to life.  God is in everything and everyone.  All of creation is filled with the holiness of God. Our essential nature is not original sin, but original blessing (see more on original blessing in the book of the same title by Matthew Fox).  We are God’s beloved creatures. There are instances where God gets angry, but usually with pretty good reason.  Humans have done pretty awful stuff to each other.

The God portrayed in the New Testament (through Jesus) got angry and had harsh words for the Romans and the religious leaders who colluded with them.  Jesus spoke words of judgment to those who put extra burdens on the poor and marginalized people because of their social or economic standing in society.  So the God of both testaments is both angry and loving.

The notion that Jesus had to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin perpetuates two central myths that have wrought misery and destruction throughout human history: redemptive violence and redemptive suffering. 

The myth of redemptive violence undergirds the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace and that might makes right.  According to Walter Wink, it is one of the oldest and continuously repeated stories in the world.  There is a good guy and a bad guy. The good guy suffers and the bad guy appears to be winning.  The good guy eventually triumphs and everyone identifies with the good guy. Violence in this view is a means to an end; good finally triumphs over evil.

The myth of redemptive suffering essentially holds forth suffering as a means to an end; namely a means to salvation.  It holds that Jesus had to suffer and die in order to save humanity from its sin.  Just as importantly, this myth purports that suffering makes us holy.

An aside about suffering itself; it may indeed be a consequence of the life of faith. The powers of the world are still deaf to the message of justice and peace that Jesus and every prophet from every age brought to the people.  The kind of suffering talked about in the bible is suffering because of faith and conviction, and it does not make one holy, it means one suffers. It does NOT mean suffering at the hand of another in an abusive relationship or suffering in an abusive family or work environment. It does not mean suffering brought on by unmet medical needs or symptoms, suffering brought on by any kind of privation or suffering in any of the countless ways humans find to bring pain to their sisters and brothers.

There is nothing holy about suffering. 

I do not believe it was God’s will for Jesus to die. I do not believe his death was necessary to appease God in any way.  I do not believe Jesus’ death does anything except expose the unjust and corrupt power systems that have always run the world.

The death of Jesus was and always will be a tragedy.  Jesus was crucified because he dared to speak truth to power.  He dared to stand apart from the dominant culture and speak a prophetic word about God. Jesus’ death was not a means to an end for us or any previous generation. It was an unspeakable act of violence committed by frightened and fearful leaders who sought to silence the voice that exposed their greed.

So, perhaps it is time for us to rethink the whole notion of sacrifice and violence and what they mean.  Perhaps we can see that Jesus’ death and suffering was a tragedy played out at the expense of an innocent man who refused to back down from his deeply held convictions.  Would that our convictions were so deep. 

An Open Letter to Mr. Trump

Dear Mr Trump

Last week in my blog I called you a bloviating buffoon. You can look up the words if you don’t know what they mean.  I am a name caller.  I’m not proud of it, but there it is.  When I was in grade school I called the classmates I didn’t like “poopy heads.”  As an adult I have a far more colorful, if not always appropriate, lexicon at my disposal.  And if the truth be told, that lexicon is most frequently used in relationship to you.  I will spare you the details. I acknowledge, however, that name calling is a juvenile way to address differences and does nothing to further understanding between people who disagree.

In my Lenten discipline this year I have spent some time rooting around in seldom explored recesses of my inner being. Along the way I discovered that I was missing one of the central tenets of my faith, to love all people. Even the ones I don’t like.  So, at this late date in Lent I am making an effort to love you.  To do this I must get connected to God’s love in me. Left on my own, I’m not sure how it would go. Gratefully, we are all conduits for God’s love in the world.  If I am unable to feel love toward you, it is because something is amiss in my relationship with God.

Mr. Trump, you are a beloved child of God.  You are a unique and unrepeatable human being, made in the image of God.  So I am going to delve inside myself and see if I can connect deeply enough with God to feel God-like love toward you.  I cannot continue to call you names and express love toward you at the same time. So, I am signing off on the name calling.

In the Christian faith, however, behavior does not get a free pass.  Without losing sight of you as a beloved child, I will continue to resist most everything you stand for. 

We learned under President Reagan that trickle-down economics does not work. Corporations that receive tax breaks do not pass them on to consumers or to workers.  They line their share holders’ pockets. Tax breaks for the rich, when so many struggle to make ends meet, is nothing short of evil.  In the New Testament Jesus’ most frequent clashes were with the wealthy.  History repeats itself again and again.  We are seeing such a repeat in your performance as president.

Trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and making health insurance beyond the reach of the working poor helps assure a permanent underclass of workers in our country. We are the only developed nation where the number one cause of bankruptcy is health care.

The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation and the rising cost of living. This is morally wrong, but it makes money for the company. Those who work full time should be paid a living wage.

Many of your policies are disastrous for our planet. Dumping mining waste into waterways, burning more coal and constructing more coal plants are ecologically unsustainable. You may not personally believe in climate change, but that doesn’t mean the science is wrong.  Your uninformed opinion puts the entire planet at risk.  By surrounding yourself with people who are as uninformed as you are, you insulate yourself from truths that do not suit your purposes.

Your belittling of women, minorities, the differently abled and those of differing religions is morally reprehensible.  I believe that your behavior has pulled the plug on social decency and allowed the worst of human behavior to come to the fore in increased misogyny, hypocrisy, racism and bigotry.  People tend to follow the leader.

I am appalled at the number of children who have been separated by their parents at the Mexico/US border.  Many of them may never be reunited with their parents. As a country of immigrants, the anti-immigrant sentiment you embody empowers people to continue to hate and mistrust people who are different.  The United States is not “full” as you claim.  We have a broken immigration system that you, your administration and the political gridlock of our elected representatives are doing nothing to fix.  Instead, you are spending billions of dollars to build a ridiculous wall when that money would be better spent providing immigration attorneys at the border to help people.   

I sincerely doubt that you will ever see this letter and I further doubt that if you did, it would make any difference. Rather, I have some inner repairing to do so I have clarity about what it means to be a person of faith in this time.  I believe speaking truth to power is one of the most profound needs of our time.  I am taking my place as one who tries to do just that while resisting the temptation to name call. 

With Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, I believe that the “essential work of justice is figuring out what belongs to whom, and giving it back.”  This does not bode well for the United States. The day of reckoning that you and our broken political system are putting into motion will not be pretty.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.…”

Charles Dickens’ historical novel, a Tale of Two Cities, centers on the years leading up to the French Revolution and culminates in the Jacobin Reign of Terror.  These words could just as easily be written about this current time.

Companies are now free to dump mining waste into waterways. Hundreds of Mexican children are still held in detention and may never be reunited with their parents. Mitch McConnell. Our nation has the largest federal debt in history. White Nationalism is on the rise. Betsy DeVos cut all funding to Special Olympics. The occupant. His cronies are crooked and conniving snakes. Trickle-down economics is once again being shown to victimize the poor. Rick Scott, who was at the helm when Columbia Healthcare perpetrated the largest fraud in Medicare history, is now overseeing healthcare reform. Hatred of immigrants is on the rise. Companies are drilling for oil in pristine areas where drilling should never happen. The bloviating buffoon occupant and the evil Senate majority leader continue to lead this country down a path of destruction to our republic.

On the other hand, there is a Pope who encourages us to build bridges instead of walls. A stranger smiled at me and said, “Good morning.”  I smiled at a stranger and said, “Good morning.” Bears are coming out of hibernation. The organization, Pearls, gives stuffed dolls to Alzheimer’s patients for comfort. Luxembourg just made all its public transportation free. “I love Lucy” reruns can still be found on TV. A mother wrote messages of encouragement on pencils and her son distributed them to his classmates. A fat robin red breast landed on the railing of our deck this morning. Adam Schiff presented his convictions about Russian collusion in the election and proved himself to be one politician who has the stones to do what is right. Craig and Danica Shoji retrofitted a trailer with showers to make bathing available to homeless people. Iceland elected an environmentalist as Prime Minister. Addiction rates, deaths and overdoses plummeted in Portugal after decriminalizing all drugs and making it a medical issue instead of a moral one. Norway banned deforestation. Women are speaking their truths in the face of growing sexism. Mary Oliver’s poetry is still fresh and nurturing. The freshmen class of legislators are speaking truth to power and making waves. An April shower watered the daffodils yesterday.   

Life is messy.  What we see depends on where we look. There is plenty to make us pessimistic about the present and the future.  There is plenty to make us joyful in the moment.  There is disillusionment enough to bring tears daily. There is beauty enough to balance the despair. There is darkness a-plenty in every corner of the world.  We all have sacred light within us to shine in this darkness.  The world gradually becomes a better place when the light that is in me greets the light that is in you. 

Continuing to resist and speak words of love in the midst of rising hate and intolerance depends on balance.  Resisting the constant pull of despair depends on feeding the voice that needs to be heard in these days. We cannot wait for the world to be transformed from the top down.  We begin to transform the world when we stop acting out of despair. Appreciating a sunrise, listening to the music we love, seeking out the laughter of children and feeling fabulously small next to the vastness of the ocean can feed our souls when we are sinking into discouragement. Doing whatever feeds our innermost being is crucial to staying in the resistance and not succumbing to exhaustion and despair. 

Love has the last word when love is the last word we speak.  Kindness is the final action when we are finally kind.  Justice is the defining action when we are just in our dealings.  Grace has the final word when grace is what we finally embody.  All of our actions are sacred when we realize that all our actions are sacred.   

“Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Frederick Beuchner

Shining a Light on Human Trafficking

The simplest definition of human trafficking is “stealing freedom for profit.”  It is the motto of the Polaris Project, a leading national resource for information and intervention.  Visit their website Polaris Project. The non-profit project is named for Polaris, the star that guided slaves to freedom at an earlier time in US history.

It is clear that slavery is alive, well, and living not only in the United States but around the world.  Various resources cite human trafficking as either the second or third largest criminal enterprise in the world. Due to the difficulty of gathering accurate data, estimates on the number of individuals trafficked per year is somewhere between 25 and 40 million. It is estimated that as many as half of the victims are male, with GBTQ boys being at highest risk. Young girls and boys are also at high risk for sexual slavery.

Not all victims are trafficked from other countries.  Homeless and economically vulnerable children and young adults are also at risk. Individuals can be trafficked in their own home towns and cities.  They are trafficked by friends, family members, romantic partners and even parents.  They are essentially “sold” into indentured servanthood, forced marriage, sexual slavery and untenable employment situations, to name a few.

It is commonly assumed that trafficking means that victims are moved from place to place. It is true in some cases. For example, trafficked sex slaves are often transported to areas where large sporting events are scheduled, such as the Super Bowl and NCAA tournaments. Delta Airline has trained some 60,000 of their employees to spot the signs of sex trafficking. Other transportation services are slowly following suit.  However, many trafficked slaves stay in one place throughout their servitude. 

Most victims are prohibited from leaving their handlers. However, even if they are not forcibly held in their servitude, they may lack the basic physical resources to escape.  Some have been so manipulated they fear for their safety or the safety of their children/family.  Others are so traumatized they are no longer able to realize they are under another’s control.

Sexual exploitation is one form of human trafficking and includes sexual slavery, prostitution and forced marriage, to name a few.  Other forms of human trafficking are found in the hospitality industry, restaurants, cleaning services, construction and factory work.  Legitimate businesses are the front for trafficked individuals, a source of free or cheap labor. For a map of trafficking in the US and the top industries for trafficking click here. Trafficking also includes forced tissue and organ removal, e.g. kidneys.  For women it includes forced harvesting of ova and surrogacy.

Human trafficking is happening in every city in every state in the United States.  It is happening in small towns and suburbs.  There are an estimated 40,000 trafficked human beings in the United States.  In 2017 the Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that one in seven endangered runaways were likely sex trafficking victims. Human trafficking is an invisible and often silent crime that no one wants to talk about. 

Education, awareness and willingness to get involved by reporting suspected trafficking is a first step to aiding federal and international agencies working to end trafficking. The national hotline for Human Trafficking is 1-888-373-7888.  You can learn more about human trafficking by visiting the Polaris website at Polaris Project. org

Some of the signs of trafficking include, but are not limited to:

  • Appearance of undernourishment
  • For children of school age, sudden prolonged absence
  • Use of scripted responses in social interaction
  • Fear of authority figures
  • Absence of identification or lack of official documents
  • Lack of personal possessions
  • Limited freedom of movement
  • Low or no wages for work
  • Unusually long work hours under oppressive conditions
  • Large debt, especially for foreign victims who were lured by the promise of a better life
  • Living and working at the same place

In the Judeo-Christian tradition the poor and the vulnerable are among those for whom society as a whole is called to be concerned and to act.  There is no shortage of vulnerable populations in our exploitative economy. Our national economy is rigged to benefit the rich and victimize the poor. 

It is said that the humanity of a society is visible in how it treats its most vulnerable members.  While the occupant may say the United States is the greatest country in the world, and in many ways it is, we are getting a failing grade when it comes to the poor and vulnerable. Greed appears to be one of the most pernicious of sins in our culture and in our world.

Exploiting persons’ dreams for a better life is unconscionable. Taking advantage of someone’s abject vulnerability, poverty or lack of social resources is how many innocent victims land in the clenches of ruthless traffickers.

It is easy to feel helpless, like we often do with so many social ills; but change begins with awareness of the crisis of human trafficking. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms. Support agencies that provide services to the poor and needy. Report suspicions to the authorities. The worst that can happen is that employers may be embarrassed and inconvenienced.  You also might save a life. The trade-off is worth it.

In so many areas of our society the mantra is, “If you see something, say something.”  It works here too.

Striking a Nerve

Last week, in response to my blog on anti-Muslim bigotry, one reader called me a “piece of shit.”  Another reader told me to “crawl back under my rock” and left emoticons of a pile of feces and an angry face. Another reader told me to “shut the fuck up.” And this was before the tragic mass murder of Muslims in prayer at two different mosques in New Zealand.

They prove my point.  Clearly I struck a nerve, and that was my intent.  Their comments illustrate precisely the kind of anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades so much of this country.  We can’t control our trade deficit but we have no problem exporting hatred and intolerance.

The truth is there is religious intolerance and terrorism in every religious tradition. Christianity is no exception. More murder and mayhem have been created through the years because of religions than just about anything else.  In times of social uncertainty and change, religious extremism grows.    

Hatred and intolerance also take root in resistance to change.  In the instance of religious intolerance in the United States there is a deep misunderstanding of our own history. Many are under the mistaken notion that the United States was founded as a Christian country, and all other religions that have come into our midst are less than.  I am not aware that moral superiority is a Christian virtue, but perhaps I was absent that day in seminary. 

A more accurate reading of our history is that this nation was founded, in part, as a refuge for those being religiously persecuted in their country of origin.  They migrated to the New World because there was a promise of religious freedom. Later, a constitutionally guaranteed right to practice the religion of one’s choice was added.

Make no mistake; this country was also founded on the hope of greater economic opportunity for merchants. They extorted goods from Native peoples for a fraction of what the goods were worth and made a profit in Europe. New trade routes went through the new world and created unprecedented wealth for merchants.

Our religious and economic history is not as pure as we would like to believe.

Despite the premise of freedom of religion, every religious tradition that has entered this country since its founding has faced the same kind of religious persecution our founders were fleeing when they came to the New World.  It was illegal to NOT be a church member in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  People like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for having the audacity to challenge the religious leaders.  Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and South Carolina maintained established churches that prohibited the founding of other religious communities.  Jews were prevented from voting and engaging in certain professions. This history has been repeated with the influx of black slaves, Catholics and today with Muslims. 

Our guaranteed religious freedom drips with irony.

A deeper issue is that change generates fear.  It makes us feel out of control.  If things change we may be left behind.  It is a well-known fact that whites and Christians (such as they are) will be the minority in the United States within a few generations.  This will mean changes for those of us who have enjoyed unmitigated privilege, few checks on the use of power, and control of the economy.  Our lack of awareness about our privilege and power does not absolve us of the responsibility for the pain it creates in the lives of others. It just makes us more fearful of inevitable change.

Free market capitalism depends on a permanent underclass of workers who receive substandard wages. No one wants to pay $6.00 a pound for tomatoes so that those picking the tomatoes receive a living wage. There is a pervasive notion that “I was here first and I have all I need, too bad for you.” Our resistance to change is all about what we fear we will lose.  Our resistance to a new vision for our nation as a diverse group of people living in harmony is rooted in our fear and our deep sense of entitlement.

As a result we are increasingly defensive.  We listen to reply, not to understand.  We are ready to criticize others and defend the superiority of our own position. We speak without understanding our own national history or the history of those who are seeking shelter and solace on our shores.

Change is coming; we can listen, seek to understand, learn compassion and reach across differences. Or we can wait for the brick that is going to hit us square in the head if we don’t pay attention to the signs of the times. 

What We Have Forgotten

Religious bigotry, specifically anti-Islam religious bigotry, has been on the rise since the terrorist attacks of 2011. The recent election of the first two Muslim women to the House of Representatives has further kindled American prejudice toward the religion of Islam and its adherents.

From the outset it is important to say that the small group of well-organized, well-heeled terrorists responsible for the attacks on our country is not representative of the Islamic tradition.  As I have said before, these extremists no more represent Islam than the Ku Klux Clan represents Christianity.  It is just that simple.  Read the Koran and get back to me.  If you think the Koran is only about violence, read the Old Testament and get back to me. The Bible is no more or less violent than the Koran. There are religious extremists in every tradition and they do not speak the truth and essence of that tradition.  Get educated.  Until then, don’t contribute to the bigotry and misunderstanding.  Don’t fan the flames of intolerance and ignorance.

Ilhan Omar (Representative from Minnesota’s fifth district) is facing ongoing criticism for her comments about Israel.  It is all but impossible for anyone to say anything even remotely critical about Israel without all kinds of people climbing down their throats.  Her comments were not anti-Semitic, they were critical.  Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews.  There is a vast difference between being critical and being anti-Semitic.

In the state of West Virginia a poster appeared in the state house depicting Ilhan Omar superimposed on a picture of the burning Twin Towers.  The caption read, “We have forgotten.” Most Republicans and many Democrats have remained silent. It is reprehensible.  Religious bigotry is alive and well in West Virginia.

Yes, we have forgotten.  We have forgotten:

  • Freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right.
  • Ilhan Omar was legitimately elected as a representative from the state of Minnesota.
  • Bigotry is a pernicious and divisive reality wherever it raises its ugly head.
  • Our representatives must be held to a higher standard and not fall prey to the lowest fears and prejudices of a minority.
  • It is the responsibility of each and every resident of this country and the leaders who represent them to stand against the rising tide of intolerance or blind loyalty.
  • The religious right is neither religious nor right. They do not follow the tenets of Christianity and there is nothing right about their positions of hatred and bigotry.

It is troubling to see the social media posts that depict these Muslim representatives as some sort of predictor of the failure of our Republic.  Truth be told, we are in far more danger from the occupant and his anti-America rhetoric wrapped up in the flag with a side of apple pie.

We are in far more danger from the fear mongering in which some of our government representatives traffic. It undermines the very fabric of our culture. 

The risk of creating constant win/lose propositions weakens our ability to deal with the complicated nature of our social, political and religious reality.  We are desperately in need of peacemakers and bridge builders who can reach across divergent perspectives and create common ground.

The deep divisions of our nation create a social and political brittleness that will not withstand the ridiculous foreign policy of the occupant. Nor will it withstand his corrupt business dealings which line the pockets of his associates. There are many things that are legal, but are not moral or ethical.

By fanning the flames of intolerance in any arena, not just religious, this nation builds a platform on rotted timber.  It is hard to say what it will look like when our nation collapses under the weight of its own institutional evil, but it will not be pretty.  What is guaranteed is that the poor, those most in need and those in minority religious traditions will pay the greatest price.  What is a surety is that fear and hatred will lead the way as this country tries desperately to remain “white” to the exclusion of all others.

We are a fast declining society.  Threats against our increasingly diverse Representatives in Congress are at the top of a very slippery slope.

The Cutting Edge of Obsolescence

In a devastating vote, The United Methodist Church tightened its ban on LGBTQ clergy and upheld a ban on clergy officiating at same sex weddings.  It has left a deeply divided and deeply wounded church. In a 438-384 vote the “traditional plan” won. Fifty-four people decided the fate of an entire denomination.

The traditional plan is the most restrictive of all the options.  It requires strict adherence to the Book of Discipline, the guiding document in all things United Methodist. It states the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  First infractions would result in a year suspension without salary and a second infraction would mean surrendering credentials.  Bishops are now required to certify their adherence to the Discipline.  Those who do not comply will no longer receive compensation after 2021.  Annual Conferences that do not comply will be prohibited from using the United Methodist Logo and identifying as United Methodist after 2020.  This plan doesn’t mince words. 

On the heels of the vote, no one was celebrating.  By all accounts, the “winners” were gracious.  It is little consolation.  I wonder if there was some gloating masquerading as piety and prejudice masquerading as religious moralism. One African leader commented that he could go home to the churches and report that the bible hasn’t changed. 

Yes, it’s true the bible hasn’t changed.  It is still the most radical and loving document Christians have to guide their behavior. The bible is the book where the truth of Jesus is most fully recorded.  He never turned anyone away.  He ate with sinners and tax collectors (code language for the worst of the worst).  He touched lepers and healed the woman with the flow of blood.  These were acts of radical restoration to community. Their status as outcasts was ended and they were welcomed back into their own folds. 

The bible hasn’t changed.  It still demands that we read it and read it whole.  We cannot ignore the parts we don’t like and cherry pick verses that happen to support our particular position.  This is something every permutation of Christianity does, and it is not helpful.  The bible, in its entirety is the story of God’s eternal love affair with creation and all things human.  Through all the ups and downs of the stories related between its covers, the unrelenting love and grace of God remains unchanged and unchangeable.    

In the aftermath of the vote there is much talk of schism (a church split) and people taking their exit from the church.  These are people who have been in this fight for a long time and are finally giving up, feeling their church has betrayed them or is betraying the gospel.

It is a thorny issue faced by the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians before them. Welcoming LGBTQ clergy and members is the most divisive issue in all of Christianity.  As mainline churches across the country are losing members and influence, the issue becomes even more charged.  Conservatives say openness will not attract new worshippers. Progressives say it will. In the midst of it all, more and more Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Many cite the hypocrisy of the church as a turn off to participation.  As churches struggle to attract younger members, a specifically anti LGBTQ stance won’t help. Young Americans who increasingly support LGBTQ rights are unlikely to affiliate with a church that so vehemently rejects this population. 

Mainline churches cannot afford to become any more anachronistic than they already are.  By voting to exclude this population the United Methodist church has placed itself on the cutting edge of obsolescence.  By catering to an aging population and a “traditional” approach to “doing church,” their narrowness and bigotry has become enshrined for all the world to see. 

There is nothing traditional about rejecting an entire population, oppressing those who are already oppressed and turning a blind eye to the injustice of it all. It surely does not stand in the tradition of Jesus.  And isn’t this what the Christian church is supposed to be about?