Monday, November 23, 2015

“Jesus was a Refugee”: An Irrelevant Argument

The massive right-wing opposition to the U.S. receiving Syrian refugees is deplorable, and those speaking out in favor of showing compassion for such refugees are to be commended. It is also praiseworthy that many of the latter are Christians, even though there are plenty of conservative Christians on the other side.
 However, the use of “Jesus was a refugee” memes is of dubious value in promoting acceptance of Syrian refugees. Jesus and his parents were not from a country that posed a terrorist threat to Egypt, nor were they among tens of thousands who were seeking refuge in Egypt.
 There are plenty of Christian motives for helping the Syrian refugees, though, the primary one being neighbor-love. Reaching out in compassion to those needing help is to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus. Shouldn’t it be far more effective to stress that teaching rather than talking about Jesus being a refugee?

The fears of the conservatives need to be taken seriously, and making fun of their xenophobia will have little positive value. The terrorist activity of ISIS and Al-Qaeda has been atrocious, and we certainly don’t want people associated with them or other similarly heinous groups to enter our country.
 But rather than trying to shame people wanting to reject Syrian refugees by pointing out that Jesus was a refugee, it would surely be more effective to help people understand how difficult and time consuming it is for refugees, especially those from Syria and other Near Eastern countries, to get permission to reside in this country.
 It would be far easier, and much quicker, for terrorists to enter the country on a tourist visa (perhaps with a counterfeit passport) than to locate here as a refugee. Here is how a recent article puts it:
Non-refugees have carried out all terrorist attacks over the past 35 years. That means they used other means to arrive in the U.S. All of the 9/11 hijackers used student or tourist visas. These visas are much easier and faster to obtain than refugee status, which takes up to two years and requires a multi-stage vetting process and U.N. referral. Refugee status is the single most difficult way to come to the U.S. It makes no sense for a terrorist to try to use the resettlement process for an attack.
The article cited is titled “Six Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees After Paris,” and it is worth reading in its entirety. (It surprising that this is on the website of the libertarian Niskanen Center, named after William (Bill) Niskanen, who served from 1985 to 2008 as chairman of the Cato Institute founded by Charles Koch.)
 One can’t help but think that much of the anti-refugee rhetoric and action is primarily because of anti-Obama sentiment. Still, the statements by Republican governors, and other GOP leaders, tend to have considerable influence upon conservative Christians, especially in the South.
 But, thankfully, some conservative Christians have spoken up in favor of compassionate acceptance of refugees. Among them are Russell Moore (in this 11/19 Washington Post article), with whom I have disagreed in previous blog articles. (For example, see this link.)
 Yes, there are plenty of reasons why we in the U.S. should be compassion toward, and accepting of, Syrian refugees. Pointing out that Jesus was a refugee is not one of them.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Observing TDoR

So, are you observing TDoR today?
Oh, maybe you don’t know what TDoR is. Well, neither did I until quite recently. But it seems to be something worth knowing about and thinking about.
TDoR stands for Transgender Day of Remembrance. It has been an annual observance on November 20 for several years now.
TDoR was begun in November 1999 as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a 34-year-old trans woman who was mysteriously found murdered inside her first floor apartment outside of Boston on Nov. 28, 1998.
The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence that year—and that has been the same for each year since. So far this year, there have been at least 21 transgender people murdered in the U.S. (Check out this article from the Human Rights Campaign.)
There will be TDoR events today all over the U.S.—and in a few other countries as well. I plan to attend the one being held this evening on the campus of the University of Arizona.
In addition to the numerous murders, there is also an extremely high rate of suicide, or attempted suicide, of trans people.
According to an August article in USA Today, “Suicide attempts are alarmingly common among transgender individuals . . . 41% try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6% of the general public.”
So TDoR should be a time of remembrance not only for those who were murdered but also for those who committed suicide because of being bullied, teased, ridiculed, and/or rejected—and many are rejected even by their own parents.
According to National Center for Transgender Equality (see this link), “one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.”
In this article, a trans man, talking about the suicide of a high school trans person last December, acknowledges “his own childhood experiences of rejection by parents, church community, and religious leaders.”
So I come back to the book I mentioned in my previous blog article, “Al Mohler’s We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong.
Mohler is not only against same-sex marriage but very negative toward acceptance of transgender people also. His fifth chapter is titled “The Transgender Revolution,” which he opposes, of course.
In that chapter, Mohler cites Denny Burk, a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), who co-authored the resolution “On Transgender Identity” that the Southern Baptist Convention passed in June of last year.
That resolution, which passed with little discussion, expresses opposition to any form of physical gender transition, as well as any governmental or cultural validations of transgender identities.
It seems to me that what Mohler and Southern Baptists as well as many other conservative evangelicals write and say about transgender people just exacerbates the mistreatment of such people.
But the U.S. House of Representatives is speaking up. On Tuesday of this week they launched a task force dedicated to issues of transgender equality. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) will chair the new group. That afternoon they also held the first-ever forum on transgender issues.
According to this article, “The violence against the transgender community is a national crisis,” Honda said. “Far too often, they face harassment, discrimination or violence for simply being who they are. . . . After 21 deaths of transgender individuals because of violence this year alone, Congress must take notice and act.”
Today, TDoR, is a good time to affirm and support trans people.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Is Legalized Polygamy Next?

The Bible reading at the first church service June and I attended in Tucson last month (at Shalom Mennonite Fellowship) was Genesis 32:22-32. That passage begins, “Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water.”
Those verses go on to tell how Jacob had his name changed to Israel. Thus, he became the patriarch of “the children of Israel” in the Old Testament—and the progenitor of the modern nation of Israel.
Conservative Christians, among others, are strong supporters and defenders of modern Israel, for they are considered the people uniquely chosen by God.
But what about Jacob’s (Israel’s) two wives and two “women servants” who also bore him children?
Since, as is claimed, Jacob/Israel was especially chosen by God, along with the twelve tribes of Israel (descendants of Jacob’s/Israel’s sons born by his four wives/servants), is this not ample biblical justification for polygamy?
So, can’t the Old Testament be legitimately used to support legalization of polygamy?
Moreover, doesn’t the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage suggest that the legalization of polygamy may be coming down the pike?
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler has just authored a new book, published late last month. Under the title “We Cannot Be Silent,” Mohler writes how it is imperative for Christians to speak out against same-sex marriage and other related LBGT issues.
In the second chapter of his book Mohler writes:
Once marriage can mean anything other than a heterosexual union, it can and must eventually mean everything—from polygamy to any number of other deviations from traditional marriage (p. 31).
In commenting on observations made by Chief Justice Roberts concerning the recent legalizing of same-sex marriage by the SCOTUS, Mohler contends that that decision “opens wide a door that basically invites looming demands for the legalization of polygamy and polyamory” (p. 181).
He also avers, “You can count on the fact that advocates for legalized polygamy found great encouragement in this decision” (ibid.).
It seems a bit odd, however, for someone who because of his literal interpretation of the Bible takes such a strong stance against same-sex marriage and full acceptance of LGBT to be so strongly opposed to polygamy.
At the top of the home page of their website, says that they are, “A resource for proving that Polygamy really IS Biblical.” And Jacob, “father of the twelve patriarchs of the tribes of Israel,” is given as one of the prime examples of “polygamists in the Bible.”
The Old Testament argument for polygamy is far stronger than the argument of Mohler and others against same-sex marriage. Other than being related to sex, there is little similarity between being a gay/lesbian and choosing to be in a polygamist relationship.
Homosexuality (in distinction from some homosexual activity) seems clearly to be an innate orientation, a way some people are “hardwired.”
But while there may be strong sexual drives toward having multiple wives (or husbands, in some cases)—just as there are such drives for some, evidently, toward engaging in adultery or pedophilia—there is no way polygamy can be considered an innate orientation.
As I wrote a year and a half ago in a prior article about this subject (here), I am not in the least advocating polygamy. But I do think there is far more biblical support for polygamy than there is for opposition to sexual relations between same-sex adults.
And the legalization of the latter in no way leads logically to the legalization of polygamy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Another Good Candidate for the New $10 Bill

A couple of months ago I suggested (here) that Jane Addams would be a good choice for the new $10 bill, which will have a woman’s picture on it. This article is about another woman who is also a strong candidate for the proposed new bill to be released in 2020.

 Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an outstanding 19th century woman who perhaps is not widely known today. But she was a woman of considerable ability and significance, so she certainly would not be a bad choice for the woman to appear on the new $10 bill.

 Elizabeth Cady was born 200 years ago this week, on November 12, 1815. She died in 1902, less than three weeks before her 87th birthday. Her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, was published five years before her death and tells much about her remarkable life.

 At the time of her birth, Elizabeth’s father, a lawyer in New York, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a young woman, discussing legal matters with her father and reading his law books caused Elizabeth to realize how disproportionately the law favored men over women—and particularly over married women.

 Seeking to change such laws became one of her main goals in life.

 In 1840, Elizabeth married Henry Stanton, a journalist who later studied law under his father-in-law and who also became a lawyer. The Stantons became the parents of seven children between 1842 and 1859.

 In spite of having a large family—and she seems to have been a good mother—Elizabeth Stanton spent much of her life working for social causes. She was an abolitionist and also a very active member of the temperance movement, working against what she saw as the evils of alcohol.

 But she became best known as a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

 Elizabeth’s first involvement in the women’s movement was in 1848. The Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, was held in July of that year. It was organized by Quaker women in Seneca Falls, New York, and by Elizabeth who was not a Quaker. (She and Henry had moved to Seneca Falls, New York, in 1847.)

 She was the main author of “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document presented to that convention. It includes these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal” (emphasis added).

 Elizabeth met Susan B. Anthony in 1851, and they became lifelong friends and staunch colleagues in the women’s movement. (Anthony might be even a stronger candidate than Stanton for the new $10 bill, but her image already appears on the little used one dollar coin, first minted in 1979.)

 The Woman’s Bible is a two-part book written by Elizabeth and a committee of 26 women. The first volume was published in 1895, the year Elizabeth turned 80, and the second volume in 1898. It was written mainly to challenge the traditional position of religious orthodoxy that women should be subservient to men.

 Elizabeth wrote the first essay, which was about Genesis 1:26-28. Her conclusion: “The above texts plainly show the simultaneous creation of man and woman, and their equal importance in the development of the race” (p. 8).

 To this day most people seem to emphasize the second chapter of Genesis, where Eve is created from Adam’s rib and considered his “helpmeet” (from a misunderstanding of Genesis 2:20).

 What a shame that so many today do not have as good an understanding of the Bible as Elizabeth Cady Stanton had 120 years ago!