Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The 14th Amendment, the “Second Constitution”

To state the obvious, race relations in the U.S. are not good at the present time. The shootings of two black men by police officers and the “revenge shootings” this month of on-duty police officers in Dallas and Baton Rogue are indicative of the racial tensions within the country.
As bad as things are, however, they are not nearly as bad as they were 150 years ago, in 1866. And largely because of what Congress did in June of that year, things are much better now than they were then—in spite of lingering problems.
My July 5, 2013, blog article was titled “Celebrating the Ninth of July” (see here), and it was largely about the ratification of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution on that date in 1868. But I know a lot more about that amendment now than I did then.
I know more now largely because of reading the detailed book by Garrett Epps, Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America (2006).
Epps’s highly regarded book describes the torturous path toward drafting the 14th amendment and getting it passed in June 1866. The Senate passed the new amendment by a vote of 33 to 11 on June 8 and five days later the House of Representatives passed it with a vote of 120 to 32.
Regarding the latter vote, Epps points out that no Democratic voted for it and no Republican voted against it (p. 239). (As I keep pointing out, today the positions of the two parties are completely reversed.)
The new amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed by the 13th amendment. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Connecticut promptly ratified the proposed amendment on June 30, followed by New Hampshire on July 6. Somewhat surprisingly, Tennessee, one of the states that seceded, was the third state to ratify the new amendment—and it was the only southern state to ratify it until forced to do so.
Since the other former Confederate states refused to ratify the amendment, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, which imposed military government on those states until new civil governments were established and which also declared that each former Confederate state must ratify the 14th amendment before “said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress.”
So, finally, the 14th amendment to the Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868, and that was of great significance—although much of it was not implemented fully for nearly 100 years.  

Even though a part of the deliberations about the 14th amendment, voting rights for black men were not granted until the ratification of the 15th amendment in 1870. And although discussed in connection with both the 14th and 15th amendments, voting rights for women of any color were not granted until 1920!
Still, in the words of Wake Forest University law professor James E. Bond, “The fourteenth amendment is a second American Constitution, the ‘new birth of freedom’ for which Lincoln had prayed at Gettysburg” (see here).
It was not, however, until the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the SCOTUS in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that provisions of the 14th amendment were implemented for many African-American citizens.

And, sadly, now more than 50 years later racial discrepancies still persist. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

What about Pence for VP?


Donald Trump was scheduled to announce his pick for a running mate this morning, but that has reportedly been postponed. Assuming Trump will be confirmed as the Republican nominee in Cleveland next week, the person he announces, whenever that is, will become the nominee for Vice President.

Although he may surprise many people, including me, Trump will most likely announce Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his VP choice. And this seems to be a good pick, better than the others said to be on his short list.

Yesterday the Washington Post posted an online article titled “Mike Pence is everything Donald Trump is not.” The article is by Andrew Downs, director of the non-partisan Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University. 

In Downs’s opinion, Pence would balance the Republican ticket in almost every way. I think that is an accurate assessment.

Quite clearly, Pence is at least many of the things Trump is not: youngish (he turned 57 in June just a week before Trump turned 70), the husband of one wife (as opposed to Trump’s three wives), an articulate speaker (here is the C-Span link to this year’s “State of the State” address), and a seasoned politician with 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and now in his fourth year as a state governor.

In addition, while Trump’s Christian, and especially his evangelical, credentials are somewhat questionable, Pence is clearly a committed Christian believer. He self-identifies as a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—and “in that order,” he says.

Pence was raised Catholic, but in the spring of 1978, while in college and still 18, he had a deep spiritual conversion that eventually led him to become an evangelical Christian.

He was also a Democrat when a young man. In 1980 when he voted in his first presidential election at age 21, he voted for Jimmy Carter.

Pence as the VP candidate should help Trump snare most of the white evangelical vote—although a Pew Research article posted yesterday indicated that already 78% of such registered voters would vote for Trump—5% more than said at this time four years ago that they would vote for Romney.

He has been called “a favorite hard-core conservative.” He takes a very strong anti-abortion rights position and in 2011 he led the federal government to the brink of shutdown in a failed attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

Pence is also strongly anti-gay and was a supporter of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana—at least until it became necessary for him to waffle because of economic considerations.

He signed RFRA on March 26, 2015, and there was an outcry that the bill was discriminatory against gays and lesbians. So a week later he signed a bill that acted as an amendment intending to protect LGBT people.

Signing the first bill angered many Hoosiers who are not evangelicals, and signing the second bill angered many who are conservative Christians. Partly because of that issue, Pence doesn’t have a high approval rating in Indiana at this time (only about 40%).

Last week at the Dearborn [Mo.] Christian Church I led the adult Sunday School class discussion about “Christians and the 2016 elections.” One woman remarked that she thinks it is important for people to consider carefully who the candidates for Vice President are as well as who the nominees for President are. I agree.

Even though I wouldn’t vote for Trump regardless of who he picked for VP, Governor Pence is probably a good choice for the Republican Party.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sorry, Miguel, But Jesus Was a PaciFIST

Miguel De La Torre is Professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. He is a brilliant scholar, prolific author, and past president of the Society of Christian Ethics.
Mainly because he was a Ph.D. student at Temple University at the same time as my daughter Karen, he has become a personal acquaintance and Thinking Friend. (Karen’s essay “Feminist Theology” is one chapter in Handbook of U.S. Theologies of Liberation, a 2004 book edited by Miguel.)
Last month Miguel wrote an opinion article for Baptist News Global (see here) entitled “Jesus, The Man of Violence.” In the first paragraph he writes: “. . . intellectual honesty forces me to recognize that Jesus was no pacifist.”
I’m sorry to say, though, that I found Miguel’s arguments for Jesus’ non-pacifism unpersuasive. I agree with his saying that “Jesus was a troublemaker, instigator or conflict, disrupter of unity.” But is that antithetical to his being a pacifist?
A few weeks ago my pastor spoke briefly about this issue in a sermon. She emphasized, that pacifism does not mean, or necessarily embrace, passivism. She used her former church’s basketball team as an example.
PaciFISTS was the name used by the women’s team of Bethel College Mennonite Church. Here is a picture of her jersey:  

Pacifism does not mean passive resignation to an undesirable status quo. (Somehow, Miguel seems to have overlooked that point.) Pacifists can, and should, stand up and “fight” against opponents—just like Pastor Ruth’s energetic, competitive basketball team, the PaciFISTS, did.
This stance hasn’t always been emphasized in Mennonite churches. But what some call (correctly, I think) Neo-Anabaptism has made an important shift from traditional passive non-resistance to active, non-violent resistance. The latter is the position of paciFISTS.
And that seems to be the stance Jesus took.
Last month the second edition of Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by David P. Gushee and the late Glen H. Stassen was published. (It is now a whopping 550 pages.) They state, “For the first three hundred years of the Christian movement, the church was almost unanimously pacifist” (p. 317).
Why did Christians take that stance for so long, if they didn’t get it from Jesus?
Miguel says “it would be simplistic to argue that [Jesus] was a pacifist.” But isn’t it historically inaccurate to argue that he wasn’t? Or was his position just misunderstood for the first 300 years?
Miguel also says that “pacifism seldom works in the schoolyard.” Well, it didn’t work for Jesus either. And it didn’t work for the many martyrs in the early decades/centuries of Christianity.
But the blood of the pacifist martyrs became the seed of the church. On the other hand, the violent rebels in the Roman Empire in those years (such as Barabbas and his cohorts) were annihilated.
I fully agree with what Miguel says about the need to oppose and to “disrupt structures that support and maintain oppression.” Thus, arguing for pacifism must never support suppressing legitimate cries for justice by the marginalized and/or the oppressed.
For that reason, I agree with what Miguel says about “the need to joder,” although I don’t know enough Spanish to grasp fully what he means by that. I think it is consistent, though, with what I am saying about Jesus being a paciFIST.
Those of us who identify as pacifists need, like Jesus, to be paciFISTs, seeking to do what Miguel says needs to be done: “upsetting the prevailing social order designed to protect the power and privilege of the few.”

-

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dunn is not Done

This article is in honor of James M. Dunn, who passed away a year ago, on July 4, 2015. Perhaps he is not widely known except by those who are, or have been, Baptists. But Dunn’s emphasis on Christianity citizenship is one that is badly needed by Christians of most denominations.
Mostly, though, his strong insistence on religious liberty and on the separation of church and state is very important for all citizens of this country, whether Christian or not.
Dunn was born in Texas in 1932; he lived, went to school, and worked in Texas until 1981 when he became Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), where he served until 1999. (Until 2005 the name was BJC for Public Affairs.) 

Perhaps my first knowledge of Dunn came in the late 1970s. While he was still the Executive Director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, he and two associates wrote Endangered Species (1976), an excellent book about the problem of world hunger.
I was moved by the “fable” told at the beginning of the ninth chapter of that book, and I found it quite powerful when I read it again this month. (For those of you concerned about the hunger issue, I highly recommend reading that short fable.)
Dunn was also the editor of, and the author of two chapters in, Politics: A Guidebook for Christians (1970). He concludes “How to Get the Church into Politics” by saying, “The local church is suited to work in politics” (p. 59). Then, he ends the next chapter with these words: “The church must move into political issues” (p. 69).
Little did Dunn know then that the Moral Majority was going to be formed before the end of that decade, that the Christian Right was going to be moving mightily into the political arena, and that Ronald Reagan was going to be elected President at least in part because of the new political impetus of conservative Christians.
In response to those changes by conservative Christians and in the political arena, Dunn began to place more stress on religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
In 2000 he and Grady C. Cothen alternated writing the 14 chapters of Soul Freedom. One of Dunn’s chapters is titled “Don’t Vouch for Vouchers.” His strong opposition to school vouchers whereby children could attend private schools with public funds was one of several reasons conservative Southern Baptists opposed him.
(Last month at the Faith & Freedom Coalition meeting I attended in D.C. there were several appeals for legislation that would allow children to go to schools of their family’s choice—presumably using tax money for private schools.)
Last year the paperback edition of James M. Dunn and Soul Freedom, Aaron Douglas Weaver’s biography of Dunn, was published. The blurb on Amazon.com calls Dunn “the most aggressive Baptist proponent for religious liberty in the United States.”
It goes on to say, “Soul freedom—voluntary uncoerced faith and an unfettered individual conscience before God—is the basis of his understanding of church-state separation and the historic Baptist basis of religious liberty.”
After leaving the BJC, Dunn became Professor of Christianity and Public Policy at the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University. His legacy lives on there partly because of the establishment of the James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies at WFU in 2011.

I am most grateful for the life and work of James M. Dunn and his persistent emphasis on soul freedom--and grateful Dunn is not done influencing people about the importance of religious liberty.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Taxation and Representation

When I was in Washington, D.C., this month, once again I saw many license plates with the words “taxation without representation” on them. The newest plates with those words look like this: 

The issue, of course, is that the citizens of D.C. must pay federal income tax just as all U.S. citizens do, but they do not have representation in Congress. The words “taxation without representation” were first used on some D.C. license plates in 2000—but, as you know, it was expressing a sentiment from long ago.
A Boston pastor used the phrase “no taxation without representation” in a sermon as early as 1750. After the Stamp Act of 1765 it became common for the colonists to exclaim that “taxation without representation is tyranny.”
Have you seen the new U.S. postage stamps that were issued on May 29? They commemorate the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. These new “forever” stamps are sold only as souvenir sheets of 10 stamps and are $4.70. 
The USPS website explains: “The commemorative stamp art depicts a crowd gathered around a ‘liberty tree’ to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.” Such “liberty trees” were “found in a number of cities throughout the colonies, and were popular gathering spots for community meetings, political discussions, celebrations and more.”
The new British legislation required American colonists to pay a tax on a wide array of paper materials, such as newspapers, legal documents, mortgages, contracts—and even playing cards. A revenue stamp embossed on those papers indicated payment of the tax.
Many colonists were not happy with the new tax, to say the least. Accordingly, the USPS website also says that the Stamp Act, which was passed by the British Parliament in March 1765, “proved historic in galvanizing and uniting the American colonies, setting them on a path toward independence.”
The first chapter of The Beginnings of the American Revolution (1910) by Ellen Chase is sub-titled “Stamp Act Causes Riot,” and then the second chapter is “The Colonies Unite Successfully for Repeal.” Thus, actions resulting from the negative reaction toward the Stamp Act was a major impetus toward the colonists’ declaration of independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
The tax levied by the Stamp Act was not exorbitant; it was the principle that rankled the colonists. As Chase says, “The exception was not taken to the tax in itself. . . . The objections rose solely from Parliament’s assumption of supremacy in the Colonies’ internal affairs” (p. 23).
For a long time after independence from Great Britain, however, U.S. citizens mostly had representation without taxation. There was an excise tax placed on whiskey in 1791—but that led to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
The first personal income tax resulted from the Revenue Act signed into law by President Lincoln in August 1861. He who wanted government “of the people, by the people, for the people” needed to raise money to pay for the Civil War activities of the Union.
The first permanent income tax in this country, though, was not established until 1913—and the first general sales tax not until 1930.
In D.C. now, though, there is taxation but no representation on the federal level. Statehood for the District is one possible solution to the problem.

However, the “party of Lincoln” that freed the slaves in spite of strong objection by the Democratic Party then does not want to grant statehood now to a territory that would most probably send Democrats to the U.S. Congress. As I wrote earlier, the Parties have switched positions.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reflections on Baseball, an Old Friend, and a Wonderful Aunt


In May 1951 I graduated from the 8th grade, and my Aunt Mary Seat gave me one of the most memorable birthday presents I have ever received—a trip to St. Louis to see a Cardinals game. Aunt Mary, an ardent baseball fan herself, said I could ask a friend to go with me.
I invited Talmadge Hass, my good friend who was a year younger than I but also an enthusiastic Cardinals fan, to make that memorable trip with me. (He has long gone by his first name, Walter, but I knew him by his middle name, often shortened to Talm.)
That first major league game that Talm and I saw was on June 14, 1951. Sadly, the Cardinals lost that game to the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1 on a 2-run home run by Gil Hodges in the 9th inning (you can see the box score here—and note that Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson were the opposing cleanup batters).
Aunt Mary had planned to take us for a steamboat ride on the Mississippi River the next day. But Talm and I were so disappointed that the Cardinals lost we convinced her to take us to see another Cardinals game instead. That change was made, the Cardinals won, and we were happy.
Sixty-five years and four days later, last Saturday on June 18, I met Talm in St. Louis, where he has lived in the suburbs for decades, and we went together to see another Cardinals game—which they also lost by one run with the opposing team scoring two runs in the 9th inning.
Talm even had a Cardinals shirt and cap for me to wear, as you see in this picture taken just before we left for the game:

I didn’t remember where we boarded the train for our 1951 trip to St. Louis, but Talm said we took the train from Stanberry, Mo., a town about 25 miles from our home town of Grant City—and over 300 miles from St. Louis.
The game we attended was at Sportman’s Park, which was the home for the Cardinals games from 1920 to 1966. Last week was the first time I had been in the second new stadium since then, and here is the picture I took from near where our seats were:

Aunt Mary, my father’s older sister, was born in 1907, so she would have been 44 years old in 1951. Although, like me, through the years she shifted her allegiance from the Cardinals to the Kansas City Royals, she remained a baseball fan until near the time of her death in April 2000.
Perhaps it was for a Christmas present in 1952 that Aunt Mary gave me her old typewriter after she had purchased a new one. That was a wonderful present, too, at a time when I may have been the only one in my high school who had his own typewriter.
Aunt Mary never married or had any children of her own, but through the years she made a significant impact on me and on the lives of all her nieces and nephews—especially on the lives of two of my cousins whose father died when they were fairly young.
I am grateful for the memorable trip to St. Louis in 1951, for being able to be with my old friend again this month, and especially for the memories of my wonderful Aunt Mary.

Monday, June 20, 2016

What Does “Of the People, By the People, For the People” Mean?

It is sobering to visit Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—as I did for the first time last week.
Cemetery Hill is the name of the place where a private cemetery was started in 1854. Nine years later, from July 1-3, 1863, it became the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War.
That was also the place where in November of that year President Lincoln delivered what we know as the Gettysburg Address, a speech that took about two minutes. In the picture below you see June looking at the bust of Lincoln. His entire talk is engraved on the bronze plaque behind her. 

In some of the most widely quoted words from Gettysburg Address, Lincoln expressed his strong desire that “the nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Those words are generally taken as a clear call for democracy—and surely that is correct. But there is almost no one in this country, regardless of political party, who does not advocate or support democracy. 
For some reason, though, more than one speaker at the meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting (that I wrote about here) thought it important to cite Lincoln’s words—and to emphasize that he was a Republican.
Some say that Lincoln was making a clarion call for equality among all people of the nation. Those words were spoken after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863. Still, that proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States.
Moreover, it would be another 57 years before women of any color could participate equally in the democratic process by voting.
Others may point out that a government “for the people” is one that actively promotes the “general Welfare,” as stated in the preamble of the Constitution.
That, though, seems to be at odds with a major emphasis of the Republican Party since the days of President Reagan, who emphasized that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
It is somewhat puzzling that in his inaugural address of 1981, Reagan went on to say, “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.”
Republicans now repeatedly talk about smaller government, states’ rights, and decisions made locally rather than in Washington.
Lincoln’s words, though, were spoken in the midst of the Civil War, fought first of all to keep the Union together. He was surely talking about a federal government “for, by, and of the people.”
If it had been left up to the individual states, or to local governments, how long would it have taken for the slaves of the South to be freed? Another 50 years? Another 100 years? Perhaps.
As it was, it took almost a hundred years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act to be passed in 1965—and those two extremely important pieces of legislation were enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic President.
Basic positions of the Democratic and Republican parties in the 1960s were almost completely reversed from those of the 1860s—and people who fail to note that change misconstrue American history.

So, I want a federal government of, by, and for the people—just like Lincoln did.