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. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Conservatives Christians Will Vote for Trump

The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority 2016 gathering in Washington, D.C., was held last weekend. I attended that meeting on Friday, and among the speakers was a man you may have heard of: Donald Trump.
You may have even heard or read about that meeting and Trump’s speech there. Among other things, he was interrupted by some protesters, led by Medea Benjamin of Code Pink. (I mentioned her in a blog article back in Nov. 2012; see this link. Here is a link showing what happened on 6/10.) 
The Faith and Freedom (F&F) Coalition was founded by Ralph E. Reed, Jr., in 2009. Reed was also the founder executive director of the now defunct Christian Coalition of America in 1989.
This was the second F&F meeting I have attended, and I wrote about my 2011 visit here. This year’s seemed to be a smaller and less significant meeting than the one five years ago—and this one was co-sponsored by Concerned Women for America, the conservative Christian organization founded by Beverly LaHaye in 1979.
At the “gala dinner” on Saturday evening (which I did not attend for more reasons than one), Mrs. LaHaye, whom I imagine doesn’t want to be called Ms., was awarded the 2016 F&F’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Ben Carson delivered the after dinner keynote address.
The first principle F&F mentions on its website is “Respect for the sanctity and dignity of life, family, and marriage as the foundations of a free society.” The most common emphases at last week’s meeting was the need to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage—and the use of cross-gender bathrooms by transgender people.
(In his speech on Friday morning, Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas spoke mostly about the transgender issue—repeatedly saying that transgenderism is a “mental disorder.”)
To his credit, near the beginning of his speech Reed said, “We are Christians first, Americans second, and members of a political party third.” But before he finished it was quite obvious that he thought for patriotic Americans being a Christian and being a Republican were pretty much the same thing.
Reed, who is an excellent speaker and a skillful executive, emphasized that this election is a fight between good and evil. Abortion was his first example of the latter. The second evil he railed against was gay marriage.
He urged support of Trump because of these two issues—and because of the upcoming SCOTUS justice appointment.  
Reed then praised “imperfect people who will work for God’s will to be done.” That idea is highlighted in an online article I recommend: “A Theological Case for Low Expectations.”

Another article, also worth reading, is “Conservative Christian Women Confront Their Doubts on Trump.”

The latter article explains why many conservative Christians are hesitant to vote for Trump. But I am quite confident in predicting that most of them, with perhaps the exception of those who are quite young, will end up voting for him.

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they will vote against Hillary and for Trump’s party. They may not like Trump or know if they can trust him, but they know they can trust Hillary—to do the wrong thing.

Hillary will clearly do the wrong thing in their eyes on abortion since she is clearly pro-choice. She will clearly do the wrong thing regarding same-sex marriage and LBGT rights. 

If those are two of the greatest evils in the country, as was repeatedly emphasized at the F&F meeting, how could conservative Christians not vote for Trump?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sin: Doing What Seems Good

People don’t talk or think much about sin anymore, it seems—except for the notable exception of many evangelical Christians. Even more than forty years ago the noted psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? (1973). 
That is also the title of a subsection in my book The Limits of Liberalism (2010), just before a longer section on the widely misunderstood and misinterpreted doctrine of “original sin.” In “polite company” the word “sin” is seldom mentioned—and “original sin” is usually mentioned only in derision.  

What has been called the doctrine of original sin was based, of course, on the third chapter of Genesis. In that theological/mythical story, the serpent said the following to Eve about the forbidden fruit: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:6 goes on to report, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”
Note that Eve didn’t take the forbidden fruit because she thought it was bad or sinful or wrong to do so. She took and ate it because she thought it was good, delightful, desirable.

That is the way most sin is. We commit sin because at the time such actions seem desirable, delightful, and good—at least for us (and who else do we usually think about?).

I started thinking again about this matter after reading Thinking Friend Fred Heeren’s recent comment: “How could we be honorable in our war killing unless these people deserved to die? . . . We need to know these were ‘bad’ people and be ‘glad they were killed’ in order to justify our wars.”
Yes, in war “the enemy” always has to be demonized, for how else would soldiers be able to kill them? Probably few Americans realize, though, that to those the U.S. engages in war, Americans are the enemy. 
While it is easy, and probably correct, to label Hitler or Tojo as evil or extremely sinful, what about those who fought under their command? Most of them were conscripted into service—or volunteered in response to the propaganda (brainwashing) they were subjected to. 
Also, Japan and Germany were both under severe economic pressures during the 1930s. In addition, Germans were still chafing under harsh treaties from the end of WWI and many Japanese were greatly irritated by what they considered racial and/or cultural affronts. 
And what about the people of the South in the U.S. in the 1860s? Most of the whites there were simply trying to maintain their way of life and economic stability. In resisting the demands of the North, they were mostly doing what they thought was good, right, necessary. 
What most of us call the Civil War has long been called something different in the South. For example, in 2012, the year before he became president of the NRA, Jim Porter referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.`
In the book I introduced in my previous blog article, Bartoletti states that The Clansman (1905), a novel by Baptist minister Thomas Dixon, portrayed the Klan as noble white-robed knights who saved white civilization from racial violence in the South (p. 147).
Yes, all who are “sinners” do things that they think are good, right, and necessary. So maybe we should act with “malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Can Trump Make America White Again?

Although many people (including me) long thought there was no way Donald Trump would become the Republican candidate for President this year, he is now the presumptive nominee and could be the next President of the United States.
There are many explanations for the rise and continuance of Trump’s popularity, none of which are fully adequate. But since the bulk of Trump’s support comes from white Americans, especially angry white men, his slogan “Make America Great Again” is seen by some as his attempt to “make America white again.”
It is clear that he has received the support of, and endorsements from, various white supremacy groups in the country.
Back in November of last year, Huffington Post published an online article titled “Donald Trump’s Plan to Make America White Again.”
Similarly, “Make America White Again?” is the title of an article in The Atlantic in March of this year. The subtitle is “Donald Trump’s language is eerily similar to the 1920s Ku Klux Klan—hypernationalistic and anti-immigrant.”
This is an opportune time to think about the KKK, for according to the African American Registry, the founding of the Ku Klux Klan is said to have been 150 years ago, on May 31, 1866, in Pulaski, Tennessee.
Actually, that was the first KKK, which mostly shut down in 1871. It was reorganized in 1915 and flourished in the 1920s, peaking with perhaps as many as five million members in 1925. Then it began to decline again. 
KKK March in Washington, 1925
In the early 1950s it became quite active once again—especially after 1954 when the Supreme Court declared that the system of segregated schools in the U.S. was unconstitutional.
I have never directly seen KKK activities. It was quite different, though, for James Cone, an African-American who was born in southern Arkansas the same month that I was born in northern Missouri.
Cone writes, “During my childhood, white supremacy ruled supreme. White people were virtually free to do anything to blacks with impunity. The violent crosses of the Ku Klux Klan were a familiar reality” (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 2011, p. xv).
In 2012 ABC News produced a 13-minute program titled “Inside the New KKK.” It featured interviews with people in the Klan and aired their talk about “race war”—based partly on their fear of the black President.
According to that program, there were then about 6,000 KKK members in the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are now 25 states with KKK chapters, and a total of 190 chapters. Only two are in Missouri and just one in Iowa, but there are eight in Arkansas and 52 in Texas.
The founding of the KKK in 1866 and its early history is excellently told in They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group (2010) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (b. 1958), an award-winning American author of “juvenile literature.”
Her book on the KKK is well-researched and enhanced by numerous photos from the 1860s as well as a few from more recent times. According to Bartoletti, the original KKK creed maintained that the U.S. “was founded by the white race and for the white race only” and that the words “All men are created equal” meant only white men (p. 45).

Is that part of the meaning of the slogan “Make America Great Again”? While it may or may not be what Trump means by his slogan, that may well be how it is interpreted by many of his supporters—and one reason for his surprising, and somewhat alarming, popularity. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Did President Obama Make a Sacrilege of Memorial Day?

It is a sobering experience to visit Hiroshima. I first visited there in the summer of 1967—and have never forgotten that first visit even though I have been there several times since.
President Obama visited Hiroshima last week. It was his first time and the first time for a sitting POTUS to do so.
In his remarks on May 27, the President stated, “We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Korean; a dozen Americans held prisoner.”
“We stand here, in the middle of this city, and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell,” the President went on to say. “We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war, and the wars that came before, and the wars that would follow.” 

While it was said repeatedly that the President’s remarks were not an apology, at least there was acknowledgement of the fact that many, many innocent Japanese and even many non-Japanese people were killed by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945.
Earlier, on Wednesday of last week, hours after arriving in Japan for a Group of Seven summit President Obama said that he would “honor all those who were lost in World War II.”
Some people were outraged by that statement. I heard one talk-radio host say that he was incensed that the President wanted to honor all who died in WWII, for many of those were our (American) enemies, and he was glad they were killed.
And to the chagrin of U.S. ultra-nationalists, the President shared a vision of the equal worth and dignity of everyone. He even had the audacity to expand the words “All men are created equal” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence to include all people around the world.
“The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious; the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family–that is the story that we all must tell,” the President declared.
Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. This federal holiday originated as Decoration Day in 1868, soon after the Civil War. Gradually the name morphed into Memorial Day and the observance was extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
But can we further extend our compassion on Memorial Day to include people from all countries who died in military service—and especially to the civilians who died in all countries because of military action?
Does such inclusion make a sacrilege of Memorial Day in the U.S.?
That, though, is the kind of emphasis I want on this Memorial Day. Certainly I want to be sympathetic toward those who lost loved ones while in military service. Just as the President did in Hiroshima, however, I also want to be sympathetic toward all who lost loved ones, especially those who were non-combatants, at the hands of enemy soldiers.
And, yes, I want to be sympathetic toward those whose loved ones died while in military service for other countries. Most of them were fighting because of being conscripted or because of being psychologically coerced (brainwashed) into thinking they were doing the right thing.
Those soldiers, too, were human beings, created and loved by God, and their deaths were tragic also.
At Hiroshima, the President emphasized that “we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.”

Isn’t this Memorial Day a good time for us to acknowledge that connection?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Making Stone Soup for the Hungry

There are many weddings at this beautiful time of the year. In fact, June and I got married 59 years ago tomorrow, on May 26, 1957. Last Sunday was the wedding of our granddaughter Katrina Laffoon, who married her college sweetheart, Ryan Hlousek.
Early next month we will drive out to D.C./Maryland for the wedding of granddaughter Marian Seat, our first grandchild. Marian’s husband-to-be is Christopher Lane Mulligan, and they were high school sweethearts in the early 2000s.
Chris’s maternal grandmother was Ann McGovern, who was born on this day (May 25) in 1930. She passed away last August, and articles about her life and death appeared in newspapers across the country, including the New York Times (see here).
Ms. McGovern’s claim to fame was as the author of 50-plus children’s books. The article about her in the Aug. 28, 2015, issue of The Week says that her first book was Roy Rogers and the Mountain Lion and that its publication launched “the career of one of the country’s most popular children’s book authors.”
Her most famous book, one mentioned in the headlines of some articles about her death, was Stone Soup (1968). When it was re-published by Scholastic Inc. in 1986, the dedication page said it was “for Christopher Lane,” her one-year-old grandson. 
“Stone Soup” is an old folk story in which hungry strangers manipulate people into sharing their food. Or sometimes it is just one clever man conning one person into providing ingredients for the soup. 

The first published version of the old folk story is said to be in 1720 by Madame de Noyer, a French journalist. The first English version was published in a British magazine in 1806—and just two years later it appeared in The American Magazine of Wit

Of the several different versions of the old folk story I read, my favorite was “The Story of Stone Soup,” found here on the Internet. In it, a wandering soldier of “post-war Eastern Europe” gets the people of the village he arrives at to add ingredients to the pot cooking his stone. It ends by clearly stating the point of the story.
 The moral is that by working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved.”
This reminded me of some interpretations of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle of Jesus recorded by all four Gospels. According to some “liberal” interpretations, the miracle was not that Jesus somehow supernaturally multiplied the loaves and fishes. Rather, the miracle was changing people’s attitudes, getting them all to share the food they had brought with them.
Years ago when I first heard this interpretation of that miracle story, I was somewhat “offended,” thinking that the power of Jesus to perform miracles was being denied. And there are currently websites that similarly criticize what are considered attempts to deny Jesus’ ability to perform supernatural miracles.
Perhaps, however, the story has far more relevance if it encourages people to share now rather than merely to admire what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. But perhaps a both/and interpretation is best: maybe Jesus took all that the people shared and doubled it so that there would be enough for everyone.
And perhaps Stone Soup and the feeding of the 5,000 both can challenge us to share with the hungry. As Pope Francis said last year, “The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone.”
Can’t we all share more in making “stone soup” for the hungry?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tempest in a Pee Pot?

Public bathrooms have been in the news a lot lately, and the issues being discussed are not likely to dissipate soon.
One question is why they are called bathrooms in the first place. Quite clearly the issue being discussed is not places where people take baths. But for some reason people seem to think that the word “toilet” is maybe a little uncouth, so some better-sounding word is used.
Last month on our ANA flight to Japan, the “bathrooms” were called lavatories in English and “keshōshistu” (literally “makeup rooms”) in Japanese—and, of course, there were no separate facilities for men and women.
In addition to being called “loos” in Great Britain, a toilet there is often referred to as a “water closet.” It is also common in Japan, and other Asian countries, to see a public toilet identified simply as a W.C.
The issue now in the U.S., of course, is not what the public restrooms are called but who can use what facilities. The “bathroom bill” that recently became law in North Carolina has stirred a nationwide debate, and it looks as if the dispute is far from over.
Having just been in Japan for three weeks, however, the bathroom hullabaloo in the U.S. seems to be a “tempest in a teapot”—or maybe we should say “a pee pot.”
Through the years the use of public restrooms in Japan has not been universally separated according to gender, although there are generally completely separate facilities now. Before we first went to Japan 50 years ago, though, some American who had lived there “warned” us about the “co-ed” public toilets—and sure enough, from time to time there would be men and women using the same W.C.
However, I never heard of “inclusive” public toilets causing harm to anyone.
During our time in Japan earlier this month, June and I had the opportunity to meet a young trans man whom we had known many years ago as a girl. He now looks very much like a man—and seems much happier than when he was a young “male trapped in a female body.”
If our young trans friend were to go to North Carolina, however, legally he would have to use public toilets labeled “Women.” The women he would see there, however, would no doubt be greatly discomforted to meet someone like him, who looks fully like a man, in their facility. 
Those with little understanding of, or sympathy for, transgender persons tend to deal with the issue in a simplistic manner. For example, this week I heard talk-radio host Mark Levin pontificating about the bathroom issue, which he said shouldn’t be an issue at all.

Who uses what bathroom, Levin said, should be determined solely by what is between people’s legs, not by what is between their ears.

Recently I have seen some good and important things written by Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty. Last week, however, he wrote an opinion piece (see here) in which he intimated that the bathroom question is settled by not violating the Bible’s words as found in Genesis 1:27.

Both Levin’s and Moore’s arguments for traditional bathroom bifurcation are not only simplistic, they also disrespectful of and insensitive to the needs of trans men and women. 

Gender identity, including how people think, look, and act, is determined by more than genitalia.
Rather than creating a tempest in a pee pot, we should acknowledge the existence of transgender people and respect their need to use public restrooms that match their identity.