Saturday, October 30, 2010

Let Me Be Blunt: I’m Voting for Carnahan

The midterm elections are on November 2, and as often happens, the party in power is in danger of losing a considerable number of congressional seats. One of the key Senate races is here in Missouri, and I’ll be blunt: I am for candidate Carnahan.

Roy Blunt (b. 1950), currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is seeking to win the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Kit Bond, who has held that position since 1987. Blunt’s main opponent is Robin Carnahan (b. 1961), who is the current Missouri Secretary of State.
Both Blunt and Carnahan are Baptists and both are graduates of the same colleges as June and I. Blunt graduated from Southwest Baptist University (SBU) in 1970 and Carnahan from William Jewell College in 1983. Blunt was also the president of SBU from 1993-96, and he gave the commencement address at SBU in May of this year. Last year, Carnahan was one of the Achievement Day honorees at Jewell.
So, by religious affiliation and by college connection there is no reason to vote for one of these senatorial candidates over the other. But their political views are quite different, and I firmly believe that Carnahan’s are distinctly superior.
To give but one example, Carnahan is in favor of the federal health care plan that Congress passed earlier this year. But Blunt voted against it and now advocates repealing the new laws. He supported Proposition C in Missouri (which I wrote about on my August 10 posting).
Earlier this month, Blunt signed the “Tea Party Treaty,” which was drawn up last month by the St. Louis Tea Party. The first “article” of that treaty says, “I believe that the healthcare reform bill (Affordable Care Act) should be immediately repealed as an un-constitutional extension of governmental powers according to Article I of the U.S. Constitution, and thus a burden on the people’s rights as recognized by the 9th Amendment.” 
According to, Misrepresenting the health care law has been perhaps the single most dominant theme of attack ads by GOP candidates, party groups and independent conservative organizations. A record estimated $4 billion is being spent on both sides in this midterm election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And from our observations, a large part of that is being spent to discredit the health care legislation and the Democrats who voted for it.”
It is not good to decide on whom to vote for because of only one issue, and the health care issue is certainly not the only one about which I disagree with Representative Blunt. But it is an important issue, and his lamentable position on it, along with a number of others, is one of the main reasons I am voting for Carnahan.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beware of Constitutionolatry

The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable document. Ratified in 1787, it is reportedly the oldest national constitution in the world still in use. Perhaps many of you, as I did in my school days, memorized the praiseworthy Preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In the past two years, some political and religious conservatives have charged the President with not following or of disregarding the Constitution. Such criticism is stronger and more persistent than it has ever been—at least during my lifetime, and I was born when FDR was President.
Those who criticize the President so strongly place great emphasis on the “original intent” of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. Last year Rush Limbaugh referred to the Constitution as “a gift of God,” and he was given the “Defender of the Constitution Award” at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009.
But it seems that the position of Limbaugh and others is close to constitutionolatry, that is, making an idol out of the Constitution. (I thought I was coining a new word, but then I found on the Internet that the term has been used before, although not often.) And those who extol the Constitution so highly are usually referring to the original, 1787 document.
Within two years, though, the original Constitution was found to be insufficient, so the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) were proposed and then ratified in 1791. Still, there were some glaring deficiencies. For example, slavery was nowhere prohibited. It was only after the Civil War that slavery was outlawed by the thirteenth amendment, and then African-American men were given the right to vote with the fifteenth amendment in 1870. But still for decades women, white or black, did not have the right to vote.
My grandmother Laura (Neiger) Seat turned 21 (the legal voting age then) in 1902, but because she was a woman she did not have the right to vote in 1904, the year Theodore Roosevelt was re-elected President. My grandmother Laura (Hamilton) Cousins turned 21 in 1914, the year my mother was born, but she wasn’t allowed to vote in 1916, the year Woodrow Wilson was re-elected President, for the same reason: women did not yet have the constitutional right to vote. That situation did not change until the nineteenth amendment was finally ratified in 1920.
So, in praising the Constitution of 1787, let’s beware of constitutionolatry. Even though it was remarkable, there were, indeed, flaws in that beloved old document. And for this and other reasons we also need to beware of the “Tea Partiers” and other “Originalists” who idolize the Constitution and say they want back the policies of the Founding Fathers. (If you would like to read more about this matter, here is a link to an interesting article posted on the Internet yesterday.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When Did "Christian" Become a Dirty Word?

It came as a bit of a shock when I read that Dr. Sallee, president of William Jewell College (WJC), said that WJC is no longer advertising itself as a Christian college. The Hilltop Monitor, the student newspaper, included that information in an article published in its September 24 edition. Dr. Sallee is quoted as saying that the expression “Christian college” has taken on a different meaning than it used to have.
He made no reference to it, but Dr. Sallee’s point is forcefully made in the title of a new book, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites—and Other Lies You’ve been Told. The author is Bradley R. Entner Wright, a sociologist. Although Dr. Wright seeks to show that there is not sufficient evidence to indicate that the majority of Christians are, in fact, “hate-filled hypocrites,” it is nonetheless true that there are many people who do think that.
June and I transferred to WJC in August after we were married, following our graduation from Southwest Baptist College, which was then a junior college. In the years since, all four of our children graduated from WJC, each after having attended four years there. And I have taught several courses there through the years, the first in 1976 and the last in 2009.
June and I chose to attend WJC because it was a Christian college, and that was one of the main reasons that our children went there and that I have taught there from time to time. So, we naturally find it sad that WJC has concluded that it can no longer identify itself as a Christian college. When did Christian become a dirty word?
The change at WJC, and in the larger society, is largely linked to the move toward fundamentalism in this country and in the Southern Baptist Convention in particular. That was one of my main reasons for writing Fed Up with Fundamentalism (FuF). With the steady move to the right over the past thirty years, Southern Baptists and many other “evangelical” groups have come increasingly to be seen as obscurantists (as I wrote about in FuF), and, as another example, the anti-gay rhetoric of not only Fred Phelps but others who are much more "mainstream" has caused many people to think negatively about anything labeled Christian.
In his challenging new book, The Myth of a Christian Religion (2009), Gregory A. Boyd says that Jesus “was known for the scandalous way he loved.” By contrast, “instead of being known as outrageous lovers, Christians [today] are largely viewed as self-righteous judgers” (pp. 64-65).
[The last two paragraphs of the original posting have been removed.]

Friday, October 15, 2010

So What About Liberation Theology?

My previous blog posting was partly about Bartolomé de las Casas (1484–1566), the Spanish colonialist, Dominican priest, and human rights advocate, and I referred to Las Casas as a liberator, which he certainly was.
Perhaps the best book ever written about that ardent advocate of the rights of the native peoples of the West Indies is Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ (1993), written by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez. (That book is nearly 700 pages long, including 160 pages of endnotes!)
Gutiérrez (b. 1928) is often referred to as the “father” of South American liberation theology. His book on that subject was published in Spanish in 1971, and two years later it was issued in English translation as A Theology of Liberation. (A fifteenth anniversary edition with a new introduction by the author was published in 1988.)
This past summer, Glenn Beck, the widely influential radio and television host, political commentator, and author, publicly denounced liberation theology—and criticized President Obama for being linked to liberation theology through his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Beck declared that “liberation theology has completely perverted Christianity and teaching something radically different.”
The liberation theology of Rev. Wright was based on the writings of Dr. James Cone rather than of Father Gutiérrez, and there are certainly differences between the two. (To see what I have written about the two American-American Christian leaders, click on James Cone and Jeremiah Wright in the Labels list on the right.)
Despite their differences, there are also distinct similarities between Cone and Gutiérrez. Although it is a phrase used mostly by South American liberation theologians, Cone, Wright, and others advocating black liberation would agree with the statement, “to know God is to do justice.” And the justice referred to is social justice, which stands in staunch opposition to the exploitation of the poor by the rich and the prejudicial treatment of Blacks by the White majority.
As you probably heard, Beck also came out with strong criticism of Christians being involved in social justice. Back in March, Beck said on one of his daily radio and television shows, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” Later, he referred to social justice as “a perversion of the Gospel.”
But it seems quite clear to me that in 1492 and the years following it was Columbus who was perverting the Gospel, not Las Casas. And in recent years it is Glenn Beck, rather than Gutiérrez or other liberation theologians, who is distorting the Gospel. For after all, social justice is “love distributed.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Columbus the Enslaver and Las Casas the Liberator

It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners. That is the opinion of Albert Camus according to Howard Zinn in his widely-read A People’s History of the United States (2005, first published in 1980, p. 10).
The reference to Camus by Zinn (1922-2010) is found in “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” the first chapter of his stimulating book. In that chapter he explains how he prefers “to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks” rather than from the European point of view.
From the perspective of the native peoples such as the Arawaks and Taíno, Columbus was clearly an enslaver—as well as an executioner, either directly or indirectly, of tens of thousands of those original inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands.
All of us who grew up in this country learned about Christopher Columbus, and most of what we learned in school was taught in a praiseworthy manner. And tomorrow is Columbus Day, which became a federal holiday in 1934.
In 1968 the date of Columbus Day was changed to the second Monday of October, and each year the President proclaims that that day shall be observed as Columbus Day. As his predecessors have done through the years, just two days ago the President said, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 11, 2010, as Columbus Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the Flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of Christopher Columbus.”
In contrast to what we heard about Columbus, I don’t think I heard a word about Bartolomé de las Casas (1484–1566) during my grade school or high school years—or even in college or seminary. Zinn’s book had not yet been published.
Zinn’s stringent criticism of Columbus as the executioner of multitudes of Arawak and Taíno “Indians,” is based on the writings of Las Casas, a Dominican priest from Spain who traveled to Hispaniola in 1502. He later served as a chaplain during the conquest of Cuba, and as such he witnessed the brutality of the Spanish against the Taíno Indians.
As a result of his efforts, Las Casas was finally successful in convincing Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to enact new laws that were much to the benefit of the native peoples of the West Indies. Through his work of “speaking the truth to power,” Las Casas was, truly, a liberator.
It distresses me that after all the years, Columbus is still widely celebrated and Las Casas and his works of love for the indigenous peoples of the “new world” are still relatively unknown. So if we agree with the assertion that it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners, we still have our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Amish Beard (In Praise of Art Gish)

Arthur G. Gish became influential in my life nearly forty years ago, so I am writing this to praise his life and work—and partly to talk about his beard.
Gish was born on August 15, 1939, in Lancaster County, Penn., where many Amish people live. As a youth he became a member of the Church of the Brethren (CoB) and graduated from Bethany Theological Seminary, a CoB school in Richmond, IN. Gish’s first book was titled The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970). That book was written when he was about thirty years old and very much involved in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement.
Gish’s next books were Beyond the Rat Race (1973) and Living in Christian Community (1979). “Simple Gifts,” the old Shaker hymn that begins, “It’s a gift to be simple, / It’s a gift to be free,” appears at the top of the very first page of text in the former. (Those same words are also quoted at the beginning of “Enough Is Enough,” the sixth chapter of Jim Wallis’ new book, Rediscovering Values, which will be discussed on October 13 at the Vital Conversations meeting at Antioch Public Library.)
In his first book, Gish contrasts the political “new left,” which was very active in the late 1960s, with Christian radicalism, especially as seen in the Anabaptists. I had long been a “fan” of the Swiss Brethren of the sixteenth century and others in that pacifist tradition, but I became even more enthusiastic about them after reading Gish’s book.
At the beginning of the chapter on Anabaptism, Gish writes,
The beard of the protester gave me a new appreciation for my Anabaptist grandfather’s beard. His beard symbolizes for him something very similar to what the beard means for the protester. When I asked my grandfather why he grew a beard his reply was that it was to show that he was different from the world. The beard of the protester is to demonstrate that he is not a part of the establishment. My own beard is a conscious attempt to bring together these two radical perspectives (p. 49).
Even though he was not Amish, Gish had an "Amish beard" which he kept to the end of his life, as you can see from the fairly recent picture on the left. And even though I have never been, or had any relatives who have been, Amish, I have worn a similar beard since 1972—and I made the decision to grow an “Amish beard" partly because of reading what Gish said about his beard.
Just two or three weeks ago I heard the sad news that Art Gish had died earlier this year in a farm accident. For decades he had lived and worked on his farm in Ohio growing organic food. But in July the tractor he was driving turned over and caught fire, and he died in that tragic accident.
Thank you for allowing me to share these few words in memory of, and in praise of, Art Gish (and his Amish beard).