Saturday, June 30, 2012

The United Nations and the Future We Want

The Charter of the United Nations is the foundational treaty of the international organization usually referred to as the U.N. That Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, sixty-seven years ago this week.
It took only about four months for the five permanent members of the Security Council and the majority of the other signatories to ratify the Charter. Thus, on October 24, 1945, the U.N. was formally established for the purpose of maintaining peace in the world. 
There are now many critics of the United Nations, as there have been through the years. There are, to be sure, many weaknesses in it—as there are in all human institutions. But, at least and surely partly due to the work of the U.N., there has not been another world war since it was founded in the year the Second World War ended. (It is interesting to note that the Charter was approved even before WWII ended in the Pacific.)
In this country, part of the opposition to the U.N. comes from those who affirm the concept of “manifest destiny” and “American exceptionalism.” If the USA is unique and qualitatively different from all the other countries in the world, belonging to an organization that basically recognizes the equality of nations is not seen as something positive.
For many years the U.N. has been working on issues such as the deterioration of the natural environment and the problem of climate change (global warming). Just last week (June 20-22), the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (That meeting was also called Rio+20, as the Earth Summit was held in Rio in 1992.)
Some people think that concern for the environment is bad for business and say that human-caused global warming is nonsense. Such persons are less than enthusiastic about the work of the U.N. and the UNCSD, which emphasized, among other things, “a green economy.”
On the other hand, before and during the Rio+20 meetings, there was criticism of the UNCSD from the other side of the spectrum. The People’s Summit, which also convened in Rio, charged that the U.N. conference was making too many concessions to the world’s biggest corporations and to global capitalism.
Similarly, according to Ecumenical News International, “The Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) said that while the conference’s final document . . . . acknowledged that access to food is a human right, it did not pay adequate attention to needed changes in agriculture that favor the small farmer over big corporations.”
Ban Ki-moon (b. 1944)
The theme of the Rio+20 conference was “The Future We Want.” In a YouTube video, U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon spoke about the kind of future he wants: a future where everyone can breathe clean air, drink safe water, and have enough to eat.
Ban’s hopes for the future of humanity are good ones. If the United Nations doesn’t take the lead in seeking to reach those goals for the peoples of the world, who will?

Monday, June 25, 2012

When Will the Millennium Begin?

A new millennium began 12 years ago (technically, 11 years ago, for we usually start counting things with 1 not 0), according to the Common Era calendar. But when will the Millennium begin?
The Millennium, with a capital M, usually refers to the belief that Jesus Christ will literally return to earth and establish a victorious thousand year reign on earth. That belief is based on a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, the only place such an idea is mentioned in the New Testament. Literal belief in that passage is called millennialism.
Prophecies about the when the Millennium will begin have been many. One of the best known in recent years was Harold Camping’s prophecy that the End Times would begin on May 21, 2011. As some of you will remember, I prophesied on this blog (here) that Camping’s prophecy was wrong—and I was right.
Not nearly as well known are the declarations of Ronald Weinland, who identifies himself as “a minister in the Church of God.” Earlier this year he prophesied that the world as we know it would end last month, on May 27. Now, he is saying that “Jesus Christ will return on the final day of Pentecost 2013.”
An outrageous website with the address doesn’t give an exact date, but links the end times to the U.S. presidential election this year, the election that, according to that site, pits “the Mormon vs. the Muslim.”
There has been talk about the beginning of the Millennium for a long time now. From soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus, some (most?) Christians seem to have believed that Jesus’ return to earth was imminent. (What they actually believed may have been distorted by later interpretation, though.) After Revelation was written, belief spread that Jesus would soon establish a victorious thousand year reign on earth.
There were some theologians in the early centuries of Christianity who espoused millennialism, although it was also declared heretical by some church groups. Around the year 1000 there was a flurry of millennialist ideas, as there was again in the first half of the sixteenth century in connection with the new emphasis on the Bible by the Reformers.
The Tailor-King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster (1999), a book I recently read, tells about the tragic and embarrassing (especially for those of us who identify with the Anabaptist tradition) story of misguided millennialism.
Anthony Arthur (1937-2009), the author, tells how some German Anabaptists came to believe strongly that “the time was imminent for the apocalyptic final battle between God and Satan. It would occur in the years 1534-1535: the place would be in northern Germany, in the small Westphalian city of Münster” (p. 3). (Münster is about 125 miles southeast of Amsterdam.)
Although Authur’s date is slightly different, most historians give June 25, 1535, as the final battle at Münster and the capture of Jan van Leyden, a tailor who had become “King of the Anabaptists” in September of the previous year. Jan was executed in January 1536, and the misguided ordeal was over.
Millennial fever was largely the cause of the debacle in Münster. But the Christians infected with that fever then misread the signs of the times. Similarly, the Christians who now talk about us living in the End Times, on the cusp of the Millennium, based on what is happening in the Near East (in Israel and in Iran) and/or in the United States are probably mistaken also.
In fact, the whole idea of a literal Millennium is most likely an erroneous one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In Praise of Adoniram and Ann Judson

Two hundred years ago this month, the first foreign missionaries from the United States arrived in India. The famous “haystack prayer meeting” in 1806 led to the forming of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) four years later. In 1812 three couples and two single men set sail for India. One of the couples was Adoniram and Ann Hasseltine Judson.
The ABCFM was a Congregationalist organization, and Adoniram was also commissioned by the Congregational churches. Back then only men were appointed/commissioned as missionaries, and the wives went with their husbands to be homemakers. Some, such as William Carey’s wife, were not at all happy with becoming a missionary’s wife and having to go to a “foreign” land. But Ann Judson became a very effective missionary in her own right.
 The Judsons were married on February 5, 1812, and exactly two weeks later they boarded the ship for India. They arrived in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on June 17, 1812. Since they were Congregationalists and knowing they would encounter William Carey and other Baptist missionaries from England, while aboard ship in route to India the Judsons did a focused study on the theology of baptism.
Baptists have long rejoiced that the Judsons came to the position that believer’s baptism was theologically valid and should be done as a matter of obedience to the command of Jesus. Consequentially, they were baptized by immersion less than three months after their arrival in India.
Luther Rice, another ABCFM missionary who arrived in India in August 1812, also became a Baptist soon after arriving there. Rice, who was single, returned to America to break ties with the Congregationalists and to raise support for the Judsons from the Baptists. As a result of his efforts, “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions” (later often called "the Triennial Convention”) was organized in May 1814.
It is amazing that Rice was so successful, for all this activity raising support from Baptists was during the War of 1812. The organizational meeting was held at the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Just three months later the British invaded Washington, D.C., and burned most of the federal buildings. And just four months later a decisive battle was fought in the harbor near Baltimore, only a hundred miles from Philadelphia.
The Judsons went on to Burma (now officially Myanmar) in 1813 and began a long and effective ministry there. Today, only about 5% of the people of Myanmar are Christians, and they are mostly among the Chin, Kachin, and the Karen ethnic groups. But about 1/3 of Myanmar’s Christians are Baptists, and they are the greatest legacy of the Judsons.
The Chin, Kachin, and Karen peoples are also those who have been most at odds with the military government which changed the English name of the country from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. The Karens, especially, have long been most opposed to the central government. In fact, they began seeking political independence in 1949.
Now there are tens of thousands of Karen refugees here in the U.S., including a sizeable number in North Kansas City. Many of them are Baptists, and the Grace Baptist Church, near where most of them live, has done a commendable job of ministering to them. I am disappointed that I have not been able to follow through on my original intention of helping with that ministry—partly out of appreciation for the praiseworthy missionary work of Adoniram and Ann Judson.

Friday, June 15, 2012

America's First War

The Revolutionary War began before there was a United States of America, so the first war declared by the USA began 200 years ago this month. On June 18, 1812, the day after its approval by the U.S. Congress, a declaration of war against the British Empire was signed by President Madison. That was the beginning of the War of 1812, America’s first war.
The subtitle of historian David R. Hickey’s definitive book The War of 1812 (1989) is “A Forgotten Conflict.” It is perhaps the least understood of all American wars. It was also probably the most controversial: some of the northeastern states even considered seceding from the Union because of it.
The primary slogan of the “War Hawks,” as the most vocal pro-war advocates were called, was “Free Trade & Sailors’ Rights.” British ships in the years prior to the war often interfered with U.S. merchant ships, hindering their “free trade” with European countries (mainly France).
A bigger problem was “impressment,” the British practice of capturing seamen on American ships and forcing them into service on British vessels. Hickey points out that perhaps as many as 6,000 American citizens suffered impressment by the British between 1803 and 1812 (p. 11).
There were other matters that lurked in the minds of at least some War Hawks, propelling them toward war. One was the desire to conquer Canada and, thus, to eradicate British land-holding on the North American continent. Similarly, there were others who wanted to fight in order to end British influence over and cooperation with Native Americans, with whom the young nation was constantly fighting.
And so the U. S. declared war on the British Empire. That led to the first, and only, invasion of the U.S. by a foreign country (unless you count the invasion of the Union by the Confederate States in 1863). The primary British invasions were into Maryland and Washington, D.C., in August 1814. That was a terrible time for the nation, for the British burned the Capitol, the President’s home (officially known only since 1901 as the White House), and other government buildings.
The following month, after a night of “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” in a decisive battle fought at Fort McHenry and in the harbor southeast of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key penned the words to “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Although a peace treaty to end the war was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, the final and one of the bloodiest battles of the war was fought the following month. That was the Battle of New Orleans, led by General Andrew (“Old Hickory”) Jackson, a war hero who was later (in 1828) elected President. Finally, the War of 1812 was officially declared over in February 1815.
Perhaps the greatest losers in the War of 1812 were the Native Americans. In 1813-14, General Jackson led major battles against the Creek Indians in the southeast states. Later, President Jackson called for an Indian Removal Act in a 1829 speech. That Act was signed into law the following year, and it led to the removal of Indian tribes to federal territory west of the Mississippi River. The Native Americans’ sad trek west is known as “the trail of tears.”
While we rejoice that the War of 1812 preserved this nation and greatly increased its status among the nations of the world, we also painfully recognize how unjust was the treatment of the Native Americans after that war. Learning from mistakes of the past, let’s resolve to work now toward the removal, in ourselves and in society, of all harmful attitudes and actions toward people of other ethnic, racial, national, or religious groups.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Faith and Freedom in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin recall elections are over, and Scott Walker was successful in retaining his position as governor. Some may not realize, though, that the lieutenant governor was also up for recall and was also successful in keeping her position.
Rebecca Kleefisch (b. 1975), a former television news anchor, was elected the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin in November 2010. She attends the evangelical Crosspoint Community Church in Oconomowoc, WI, and in June of last year she was one of many U.S. political leaders I heard speak at the Faith & Freedom (F&F) Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C.
Early this month, the F&F Coalition launched a voter education campaign in Wisconsin utilizing a sophisticated mix of 100,000 voter guides distributed in churches as well as “virtual voter guides” sent by email and text message, mail pieces, GOTV phone banks, over 25,000 door knocks, and social media. The campaign was expected to total over 600,000 voter contacts statewide and in key State Senate districts.
According to the F&F Coalition’s June 1 press release, “Evangelicals, faithful Roman Catholics, and Tea Party voters have been targeted to receive ‘virtual voter guides’ via email and on their mobile phones with banner ads and text messages.” Their goal, of course, was the re-election of Walker and Kleefisch.
The Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference will be held again this week (June 14-16) at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown D.C. As I wrote on this blog last year, the head of the F&F Coalition is Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition. The F&F Coalition is also ostensibly a Christian organization. This week’s speakers include Christian spokesmen such as Richard Land, Tony Perkins, and Jonathan Falwell.
But this week’s F&F Coalition conference also includes some politicians you may have heard of: Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and Marco Rubio among many others. The marriage of conservative Christianity in the U.S. and the Republican Party seems to be quite healthy still.
Just two days ago (on June 8), the F&F Coalition announced, “Fresh off of her win in the Wisconsin recall election, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is confirmed to be a keynote speaker at the Patriots Awards Gala Banquet in Washington, DC on Saturday, June 16th!” (That banquet is the climax of the three-day conference; registrants can attend the banquet for an additional $99.)
So, this is the Faith & Freedom Coalition that helped decide the Wisconsin election in favor of the incumbent governor and lieutenant governor. The faith they propound is an ultra-conservative form of Christianity. The freedom they espouse is particularly that of (nearly) laissez-faire capitalism, which greatly benefits the wealthy people in society.
The faith of the F&F Coalition stands in opposition to many other people of faith, though, such as my Wisconsin friend Bob Hanson, who worked for the defeat of Walker and Kleefisch. And the freedom sought by the Coalition stands, for example, in direct opposition to the freedom of public labor unions being able to engage in collective bargaining.
Bob recommends the Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC), whose motto is, “We pray and work together for the unity and renewal of the church and the healing and reconciliation of the world.” Last month the WCC issued “The Call for a Seasonof Civility in Wisconsin,” a fine statement signed by many pastors and faith leaders across the state. Lieutenant Governor’s pastor was not among them.
I am grateful that Christian faith and freedom in Wisconsin is much broader, and much more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ, than that exhibited by the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
{Bob Hanson (b. 1940) is an ordained Lutheran minister and now also a Buddhist practitioner. We became friends many years ago in Fukuoka, Japan, where he was also served for a time as a missionary. For those of you who would like to read more of what Bob wrote about the situation in Wisconsin, please see the following (edited) e-mail received from him on June 7.}

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Remembering the Summer of 1972

Do you remember the summer of 1972? I assume that most of you who read this do have memories that go back forty years. At the same time, I hope some readers are younger than 45 and will enjoy reading about things before they can remember.
One of the main events in June 1972 was the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. Thus began the Watergate scandal, which culminated with President Nixon resigning in August 1974, the first and only time a President has resigned.
Of much less national significance, on June 9, 1972, fourteen inches of rain fell in six hours in western South Dakota, bursting a dam near Rapid City and drowning 237 people. (I am glad a similar thing did not happen last week when June and I spent two nights in Rapid City.)
In July 1972 the Democratic National Convention, held in Miami, nominated Senator George McGovern to be the Democratic nominee for president. I was delighted with McGovern’s nomination, for he was one of the first and strongest congressional opponents to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
McGovern, who turns 90 next month, grew up in and still lives in Mitchell, South Dakota, the town where we spent the night of May 26. One wonders how much different (and better off) the nation would be now if McGovern had won the election of ’72. (The election this fall will also make a great difference in what this nation will be like four years, or forty years, from now.)
In August 1972 the last U.S. ground troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. I don’t know how much that was related to the candidacy of the anti-war Sen. McGovern, but in November Nixon was decisively re-elected President. The end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was not until 1975, though.
All of us remember the past not just because of significant national and world events, such as those mentioned above, but perhaps primarily for personal and family reasons. That is certainly true for me, as the summer of ’72 was an eventful one for my family.
The main event of the summer was the birth of our fourth (and last) child on June 3. (You know you are getting up in years when your youngest child celebrates his 40th birthday!)
The summer of 1972 was also the end of our first missionary “furlough.” We went to Japan as a family of four in 1966 and came back to the States for the first time in August 1971. We went back to Japan as a family of six, for our second daughter had been born in Japan in 1970.
Not long before leaving for Japan the second time, we had a family gathering at my folks’ farm northeast of Grant City, MO. One of the precious pictures taken that day is of my grandfather (J. Ray) Cousins holding our new baby, Ken. That weekend was the last time we saw Grandpa Cousins, for he died in 1974.
It wasn’t in the summer, but not long after arriving back in Japan, partly in protest to the continuing war in Vietnam (in spite of the withdrawal of ground troops), I began to grow a beard. So this year is, for me, the fortieth anniversary of my beard, which I couldn’t shave off now or I wouldn’t look like me anymore!