Saturday, July 30, 2016

Advocating "Lesser Evilism"

Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States, barring some completely unforeseen and/or truly tragic event occurring between now and next January 20.
There are, however, historically large percentages of voters who dislike both Hillary and the Donald. Consequently, many people say they will vote for neither. Some won’t vote at all, and others will vote for a minor party candidate.
But choosing either of those options is highly questionable.
For those on the left, there may be much that is attractive and appealing in the positions of Jill Stein. But she will not be elected President this fall. Single digit support at the end of July will not turn into 270 electoral votes in November. That just isn’t going to happen.
And what possible good would not voting do?
So this is where talk about voting for the “lesser evil” is pertinent. (I started thinking about this article months ago after reading “Lesser-Evilism We Can Believe In,” an article in The Nation, and I urge all of you anti-Hillary progressives to read it.)
There is, admittedly, a problem with the term. As some say, “evil is evil” and should be rejected. Long ago Charles Spurgeon, the famous British Baptist preacher, advised, “Of two evils, choose neither.”
But that is not necessarily good advice in a binary election.
I have mentioned to several people that I was going to post this article at some point. One of those people later asked about when I was going to write about voting for evil. But that sort of misses the point: voting for the lesser evil is, arguably, good – or at least it is sure a lot better than voting for, or not voting against, the greater evil. 

Actually, I am going to vote for the person whom I think will be a very good President. In doing so, I would like to think that I am voting for the greater good rather than for the lesser evil —although, honestly, I find little good in the candidate I am definitely not voting for.
But even for those who don’t like either candidate, surely they see one as better, or worse, than the other. Surely not many think, as someone said to me the other day, “Both candidates are rotten to the core.”
According to the late Joseph Fletcher, Professor of Social Ethics at Episcopal Theological School, “whatever is the most loving thing in the situation is the right and good thing. It is not excusable evil, it is positively good” (Situation Ethics, p. 65).
Even though the candidate I will be voting for has said things and done things I do not particularly like, voting for that candidate is, I believe, “the right and good thing,” and not an “excusable evil.” That is equally true for those who vote for the “lesser evil.”
But why not take the “high moral ground,” as some of my Facebook friends advocate, and vote for a candidate that is clearly better than the either of the two major party candidates?
Voting for a candidate who doesn’t have a chance to win, or not voting at all, helps only the pride (self-righteousness) of the person who thinks they are not stooping to vote for someone not worthy of their vote. (See more about this in another article I highly recommend to progressive anti-Hillary people.)
So why do I advocate lesser evilism? Because any vote not cast for the lesser evil makes it more likely that the greater evil will be elected. Why would anyone want that?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Truth is the First Casualty

“The first casualty when war comes is truth.” Those words are attributed to Hiram Johnson in 1917. He was a U.S. Senator from California (1917-45) and was strongly opposed to the United States entering World War I.
Perhaps it can also be said that truth is the first casualty when there is a political convention. I say this partly because of my reflection upon last week’s Republican National Convention. Unfortunately, the same will probably also be true at the Democratic National Convention this week, although to a lesser degree I hope and pray.
Early in his acceptance speech the Republican nominee declared, “Here at our convention, there will be no lies.” But the next day a Huffington Post article had this headline: “Donald Trump Promises Not To Lie, Right Before Lying A Bunch Of Times.”
Was Trump really lying in his acceptance speech? Perhaps, but that depends partly on what one means by lying. If a lie is something one deliberately says in spite of knowing that it is false and with the intent of misleading other people, then Trump probably did lie about a number of things.
But he may well have thought that what he said was true, for he most likely didn’t look up all the facts and figures used in his speech. The fact-checkers did look them up, though, and many statements were found to be incorrect, misleading, and/or just plain false.
Truth, or the lack thereof, has been an issue with Donald Trump for a long time, as the fact-checkers have abundantly shown. The following chart indicates his and 19 other politicians’ untruthfulness/truthfulness. 

This chart was uploaded on (see here) on June 7, but I have not been able to authenticate the accuracy of these figures. Neither have I been able to discover who Robert Mann is. (He may be, or perhaps is not, a journalism professor at LSU.)
It must also be noted that all falsehoods are not of the same seriousness, and this chart deals with only the quantity of the lies told, not with qualitative differences. Still . . . .
If you want to consider only the two presidential candidates, here are figures from a July 1 article in the Washington Post: 
Writing last Friday about the RNC, Jim Wallis averred that “the continual outright lies and vicious personal attacks this week have been extraordinary.”
One of those lies was told by Ted Cruz on July 20: “Our party was founded to defeat slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We passed the Civil Rights Act, and fought to eliminate Jim Crow laws. Those were fights for freedom, and so is this,” he said.
This false claim that the Republican Party (as well as the Democratic Party) of today is the same as it was in Lincoln’s day is widespread. For example, on his July 22 radio show Rush Limbaugh declared, “The Democratic Party was the Party of the KKK—and it still is!”
(For an excellent explanation of the reversal of the two parties through the years, check out the article linked to here.)
Rush also highly recommended “Hillary’s America,” the new movie by Dinesh D’Souza that opened on July 22. D’Souza spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting I attended in June, so I was not surprised to receive a FFC email last week with this headline: “D’Souza reveals the sordid truth about Hillary & the secret history of the Democratic Party.” 
But the “sordid truth” that D’Souza reveals is full of lies. Once again truth is a casualty. 

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 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.