Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Economic Justice for All

This month’s election was full of ironies. One was that many blue collar voters in the so-called Rust Belt were so worried about their stagnant, or disappearing, wages that they voted for a billionaire who has a history of mistreating workers to be their rescuer.
Another irony is that neither of the presidential candidates made much mention of a major problem in the U.S.: poverty and the lack of what some term “economic justice.” In spite of all that was said from both sides, there was little attention given to the worrisome conjoined twins in contemporary USAmerican society: racial injustice and economic injustice.
The Bishops’ Document
Ten years ago, Diana Hayes gave the annual Romero Lecture in Camden, New Jersey. The title of that significant talk was “The Color of Money: Racism and the Economy.”
Dr. Hayes is an outstanding person: she was the first African-American woman to earn a Pontifical Doctorate in Theology, and until her retirement in 2011 she was Professor of Systematic Theology at Georgetown University.
In her 2006 lecture, included in the book Romero’s Legacy (2007), Hayes introduced “Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” a document the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted in November 1986.  

Ten years later the same Conference issued a new document: A Decade after Economic Justice. In the “Introduction” the bishops noted three nations in our midst: one “prospering and producing in a new information age,” one “squeezed by declining real incomes and global economic competition,” and the third “an American underclass.”
My guess is that in this month’s election a majority in the first nation voted for Clinton, a majority in the second nation voted for Trump, and a great many in the third nation didn’t vote at all.
Six moral principles
In the original document issued 30 years ago, the bishops set forth six moral principles—all of which still need to be considered conscientiously today:
Every economic decision and institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.
Human dignity can be realized and protected only in community.
All people have a right to participate in the economic life of society.
All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable.
Human rights are the minimum conditions for life in community.
Society as a whole, acting through public and private institutions, has the moral responsibility to enhance human dignity and protect human rights.
Concerning the fifth principle, the bishops quoted Pope John XXIII, who stated that “all people have a right to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, education, and employment.” The bishops then explained that this means that “when people are without a chance to earn a living, and must go hungry and homeless, they are being denied basic rights.”
A small step forward?
Given the problem of economic injustice in the nation, the lingering question is, What can be done?
Ten years ago Hayes averred that justice is not being done when a “million or so have slipped into poverty because of our refusal to raise the minimum wage” (p. 87). One presidential candidate did promise to reverse that refusal. Unfortunately, she lost.
Under the new President-elect and Republican Congress, raising the minimum wage doesn’t seem likely to happen, nationwide at least. However, in the Nov. 8 election voters in four states did approve raising the minimum wage—a small step in the right direction.
Then yesterday (Nov. 29) there were widespread strikes and rallies pushing for increasing the minimum wage—perhaps another small step forward in the struggle to create economic justice for all.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Rebirth of the KKK

As I mentioned in an article earlier this year, the Ku Klux Klan was first formed 150 years ago. It was mostly suppressed, however, during the first term of President Ulysses S. Grant as the Ku Klux Act of 1871 gave the President the power to impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations and to use military force to suppress the KKK.
A novel and a movie
Over thirty years later, though, Thomas Dixon, a pastor from North Carolina, glorified the Klan’s activities during the first years of Reconstruction. His 1905 novel was titled The Clansman, and I found it quite fascinating when I read earlier this fall.
Dixon’s book largely about the mistreatment of Southern whites after the Civil War is skillfully written. By the time I finished it I momentarily felt like saying, “Thank God for the KKK!” Of course I knew better, and knew more than what was portrayed in a novel. 

In the years following the publication of Dixon’s book, however, there were those who didn’t seem to know better. One such person was William Joseph Simmons, who became the founder of the second Ku Klux Klan. 
Simmons (1880-1945) decided to rebuild the Klan in 1915 not long after he had seen it favorably depicted in the newly released film “The Birth of a Nation,” which was based on Dixon’s novel.
That over-three-hour silent movie was the first movie to be shown in the White House. Woodrow Wilson was the President in 1915, and he was a Southerner (born in Virginia) and perhaps more racist than any his predecessors all the way back to Andrew Johnson (from Tennessee).
When I watched “The Birth of a Nation” on my computer this fall, I was surprised to see that after the intermission, the second part begins with three screens showing statements by Wilson.
The movie is different from the novel in several ways—but it equally glorifies the Klan. And based on the inspiration gained from seeing D.W. Griffith’s blockbuster movie, Simmons recruited 34 men to become his first Knights of the KKK.
A fiery cross
On November 25, which was Thanksgiving Day in 1915, Simmons and 19 of his Knights marched up Stone Mountain (near Atlanta) and lit a cross on fire. That marked the rebirth of the Klan, which grew rapidly and peaked with over four million members in 1924.
The reborn Klan was dedicated to keeping the country white and Protestant and to saving America from domestic and foreign threats—and one can’t help but wondering if the same kind of thinking is not behind you-know-who’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
In his book The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America (1987), Wyn Craig Wade links the Klan to the religious fundamentalism of the 1920s—and to the Christian Right of the 1980s. Now in 2016 we see many evangelical Christians, perhaps inadvertently, linked to rejuvenation of the KKK—or at least of its main emphases.
And now . . .
It is no secret that the KKK and other white nationalist groups are ardent supporters of the President-elect’s and of his selection of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.
Recently, Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid, said: “It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of White Supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide.”
Admittedly, things may not turn out as bad as many fear—but they may also turn out a lot worse that many others think. It is troubling that 145 years after the first KKK was suppressed by the President, current Klan members are now cheering the President-elect.
 Two more resource books worth noting:
Baker, Kelly J. Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (2011)
Rawlings, William. The Second Coming of the Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s (2016)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Barnet's Brilliant Book

Vern Barnet has long been one of the outstanding religious leaders of Kansas City. The accompanying picture was taken of him at the 2016 Annual Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Dinner, held for the first time on the campus of William Jewell College.
The Barnet Award
At that most enjoyable gathering on Nov. 13, the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award was given to Lama Chuck Stanford, a retired Tibetan Buddhist leader who has long been active in Kansas City.

Barnet founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989, and after his retirement as head of that organization, the Vern Barnet Award was created in 2010—with him as its first recipient.
(Last year’s recipient of the award was my good friend Ed Chasteen, former professor of sociology at William Jewell College. June and I enjoyed sitting at the same table with Ed and his wife Bobbie at last week’s Thanksgiving dinner.)
For many years Vern (b. 1942) served as a Universalist Unitarian minister, and he is minister emeritus of the Center for Religious Experience and Study (CRES), which he founded in 1982. In 2011, however, he was baptized in an Episcopalian church, and is now said to be an active Episcopalian layman.
His main love, though, still seems to be interfaith activities.
The Barnet Book
Vern is also an editor and author. He co-edited the 740-page Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers (2013). The most recent book he authored, however, is not directly about religion.
Vern’s book Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire was published in 2015. He describes the book as a “prosimetrum of 154 sonnets, glosses, and other commentary, in which the sacred beauty of sex and love is explored.” (A prosimetrum is “a text composed in alternating segments of prose and verse.”)
Vern’s sonnets are consciously linked to Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. But, to be honest, I am over my head in trying to expound upon the meaning and significance of either Shakespeare’s or Barnet’s sonnets. But I have been moved by many of Vern’s sonnets I have read.
For full disclosure, I must admit that I have not read nearly all of Vern’s book, although I do intend to keep reading it little by little--which is the way it needs to be read. Thanks for Noticing is quite obviously a brilliant book as well as a very erudite one.
Barnet’s Sonnets 78 to 86
The 154 sonnets in Vern’s book are grouped into eight sections with titles taken from the parts of a Catholic mass. The most theological part is the one titled “Credo,” and those sonnets, numbers 78 to 86, are the ones to which I have paid the most attention.
(Many of the 154 sonnets are about sex and sexuality, and I will leave it to others to write about the meaning and importance of those.)
Sonnet 78 is titled “Advent,” and as next Sunday, Nov. 27, is the first Sunday of Advent I have read and re-read that insightful sonnet—although the Eucharist does not have the same meaning to me as it does to Episcopalians or Catholics.
“Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” is the title of Sonnet 84, and it ends with this couplet:
                                I know the Gospel is a pious tale,
                                                But who cares facts when worship cannot fail?
By these words Vern seems to urge us to a pre-modern/post-modern “mysticism” that is not fettered by facticity. Direct experience of God (Ultimate Reality) is more than, and far greater than, having (or seeking) only factual knowledge.
That is one important lesson bundled in Barnet’s brilliant book.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Maybe the Amish are Right (but Probably Not)

Mrs. Kikuko Fukuoka (June’s and my good friend from Fukuoka, Japan, whom I wrote about here four years ago) came to visit us again this month. I can’t remember why, but on her first evening here we talked some about the Amish.
What my Amish friend said
Fukuoka-san had never seen an Amish person and was interested in learning more about them. So the next day we drove up to the Jamesport (Mo.) area where I had gone in September. Among other things, we were able to talk briefly with Melvin Yutzy, my new Amish friend whom I wrote about on Sept. 30.
During our brief chat on Nov. 4, I asked Melvin about whether he and the other Amish in his community were going to vote on the following Tuesday. He quickly replied that he and all the Amish he knows have never voted and didn’t intend to this year.
(I had seen articles this fall about Amish voting—and voting Republican; for example, see this. But another article I saw said that perhaps only 10% to 15% of them do vote.) 

Anabaptist roots
There have been many Anabaptists through the years—and the Amish are clearly rooted in Anabaptism—who have taken a negative view toward not only voting but toward any active involvement in politics. At the beginning they even held that a Christian should not become a “magistrate.”
Unlike the Lutherans or the Reformed Church from which they separated, Anabaptists largely rejected Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine and opted for identifying wholly with the Kingdom of God and living as fully as possible by the values of that Kingdom—which notably included peace and justice.
Maybe the early Anabaptists and most of the current Amish are right: maybe we who are followers of Jesus Christ should be living in and working for the Kingdom of God rather than becoming involved in the “kingdoms” of the secular world.
Jesus, after all, called his followers to be salt, not the whole bowl of porridge.
When the followers of Jesus were a small minority, perhaps that was the optimal stance. But things changed. Christians came to make up a larger and larger segment of society. Of course, that led to what the Anabaptists have often called the Constintinian fall of the Church.
Accordingly, the 16th century Anabaptists refused to entangle themselves in political affairs in the same way the first followers of Jesus did.
More than six years ago I posted an article about Arthur G. Gish, a former Amish man (and then a member of the Church of the Brethren) who was the author of The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970). That was one of the most influential books I read in the 1970s—or maybe have read in my lifetime.
In his seminal book, Gish writes about his Anabaptist forefathers with great appreciation—but then talks about the definite need now for those in that tradition to become more intentionally involved in the larger society. And that has, indeed, increasingly happened over the last 45 years.
Quite some time ago I started, but sadly never finished, writing an article about Neo-Anabaptism. Such is what Gish was advocating, for what I thought were legitimate reasons.
Rainbow Mennonite Church (in Kansas City, Kan.), the progressive church I belong to now, is a good example of a Neo-Anabaptist church, and I am happy to be a part of it.

So while I briefly wondered last week whether perhaps Melvin and his Amish friends are right about not voting, I have decided (again) that no, most probably they aren’t.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

In Memory of David O. Moore

Yesterday’s wonderful memorial service was a fitting tribute to an outstanding man. Dr. David O. Moore passed away on October 28 and a large number of family and friends gathered for the service yesterday (Nov. 12, 2016) at the Second Baptist Church in Liberty (Mo.) where he had been a member for more than 60 years.
The homily was given by Dr. Gordon Kingsley, the inimitable past-president of William Jewell College, where Dr. Moore had taught from 1956 until his retirement in 1986. 

I first met Dr. Moore in 1957 when I transferred to Jewell as a junior and he was one of my Bible professors there. He was an impressive teacher, but my greatest debt of gratitude to him is for what he did for me outside the classroom.
On June’s and my graduation day from William Jewell College in 1959, Dr. Moore approached me soon after the ceremonies were over. I had just been awarded the centennial scholarship to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, which was a surprise to me but not to Dr. Moore. He had been on the selection committee.
Dr. Moore asked me if I was going to accept the scholarship. I told him that I would like to if I could see any way we could financially make the move to Kentucky. At that point, June and I had not only been married nearly two years, we also had a nine-month-old baby. I was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a small church in Windsor, Mo., and was planning to commute from there to the new seminary in Kansas City, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I was dumbfounded when Dr. Moore told me that he had just been to Louisville for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. While he was there he visited the church where he had been a student pastor when he was in seminary. That church, Ekron Baptist Church about fifty miles southwest of Louisville, was looking for a new pastor and Dr. Moore had recommended me.
Dr. Moore said all I needed to do was to give him a date on which I could go preach a trial sermon at Ekron and he would call to tell them I was coming. So arrangements were made, June and I drove to Ekron and I preached at the morning and evening services on that Sunday in the middle of June. The church had a business meeting following the evening service-- and they extended the call for me to be their new pastor.
Thus, on the first of July in 1959 I became pastor of the Ekron Baptist Church and remained in that pastorate until September of 1963. To this day I remain grateful to Dr. Moore for being the one who made that significant time of service and learning possible.
On our second and third furloughs from our mission work in Japan, Dr. Moore was the chair of the Religion Department at William Jewell College, and he asked me to teach part-time at Jewell during the academic years of 1976-77 and 1981-82. That first time was especially meaningful because my son Keith and his fiancee Brenda were first year students at Jewell and took one (or maybe two) of the classes I taught that year.
Michael Willett Newheart, who has for many years been a New Testament professor at Howard Divinity School in D.C., was one of the outstanding upperclassmen I had in one of my classes that year—and we have been friends ever since. He flew to Kansas City late Friday and spent two nights with us in order to attend Dr. Moore’s memorial service.
Michael’s roommate at Jewell was Steve Hemphill, who was listed in the bulletin as Dr. Moore’s “former student & life friend.” As a part of the service he gave a touching talk titled “Requiem for a Fellow Pilgrim.”
Dr. Moore was on sabbatical in 1981-82. He invited me once again to teach at Jewell that year, and I had the privilege of using his faculty office (and library) during that wonderful year. On the wall of his office was a horseshoe with the accompanying words, “God loves a happy workhorse.” Those words were an appropriate reminder for me as well as for him.
Dr. Moore, who was born on March 11, 1921, was an excellent preacher and much in demand as a supply preacher in churches in a wide circle around Liberty—and he knew how to communicate with the “common” people in the pews. My home church was about a hundred miles north of Liberty and he preached there on more than one occasion—and my parents, who were north Missouri farmers, were highly impressed with and appreciative of him.

As you see from the picture of bulletin, yesterday's memorial service was “in praise of God and in memory of Dr. David O. Moore”—and it lived up to its billing. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Standing with the Losers

The long, acrimonious U.S. presidential election is over—and with an inexplicable result. The man whose election was unexpected by most and unthinkable by many is now two months away from becoming the 45th POTUS.
Winners and Losers
Who are the winners and losers of Tuesday’s shocking election? You know how the election turned out for the candidates, but who are the groups of persons who won and lost?
It seems quite clear that the main winners of the election (by how they voted) are white men, conservative Christians, and people with limited education. More than those of other demographic groups, they seem to be the victorious ones.
It also seems quite clear that the main losers of the election (by the voting results) are women, the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT people—and probably the U.S. as a whole.
In his infamous statement regarding John McCain (in July 2015, here), the President-elect said, “I don’t like losers.”
It remains to be seen how the new President will treat, or mistreat, my list of losers. Perhaps it will not be as bad as many of us fear. Perhaps it will be a lot worse than those who voted for him think. Only time will tell.
Standing with the Losers
Since my prior article was about voting for justice, I here state clearly that I am standing with the losers that I mentioned above and am committed to continuing work for greater justice for those in each group.
Perhaps it somewhat overstates my stance, but I agree with the following statement which I saw on Facebook early Wednesday morning: 

Speaking of Facebook and one group of losers, LGBT people, here are posts from two Facebook friends. One, a gay college student, wrote to his family members who voted for Trump: “I hope your racist bigotry toward Mexicans was worth risking my livelihood as a gay man. You frankly disgust me.”
Then there is this that Robert, a gay Hispanic man who attends the same church I do, posted on Facebook: “If you voted for Trump . . . delete me from Facebook. . . . . a vote for him is a vote for my destruction as a human being.”
I stand with these two friends—and with other losers in Tuesday’s election. I will continue to advocate social justice for them all, and I hope you will, too.
The Arc Bends toward Justice
On Wednesday morning I read an excellent article on “America is not, it turns out, better than this.” At the beginning of that piece the writer tells about President Obama’s new (2010) Oval Office rug.
There are five quotations embedded in that rug. One is that of abolitionist Theodore Parker as paraphrased by MLKing, Jr.: “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice.”
In my book The Limits of Liberalism (see p. 106) I was a bit critical of Parker’s words as they tend(ed) to feed into the over-optimism of some forms of liberalism. Things are not inexorably getting better and better every day in every way.
As the writer or the Vox article acknowledges, sometimes there are “kinks in the arc.” Tuesday’s election was, I fear, a major kink, a sizable setback for justice in this country—and I may not live long enough to see all the negative effects of this election bent fully back to even present-day justice levels.
So, while I am greatly disappointed in the outcome of the election, my disappointment is not primarily that Ms. Clinton and the Democrats lost. My great sorrow is for the losers who will quite likely encounter increased injustice.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Confession: I Am a One-Issue Voter

Don’t be a one-issue voter! That is a common admonition made by people writing or talking about voting.
A one-issue voter, of course, is someone who feels so passionate about a single subject that they are willing to cast their vote based on a candidate’s stand on that issue alone.
For example . . .  
To give an example from long ago, my father was not a highly political person, but he self-identified as a Democrat. Nevertheless, he did not like Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936 my father turned 21 and voted for the first time—but he voted for Republican Alf Landon for one reason and one reason alone: prohibition.
Roosevelt was elected in 1932 partly on the basis of his promise to end prohibition—which did end in 1933. My father thought that was a mistake--and held it against Roosevelt in the 1936 election, and as far as I know in the following two elections as well. That is what it means to be a one-issue voter.
From what I hear, some people are going to vote against Hillary Clinton next Tuesday (or have already done so) mainly because of one issue: abortion. As I wrote in an earlier blog article, many conservative Christians will vote for Donald Trump primarily because they know Clinton will support abortion rights—and would appoint Supreme Court justices who would do the same.
“Pro-life” should mean far more than “anti-abortion,” but some think that voting in opposition to all abortion is more important than anything else when casting one’s ballot.
In my case . . .
But why do I now identify as a one-issue voter?
While working on the sermon I preached last Sunday (Oct. 30) at the Rosedale Congregational (UCC) Church (in Kansas City, Kan.) I decided that, alas, I am one.
I used the alternate Old Testament reading from the lectionary, Isaiah 1:10-18, and titled my sermon “Seek Justice,” taking those words from verse 17. 
In my sermon I also used one of the most important verses from the New Testament, which in one version is translated, “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Douay-Rheims, 1582, 1899)
Writing about the Kingdom of God as God’s reign, Stephen C. Mott translates that verse, “First of all seek the Reign and its justice” (Biblical Ethics and Social Change, 1982, p. 104).
It was my reflection on this verse, and the emphasis on justice in Amos 5 as well as in Isaiah 1, that led me to the conclusion that the candidate (or Party) most aligned with justice should be the one I vote for.
What this means
First, it is important to note that justice in the Bible is most usually not about punitive (criminal) justice or about restorative justice, a rather new and important emphasis. In the Bible justice is usually what can be called “distributive justice” and is often, rightfully, called “social justice” and includes racial justice and economic justice, among other types.
Thus, voting on the one issue of justice means voting for candidates most likely to work against oppression of people because of race, class, or gender.
So, here’s how I plan to vote on Nov. 8—and how I urge you to vote if you haven’t already: I will vote for the candidates who seem most likely to oppose oppression in order for there to be justice for women, for people of color, for LGBT people, for economically poor people, for American Indians, and for immigrants.