Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Ethical Analysis of DJT’s First 100 Days

As has been widely covered in the news media, yesterday was the 100th day since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. What can be said about these 100 days from the standpoint of ethics and religious faith?
One of my good friends from way back recently sent me an email with this candid statement: “I do wish you were a bit less hard on the Right & Republicans, but I realize we are all partial.”
Here is part of my response:
To the best of my ability, I write what I do because of my Christian faith not because of any political affiliation. And if I am partial, it is, I hope, partiality to the teachings of Jesus. If I am hard on the Right & Republicans it is because of what seems to me to be their words and/or actions that contradict the teaching (and the spirit or Spirit) of Jesus.
It is in that vein that I have sought to make an ethical analysis of DJT’s first 100 days in office—and on May 12 I am scheduled to give a talk and lead a discussion on that topic at the regular meeting of a group known as Provocateurs and Peacemakers. (Here is the link to a promo for that meeting.)  

Obviously, I can’t write in 600 words here all that I will have from 60 to 90 minutes to present on May 12, so I have selected only a few points that I plan to emphasize in my upcoming (and as yet unfinished) talk.
There are many specific questionable ethical statements/actions of DJT that could be mentioned, but here I will just indicate some of the general or catch-all issues:
1) In the realm of personal ethics, DJT’s propensity for telling falsehoods is a major problem. From his statements on Day 2 about the size of the inauguration crowd, outright lies or misleading statements have been numerous, and troubling, throughout his first 100 days in office.
2) DJT’s (and his children’s) use of his (their) position to make money for the Trump family also seems highly unethical. His (their) trips almost every weekend to his privately owned resort and his conducting official business and entertaining heads of other nations there further raises serious ethical questions.
3) This month, DJT’s launching Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base and dropping a MOAB on Afghanistan as a show of power is ethically questionable and potentially dangerous. Those bombings had little apparent effect in Syria or Afghanistan. Their use, however, perhaps encourages Kim Jong-un to use his weapons against the U.S. before missiles or bombs are preemptively used against North Korea.
4) There are also ethical questions about several other matters: for example, his proposed budget, his support of repealing the ACA without a suitable replacement, and his proposed ban on visitors from Muslim countries and refusal to accept refugees from Syria.
5) There are also problems with his various actions that dismantle protection of the environment. In the long term, failure to protect the environment may be one his greatest ethical errors.
From what DJT has said and done in these past 100 days, it is hard to be hopeful that things will get better in the months and years ahead. But there has, thankfully, been softening of some positions which seemed to be ethically questionable.
My main hope is that the widespread resistance to and protests against the many unethical positions of DJT will continue, and will become even more effective. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What about Blue Ocean Faith?

While some of you may have heard of it already, perhaps most of you haven’t previously heard about the Blue Ocean Network. A few of you may have seen my friend Bill Tammeus’s recent “Faith Matters” blog article titled “Diving into ‘Blue Ocean Faith’,” but allow me to tell you more about it.
Last year on April 10 I made this entry in my diary/journal: “Interesting Sunday School class with a video of a talk by Rachel Murr. Learned about the Blue Ocean church movement for the first time.” Ms. Murr is a member of Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor, a church in Michigan. Her partner, Emily Swan, is co-pastor of that church.
This month I have read the new book titled Blue Ocean Faith. It is a compelling work written by Dave Schmelzer, a former atheist who in 1998 became the founding pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Cambridge, which grew into a large church—and eventually changed its name to Reservoir Church.
That church, near Harvard University, formed the Blue Ocean Network. In 2013 Reservoir Church left the Association of Vineyard Churches—and Schmelzer (b. 1962) and his wife Grace, who is his co-pastor, left to start a Blue Ocean church in Los Angeles.
The website of the latter says their church seeks to be alive in God, diverse, inclusive, politically nuanced, and attractive & comprehensible (to non-churchgoing people.) Good stuff.
The name of this new movement seems to have come from the book Blue Ocean Strategy (2005), which is about economics not about religion. But that book, as well as Schmelzer’s movement, is about connection rather than competition (which causes a “red," as in bloody, ocean), and about dynamic movement rather than boundaries. (More about the latter shortly.) 
There are eight chapters in Schmelzer’s book, and chapters two through seven set forth the six distinctives of Blue Ocean Faith. They are:
1) Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS.
2) Our primary metaphor is CENTERED-SET.
3) Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH.
4) Our approach to controversial issues is THIRD WAY.
5) Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL.
6) Our approach to secular culture is JOYFUL ENGAGEMENT.
All six of these deserve careful consideration, but it was the second of these that I found most instructive, so let’s look at it a bit more.
Schmelzer contrasts “bounded set” mentality with “centered set” mentality. The former draws a circle that separates those who are “in” from those who are “out.” The latter emphasizes a center but no boundaries. Rather, there is constant dynamic movement toward or away from the center.
This illustration shows those contrasting viewpoints: 

(This is not the illustration in Schmelzer’s book, although it is nearly the same. The only difference is that at the center of Schmelzer’s centered set is a cross rather than the target labeled “God.” I like this image better, and one of my few criticisms of Blue Ocean Faith is the emphasis on “solus Jesus” rather than upon “solus Christus”—in the broadest sense of a “cosmic Christ,” not as articulated in the Protestant Reformation.)

Blue Ocean seems to be a very attractive new Christian movement, which I hope will grow and become increasingly influential. Its distinctives could, with intentional effort, be incorporated into churches of most any denomination—and I pray that that will be increasingly done.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Feats of Clay

In February 2014 I posted an article about Cassius Clay / Mohammad Ali, who accomplished many outstanding feats. The famous boxer was the namesake of Cassius Marcellus Clay, a noted Kentucky politician and abolitionist. This article is about Henry Clay, the latter’s second cousin.
Henry Clay was born in Virginia 240 years ago, in April 1777, the son of a Baptist minister. Soon after being admitted to the Virginia Bar to practice law in 1797, he moved to Kentucky, where he soon became politically active.
In 1803 at the age of 26 Clay was elected to the Kentucky legislature. Three years later he was chosen to serve briefly in the U.S. Senate even though he was not legally old enough for that position. He was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811—and was chosen to be Speaker of the House when he was only 35.
Several years later, Clay proposed the “Missouri Compromise,” which allowed Maine to become a state in 1820 and Missouri in 1821. Partly because of Clay’s part in Missouri statehood, a new county formed in 1822 was named Clay County. (That is the county where I have lived since 2005).
Henry Clay long sought to be President of the United States. He first ran for that office in 1824, but he lost to John Quincy Adams. There were four candidates that year, and Clay came in fourth, carrying only three states (including Missouri).
Eight years later Clay ran against incumbent Andrew Jackson—and again lost (badly) in a four-way race. But that time he came in second.
Clay strongly opposed the Jackson administration—and Jackson himself, referring to him derisively as “King Andrew.” That opposition led to the formation of the Whig Party in 1834, and Clay was its primary leader until his death in 1852.
In 1840 the Whigs elected their first President, William Henry Harrison—who died just 31 days after his inauguration. The Whigs chose not to support Harrison’s successor, John Tyler, so Clay became a candidate for President a third time—and lost (to James Polk) for a third time. 
While he never became President—and in 1840 he famously said, “I’d rather be right than President”—Clay had considerable influence as a Representative and then as a Senator. In 2000 the Senate adopted a resolution naming the seven greatest senators of all time. Clay was one of those seven.
Clay also had considerable influence on Abraham Lincoln, a young member of the Whig Party. “Honest Abe” joined that Party in the year of its formation and was a Whig during his years in the Illinois legislature, 1834-41.
When Clay died in 1852, Lincoln delivered a eulogy at his funeral. After Lincoln became President, he continued to praise Clay and to quote from his speeches.
Sam Graves is the current U.S. Representative for much of north Missouri, including most of Clay County. In his March 20 “e-newsletter,” Rep. Graves wrote, “On March 20, 1854, a group of former Whig Party loyalists came together . . . to replace the failing Whig Party—plotting a new path forward during a perilous and uncertain time in American history.”
Then he went on to write, “What emerged from that meeting was the modern-day Republican Party.”
Rep. Graves’s first statement is historically accurate. His second assertion is very questionable. The primary political positions of Clay and Lincoln, the first Republican President, were certainly not the same as held by today’s Republican Party.
Rep. Graves needs to learn more about the feats, and political ideas/ideals, of Henry Clay.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Resurrection and Fake News

Last month Christianity Today published “The Resurrection: Good News vs Fake News (An Easter Sermon Idea).” That article is by Karl Vaters, the pastor of an Assembly of God church in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It would be interesting to know how many Easter sermons will use his central idea—as I am in this blog article.
In the past few months we have heard much about “fake news.” But the fake news phenomenon has been around for a long time. In fact, Wikipedia’s article says, “Significant fake news stories can be traced back to Octavian's 1st-century campaign of misinformation against Mark Antony.
Vaters sees evidence of fake news long before that, though. He avers that fake news was “how the serpent tempted Eve. By taking what God really said and twisting it just enough to make her doubt reality.”
Propaganda is a common type of fake news that has been around for centuries, and it has been widely used in religious squabbles, in politics, and especially in times of war. As I quoted in my 7/25/16 blog article, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”
To quote Vaters again, “The first challenge to the gospel wasn’t an alternative idea, a better philosophy or the refutation of an argument.” No, “The first challenge to the truth of the gospel was the planting of fake news to compete with the real news.”
As Vaters points out, according to Matthew the Roman soldiers who had been guarding Jesus’ tomb were bribed to spread a fake news story. (If you need to review that story in Matthew 28:11-15, you can find it here.)
There are many today who do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. That is not surprising if (a) one does not believe in a transcendent God (who is also immanent) or (b) one does not believe that there is any reality beyond the material world, which can be fully analyzed by science.
Such people must find some way to dismiss the claims of all those who believe the good news about the Resurrection. So whether they use those words or not, they reject the reports about the reality of the Resurrection as just fake news.
There are, however, no reports that have been longer lasting or of greater significance than those of the Resurrection. It has been believed by hundreds of millions of people around the world for nearly two millennia now.
Even during the heyday of atheistic Marxism in the Soviet Union, strong belief in the Resurrection remained in the hearts of multitudes of primarily Eastern Orthodox Christian believers there. As was true before and since, on Easter morning someone would call out,
Христо́с воскре́се! (Christ is risen!)
And the people within earshot would respond,
Вои́стину воскре́се! (He is risen indeed!) 
One of my favorite musical compositions is "Russian Easter Overture." It was composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) in 1888, nearly three decades before the Bolshevik Revolution. It expresses well the power of the ongoing Russian Orthodox belief in the Resurrection.
I encourage all of you to listen tomorrow (or anytime) to this magnificent 15-minute piece as performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, one of the leading symphony orchestras in Russia, on YouTube here or here as conducted by Dmitri Kitayenko (b. 1940 in Leningrad).
Listening to that moving music reinforces my belief that the Resurrection is real! It is the reports denying that pivotal point in history that is fake news.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 10, 2017

A "Syrious" Matter

Since last Thursday evening (U.S. time) the news media has focused on the U.S. military strike against an airbase in Syria and the aftermath of that decisive action authorized by President Trump. Without question, this is a very serious (“Syrious”) matter that deserves careful consideration.
As you know, on April 6 at approximately 8:40 p.m. EDT (3:40 a.m. the next day in Syria) the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat Air Base in western Syria.  
Pres. Trump ostensibly ordered the surprise strike in direct response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib on April 4. That horrific attack apparently by the Assad regime killed around 80 people, about half of whom were women and children.
This month’s lethal gas attack in Syria, though, was on a far smaller scale than that of August 2013 when approximately 1,400 Syrians were killed by a similar attack.
Many politicians, mostly Republicans but some Democrats as well, were quite critical of President Obama for not taking action against the Assad regime following that 2013 attack. Of course, he did seek to get congressional approval for military action against Syria then, but Congress refused to act.
After his administration’s sputtering for its first 75 days, the current President may well have wanted to do something that would bolster his approval ratings and draw praise from the crowd who regularly referred to Obama as a feckless President.
Whether that was DJT’s intention or not, he seems to have reaped those benefits. Two of his Republican critics, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have praised his action. And he even garnered positive comments from Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
There are, however, numerous troublesome questions, the greatest of which is, Will this escalate into a broader, more serious war—even into World War III? Because of that ongoing possibility, I, for one, was relieved that Pres. Obama did not initiate military action against Syria in 2013.
Here are some other questions raised by the DJT’s April 6 action.
1) Was this just a symbolic strike? The very next day Syrian airplanes were able to use the Shayrat runways for takeoffs. If it was just symbolic, what real benefit did it have?
2) What was gained by using 59 missiles that would cost an estimated $60,000,000 to replace at a time the President’s budget calls for cuts in foreign aid and at a time tens of thousands are in danger of dying from starvation in Africa? Does the President need to see some pictures of those dying children?
3) What does it mean for the President to say that he was acting out of sympathy for children killed in Syria when he has proposed not accepting refugees from Syria into the U.S.?
4) What does it mean for the U.S. to be now on the same side as ISIS in Syria?
5) And this is a major question: Was it legal/constitutional for the President to order the strike?
At this point, less than four days after the April 6 attack, the world will just have to wait and see what the short- and long-term consequences of that attack will be. There are too many unknown variables to make any predictions at this time.
The main thing we don’t know is whether there will be further military action by the U.S. If not, perhaps the negative consequences will be negligible.
But if there are further unilateral strikes launched by the U.S., or retaliatory attacks by Syria—or especially by Russia—there will doubtlessly be many dark days ahead.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Woman in the House

Currently, there are 83 women who serve in the United States House of Representatives. That is 19.1% of the 435 House members, and about 3/4 of those 83 are Democrats. There have not always been women in the House, however.
Jeannette Rankin of Montana was the first female to serve in the U.S. Congress. In fact, it was 100 years ago this week that she became the first woman in the House.
Rankin was born in 1880 in Montana Territory, nine years before it became a state. In 1914, women’s suffrage was passed in both Montana and Nevada. They thus became the tenth and eleventh states to give women the right to vote.
Rankin had joined the suffrage movement in 1910 when she was working in an orphanage in Seattle. Partly because of her efforts, Washington voted for women’s suffrage in November of that year. 

Rankin then moved back to Montana, and in February 1911 she made her case for women's suffrage before the Montana legislature. That was the first time a woman had spoken to that body. It took until November of 1914, but then Montana also decided to allow women to vote.
Rankin decided to run in 1916 as a Republican for one of the two U.S. House of Representatives seats from Montana—and she won! In her first time to vote she voted for herself.
Rankin was introduced in Congress as its first female member on April 2, 1917.
On the very day she took office, Pres. Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged a declaration of war against Germany, and on April 6 the vote went to the House.
Rankin was one of 50 representatives who voted against the American declaration of war—and she became the one most criticized for her negative vote.
Knowing she had little chance of being re-elected to the House, in 1918 Rankin ran for the Senate. However, she was unsuccessful. She was then no longer a member of Congress until her election in 1940 to serve once more as a Representative from Montana.
Soon, on Dec. 8, 1941, Congress voted once again on another declaration of war. Also, once again, Rankin voted against going to war—and this time she was the only one to cast a dissenting vote.
She was also once again widely maligned for voting against war. Here was the headline in one newspaper: 

Rankin, however, was consistently against war during her long lifetime.
In 1967, at the age of 87 and sixty years after first taking a seat in Congress, she organized the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, an organization that publicly protested against the Vietnam War.
Rankin died in 1973 at the age of 93.
The nation has moved considerably toward women’s equality since 1917—but many would argue not nearly far enough. Perhaps more women would mean a more peaceful country and a more peaceful world.
Not all women are against war the way Jeannette Rankin was. Still, there may be great truth in these words she spoke in 1925:
The work of educating the world for peace is a woman’s job, because men are afraid of being classed as cowards.
Maybe we should also agree with this statement: 

However, not all women are the same. I am not impressed by, nor a supporter of, the two women among the current eight U.S. Representatives from Missouri.
The women I want in Congress are people like Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who has served in the House since 1998--and like Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in the House.