Sunday, July 15, 2018

Nice Isn’t Enough

Brett Kavanaugh seems like a nice guy. That is the impression I got Monday evening listening to DJT’s flowery introduction of his new nominee for the Supreme Court and from Judge Kavanaugh’s own remarks.  
BK, as he is already being called, seems to be a good family man and the kind of neighbor you would like to have. A family friend wrote in the Washington Post (here) that “Kavanaugh the carpool dad is one great guy.” Probably so.
Kavanaugh is also a civic-minded citizen and active Christian. He has tutored children at a D.C. elementary school, volunteered for charity groups, and is a regular participant in services at his Catholic church in Chevy Chase, Md., where he lives.
Being a nice guy, though, is not adequate reason for supporting Senate approval for his sitting on the high court. Please consider the following matters of serious concern.
(1) BK’s Position on Presidential Power
Perhaps the biggest problem with DJT’s pick of Kavanaugh is that, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a press conference on Tuesday, the President “chose the candidate who he thought would best protect him from the Mueller investigation.”
While there may be some exaggerated statements regarding BK’s likely protection of DJT against indictment while in office (see this Fact Checker article), there is adequate reason to think that Schumer’s statement is basically correct.
It is also questionable whether any new nomination of a Supreme Court justice should be considered by the Senate as long as the President is under investigation with aspects of that investigation possibly being brought before the high court at some point.
(2) BK’s Position on Health Care and Women’s Reproductive Rights
In a statement following Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) declared, “He's demonstrated a hostility to the Affordable Care Act that the Trump administration is continually working to undermine.” (Remember, the ACA is a law passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court to this point.)
At the same press conference mentioned above, Senator Schumer also said that Kavanaugh's selection would put healthcare protections in the ACA, such as protections for people with preexisting conditions, “at grave, grave risk.”
In addition, as the official blog of the Democratic Party says, “a vote for Kavanaugh would be a vote to . . .  deny women their constitutional right to make their own health care decisions.”
(3) BK’s Position on Church and State
On July 10, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), an organization I have supported for decades, publically declared that Kavanaugh is “the wrong choice for the Supreme Court.” That was because of their perception that BK was not committed to the concept of separation of church and state. They wrote (here),
The separation of church and state is the linchpin of religious freedom. We can’t afford to have a Supreme Court that would undermine it. By nominating Kavanaugh to the court, Trump threatens the vision of religious freedom for which Americans United has fought over the last 70 years. That’s why Americans United must oppose him.
On the same day, AU issued a five-page report (see here) on BK’s record and stated that he is a “threat to church-state separation and religious freedom.” 
For these, and other, reasons I insist that Brett Kavanaugh being a nice guy is by no means reason enough to support his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Many of you who live in States with one or both Senators possibly inclined to vote to approve Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court may likely want to contact those Senators and express your reservations about his suitability.
His being nice isn’t enough reason for approving him for the SCOTUS!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

TTT #18 One Doesn’t Have to be a Fundamentalist to be a Good Christian

This article is mostly from the first page of the 18th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT) with a bit of updating. So this introductory part of the topic introduced in the title is largely about an interesting person named Anne Rice.
Who Is Anne Rice?
Those who have heard of Anne Rice know that she has been an author for quite a long time, first achieving acclaim as the writer of vampire novels. Between 1976 and 2003 she wrote 18 books about vampires and witches—and I don’t regret not having read any of those books.
Anne Rice in 2010
Rice (b. 1941) was raised, and educated, as a Roman Catholic, but she became an atheist as a young woman and was estranged from the Catholic Church for some 30 years. In 1998 she returned to the Church and to a deep faith in God. 
In 2004 Rice announced in a Newsweek article that from then on she would “write only for the Lord.” Consequently, her next book was Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (2005) and followed by Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (2008).
Just two years ago “The Young Messiah,” a movie based on Rice’s 2005 book, was released, and June and I enjoyed watching it for the first time this past Friday night.
Rice’s spiritual autobiography was also published in 2008 under the title Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. The one-page first chapter begins, “This book is about faith in God.” Rice goes on to say in that short chapter that her story has a happy ending, for, she says, “I have found the Transcendent God both intellectually and emotionally.”
Anne Rice’s Startling Statements
As one who has read and enjoyed Rice’s stimulating books about the life of Jesus, finding them to be insightful and reverent, I was surprised and somewhat dismayed in July 2010 to learn that she had (on Facebook of all places!) publically renounced Christianity. 
Here is what she posted on Facebook on July 28, 2010: 
For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.
Five minutes later, she wrote this on her Facebook wall (as it was called then):
As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
The above quotes are given in their entirety to indicate how one public person has embraced Christ and Christianity and then rejected the latter because of her faith in Christ. But it seems mainly to be the fundamentalist form of the Christian faith, and the traditional form of Catholicism, that she has rejected.
That is why I wrote on my Facebook page back then that I wish Rice had read my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, for I firmly believe it is not necessary for one to be a fundamentalist, or a traditional Roman Catholic, in order to be a Christian, and a good one at that.
And, certainly, not all Christians are “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious,” although, unfortunately, some (or many) are.
[More than for most of the previous articles based on TTT, I encourage you to click here and read the entire 18th chapter—especially if you haven’t read my book Fed Up . . . .]

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Lift Every Voice and Sing"

As yesterday, July 4, was Independence Day here in the U.S., “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the official national anthem since 1931, has been sung and played often in the past few days, including at many churches on this past Sunday. But this article is about what has often been called the “Black National Anthem.”
Introducing the Johnson Brothers
James Weldon Johnson was a premier African-American author, educator, songwriter, and civil rights activist who died 80 years ago at the age of 67 in a tragic car/train accident on June 26, 1938.
His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, two years younger, was born 145 years ago in 1873 and died at the age of 81 in 1954.
The Johnson brothers were born in Jacksonville, Florida, but as young men they moved to New York and in the 1920s became leaders in the Harlem Renaissance. Prior to that, James was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as the U.S. counsel to Venezuela (1906-08). He then served as counsel to Nicaragua from 1909 to 1913.
Six years after its founding in 1910, James began working for the NAACP. In 1920 he was chosen as the first black executive secretary of that organization.
Rosamond was trained at the New England Conservatory and then studied in London. He also was actively involved in the work of the NAACP, but he is mainly known as a composer and singer who had a successful show business career.  
James W. and J. Rosamond Johnson
Introducing “Lift Every Voice . . .”
As a young man, James Johnson was the principal of the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville. In 1900, Booker T. Washington was coming to his school as part of the celebration of the 91st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
To introduce the honored guest, the Johnson brothers decided to write a song for the occasion. James penned the lyrics and Rosamond wrote the stirring music for the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
At that February 1900 celebration, a chorus of 500 “colored school children,” as James later wrote, sang their song at the school where he was principal. Within 20 years it was being sung across the South and in some other parts of the country—and was adopted as the official song of the NAACP.
Click here to read the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” or even better click here to see/hear it sung on YouTube by the (mostly white) Mormon Tabernacle Choir in May of this year.
Introducing the Rationale
Some USAmericans, including some African-Americans, question the validity or propriety of referring to “Lift Every Voice” as the “Black National Anthem.” They say, for example, that to call it that suggests that black people are separatists and want to have their own nation.
There are many, though, who think it is appropriate for African-Americans to have an alternative to the anthem that was penned in 1812, more than a half-century before the emancipation of the enslaved black people in the U.S.
They, and I am one of them, think it is hypocritical to sing a song about “the land of the free” that was written when there were millions of people in the land who were by no means free.
Even though freedom in the U.S. was theoretically bestowed upon all blacks soon after the Civil War, in reality to be “free at last” was still a part of MLK’s dream in 1963.
Every year at the MLK birthday celebration held in William Jewell College’s Gano Chapel, a highlight of the service is when all participants join hands and strongly sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Let's continue to join hands and work together "till victory [freedom/equality/mutual respect] is won" for all. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

TTT #17 Both/And is Generally Better and More Nearly True than Either/Or

As narrated in my 6/20 blog article, D. Elton Trueblood’s book Philosophy of Religion (1957) greatly impacted my life and thinking. Particularly, I was significantly influenced by the chapter titled “Faith and Reason” as I learned about the Danish philosopher/ theologian Søren Kierkegaard and his “Christian existentialism” and about the French mathematician/physicist/philosopher Blaise Pascal as well as about the idea of paradox as a serious philosophical concept.
Embracing Paradox
The use of paradox as a literary device is widely recognized as a legitimate, and often helpful, means of enlarging one’s perspective and consideration of complex issues. In the English speaking world, however, it was not until the 1950s that paradox became the subject of serious theological consideration.
Of course, the idea of paradox as a way to comprehend reality goes back far earlier than to the last century or to the centuries in which Kierkegaard and Pascal lived.
The concept of yin and yang, for example, is an ancient Chinese concept. Taken together, yin and yang describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent. So, according to that perspective, reality is not just unitary (one) but neither is it dual. It is, as is sometimes expressed in East Asia, “not-two.”   
Truth is often found in the combination or unity of opposites. That is the philosophical or theological idea behind the concept of paradox and the reason I assert that in most cases both/and is better than and more nearly true than either/or.
In the 1960s I became so interested in the concept of paradox that I ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on The Meaning of Paradox.
Paradox is, I believe, a key concept that helps us grasp the truth about reality. Accordingly, both/and thinking is almost always better than either/or thinking.
Affirming Coincidentia Oppositorum
Recently I came across a significant statement by Charles Simeon (1759-1836), who emphasized that “truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes.”
That idea can be traced back at least to Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century. He wrote about coincidentia oppositorum (the “coincidence of the opposites”).” This means that in many cases Truth is not on one side or the other—or even in the middle between the opposites. The truth is in both extremes held simultaneously.
This seems to have been the position of Kierkegaard, who referred to Jesus Christ as the Absolute Paradox. By that he meant that Jesus is not only wholly God and wholly human but also wholly unexpected and wholly incomprehensible to normal rational thought.
The nature of Jesus Christ is just one of many Christian doctrines that have a paradoxical nature, at least the way that I and many others understand the matter.
Seeing the Limits of Both/And Thinking
While generally, or in most instances, both/and thinking is better than either/or, that is not always true. It is especially not true when it comes to ultimate commitments.
For example, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24, NRSV). Here is a clear case of either/or being correct; both/and doesn’t work.
So, this section turns out to be an illustration of the point of the chapter. Rather than say we should always use both/and thinking or always use either/or thinking, it is far better to realize that both “both/and” and “either/or” thinking should be used at times and that neither can nor should be used exclusively.

[Click here to read the 17th chapter in Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now, my unpublished book manuscript.]

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ironies of American History

It has been two weeks now since the historic meeting between DJT and Kim Jong-un in Singapore. You likely heard/saw much about that at the time. What can we say now about that meeting, which is surely one of the ironies of American history? (“Irony” as used here means “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects.")
The Irony of American History
The noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (about whom I wrote in a June 2017 article) gave two lectures at Westminster College in Missouri in May 1949. Those talks became the basis of his book The Irony of American History (1952).
Rather than try to summarize Niebuhr’s book here (which cannot be done briefly), let me just refer to “What You Can Learn from Reinhold Niebuhr,” a review article that appeared in the March 26, 2009, issue of The New York Review of Books.
This article is about two events that have happened since Niebuhr’s book was published. It is, however, partly about two countries that have embraced Communism, the focus of Niebuhr’s reflections.
Nixon’s Visit to China
Richard Nixon, the only POTUS to resign, is primarily known for two things: the Watergate affair that led to his resignation and his visit to China leading to the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and that country.
Nixon’s strategic visit to China was twenty years after Niebuhr’s book was published, but that visit is surely one of the ironies of American history. Nixon was chosen to run as Eisenhower’s Vice-President partly because of his strong anti-Communism stance.
Nixon, though, became the first U.S. President to visit the People’s Republic of China, and that visit ended 25 years of no diplomatic ties between the two counties.
For several reasons, Nixon can be seen as one of the worst Presidents in U. S. history. But his visit to China was a highly important strategic and diplomatic achievement—and part of the irony is that if Humphrey had been elected in 1968, he likely would not have been able to pull off that feat.
It is also ironic that that successful political action occurred just four months before the Watergate break-in, which, of course, led to Nixon’s resignation.
The Trump-Kim Meeting
So, what about the historic meeting of the current POTUS and Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea?
One ironic aspect of that June 11/12 meeting comes from the saber-rattling rhetoric and derogatory language used by both leaders against each other just a few months earlier.
Trump publicly called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and in private with his aides referred to Kim as “a crazy guy.” Kim, in turn, has called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” At the Singapore Summit, however, Trump and Kim appeared to be bosom buddies. 
As was widely reported, Trump “gushed with praise” of the North Korean dictator. But that was not highly regarded by some Americans, including David A. Graham who wrote a June 12 article for The Atlantic titled “Trump’s Effusive, Unsettling Flattery of Kim Jong Un”.
But others lauded DJT. On June 14, Deroy Murdock wrote in the National Review (here), “President Trump’s extraordinary Tuesday-morning Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was an encounter that eluded every American president from Eisenhower to Obama.”
Who’d have thought that the President who last year threatened “fire and fury” and early this year bragged to Kim, “My nuclear button is bigger than yours,” would be the one to meet with the Supreme Leader of North Korea and come away claiming that there is no longer any threat of nuclear confrontation?
Ironic indeed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

TTT #16 Unexamined Faith is Not Worth Having

This article is based on the 16th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), the first chapter in the second half of the book. The first half is mostly about theological “true things.” The remainder of the book is about more personal, “close-to-home” issues.
My Personal Experience
In May of 1957, I graduated from junior college and transferred that fall to William Jewell College. One of my courses that first semester was Philosophy of Religion and the textbook was the newly published Philosophy of Religion by the Quaker scholar D. Elton Trueblood.
In the first chapter of his book, Trueblood (1900-94) declares, “Unexamined faith is not worth having” (p. 14). My professor, for good reason, emphasized that statement repeatedly, and I gradually came to realize that it was, indeed, not only an important statement to think about but also something that I badly needed to do. 
That autumn was an uncomfortable time for me. Seeking to examine my faith resulted in a trying period of doubt, reflection, and examination—but that was an extremely valuable experience.
As a result of that process, I came to embrace what seemed then, and still seems to me now, an examined faith very much worth having. Of course, at various times through the decades since then, it has been necessary to re-examine various aspects of my faith.
How Could Faith be Not Worth Having?
If faith is always good, as asserted in my 6/10 article (and in Chapter 15 of TTT), how could faith ever be not worth having?
Well, faith is always good—but it is not always stable. Sometimes it is weak, easily shaken, and even so fragile that it is broken by adversity. In that sense alone it is not worth having: if faith cannot withstand challenges, both those from within and from without, how can it be of great value?
Faith in God is, truly, always good, but people often have insufficient or an erroneous understanding of God. Failing to have an adequate understanding of God can produce a flawed faith.
Moreover, there are many challenges to faith hurled at believers by aggressive atheist or anti-theistic writers. Far more than at the time that Trueblood wrote about unexamined faith not being worth having, in recent years there have been several popular, widely-read authors who have strenuously attacked faith in God and touted an unabashed atheism.
These “New Atheists” represent a belief system that actively opposes faith in God. If a person of unexamined faith is confronted by people such as those militant atheists, that faith may not be strong enough to withstand the attack.
That is part of what I mean by emphasizing that unexamined faith is not worth having.
How Does One Examine One’s Faith?
The process of examining one’s faith is not easy, though. Philosophical and theological thinking rather than the empirical or scientific method must be used. Serious reflecting, analyzing, studying, and, yes, praying must be a part of that process.
In addition, being a part of a community of faith is also invaluable for that important endeavor.
Those who come to realize that unexamined faith is not worth having need to realize that in addition to their personal efforts they must make to examine their faith by study, thought, and prayer they also need also to be a part of a supportive faith community.
That community may or may not be a part of “organized religion,” but robust faith often doesn’t last long for people who proclaim to be “spiritual but not religious.”
[The 16th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT) can be accessed by clicking on this link.]

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Tangled Mercy at Mother Emanuel Church

Three years ago on June 17, a white terrorist shot and killed nine African-Americans in the Emanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That tragic event is linked to the early history of that church in an engaging 2017 novel titled A Tangled Mercy.
The Early History of “Mother Emanuel”
Between 1815 and 1818, Hampstead Church was founded in Charleston, South Carolina. Later its name was changed to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and it became the largest African-American church south of Baltimore. Through the years it has been affectionately called Mother Emanuel Church.
Denmark Vesey, who in 1822 was the primary leader of the thwarted slave revolt in Charleston, was one of the church’s founders. Vesey and more than 30 others were executed by hanging on July 2 that year. Soon afterward the church building was burned down.
Mother Emanuel Church was not able to rebuild until after the Civil War. The plans for the new building constructed then were drawn by architect Robert Vesey, Denmark Vesey’s son.
After an earthquake demolished that structure in 1886, the current building, which seats some 2,500 people, was completed in 1892.  
Worship at Mother Emanuel Church on June 21, 2015
The 2015 Shooting at Mother Emanuel
On the evening of June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof went to Mother Emanuel Church and joined a dozen other people in Bible study and prayer.
When the small group began to pray about 9 p.m., Roof pulled a gun from a fanny pack and began shooting those around him. He fatally wounded nine people, including Clementa C. Pinckney, the pastor who was also a state senator.
Roof was soon apprehended. He confessed that he committed the atrocity at Mother Emanuel Church in the hope of igniting a race war. Before the shooting, a website showed him posing with emblems associated with white supremacy and with photos of the Confederate battle flag.
As was widely reported, not long after that tragic shooting the South Carolina General Assembly voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds.
Early last year Roof was sentenced to death. He is now waiting on death row in a federal prison in Indiana. 
There has, for good reason, been fear of Islamist terrorists in the U.S. since 9/11/01. But between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists.
Even though it may be the worst act of domestic terrorism since 2001, Roof’s is just one many terrorist acts committed by white supremacists in the U.S. in recent years.
A Tangled Mercy  
Thanks to Jason Edwards, my friend and former pastor, I heard about A Tangled Mercy, a new novel by Joy Jordan-Lake, a friend of Jason’s since his seminary days at Baylor. Soon after learning about Joy’s book, I began reading it and found it to be quite intriguing. 
In alternating chapters, she told the story of events in Charleston in 1822 and in 2015, skillfully weaving the stories together.
Part of the 1822 story was about one of “the amazing Grimké sisters,” as I called them in a 2016 blog article (see here), and about Denmark Vesey (whom I also introduced in that article).
The chapters about 2015, of course, lead to the shooting in Mother Emanuel Church.
If you are looking for a good novel to read this summer, I recommend ATangled Mercy. (I chose it as the best of the 23 novels I read last year.)
One of my favorite quotes in the book is near the end: “A life worth living is one of compassion. And a life of compassion will include many tears” (p. 425).

Sunday, June 10, 2018

TTT #15 Faith and Religion are Not the Same, and Faith Is Far More Important

In recent years there has been a growing number of people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” Although the 15th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . “ (TTT) does not address that issue directly, it is closely related. In this article (and chapter) I contend that it is much more important for people to have faith (be “spiritual”) than to practice religion.
Religion Divides, Faith Unites
Rev. Alex McGilvey, Manitoba, Canada
In the first part of Chapter 15 of TTT, I contend that there doesn’t have to be a split between faith and religion. That is because, ideally, religion is an expression of faith and nourishes the faith of the believer and encourages faith in non-believers. 
We live, however, in a world where much is far from ideal. And, unfortunately, quite often religion is quite different from, and quite inferior to, faith. Moreover, religion tends to be divisive. Religions often have “competed” with each other for adherents.
In an effort to overcome the tension among the religions, for decades some have encouraged, and practiced, interreligious dialogue. While certainly there is still a place for such dialogue among people of the various religious traditions, a more helpful movement is that of interfaith activities.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary indicates that the term interfaith dates back to 1932. But the common use of that term is considerably more recent. Still, it has become a widely used term; there is now even a website with the URL address www.interfaith.org.
Part of the reason for the shift in terminology from interreligious to interfaith is due to the fact that religion tends to divide, but faith can, and often does, unite people.
On this basis, chapter 15 deals with the following matters in distinguishing the major differences between religion and faith.
►Religion as “Unfaith”
There is broad agreement that the most influential Protestant theologian of the 20th century was Karl Barth, the Swiss scholar who died 50 years ago in 1968. (I wrote a blog article, see here, about him on the 44th anniversary of his death.)
One of Barth’s seminal emphases was that religion is fundamentally “unfaith” because, in his analysis, it is the result of the efforts humans expend in seeking their own salvation.
To Barth, and many others who share his ideas, God cannot found by humans searching for God. God can be experienced only through God’s self-manifestation, which is the main meaning of the theological term “revelation.”
Faith, then, is not striving, but responding. Faith is not searching, but receiving. Faith is simply the grateful acceptance of God’s abundant grace.
►Religion Can Be Evil
Charles Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister, authored a book published under the title When Religion Becomes Evil (2002). He doesn’t think that religion as such is bad, but he analyzes how religion in all religious traditions is susceptible to at least five basic corruptions leading to a variety of evils.
Kimball goes on to stress, and I agree, that “only authentic faith can prevent such evils” (back cover).
►Faith is Always Good

After a section in which I introduce Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s ideas about the difference between faith and religion, the closing section avers that “faith is always good.” Of course, that assertion is based on the way I have defined faith in the chapter.

To the extent that faith is response to God (by whatever name God may be known or Ultimate Reality encountered), that response will of necessity be a good thing.

If faith, in actuality, is being/living in a loving relationship with God as the result of direct encounter with God, how could that be anything but good?


[The 15th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), which amplifies what is presented in this article, can be found by clicking on this link.]

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A White Politician, a Hispanic Activist, and a Distraught Palestinian Walk into the Ambassador Hotel

For of all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
(John Greenleaf Whittier, 1856)
I couldn’t help but think of these well-known words when reflecting on the tragic events that happened in the first hour of June 5, 1968.
The White Politician
Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy won the Democratic presidential primary in California on June 4, 1968. Late that night he walked into the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to join many of his enthusiastic supporters for a vivacious victory celebration.
Just after midnight, Kennedy decided to call it a night. Hemmed in by the crowd, he followed the maître d'hôtel through the kitchen/pantry area of the hotel in order to exit by a back door.
RFK never made it out of the hotel on his own, for as he passed through the back kitchen area he was shot several times at close range. Rushed to the Good Samaritan Hospital (about ten minutes away), he died less than 26 hours later.
There is good reason to think that had he not been killed, RFK would have garnered the Democratic nomination for President in 1968.
In the November election, Richard Nixon just barely won the popular vote—and there is also good reason to think that he well may have lost the election if RFK had been his opponent.
“Of all sad words of tongue and pen . . . .”   
The Hispanic Activist
Dolores Huerta had enthusiastically welcomed Kennedy to California in March 1968. Although long overshadowed by Cesar Chavez, she and Chavez were the co-founders of the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 and was/is an indefatigable civil rights activist.
In an interview posted (here) just last month, Huerta (b. 1930) vividly recalled the day RFK joined thousands of farmworkers in Central California to celebrate the end of Chavez's fast for nonviolence.
Huerta happily walked into the Ambassador Hotel after the close of the California primary, and then stood on the podium with RFK as he gave his acceptance speech on that fateful night of June 4/5.
Huerta (on left) with RFK on 6/4/68
(If you haven’t seen the recent PBS documentary on Huerta, available for viewing here, I highly recommend it.)  
The Distraught Palestinian
Sirhan Sirhan was born (in 1944) in Jerusalem into an Arab Palestinian Christian family with Jordanian citizenship. When he was 12, his family emigrated to the U.S., moving to California after a brief time in New York.
On the night of June 4, 1968, Sirhan also walked into the Ambassador Hotel—but with a far different purpose than Kennedy’s or Huerta’s.
According to a reviewer of Mel Ayton’s book The Forgotten Terrorist (2007), “Sirhan Sirhan was not just a crazed 24-year-old Jordanian immigrant. He was in fact a radicalized Palestinian refugee with a clear political motive to attack the U.S. and its political institutions.”  
As a New York Senator, Kennedy had a large Jewish constituency. With the June 1967 Six-Day War fresh in the headlines, to Sirhan and many other Palestinians, Kennedy's unfortunate pledge to arm Israel seemed to be a declaration of war against the Palestinian people.
Sirhan was soon arrested and the following year was sentenced to death for assassinating Kennedy. With the change in California laws of capital punishment, in 1972 his sentence was changed to life imprisonment.
Surprisingly, a May 26 article in the Washington Post (here) is titled “Who killed Bobby Kennedy? His son RFK Jr. doesn’t believe it was Sirhan Sirhan.”
Regardless, the assassination of RFK is said to be the first major incident of political violence in the U.S. stemming from the Arab–Israeli conflict.
Again, sad words about what could have been so very different.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

TTT #14 The Goal of Missions is the Kingdom of God

The article I posted on May 20 summarized some legitimate reasons why Christians still engage in, and support, global evangelistic missionary activity. (I encourage you to check out the comments made, here, about that article.) It is now fitting to consider what the ultimate goal of missions is.
Three Problematic Goals
In the history of Christianity there have been various goals for mission work, and while not equally problematic three such goals can be negatively stated as follows:
(1) The goal of missions is not primarily the expansion of Christianity.
It cannot be doubted that from the time of its beginning as a small Jewish “sect,” for centuries Christianity expanded greatly. Much of that expansion was clearly due to missionary activity.
That does not mean, however, that expansion was, or should have been, the primary goal of missions. Nor, certainly, does it mean that that expansion through the centuries was always done by legitimate or admirable means, even by missionaries.
Much of the expansion of Christianity in the seven hundred years between 300 and 1000, for example, was due to the military and political activities of powerful kings and emperors.
The expansion of Christianity, especially for political reasons, should in no way be considered the primary goal of missions.
(2) The goal of missions is not primarily the spreading of Western civilization.
To some Christians in the past few centuries, missionary activity was linked to the spread of “civilization” to the “benighted” lands of the world.
European civilization was considered superior to that of the indigenous cultures of the other parts of the world, so spreading that civilization, seen largely as the fruit of the Christian faith, was considered a legitimate and praiseworthy activity for many Christians, especially in Great Britain and then in the United States.
There were, of course, important contributions made by missionaries, along with others, who took “civilization” into “primitive” societies. The introduction of Western medicine, for example, was a great benefit to multitudes of people.
But local cultures, societal structures, and religions were sometimes trampled underfoot in that process, and that type of missionary activity has, justifiably, come under intense criticism.
The spreading of Western civilization cannot legitimately be recognized as the major goal of Christian missions.
(3) The goal of missions is not primarily the planting of churches.
During the last decade of my missionary career, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention began to place almost complete emphasis not only on planting new churches but on the “church planting movement,” which was said to be the rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.
While planting churches certainly is a commendable activity, still, that should be one means of reaching the proper goal of missions, not the goal itself.
The Proper Goal

As stated in the title, the goal of missions is the Kingdom of God, and as I emphasized in the article posted on Feb. 28, the main characteristic of the God’s Kingdom is shalom (peace and justice).

This matter was well presented by E. Luther Copeland, my former missionary colleague and good friend in Japan. His 1985 book is titled World Mission, World Survival: The Challenge and Urgency of Global Missions Today.
In his last chapter, “The Kingdom and the Mission,” Copeland (1916~2011) elucidates that the goal of mission(s) is the kingdom of God (p. 139). 
That often overlooked point was made more than 100 years by Christoph Blumhardt. He wrote to his missionary son-in-law, “[T]here is no other purpose in your mission work than to proclaim God’s kingdom.”
Yes; true then, true now.
[Christoph Blumhardt (1842~1919) was a German Lutheran pastor. His letters to Richard Wilhelm are presented in the 2015 book Everyone Belongs to God, compiled and edited by Charles E. Moore.]

[The 14th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), which includes much more than could be presented in this article, can be found by clicking on this link.]