Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In Honor of Fred Korematsu: A Civil Rights Hero

While not exactly a household name, Fred T. Korematsu (born 100 years ago today, on January 30, 1919) is becoming increasingly recognized as the civil rights hero he was.
Born an American Citizen
Kakusaburo Korematsu emigrated from Japan to California in 1905. In 1914 a young woman named Kotsui Aoki came from Japan to become his wife. Five years later their third son was born; they named him Toyosaburo.
Since all the Korematsu children were born in the U.S., they were American citizens. When Toyosaburo started to school, though, his teacher also wanted him to have an easier-to-pronounce American name—so she started calling him Fred, and the name stuck.
Fred went to a public high school in Oakland and was a regular American student. Things began to change for him, however, in the years shortly afterward.
Born with a Japanese Face
As the war clouds began to grow darker in 1941, Fred and three of his good friends, all patriotic Americans, went to enlist in the U.S. military service. His three white friends were given the necessary papers, but Fred was refused. Even before Pearl Harbor there was strong prejudice in California against people with a Japanese face like Fred’s.
And things got worse, of course, after December 7. On Feb. 20, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which resulted in about 117,000 ethnic Japanese people, the majority of whom were American citizens, being forced to live in internment camps.
Fred didn’t leave for the internment camp with his parents, though; he was going to try to “beat the system.” He failed. On May 30 he was arrested and put in jail. Angry about being treated like a criminal, he vowed to fight his arrest.
Help expectantly came from Ernest Besig, a lawyer named who worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Besig paid the bail to get Fred out of jail—but then Fred was forcefully taken away to the internment camp where he was a prisoner again.
Born with a Sense of Justice
Fred had a strong sense of justice—and a strong sense that he and other Japanese-Americans were being treated unjustly. He cooperated with the ACLU, which took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In Dec. 1944, Fred learned with great sadness that Besig had lost his case before the Supreme Court.
Forty years later, Fred received a telephone call from Peter Irons, a law professor. Irons said he had found new evidence related to Fred’s case and wanted to take it to the courts again. Fred agreed.
In 1983, Fred’s 1942 conviction was overturned. Five years later, Congress passed a law giving $20,000 in reparations to each surviving detainee in the Japanese internment camps.
Happily for all those involved, in 1998 President Clinton awarded Korematsu the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given in the U.S.
And Now after His Death (in 2005)
On January 30, 2011, California celebrated the first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Now Fred Korematsu Day is being celebrated “in perpetuity” by Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida in addition to California. 
Most recently, in June 2018 the SCOTUS finally reputed Korematsu v. United States; Chief Justice Roberts called that 1944 decision “morally repugnant.’
Unfortunately, however, in that decision the high court upheld President Trump’s Muslim ban. That was a painful irony for many people, including Karen Korematsu, Fred’s daughter.
Karen, who founded the Fred T. Korematsu Institute in 2009, lamented in a June 27, 2018, Washington Post article, “Racial profiling was wrong in 1942 and racial profiling is wrong in 2018. The Supreme Court traded one injustice for another 74 years later.”
On this special day honoring civil rights hero Fred Korematsu, let’s make sure that we realize—and that we help those within our circle of influence realize—that prejudicial attitudes and/or actions against racial and religious minorities are just as wrong now as they were in 1942.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Fed Up with Fundamentalism, Still

It has already been nearly 15 years since I started writing Fed Up with Fundamentalism, which has been out of print for some time now. Even though Christian fundamentalism may not as be prominent now as it was in 2004, this book still seems to be needed.
The Difficulty/Ease of Publishing
When I finished writing Fed Up with Fundamentalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Fundamentalism, I fully expected to find a publisher for what I thought, and still think, was a good and important book.
However, publishers are, of necessity, interested in making money, and publishing the first book of someone virtually unknown in this country was not a risk the publishers I contacted were willing to take.
Rather than go through the lengthy process of submitting my manuscript to publisher after publisher and waiting each time for their evaluation/decision—who knew how long that would take?—I decided to publish the book with a Print on Demand company. Thus, the book was issued and on the market in 2007.
Although there was a sizeable number of books sold, I’m not sure I ever broke even with the initial cost of having the book published.
Things are different now, though: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is available, and soon I will publish my third book, Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT), with them—at no cost to me.
And now, I am planning to do the same sort of thing as I did last year with TTT. Beginning today, I plan to post a blog article each month based on a chapter of Fed Up . . . and then publish the (slightly) updated version of the book by KDP at the end of the year.
I will appreciate you Thinking Friends reading the blog articles based on Fed Up and giving me serious feedback as I work on re-publishing the book. 
The Preface of Fed Up
By clicking here you can read the updated Preface of Fed Up, and I hope that many of you will do that.
The Preface largely gives the rationale for my choosing to spend the many, many hours necessary for doing the research and writing the book. As you will see if you open the webpage linked to above, I wrote the book from my Baptist context at the time.
I also indicate how for years I was an “embarrassed Southern Baptist,” so I shifted from being a Baptist to becoming a small b baptist. But still, I was a Baptist until I was well past 70, so that is the Christian denomination I wrote most about in the Preface.
Christian fundamentalism, of course, is much larger than the Southern Baptist Convention—and much larger than Christianity—so the book deals mostly with the broader sweep of fundamentalism.
What do you think? Is fundamentalism less prominent now than it was in 2004~07? Or because of the Christian Right’s support of DJT, is it even more problematic now?
The Tone of the Book
At the end of the Preface, I emphasize that I intended to write “with an irenic spirit and with the earnest hope that even where there is definite disagreement there still might be fruitful dialogue.”
That is also the tone with which I seek to write each of my blog articles, so I hope that you will call me out if you think I am ever unfair or disrespectful of other people and/or their views.
In keeping with these comments, please consider the last section of the Preface: “‘Ten Commandments’ for the Author and the Readers of This Book.”
Even if we are fed up with fundamentalism, let’s be civil in our criticism.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What about Annihilationism?

Hell is a topic that produces a lot of heated debate. Whether or not Hell is a place of eternal torment has recently been a hot topic at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. One burning issue is about the truth or falsity of annihilationism.
SBU, Briefly
June and I met as freshmen at Southwest Baptist College in 1955, when it was still a junior college. It was a conservative school then, but not really a fundamentalist one. Later it became a four-year university and through the years has maintained a rather moderately conservative stance.
During my family’s first missionary “furlough” in 1971-72, we lived in Bolivar and I taught a couple of courses at SBU. In 2016 our beloved granddaughter Katrina graduated from SBU—and married her college sweetheart soon after graduating as June and I did in 1957.
During our first year of retirement from 38 years as missionaries to Japan, we lived in Bolivar again for a year, and I had some contact with the faculty at SBU—especially Dr. Rodney Reeves, Dean of the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry. Dr. Reeves was/is an impressive scholar, a powerful preacher, and a fine human being.
Toward the end of 2018, however, Dr. Reeves and others in Redford College became the target of criticism from conservative/fundamentalist Christians, especially by Clint Bass, an associate professor at Redford College.
Annhiliationism, Briefly
Primary among the charges of erroneous theological beliefs held by Dr. Reeves was that of annihilationism, the theological position that affirms the destruction of non-believers rather than their eternal punishment.
This position is also referred to as “conditional immortality.” The human soul, it asserts, is not inherently immortal; the latter is a Greek idea, not a biblical one. As the Bible says, “It is [God] alone who has immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16).
While in seminary I began to shift to this position under the teaching of Dr. Dale Moody, who eludicates the teaching in his book The Hope of Glory (1966, pp. 105~110).That was long before the thoroughgoing affirmation of annihilationism by Edward Fudge, a pastor/scholar in the Churches of Christ tradition.
Fudge (1944~2017) was one of the most vocal evangelicals to affirm annihilationism. His 420-page book, The Fire that Consumes, was first published in 1982 and the third, definitive edition was issued in 2013. 
In addition to Fudge’s book, I also recommend the 2012 movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge,” which engagingly depicts Fudge’s personal and scholarly quest that led to his vigorous advocacy of annhiliationism.
Questions, Briefly
Here are just two of the many questions that might be raised about this hot issue:
** Why did Dr. Reeves post a Dec. 21 article on his blog under the title “Why I’m not an annihilationist”? Since he is employed by a Baptist-supported school, he likely felt considerable pressure to show his agreement with Baptist Faith and Message.
According to that document, with which all who are financially supported by Southern Baptists are required to agree, clearly states: “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”
** Here is the biggest question of all: Why do conservative Christians get so upset with the idea that most of the people of the world—that is, all who do not trust in Jesus as their Savior— might not be punished in Hell for all eternity?
There are many good people in this country who are not Christian believers—but I think especially of all my fine non-Christian Japanese friends. Why do Christian conservatives insist that the annihilation of such people is insufficient and that they must be consigned to eternal torture in Hell?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Two Christianities?

Can differences of degree become so great that they become differences of kind? I recall that issue being discussed long ago when I was in graduate school. But what about it? For example, can different expressions of Christianity become so great that they actually become different in kind, producing two Christianities?

The Christianity of Fundamentalism/Conservative Evangelicalism

In 1923 the eminent conservative Presbyterian scholar J. Graham Machen published a book titled Christianity and Liberalism. Among other things, Machen (1881~1937) asserts in that book that it is “perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity” (p. 160)—and it was theological liberalism he was writing about.

(For a succinct summary of Machen and his position, see my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, pp. 25~27.)

Machen’s rejection of liberalism was nearly 100 years ago, but that same mentality is still around. In the 1920s, the attack on liberalism was regarding Christian doctrines. Now, however, progressive Christians are more likely to be castigated because of their position on social issues such as abortion and/or gay rights.

Within the last week or ten days, I have seen on Facebook scathing attacks by conservative evangelicals on one of my most esteemed Thinking Friends and also on President Carter. Both were attacked because of their position on abortion and LGBT rights.

This is the Christianity that is being espoused by many of DJT’s supporters, and their tendency to think “we are right, they are wrong” often morphs into the position of “we are (true) Christians and they are not.”

The Christianity of Progressives/Liberals

There are other Christians, however, who are as critical of fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals as the latter are of progressive/liberals.

One good example of the progressive rejection of conservatism is that of Chris Kratzer as seen in his book about which I wrote (here) on December 10.

Even though he was once a part of it, Kratzer’s stringent criticism of conservative evangelicalism is so strong, it is hard to see how the expression of Christianity he now embraces is a form of the same Christianity.

Much of the “liberal” criticism/rejection of conservative evangelicalism is because of the latter’s support of DJT. This is seen, for example, in the writings of blogger John Pavlovitz; click here to see his Dec. 5 article “Is Christianity Helpful Anymore?”

Even more explicit is William Saletan in his Nov. 25 article in Slate: “Trump’s Christian Apologists are Unchristian.” (According to Merriam-Webster, unchristian can mean “not of the Christian faith” or “contrary to the Christian spirit or character.” I am not sure which Saletan, who is Jewish, meant; maybe both.)

In reading some of the diatribes against the very large percentage of white evangelical Protestants who support DJT, and seeing some of the demeaning memes and derogatory statements about such people, it is hard not to conclude that there are, indeed, two quite different Christianities now.

Can There Be a Radiant Christian Center?

The last subsection of my book The Limits of Liberalism is titled “Recommending the Radiant Center.” There I call for a radiant center “composed of both progressive evangelicals and conservative liberals”—and I still think such a center is highly desirable and deserves the best efforts of all serious Christians, regardless of their theological beliefs or stance on social issues.

But since that book was published in 2010, I have become much less hopeful that such a center will become reality—at least in my lifetime. Rather than any noticeable movement toward a radiant center, the apparent movement has been mostly toward greater polarization.

Thus, it seems that differences in degree have become a difference in kind with the result that now, sadly, it is only too accurate to speak of two Christianities.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Introducing a Buddhist Priest and His Temple

Hayashi Kakujō is the chief priest of the widely known Nanzōin Temple on the outskirts of Fukuoka City, Japan. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Hayashi-jūshoku (Hayashi is the family name, jūshoku is the Japanese word for high priest) during the years I lived in Fukuoka and am happy to be able to introduce him to you here.
Nanzōin and the Priest Hayashi
One of the best-known Buddhist temples in southwest Japan is Nanzōin, which is about a 30-minute drive east from Seinan Gakuin University (where I long taught). Nanzōin is the most-visited temple of the Shingon (True Word) Buddhist “denomination” in Kyushu.
Hayashi Kakujō was born in 1953 when his father was the chief priest at Nanzōin, and he became the chief priest there in 1980. I met him for the first time not long after that. In addition to talking with him at Nanzōin, he also sometimes attended the interreligious dialogue group I met with regularly.
Hayashi-jūshoku is an intelligent, well-educated man who was a beneficial member of interfaith discussions. He also has considerable knowledge of and appreciation for Christianity, choosing to send one (or more) of his children to a Catholic school an hour away from their home.
There is a waterfall on the grounds of Nanzōin, and standing under it as a spiritual discipline is commonly practiced there. Hayashi-jūshoku did that every New Year’s Day in years past—and still does as far as I know.
(One time, when it was much warmer than on January 1, I tried standing under the waterfall—but the rush of cold water took my breath away and I had to immediately step out; I found out later that you are supposed to hold your breath when stepping under the waterfall.)
The Sleeping Buddha of Nanzōin
In 1995 Nanzoin completed the construction of what is said to be the largest bronze reclining Buddha statue in the world. It is about 45 yards long (think almost half a football field), 12 yards tall, and weighs some 300 tons, almost as heavy as a jumbo jet airplane.
One time Hayashi-jūshoku took June and me to see it not only from the outside but on the inside as well. It is an impressive statue! 
The month following the completion of the reclining Buddha statue, Hayashi-jūshoku won a lottery jackpot for what was then worth about $1,500,000—and ten days later he won another lottery for almost $65,000!
The mass media picked up on that and presented it as a Buddhist form of the “prosperity gospel”—and following that good fortune, Hayashi-jūshoku seems to have received hundreds of requests to speak at public meetings.
The True Word Buddhism of Nanzōin
The best-known form of Buddhism from Japan is, of course, Zen—although it is far from the most popular form in Japan. Shingon (True Word) Buddhism, more popular in Japan, is also known as Esoteric Buddhism and is closely related to Tibetan Buddhism.
Shingon was brought to Japan by the Japanese monk Kūkai in 806 after spending two years studying it in China.
Last fall I wrote a review of the book Jesus and Kukai: A World of Non-Duality (2018) for the journal Missiology: An International Review. Since few of you will see that review when it is published, I have posted it on my supplementary blogsite (see here).
Jesus and Kukai was authored by Peter Baekelmans (b. 1960), a Belgian Catholic missionary and an initiated practitioner of Shingon.
While the book is not without its faults, it gives a wealth of information about Shingon, and as I say in the review, I wish I had had it to read during the years I had direct contact with Hayashi-jūshoku.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Where's the Compassion?

As I post this first blog article of the new year, the U.S. government remains partially shut down. The issue at stake, as you know, is the funding for the wall the President insists is necessary for U.S. security.
The President’s Position
On Dec. 27, DJT tweeted that “we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border. Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking, Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
There are at least two major problems with that tweet, which embodies the position DJT has expressed in various ways and in various places.
On the one hand, he has implied—or said fairly directly—that opposition to his plans to build a wall is, as a fact checker wrote (here), “tantamount to not wanting any border security at all.” That is patently not the case.
The main problem is the flimsy factual support for the claim that a wall would significantly reduce the problems the President enumerated. There is, certainly, a need to stop the problems Trump listed in his 12/27 tweet, but he has given no evidence that a wall would decisively decrease the number of unsavory immigrants entering the U.S.  
The Democrats’ Position
In 1914, the inimitable American poet Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall,” a poem that begins, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” That widely analyzed poem is about two neighbors, one a progressive who questions the need for a wall and the other a traditionalist who repeats the words, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The current political wrangling in Washington is about far more, and something far more complex, than a rock wall between two neighbors in rural New England. Yet, it is quite clear that the Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House do not love the President’s insistence on building a wall.
Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi do not, of course, want criminal elements to come into the U.S. freely, in spite of what DJT has said. They are clear, however, in their opinion that border security would be best achieved by measures other than a multi-billion-dollar wall.
Which Position is More Compassionate?
In addition to, and directly related to, the issue of “the wall,” is the whole complex matter of responding to the desperate people, including many parents with young children, from Central American countries seeking asylum in the U.S. 
One of 2018’s unforgettable images: Maria Meza and her twin daughters sprint from tear gas lobbed
at the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in Tijuana, Nov. 25, 2018. Reuters/Kim Kyung Hoon
A major purpose of DJT’s proposed wall is to keep many of those distressed people out of the U.S.
Perhaps I missed it, but I haven’t seen anything in the news media about the President or his Republican supporters making any statements indicating any concern for such desperate people.
Where’s the compassion that would seem normal for people of goodwill?
What distresses me more than the apparent lack of compassion by political leaders is the support they are receiving by mostly conservative Christians.
Almost daily I see Facebook friends, including some of my cousins, who strongly support the President and his plans for a wall on the southern border.
Especially to them I post this question again: Where’s the compassion?
I encourage such Christians to read (here) “What child is this? A Christmas reflection” by Marv Knox, a venerable Baptist journalist. Knox writes graphically about his visit last month with “survivors of the infamous Central American caravan.”
In July of last year, Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in D.C., wrote a blog article titled “Welcoming the Stranger.” She quotes the Pew Research Center’s report indicating that the demographic least supportive of welcoming refugees is white evangelical Christians.
Sad! (as you know who has often said).
Where’s the compassion?