Tag Archives: human-rights

Following a Different Policy

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? He said, “I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brothers blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:8-10, NRSV)

This past week a stunning thing took place at a assisted Living facility in Bakersfield, California. A woman had gone into cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing. A nurse (remember that) on staff called 911 and was waiting for instructions. The operator on the line stated quite clearly that CPR was needed and that it needed to be performed immediately. The nurse’s response is bone chillingly inhumane and robotic. The exchange went as follows:

911 dispatcher: Are we just going to wait and let this lady die?

Nurse: Well, that’s why we’re calling 911.

911:  We need to get CPR started

Nurse: They’re refusing CPR. They’re going to let her just die.

911: I understand your boss is telling you you can’t do it but if there’s anybody, a      human being, I don’t…. is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?

Nurse: Um, not at this time.

I must admit that when I first heard this I was struck by the irony of it all. A woman who is a nurse, and is trained to help people, quotes company protocol and policy when someone has a heart attack. In a “Assisted Living” facility no less!!(Worse yet, it has been reported that the deceased daughter is “satisfied with the treatment” her mother received.)

Apparently, the company that owns the “assisted living” facility has a policy that does not assist people in active medical distress other than calling 911. This company has effectively enshrined into company policy the phenomenon that we occasionally see from people in the streets. You see it through the hidden camera footage when people see someone on the streets in distress and then do little to nothing to aid that person. Sometimes they don’t even call 911 or reach out for anyone.

Cain and Abel

This behavior is not new. If we trust the witness of the scriptures, we find the first such incident in our above text. Often called the first incident of murder in creation, the above passage seems bigger than just sibling rivalry gone awry. Likewise, this tale is not merely about what happens when we are not forthright in our feelings. All of those explanations can be found in the text but Cain’s response to God’s prompt seems to be particularly telling.

When God “stumbles” upon the scene of fratricide, God asks,Where is your brother Abel?”, to which Cain offers a stunningly blunt and sarcastic retort, ““I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” The response seems on the surface to be both disingenuous and pompous. At a deeper level, the writers of the passage are placing a double entendre into Cain’s mouth. The retort is both a denial of Cain’s familial responsibility for his brother and is a passive slap in the proverbial face of God. In other words, when God poses the question of Abel’s whereabouts, Cain’s response in our vernacular is, Don’t know what you are talking about. Keeping people isn’t my job, it’s yours!!

More importantly in the passage, Cain’s response reveals a truth of our own human shortcomings. When we fall short of expected behavior and fail to be human in our behaviors to our fellow sojourner, we resort to hiding behind the ‘policies’ we craft for ourselves. Whether it’s Cain hiding behind the witness of God’s character as humanity’s caretaker; the Pharisees being scolded by the Jesus for hiding behind the sabbath; or a nurse in Bakersfield, we use the convenience of policy to cover our ineptitude or inhumane practices to one another.

Beloved, we are made to be connected to one another. We cannot live a part from each other and thrive. We are meant to live in community and even though communities don’t always get along we are called to do it together. Resorting to legalistic interpretations of ‘policy’ stifles what has always been intended for each one of us. ‘Policy’ has a place in so far as it helps us to understand our relationship with one another and the ways we relate to God. However, our heavenly mandate is always answer yes when the question is asked, “Am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?”. The 911 operator almost seems to be asking that very prophetic question of the nurse when she simply asks, “is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” In the same way that Cain killed his brother Abel, this nurse willful inaction stole the chance for life for that woman. The nurse’s response to the operator says it all: “Um, not at this time.”

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We are better than what this nurse and this company offered this dying woman. It is insufficient for the company to say that they let all of their residents know of the CPR policy in advance. There is still a human standard, a basic standard or life. This standard applies to all areas of our life together. We can do better in our conversations about guns and violence and not hide behind a policy that “guns don’t kill people”. We can do better in our policies toward war, healthcare, poverty and all the ways that we should be “keeping” our brothers and sisters. God requires more and Abel’s blood cries out for me. We should demand better from each other and from those who lead us.

Getting the lesson from the Cain and Abel narrative without the death of another one of our brother’s and sister is a vision of truth…

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The Question of Intent…

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… (Matthew 1:1-6, NRSV)

The Christian faith is built upon many different tensions. Seemingly contradictory, traditional Christian tenets hold a tenuous grasp of polar opposites. The story of the faith is built on God becoming human, bringing the dead back to life and saving all of humanity to eternal life by dying. Christian disciples are both free to exercise their will, within the confines of God’s will. Christians carry within them all the promises and power that God conveys to God’s children, yet we often act with all the values of people who are not yet disciples of Christ.

One of the strongest tensions present in the Christian worldview is that of God’s intent and humanity’s exercise of free will. Beginning in the garden of Eden and working all throughout the biblical narratives humanity seems to so often get it wrong, and yet somehow, God’s will is enacted in creation. Many times, despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary, God’s overarching plan is realized for the betterment of creation.

 

In contemporary life, we struggle with the realization and exploration of Gods will versus our own wants and desires and more specifically, how these two tensions are experienced for us. We hear that struggle whenever we hear a preacher or congregant talking about “staying in God’s will” or “waiting to see what God is going to do”. Many of our churches have preached that people ‘be in the will of God’ at the same time they say “God has empowered them to take action” without understanding inherent contradictions in those statements.

The working of God’s intent and design in humanity cannot ever fully be understood. Nor can the gift (sometimes perverted) of human intent and action in the world (free will) ever be fully appreciated theologically. However, an example of where we get it wrong is found in the comments of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock a few weeks ago. The gist of the story is linked here. Mr. Mourdock argued at a debate that,

“I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception,” Mourdock said at a debate with Democratic opponent Rep. Joe Donnelly and libertarian Andrew Horning. “The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother.” Mourdock added: “I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” (Taken from an article entitled ‘Richard Mourdock under fire for rape remarks’ on www.politico.com)

Now, parsing his words, I believe that Mr. Mourdock was referring to the life of the child that results from pregnancy and to not the rape itself. While life is indeed a gift from God, Mr. Mourdock’s statements relegate women (and all humanity) to mere backdrops on the stage of creation. No matter how life comes into the world, we should be grateful for it and ignore the means of conception? No matter how painful or complicated or unintended or unlawful that conception might be? In other words the extension of this argument is that the ends justify the means. Rape results in life and therefore (fill in the blank). While the latter statement, Mr. Mourdock never said, I am using the extension of his argument to illustrate a point. (It also should be noted that I do not believe politicians should be in the business of doing theology.)

According to this theology, the free exercise of human will only serves to enact God’s will. We act and regardless of what we do, God’s ends are always served. As good as that might sound, the implications of this theology means that acts of violence like rape are what God has always intended. Everything from the murder of Abel by Cain to nuclear war, the Holocaust and genocide are all God’s will in the end. You see, in this theological frame, you cannot distinguish human action from God’s sovereignty. Despite the abhorrent implications of this theology, many serious God-fearing Christians (as given testament to by Mourdock’s statements) believe in this kind of warped orthodoxy.

Our text for today offers us a more genuine theological perspective. This text is the opening of the gospel of Matthew and is known as the genealogy of Christ. Contained in the heritage of Christ is every manner of human experience and relationship. Some children are produced by traditional marriage (ancient marriage), others are products of rape and incest, while others still are counter to cultural practices and have suspect origins. Peculiar that the savior of the world comes down and through many of the same experiences that all of us have in our family tree?

With all of this abounding soap operatic history, the writers of the gospel make a subtle distinction when speaking to human intent and God’s will in relationships in verse 6b. The writer recognizes the parentage of Solomon but makes clear, that Bathsheba was never lawfully David’s wife; she was “the wife of Uriah”. If you are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheeba (2 Samuel 11), you will discover the machinations of David to get his way with another man’s wife. (It should be noted that if this incident had taken place today, David would have been considered a statutory rapist for using his position to coerce sexual activity).

 

Despite this failure of David, the point of the writer in Matthew’ geneology is that we cannot ever, from our limited vantage, distinguish God’s intent from our human action. The biblical witness and story convey that our only real vantage for understanding is in reverse: seeing how God can redeem the actions that we perform. And God CAN redeem our mistakes and mess-ups! We make huge mistakes, we are violent towards one another. We steal, we cheat we murder, those acts are not God designed or God intended. They are the results of the perversion of the gift of human will. It is within the power of God to redeem our horrible acts toward each other to find moments of grace and healing. It isn’t as easy as it sounds nor is it as simple as exchanging pain for healing. It takes time, effort and mercy and sometimes takes a lifetime to adjust to. Some victims never reach that point in survival. Just ask any victim of sexual assault and violence.

The truth is always more complicated than any politician (or any human being) can ever really understand. In the end, speaking for God is always problematic and risky. Let the works and intent of God be revealed through experiences in the life of God. Somewhere in the midst of human trial and God’s design we can find a vision of truth that moves us closer to healing.

 

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Not Against Us, Then for Us!

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40, NRSV)

Many of us were shocked and appalled to awaken to the news of the death of a US Ambassador this past week. Further, many of were still shocked to see violent eruptions of protest at our embassies in the Middle East and other countries. Both the death of four diplomats and the destruction of diplomatic missions remind us of the dangers and hostilities that often are part of this world in which we live. However, I was much more disturbed at the root of all the chaos….

A video had been produced in Los Angeles back in June by a man calling himself Sam Bacile. The video purports to be a feature film that ‘exposes’ the true Islam and its revered Prophet Muhammad.  The video in actuality is a poorly produced vile insult to everything that is religious and decent in the world. I have not dignified the creators by watching any part of the video, but many reports portray it as everything from “pornographic to absurd.” The fact that this movie was made in the US (and seized by fundamentalist Islamic clerics) serve to many in the Islamic world to be further evidence of the US’s vile hatred for Islam.

On first account, I am still stunned that such a video (and let’s be clear it is an internet video) is able to produce such a backlash in certain parts of the world. My shock quickly fades when I contextualize my understanding of the Islamic faith with traditional values of the sacred religion. Respect, honor and dignity are of extreme importance in public discourse and are highly valued in the Islamic religious culture. Violations of this code can be treated as gross negligence worthy of retaliation. That explanation not withstanding, the violence and death of last week us not at all justified by the majority of Muslim throughout the world.

At issue for me is the level of our own intolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ in the world. Many in the United States are still deeply suspicious of Islam as a religion and some are outright hostile to what they perceive as a threat to our national security. Many communities deny the construction of new mosques and undermine the work of Muslim groups through openly questioning the motives and their presence. Many professed Christians openly commit to violently “protecting” their native land against a 21st century infidel that looks nothing like the average Muslim adherent in America (or the world for that matter.

Adding insult to injury is the discovery that Mr. Sam Bacile is actually an alias (one of more than a dozen) of an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who is seeking to air his own Islamophobic views. So here, you have a Christian (in the same vein as Terry Jones last year burning a Quran on Sept 11) exposing their deep fear and hatred in the name of truth and free speech. Our fears, our hatred, our hurt and our pain being used to inflict others with hurt pain and injury.

Jesus in the above passage is answering a query from one of his disciples who sees someone operating from a different understanding than the disciples have. The man is casting out demons in the name of Jesus but does not belong to the twelve. He is outside of their experience and from what the disciples can tell, has no experience of Jesus personally. He makes all of the right moves (as testament to his ability to actually cast out demons), but is not in line with the disciples’s understanding of belief and behavior.

Jesus says one of the most profound things in the New Testament. He says, “Don’t stop him. Whoever uses my name to do powerful things will not soon say bad things about me. Whoever is not against us is with us.” I love this statement from Jesus about the ‘other’. What he is saying, is that “a person who operates as I operate will not turn away from me.” Anyone who is not overt in their opposition to our message, our actions, our hope, and our love as Christians is still with us. Jesus’ statement makes the world a little less complicated than we have made it. Their are only those who are against us, and with them, we can see who they are in that they oppose us.

 

The bigger lesson from Jesus is that we need to acknowledge where we see Him at work in the other and celebrate that as a manifestation of the work of Christ. We are so easily led to acknowledge the difference and separation and the negative points in anything opposite our own perspective. Our conservative  ideologies define the norms for both sides: The Muslims who protest violently are the “true Islam” while the Christians who foment anger and hatred are the “the real views of all Christians”. These limited and narrow minded views are minorities within religions that are much more alike in their views of humanity, God and the service to one another. (To be clear, Muslims and Christians are very different in belief and practice, but we are not so different as to not recognize the oneness of God working in both of our traditions.)

 

Jesus’ statement calls into question our own proclamation of “if you are not for me, you are against.” In fact in turns it on its head, for His statement is literally, “if you are not against me, you are for me.” The only way this idea can be lived out is through a reaffirmation of goodness of our God in the world working through many of our traditions. Seeing someone doing good work in the world (regardless of the tradition) is a reason to celebrate the goodness of our God working in them. Seeing the Muslim feed the hungry or take care of the sick is to see God use them in the same way God uses every one of else.

Places of division and discord are ready and always apparent. It takes a vision of truth to view your ‘other’ brother or sister as a co-worker with God…..and with you.

 

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Claims to Legitimacy

 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. (John 9:24-30, NRSV)

The struggle for a voice in society is normative. The differences between people who have access and make things happen, versus the people who lack that access are part of the fabric of human relationships. That access, (or the lack thereof), often means that an individual does not have a ‘presence’ in the society. They are physically present, but have no active influence on the community in which they are merely existing in. Having a voice or being voiceless can be determined by many different factors. Gender, religion, race, ethnicity, creed, and sexual orientation all can be used to elevate ones voice or to deny ones right to be heard. Thats what makes it a struggle…. one must push through the community to have their voice heard.

Key to fight against giving audience to all, is the role of power. Powerful people/institutions/organizations play an intricate game of oppression simply to keep the voiceless from gaining an audience and/or being heard. It’s true of dissenting political groups as much as it is true of patriarchal systems that reinforce hierarchy. Systems in power want to keep their power; very often at the expense of the people who simply need the world to hear their pain and suffering, joys and concerns, fears and triumphs. There are subtle ways that these power systems keep the status quo and negate those who seek presence in the larger society.

One way that was on display this past week, was demonstrated in our country’s culture and political wars. Member of Congress Todd Akin’s off the cuff comments regarding “legitimate rape” highlight an example of what power does to keep things in check. You see, legitimacy is a cloak for power players to maintain their status. One way to deny the authenticity of person/being/humanity is make a declaration of legitimacy. African-Americans, at one time in our nation’s history were denied the right to vote, bring a court case or even be a full person…..they were considered illegitimate. Many insurance companies and other businesses invoke clauses within contracts that deny access to certain contractual rights. In so doing, they delegitimize the nature of the contract (and maybe the claims of the person). Legitimacy, is a qualifying term that can easily undermine relationships, stall negotiations and patronize people who are seeking equal voice in any situation (see equality around marriage, equal pay, etc.).

Struggle between power brokers and the powerless is nothing new and in our passage, this dichotomy is undergirding the text. Specifically, in chapter 9, Jesus brings sight to a blinded man. He was known to a great many people and so the healing brings a great deal of attention to the blinded man. So much so, that the power structures of the day, the Pharisees call the man before them an attempt to discern what happened to the man. Their rationale is that, defects are signs of sin and that Jesus is not a healer or prophet of any kind…….he is illegitimate. This blinded man is also a voiceless person in ancient Israel. A former blind person is a bullhorn!!

The resulting confrontation is one in which the miracle that Jesus has performed and demonstrated through this man who was once blind is being negated (or at least trying to be) by the Pharisees. In the end, the blind man, in response to berating of questions of legitimacy decides to simply state the obvious, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” In other words, “y’all are supposed to be the experts on religious purity and healing and you don’t know what the h@#$ is going on. All I know is he healed me!”.

The former blind man gives us great instruction when it comes to people making claims of legitimate or illegitimate actions……its all legitimate. This man’s healing is just as legitimate as the rest of them. The experiences of the individual cannot be undermined in the eyes of God. They are all credible. Whenever we try to delegitimize the experiences of another, we really show our own insecurities before God and our neighbor. We do not have the power to question legitimacy of the other’s lived experience. For one to claim such authority, means the person making the declaration has ‘power’ over the other individual…..a claim none of us can credibly make.

 

 

Rep. Todd Akin exposed a deep flaw in religious patriarchy (to which religion has been used to cover up). The flaw uses rules and regulations to stifle and undermine and expel many who the power structures deem illegitimate. In today’s world, many Christians feel the need to define the world according to the rules and regulations that have been edited and refined in scripture. Rep. Akin’s comments, while they are his beliefs, expose a power structure’s party line that is rooted in an undermining worldview of women who have both been raped and/or experienced abortion, or both. Those rules are interpreted through the lens of scripture and tradition and enforced to define who is legitimate and who is not. Yet, the Jesus of the scriptures took care to break those same rules when the were applied to him. They called him illegitimate…… what do they call you?

Jesus and this blind man give us a vision of truth that labels us all legitimate sons and daughters of the most high King. Let us be brothers and sisters legitimized by the word and work of the Christ…….

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For the Union…

No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the LORD. So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. 26 Therefore we said, Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, You have no portion in the LORD. 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, Look at this copy of the altar of the LORD, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you. (Joshua 22:24-28, NRSV)

All of us are horrified at events of this past week that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The violence that was perpetrated in a crowded movie theatre on the occasion of the premiere summer blockbuster movie. Allegedly James Holmes, a graduate student and possibly mentally disturbed gunman burst into the crowded theatre opened fire killing many and wounded many more. His actions have fractured a community and upended the sense of normalcy that should be indicative of a movie showing in a theatre in any American town.

Sadly, we in America are not foreign to mass shootings and public violence. The typical statistics of gun violence in the US orders somewhere around 10,000+ murders and/or injuries. Killing sprees and mass shooting though are always subject to media sensationalism and political navel gazing because it exposes the obvious conundrum of American social life. At our core, this nation holds to poles in tension: the importance and value of individual freedom and rights; and the basic protections and cohesion that is the hallmark of a nation-state. In other words, we as Americans elevate an individual’s freedom to chose a life of their own and posses what they wish and do what they desire. However, that freedom has to be balanced with the basic function of a government and society to hold a nation-state together as unified or even United.

These poles pull and tug at our fabric as a nation come to fine points of clarity in moments such as abortion, civil rights, religious freedom and peculiar enough, the Aurora shooting. Mental disturbance or not, Mr. Holmes’s act was perpetrated through his readily accessible access to weaponry and ammunition. According to reports, he purchased all of his weapons legally and arouse little or no suspicion with his actions. The fact is that guns are too easy to obtain (either legally or illegally), and gun violence is a problem of epic proportions in the United States. Gun violence is not unique to the US relative to other nations, but it is endemic to being in the US.

I could cite all the statistics and other data that confirms this truth, but why? The real issue has to do with what I said earlier; the values of individual choice over/and against our collective life together. The above passage from Joshua highlights the concern of some of the lesser tribes of Israel about their future in the life of unified nation. These tribes were cut off from the others by the river Jordan and while all who were living at that time understood their connection to the nation, these three tribes were concerned about future generations. What would happen to their small collective in years to come when their people on the other side of the river had forgotten about Rebuen, Gad and Manessah?

Their solution was to build an altar of remembrance to show their allegiance to the same God of Israel as their kinsmen. They could have simply expanded their territory east of the Jordan and united together as a new nation apart from Israel. They could have each explored their own ways of allegiance to God and not concerned themselves with unity. What they decide is to risk war over a misunderstanding about motives, just to build an altar to the God of Israel. It would stand as a reminder to all Israelites about the importance and significance of the unity of the nation regardless of the boundaries of geography (or later ideology).

We have an individual right to carry guns, and that is undisputed. That individual right does not mean we have to carry a gun. Further, in light of the scripture, it means that we have to be willing to occasionally revisit the importance of our individual right to carry over and against our willingness to be a unified nation. If the result of that right means we are divided by ideology, victimization and death through gun violence, then we should be willing as a nation to frankly talk about guns and so-called gun’s rights on the same constitutional plane as victim’s rights. Not calling for a repeal of the second amendment, just an uninfluenced and frank conversation about guns in the country.

The most bogus saying in American politics to day is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The point of the saying is to highlight the role the individual plays in making a decision to kill. Anyone who wants to kill someone will do so whether they have a gun or baseball bat; so then why restrict gun access, it is not the gun’s fault? This statement is bogus because guns have always killed people. Guns make it easy to kill people. Guns make it easy for people to kill themselves accidentally or otherwise. Guns contribute to a devaluing of life because people get a immediate result to the anger they carry. A gun in someone’s hand guarantees a death or serious injury. A baseball bat guarantees a fight. Arming people insures that people will kill people…

At this moment, more than anything else, we should be focused on a unity of spirit and solidarity with the victims of this heinous act (and all acts of gun violence). The unity of spirit involves a real and frank conversation about the role of guns in our life together. The vision of truth this week is that we finally learn from Mr. Holmes and the Aurora victims the lesson of living together in a violent nation.

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Deal with Reality…

I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing. You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”(Revelations 3:15-17, NRSV)

The President supports same-sex marriage. Surprise!! It’s a political position that honors his reading of the Constitution and upholds equality under the law. It’s an important position because it brings consistency and equality to a nation that has nearly always been unequal in its execution of the law (see race, ethnic,gender, class distinctions). He says he has been evolving and while that may be true, reading the text of his presidency already saw a continual movement in one direction. The President’s position also exposes the deep rift in this country regarding reality versus perception.

We distort arguments to validate our position. We allow our preachers and pastors to throw the Bible and it’s God to the dogs when it talks about wealth with responsibility, women’s roles, sacrifice and obedience, injustice and righteousness and nearly every other subject we as a society disagree with, but want any passage that speaks against homosexuality to be foremost in our spiritual discipline. Really? Really?? Really!??

For many in our society, the President’s words are deeply problematic. Being for traditional marriages and civil unions is one thing, but being for gay marriage is something else. Really? Black communities (in some instances a bastion of homophobia) who voted for him in record numbers now are questioning their allegiances in ways that they never questioned Bill Clinton (when he knowingly cheated on his wife). Black church pastors who touted their involvement with helping to bring awareness to Barack’s campaign are now silent or withholding support because they can’t “condone a President who is against the word of God.” Insert expletive of your choice here….

I don’t believe that the political agenda of the GLBTQ community is the problem in this society anymore than the civil rights movement was ‘problematic’ to the society of the 1960’s. It is merely inconvenient and tiresome. Why? Because we in America don’t like frank and direct conversation about anything! We can’t stand it. Be it long-term debt, social safety nets, race and gender roles, and discrimination or anything else that defies our perception; we don’t discuss it. We use comedians to laugh at our ineptitude and satirists to disguise our fear of reality.

People of faith can disagree about matters of faith and that is fine. We cannot disagree about reality though. The reality is….

…that the Bible is NOT as clear as we like to think about the sexual standard for God. Several texts speak against homosexuality, while others say love your neighbors as yourself. Don’t stone me, I won’t stone you?! The Bible in several places speaks strongly against homosexuality for cultural and sociological reasons (wrapping it in theo-logos) but it also treats women in a way that we abhor for those same cultural and sociological reasons. Why is it permissible to be for in way scenario and against in another? For the same reasons though? Choose you this day………

The reality is…

….that we don’t believe everything that’s in the Biblical text ANYWAY. Our behavior toward one another in general bears this out. We don’t believe, Jesus really died on a cross. We don’t believe that David slew Goliath and we don’t believe that “it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than pull a camel through the eye of a needle.” For if we really believed those passages as much as we believe the ones about homosexuality, then we would be different. We would have a little more gratitude and gratefulness because of an empty tomb. We would view many more of our challenges as empowered believers as opposed to deflated fear mongers. And we would have a lot less of our possessions because we needed to “get into heaven.” We would act different and live differently. Jesus himself says, “I judge a tree by its fruit,” and now I see the tree as bearing the fruit of hypocrisy.

The reality is…

….that many of the same black parishioners, pastors and clergypersons who are criticizing the President so often employ, collect money from, and even counsel members who are gay and lesbian. Some of those members are forced into secrecy and live double lives so as to not be “outed” and ostracized from family and friends. All the while their Pastors preach a gospel of being your best self and being transparent before God and humanity. It is widely known and accepted in many Black churches that the choir directors, some choir members, and musicians are gay and lesbian. These churches operate under a spiritual DADT policy that gives the church everything that they want on Sunday without the church having to acknowledge the hypocrisy to which they operate under. We the church rather have our individuals live out a lie rather than stand to tell a corporate a truth.

The reality is…

…that the President is elected to be President. He ain’t my pastor or the chief theologian of the empire. He is a political animal with opinions. He has every right to support, advocate and petition for his agenda however he wants. I do not expect or require whoever the president is to attend church, read a Bible, or even be Christian. I do expect them to govern fairly, equally and within the bound of the Constitution. Get over it, President Obama is a Christian and he is a politician, (you can decide which one comes first). He also is a Christian and he is for same-sex marriage (you can be both).

The reality is….

…that we as a nation (particularly as Christians), do not take marriage seriously. Marriage historically is not a religious phenomenon. Marriages were global and not rooted in some expression of God to humanity. Marriages have been and are cultural expressions. To watch any wedding is to see a cultural dynamic at work. Because religion is so often intertwined with culture, the two are inexorably linked. But that is an educated argument that can be persuasive for the logical. Let me be real... Churches have failed to counsel, promote, educate and engage the questions people have in their marriages. Divorce rates are through the roof. People get married and have children for tax benefits, money, fame and nearly every other reason under the sun, but if gay people get married, its the end of stable and loving families as we know it? Really? Wanna keep marriages strong? Be consistent in your commitments, loyal to your spouse and stop peeking in everyone else’s window!

The reality is that God wants consistency. The text above admonishes the Church and its body of believers to be “hot or cold”. One or the other. This or that. For God or against God. But not both. Be consistent in your living of God’s precepts or else fail in your living within the life of God. It seems rather self-evident that if you are not consistent, then you are inconsistent. But the witness of the text, is that the standard is always consistency and not holiness (true the Bible doesn’t agree on this either). The same is true in the prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible, don’t worship me if you not gonna DO and BE the stuff that I need you to be (see Amos and Jeremiah). At some point, God wants to count on you to be love, be faithful and be steadfast which may mean that holiness may have a different context to be lived out.

I believe that what concerns God most is our consistency in approaching God and applying the texts of our faith. The same-sex issue is the slavery issue of our day. We were inconsistent then and we are inconsistent now. Churches can practice whatever they want to practice.

If they don’t want to practice same-sex marriages, fine! Don’t! But be real, blame it on doctrine and tradition and not on God. It ain’t God’s fault.

You wanna be against the President? Don’t! That’s your business. Blame it on your ideology and not your Bible.

Believe gay folks are going to hell? That’s your belief and you can keep it. Just blame it on bigotry and not God. Say what you want, God did create Adam and Steve, Mike and John, Sarah and Jane, Adam and Eve, David and Sally, baby girls and baby boys, malformed and disabled, friend and foe, liberal and conservative, Me and YOU! God created everybody and everything! Recognizing the sacred worth in our society as basic people created in the image of God is a universal truth. Being consistent with how we treat them is a vision of truth.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christian Church, Christianity, Discipleship, Homosexuality, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Jesus Christ, Justice, New Testament, Political Theology, Social Justice, Uncategorized

The ‘Us and Them’ Syndrome…

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him out of Israel; the people also wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah son of Jehiel, of the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra, saying, We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it. 5 Then Ezra stood up and made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear that they would do as had been said. So they swore. (Ezra 10:1-5, NRSV)

One year ago this week, the nation observes the 1st anniversary of the most infamous revenge killing in the history of the country, the death of Al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was widely considered the mastermind behind the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington D C and the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The nation launched two wars with 11 years of conflict in Afghanistan.

I recall most vividly watching the news on May 1st evening to see many young college folks at local colleges and universities headed to the White House and national monuments to shout and ‘celebrate’ bin Laden’s death. All the social media sites were lit up like Christmas trees and a Presidential statement was delivered to the nation late that evening. Most striking to me, was my own feelings. I had (and still have) mixed emotions about the events of that night and even the death of bin Laden.

I am dazed at my oscillation from relief to disgust to fascination at the society’s relationship to this news. Like most Americans, I am relieved that a singular threat of known terrorist leadership can no longer be a threat in the same way. But I am also saddened at the disease of denigration that so often characterizes our perception of the enemy. In the days, weeks and months after the carnage of September 11th, Americans rallied together for support and communal strength and that is wonderful. Americans also begin to foment real and seething anger at the enemy (which initially was Al Qaeda and bin Laden, but quickly morphed to include all of Islam). Communal bonding was gave way to fear and xenophobia, and justice quickly transformed into revenge. As those feelings came to the surface, an ugly tradition in human experience began to rear its head.

We as Americans, (and more broadly humanity in general), have a dual mindset of national bonding while at the same time, fomenting deep fear and exclusionary beliefs. Throughout human history, strong and positive nationalist movements very quickly have turned into dangerous and destabilizing xenophobia. It leads to the syndrome: The belief ‘in us degenerates into a denial of the God ‘in them’. Let me say it this way: Whenever we as human beings characterize the adversaries in life, we have a strong tendency to denigrate their person-hood. We deny their humanity and vilify them. This is and always should be a disconcerting approach to our enemies.

 

The text above is deeply problematic because it exposes the ethno-nationalism that existed in the post-exilic nation of Israel. After having gone through exile and the confusing and disorienting chaos of the loss of Jerusalem and the Temple, the people gather to rebuild and be restored under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The text portrays the people who returned as looking to assign blame for the state of the ‘fallen’ experience with God. Nationalism always needs a scapegoat; a ‘other’ to be upset with and cast blame for the present state of things. In the text, the leaders and elders decide that it is the foreign women in their midst. Had the men not married these “foreign women” then they would “not have sinned”. The chauvinism and arrogance of the passage is disturbing by itself. Add to that the xenophobic way in which they deal with the remedy for the problem is even more worrisome.

 

 The text reveals our human instinct to assign blame and concern always for the “stranger” or “foreigner” who has found their way into our midst. Never mind that we often invite them and want to celebrate diversity in our communities. The moment that we feel threatened or outraged is the moment that the ‘other’ gets dehumanized and vilified to our elevation and celebration. It means that immigrants that have been the backbone of our societal fabric for more than two centuries now are ONLY portrayed as job-stealing, baby-having, crime-spreading “leaches” on the American way of life. (See how easy it is to deny humanity to another? The language gives it away, every time!)

 After September 11, 2001, we as a nation fell victim to the same instinct to dehumanization and undignified behavior. It started with an exploration of terrorism and Al Qaeda. It moved to language about Muslims, Mosque, and Arabs. It spread to anyone profiled to not be “American”. Eventually it became an all-encompassing and pervasive use of nondescript pronouns (them, they, those) appear and lead to a rejection of any portrayals of normalcy in the life of those communities. (See TLC All-American Muslim controversy). The result is a total denial of the humanity of “them” and a limiting of what it means to “be human” or be American or be anything in order to place blame, cast judgment or to use toward an intended end.

The “foreigners” become all those who we don’t want to be US. They are the people who “reject the nation” and “undermine ITS values”. Our problems and our concerns are rooted in the “foreign” problem and if we could just get rid of them, then we can and will prosper. The text implies this in a cursory reading and we have seen many national policies throughout history portray this as truth. The fact is that the Bible itself argues multiple perspectives with regards to the reasons for exile. Some say it was because of unfaithfulness to Torah (to include violating the prohibition on intermarriage), while most prophets argue the larger violation of justice, obedience and faithfulness to the ritualistic worship traditions. The point is that an “us and them” theology/ideology is never the cure-all. It always leads to a narrowing US and a more expansive THEM.

Sure, all of our neighbors are not like us. They don’t eat what we eat or look like we look. Some or our neighbors don’t like us. A few of our neighbors are actually against us. But they are still human. They have families and friends. They attend weddings and funerals. While they may not eat what we eat or look like we look, they do eat food and look more like us than not. They are US and WE are THEY. We don’t have to agree for this to be true. It is an ontological fact. It is what it means to live as a human BE-ING.

Our differences don’t make us enemies, our policies and perspectives and ideologies do. We further our own objectives and they further theirs; that’s life on the playground just as much as life on the world stage. Those differences do not in any way diminish the humanity of the one(s) who we stand at odds with. Difference does not equate to diminishment. Any other attempt and distinguishing values and virtues without context is an attempt at finding an excuse to make them less than we.

Celebrating the death of any human being is in itself inhumane. Those who participate in that celebration call into question their own humanity and not that of the deceased. Its time for us to do better in the scope of human history. Seeking the humanity even in your enemy is the God principle in all of humanity. It is what makes us a reflection of God’s wonderful creation: To agree to be human if disagreeing with everything else. If all humanity would pursue this goal, then perhaps we move one step closer to a vision of truth.

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