Saturday, November 1, 2008

Are We Proud of What We Did In Vietnam?

There has been a lot of talk about John McCain’s “heroic” service to the country in Vietnam. Last night I read a record of America’s adventures in Vietnam, a record made by a man with prophetic vision and voice. Read what we did in Vietnam and see if you think John McCain’s or any American’s service there could considered heroic.

Consider the parallels to Iraq and understand that forty years from today someone will be writing about our foolish and unwise efforts in Iraq.

“They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence *in 1954* -- in 1945 *rather* -- after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh......"

"Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony......"

"Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long......"

"For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam."

"Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not."

"We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem.

When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support.

Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy.

They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees.

They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children.

They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals.

They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

delivered 4 April 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City

Is this what John McCain is proud of having done in Vietnam?

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pharisees and Republicans, Pt 1

In the first century of the Common Era the small client state of Judea was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Judea’s major importance to Rome was as a land bridge between Egypt, Rome’s bread basket, and Asia Minor, (modern Turkey), where some of its greatest cities were located.

The religious and political parties in Judea were intertwined and in a sense they were one and the same. There were several of these religious-political parties, but the ones that have come down to us as important are the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the aristocratic descendants of Zadok, the high priest of King David’s day, and the principal components of the party of the priest in the first century. In the New Testament, the Sadducees are mentioned only lightly and usually in conjunction with the Pharisees.

We know a lot more about the Pharisees, mainly because of their conflict with Jesus of Nazareth, a rabbi from Galilee. This in no wise indicates that Jesus found common cause with the Sadducees and a social and theological untenable situation with their rivals, the Pharisees. It does mean that he had pronounced conflict with the Pharisees and that a record is left for history to examine and make parallels to contemporary groups.

While Jesus did condemned the Sadducees, this condemnation is not at the level of the condemnation that he leveled at the Pharisees (comp. Matt. 16:1,11-12; Matt.23). An examination of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus had four particular areas of conflict with the Pharisees. I think that if we look at them we will see parallels to today’s religious party in America.

1. Jesus’ first problem with the Pharisees is that they did not practice what they preached (Matt. 23: 1-3). They were the kind of people who preached “family values” but did not practice them. They were people like:

  • Rep. Jon Hinson (A Republican Congressman from Mississippi.) On Aug. 8, 1980, during his first reelection bid, Hinson stunned everyone by announcing that in 1976 he had been accused of committing an obscene act at a gay haunt in Virginia. Hinson, married and a strong conservative, added that in 1977 he had survived a fire in a gay D.C. movie theater. He was making the disclosure, he said, because he needed to clear his conscience. But he denied he was a homosexual and refused GOP demands that he resign. Hinson won reelection in a three-way race, with 39 percent of the vote. But three months later, he was arrested on charges of attempted oral sodomy in the restroom of a House office building. He resigned his seat on April 13, 1981, (
  • Rep. Robert Bauman, (resigned October 3, 1980), a Republican Congressman from Maryland, a leading "pro-family" conservative, pleaded innocent to a charge that he committed oral sodomy on a teenage boy in Washington. Married and the father of four, Bauman conceded that he had been an alcoholic but had been seeking treatment. The news came as a shock to voters of the rural, conservative district, and he lost to a Democrat in November (
  • Senator Robert Packwood , (resigned October 1, 1995), Republican Senator from Oregon, resigned his office before expulsion, after 29 women came forward with claims of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assaults. His claims of no wrongdoing were eventually contradicted by his own lurid diaries boasting of his sexual conquests (Sexual Scandals in Politics, Wikipedia).
  • Senator David Durenberger, a Republican Senator from Minnesota, denounced by Senate for unethical financial transactions (1990)and then disbarred. In 1995 he pled guilty to misuse of public funds and given one years probation (Sexual Scandals in Politics, Wikipedia).
  • Senator Jesse Helms Senator, a Republican Senator from, Signed an admission of guilt for election tampering in 1990 but was never prosecuted (Sexual Scandals in Politics, Wikipedia).
  • Mark Foley, (resigned September 26, 2006), a Republican Congressman from Florida, who sent sexually explicit e-mails to teenage boys who had formerly served as congressional pages. Foley was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which introduced legislation targeting sexual predators and created stricter guidelines for tracking them (Mark Foley Scandal, Wikipedia).
  • Newt Gingrich, (resigned November 6, 1998), a Republican Congressman from Georgia, abruptly resigned his seat after it became apparent that his sexual relationship with a younger woman from a House colleague's staff was about to be exposed. Such a revelation no doubt would be of interest to Gingrich's wife (his second), and it might make the Speaker and the Republicans appear slightly hypocritical since they had spent the better part of a year excoriating Clinton's "character" for his extramarital relationship with Monica Lewinsky (“On the Eight Anniversary of President Clinton’s Impeachment,") Joseph A. Polermo, Huffington Post, Posted December 19, 2006)
  • Congressman Robert Livingston, (resigned December 19, 1998), a Republican from Louisiana, and Speaker of the House-Designate, abruptly resigned his seat in Congress and the Speaker’s Chair because it was about to be revealed that he was doing the same thing with one of his staff members as he was about to impeach President Clinton for: having an adulterous sexual affair with a consenting adult (See Polermo, above).
  • Congressman David Vitter, a Republican Congressman of Louisiana, replaced Robert Livingston, A phone number for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., appear. at least five times in the billing records of what federal authorities say was a Washington call-girl operation, the first just four months after he was sworn in to the U.S. House in 1999 and the last on Mardi Gras of 2001. Under pressure earlier this week, Vitter acknowledged committing a "very serious sin" and that his number showed up in the records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who has come to be known as the "Washington, D.C. Madam." An attorney for Palfrey earlier said that Vitter's number was found once in the records, but a search of the documents by The Times-Picayune turned up four more calls to a number once registered to Vitter. The attorney said that clients also used phones in hotel rooms, so that not all the numbers can be traced to individual callers (, “Vitter had five calls with D.C. Madam” Posted by Keith I. Marszalek July 11, 2007).

This is a partial list of the hypocrisy of these modern day Pharisees. The problem is that these leaders do exactly what Jesus said: “They tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23: 4, NIV). This is the germ of hypocrisy: to preach to people about what they should do and not do and then to practice the opposite of what you preach. This is what the Pharisees did, and this is what people in the Conservative Right Republican base do with regularity.

This blog doesn’t presume that Democrats or other political/religious parties do not commit sin or have transgressions in their lives. The purpose of this writing (and that which will follow over the next several days) is to show that the people, who beat the drums the loudest about morality, are not only the practitioners of that which they say they are against, but they are also the people who are the least concerned about justice.

It’s easy to lay out rules for moral behavior; it’s not so easy to work for justice. I believe that God is in love with justice, not a bunch of rules that even Pharisees can obey.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Definitions and Clarifications

In my last post I responded to a request by a friend to read a blog and give her my opinion of it. It was an entry entitled, “God is in Control, Pt. 2” by Craige Lewis. In my response I said that the writing as it was presented to me was a heresy. I want to make sure that we have the same definition for some words related to error in Christian doctrine. Therefore I am offering some definitions and clarification of terms:

  1. doctrine: a doctrine is a teaching of Holy Scripture or a revelation from God about a particular line of thought in Scripture concerning essential truths, i.e. the nature and character of God, the nature and ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ, the nature, function and ministry of the Holy Spirit, how we can be saved, etc. Doctrine is always based on God’s revelation from the whole body of revealed truth known as Holy Scripture. Doctrine is always about essential truths, it is always revealed by God to the Church, and it is never private, personal, or secret (2 Pet. 1:20-21). If a person prays for a car and then has a dream about buying a car at a certain place, then goes to that place and is able to buy a car, he cannot therefore come forward and postulate a doctrine of dreams and cars. This is not a doctrine. This is a private revelation. He can, however, proclaim the doctrine of answered prayer.
  2. error: In Christian doctrine, error is the proclamation of a misinterpretation of Holy Scripture, or a making of doctrine out of one text without the support of the whole body of revealed truth, or constructing a doctrine by emphasizing smaller matters while leaving the more weighty matters untouched. This last one is what incensed Jesus (Matt. 23: 23). Many churches and denominations go into error by choosing an area of emphasis that is unrelated to eternal salvation or pleasing God on earth. Churches that emphasize clothes and physical appearance, strict obedience to church hierarchy, choosing dates for the rapture are usually in error.
  3. heresy: a false teaching or misinterpretation of Scripture or a misrepresentation of the revelation that God has given the Church concerning a Scripture or a line of thinking about essential truths in Scripture, and not turning from it to orthodoxy once having been shown the error in it. If an error is preached or taught as being true, it is only an error until it is confronted, and corrected by Holy Scripture and divine revelation. If the person teaching this error refuses to be corrected, then his/her error becomes a heresy.
  4. Apostasy: an open, confirmed and continuous contradiction of the revealed truth of God’s Word. The word “apostasy” means “to turn away,” as in turning away from what is true.
  5. Separation of Church and State: a political doctrine based on the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States, stating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...." Together with the Free Exercise Clause, ("...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"), these two clauses make up what are commonly known as the "religion clauses" of the First Amendment” (Wikipedia). This is important because church doctrine is not the same as the law of the land. According to the Constitution of the United States individual Americans are free to have any religion they choose or no religion at all. An individual American can be orthodox, in error, heretical, or apostate in his religious beliefs and not be in violation of any law.

    This last point is important because the Conservative Right has wrapped itself in the flag and the Bible, and proclaimed that it alone represents real Christianity. It beats people over the head with its mantra of hot button issues: abortion, sexual abstinence, homosexuality, prayer in public schools, evolution vs. science, etc. The problem with all these issues is that these people are trying to legislate both morality and faith. This is wrong for two reasons:

It is wrong first because Jesus said it’s wrong. The entire 23rd chapter of Matthew is dedicated to Jesus’ judgment against hypocrites who “do not practice what they preach” (Mat. 23:1, NIV). Jesus goes on to say that these hypocrites “tie heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift one finger to move them” (23:4).

Jesus then says these are people who “travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (v. 15). But his greatest indictment against these hypocrites is in verse 23 where he says: “You give a tent of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Jesus said the more important matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Isaiah said that God calls on us to “…undo the heavy burden, and let the oppressed go free” (Isa. 58: 6). The Conservative Right neither believes nor practices these things. Oppression is what they do.

Secondly, attempting to legislate morality and faith is wrong because it violates the Constitution. According to the Constitution there can be no religious test for elective office. The Conservative Right appears to want to establish both a State religion and a religious test for public office. It is wrong in a democratic republic for one religious group to force their religious values on the rest of us. If we do this then we become no better than the Islamic Republics, which I believe are nothing but fronts for dictatorship under the guise of religion.

The present national election campaign is for president of this democratic republic called the United States of America, once known as the "land of the free and the home of the slave." Jesus is not runing for president. His name is not on the ballot. America is not the Kingdom of God. This is a nation that was founded on slavery and exploitation, and hence has been flawed from it's inception. So if you have been crooked from the start, why is it you have to have a perfect leader now?

Any nation and any party that has put up with the bumbling idiot who has lived at 1600 Pennsylvannia Avenue for the last eight years can tolerate someone with a few flaws.

This writer is a Christian who opposes abortion, premarital sex, and homosexuality. But if we make each of these things a crime punishable by law, then we put the government in places where it should not be; in people’s bedrooms. These matters ought to be choices made by the individual and God.

The aim of a democratic republic is to allow its citizens the widest possible latitude in their personal freedoms without allowing them to encroach on the liberties of others. This means that we must give people the room to live their lives and express themselves as they see fit, so long as their lifestyles and behavior doesn’t adversely affect the freedom and expression of others. Real morality can never be legislated.

I would like to see abstinence taught in public schools and be the goal of every high school student. I would like to see prayer in public schools. I would like to see creationism taught along side evolution. But I cannot accept that these things should be coerced on others.

There is a way for our society to deal with the rising pre-marital sex problem, and the vast number of pre-marital pregnancies and abortions; but the churches, pastors, and politicians are too busy playing the blame game to help launch programs that would reduce the rate of first time pre-marital sexual encounters, cut unwanted pregnancies in half, and reduce abortions to almost none.

The first step is to jail the pastors, church men, and politicians who are impregnating the teenagers. I will write about the other nine steps in another post on this blog.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Respnse to "God is in Control, Pt. 2"

A friend sent me this blog post from one of her favorite writers. She asked me to read it and respond to it. My response is below:

“God is Still in Control”, Pt. 2 by G. Craige Lewis
The EX Daily Word for October 9, 2008

Genesis 1:28 – “And God blessed them, and God said unto them,
Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it:
and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,
and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth..”

Yesterday, we discussed the governments of the earth and how God is not controlling our political leaders, our voting process, or even our monetary systems. I received a lot of emails from folks yesterday that just seem to have fits about what I stated on this subject. Many were Barack Obama supporters and were claiming that he is God's man for this election, and others were just simply hurt because I dared to make the statement that God was NOT in control of our earth's political systems. Well folks, get a grip. First of all, God does not endorse men that are morally bankrupt concerning inclusion, abortion, same sex unions, and hate crime legislation. God destroyed nations over homosexuality and cursed generations over killing unborn children. When Jezebel tried to silence God's prophets, He destroyed her and her husband’s Kingdom! And anyone that believes that there is any other way to God other than Jesus Christ is a thief and a robber according to the scriptures and that man is ACCURSED.

I read the writing of G. Craige Lewis entitled “God Is Still In Control, Pt. 2. Mr. Lewis probably means well but what he has written is heresy. It appears to be a combination of several ancient heresies including “deus ex machina,” a corruption of Anselm’s teleological proof for the existence of God, and a brand of secular humanism known as "Semi-Pelegianism."

The first problem appears to be that Mr. Lewis doesn’t understand the historical meaning of the term “God is in control.” It doesn’t mean that God runs things like a foreman runs a job, telling everybody exactly what to do and when they must do it. Our understanding of the nature and character of God was given to us by ancient Hebrew prophets to whom God revealed himself. When they talked about kingdoms and empires, kings and emperors, they said that God Jehovah was in control of them.

What they meant when they wrote passages indicating God’s control over national and international events is that God is the author and executioner of ultimate ends or purposes, and that he, by his will and power, is able to orchestrate human activity, without violating free will, in such a way that his purposes are accomplished in the earth.

The Hebrew prophets never taught that God runs everything, or that God violates free will. The Hebrew prophets taught that while there is evil in the world, this evil does not ultimately supplant the will and purpose of God. God maneuvers, God moves, God arranges, God rearranges, and in every possible way God steps in, around, in front of, and behind the actions of human beings to ensure that his will is performed.

Old Testament theology is very straight forward on this point: the Almighty has purposes or an ultimate purpose, and he is powerful enough and wise enough to use EVERYTHING in the universe, (this means things in earth, hell, and heaven) to bring about that purpose, without violating free will. This is first year seminary instruction.

Moses declared that God used Pharaoh for his glory (Ex. 9:13-16). The story of the Exodus is the story of God being on the side of a weak and enslaved people, and against a mighty and powerful nation in what turned out to be an international economic conflict. Slavery is always about economics. The first Israeli-Egyptian conflict was over economics and theology. The Egyptians said to the Israelis, “You were born to be slaves, and slaves you shall be.” The Israelis answered, “Our God has said, “Let my people go.”

The testimony of Hebrew prophets is that God used the elements of nature (i.e. boils, bloodied water, frogs, flies, disease and death among livestock, darkness, hail, etc.) to such an extent that one million six hundred thousand former Israelis slaves marched out of Egypt as free men. The text says that when they left not “even a dog moved his tongue” in protest (Ex. 11:7). God was saying “I am in control.”

In Daniel chapter five, the prophet says as plane as possible, “the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will” (Dan. 21, KJV) This section of Daniel 5:21 is translated as follows by The New International Version: “the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.” This is not my interpretation of Holy Scripture. This is black letter on white paper. It’s what the Book says: God is in control of the nations of the earth. He sets over them or allows to be set over them anyone whom he wishes.

How can you say God is not in control of this world and of history, and have a Bible in your hand, a newspaper on one knee and a history book on the other? The person who does so either can’t read or doesn’t understand what he reads.

When God got ready to divide the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, he caused Rehoboam to resist the advice of Solomon’s (his father) cabinet and Privy Council and take the advice of his age mates who would be in the new government. The kingdom split in two. Then the Bible records these words: “Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD” (I Kings 12: 15a, See also I Kgs 12: 24).

If God is not in control of this world we should get rid of the book of Isaiah because this idea permeates his writing;

Isa 40:22
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

Isa 40:23
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
Isa 40:24
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

Isa 45:7
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things. rsv

The most outstanding instance of this idea of God being in control of world events is found in Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire.

Cyrus is the Emperor who captured the Babylonian Empire, and afterwards decreed that the Jews could go back to Judah and rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem, sometime after 539 B.C.

Cyrus, being a pagan, worshipped many gods. He came from a culture that practiced abortion or infanticide (killing unwanted babies by exposure to the elements), and probably some form of human sacrifice.

Homosexuality was made popular by the Greeks, but was by no means confined to them. Cyrus knew of it and it was practiced in Persia and in Babylon after he took over.

The Emperor Cyrus was the first conqueror to allow conquered peoples to retain their religion and their culture. It was this tolerance that gave him the impetus to decree that Jews could go home and rebuild both Jerusalem and their Temple.

Now listen to what God calls a man that never knew Jesus, never accepted Jesus, and did not live according to our narrow rules of what we think is right:

“…Cyrus…is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please…” (Isa. 44: 28, NIV).

“ This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue the nations before him and to strip the kings of armor, to open the gates that will not be shut: I will go before you and will level mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD God of Israel, who summons you by name (Isa. 45:1-3, NIV).

If God called Cyrus his “shepherd” and His “messiah,” (the Hebrew word for “anointed”), and Cyrus never heard of Jesus, don’t you think he can use Barack Obama who is a Christian? Maybe he is not your kind of Christian but then maybe you are not his kind either. If God could use the ignorance of George W. Bush to get America into this economic mess and into a costly and unnecessary war, why can’t he use the intelligence of Barack Obama to get us out of them?

What we are going through now in America in our financial markets is as much the judgment of God as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He is sending someone to show us the way out. How dare we reject God’s deliverer based on such flimsy claims! But, like I said, the fight is always about economics and theology. The question is, “will your understanding of God permit you to enslave, destroy, and exploit other people?” Some people in the Church say God has called them to do it. I disagree.

Come on people! Let’s get real! The SOVEREIGN GOD of the Universe can use anybody at any time in any place to accomplish his purpose. If he can’t then he is not God with a capitol “G.” He is a little “g” god.

The Civil War was basically a church fight between those Christians whose narrow “Pharisee-like” view of the world allowed them to believe that God had ordained them to own other people, and those Christians who had a more prophetic view of human personality, and who could see that slavery was evil from the root to the fruit.

God used whites in the Church, opposing each other on either side, to bring the judgment of the Civil War upon America which resulted in freeing the slaves. This was something that Lincoln did not want to do, but God arranged the circumstances so that it was what he had to do, just as Pharaoh did not want to let the Hebrews go, but he had to. The fight is always about economics and theology.

This teaching smacks of “deus ex machina” because this is a heresy that says that God only comes at the final end and that in between the beginning and the end human beings are left to themselves and the devil to figure out how things work. The Bible doesn’t support this at all. The Bible teaches that God is at work in human affairs, even in human governments, for the purpose of bringing about his will.

This teaching resembles a corruption of Anselm’s teleological proof for the existence of God because it teaches that God evidently made the world but then he has walked off from it. It’s based on the idea of a watch and watch maker: if you see a watch you can deduce that there is a watchmaker somewhere. This is a teleological argument or an argument based on cause. The teaching in question postulates that God made the watch (meaning the world), gave it a good winding and walked off to let it run by itself. This idea cannot be supported ANYWHERE in SCRIPTURE.

This teaching resembles a brand of secular humanism known as Semi-Pelagianism because like Pelagius, (a fourth century British monk condemned by the Church), it teaches that man’s fate in the world is dependant solely upon man. It teaches that God is not active in the affairs of human beings, nation-states, and national and international politics. Further, it raises the power of Satan and man over the power of God in dealing with God’s creation and with God’s creatures.

This brand of heresy was used in the eighteenth and nineteenth century on Native Americans, but especially on African Americans to prevent them from rebelling or in anyway attempting to free themselves from bondage. It says “this is your God-given fate and there is nothing you can do about it.” I wonder where would we be if Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Rosa Parks had thought like that? They made a move for freedom because they believed that God was on their side and because they believed that He acts in the world. They were right because God does act in human affairs.

Gandhi was not a Christian. Christian Britain had been enslaving and exploiting India for more then 300 years. No one but God, the God of Israel, stepped in to show a little brown man, with no army, how to make an oppressor, who is a world power, let go and be glad to do so. God is at work in this world.

This form of secular humanism would have us divorce ourselves from God because “he is not interested in acting on the world stage anyway,” they say. God would have to be awfully selfish to create a world, send his Son to redeem it, and then not use his power to bring it to his ultimate purpose.

People of limited vision and small minds always attempt to limit God’s work in the world so that they can feel free with doing and saying what ever will limit people, put them in bondage, and make them slaves. Wherever the God of Israel has been worshipped in the world the oppressors have sought first to kill Him, or to kill His influence, or to kill the hope of His people, for they know when his people look to him and cry out to him, he brings liberation.

I have read other writings by this author and they were good and orthodox, especially the stuff about the preachers who have been exposed recently. But this present writing is pure heresy. Maybe he should stick to providing advice to the lovelorn in the genre of a gossip columnist and leave the interpretation of Holy Writ to those who have studied the nature and character of God.

God is in love with justice. God is not an invention of the American Conservative Right. He pre-exists them and He will not fit into their box.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

When The Money Fails

Saint Paul predicted that “in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1). When the Apostle describes what these perilous times would look like, the second element in the description has to do with “money.” “People will be…lovers of money”, says the Apostle( 2 Tim. 3:1). The word he uses for "perilous times " is a word that can be translated “covetous,” “avarice,” or “greedy.” Whatever else these “perilous times” will produce, the one thing that is certain is that they will produce people who are fearful hoarders, and greedy for more from fear of running out. I think we are in that time now.

Since the international banks and world-wide insurance companies began to fail a fog of uncertainty and fear is slowly creeping across the nation and across the seas. Banks and bank holding companies are failing---and an infusion of over one trillion dollars by the U.S. government has not put confidence back into the market. I think this is going to last for a while.

Economic depression or the fear of it robs individuals of a sense of peace and security. It turns ordinary human beings into wolves and wild dogs ready to tear into anything and anybody for the sake of survival. When the financial systems fail nation-wide or world-wide, it gives one the sense that the atmosphere is on fire, and one is unsure even about the air that one breaths. Fear, skepticism, trepidation, anxiety, frustration, and doubt are all hall-marks of a failing economy. Since we are unsure who to trust, it’s a safe bet to trust no one. This is true for individuals and entire nations.

This atmosphere of fear and frustration is heightened during a close election. Nothing speaks as clearly about our present situation than the fear and anxiety expressed during this presidential election. The world is going to bed every night and waking up every morning braced for news of an attempted assassination, or an actual assassination. Change is in the air, but so are anger, confusion, and fear.

The Bible records a time of world-wide depression, sort of like the Great Depression of the Twentieth Century, and what we are bracing for now. The book of Genesis says there was a “famine” over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, meaning an empire-wide economic depression. In describing the events of the depression the author of the book of Genesis uses a very peculiar term. Instead of talking about “perilous times” or “hard times” as St. Paul would a millennium later, this writer says:

And when the money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? For the money faileth?” (Gen. 47:15, KJV).

The author uses two different Hebrew words to describe a failing economy. The first word is “tamam” and it’s used in Genesis 47:15: “And when the money failed in the land of Egypt, etc. In this occurrence the word “temam” carries the meaning of “having been spent” or “consumed all.” So this time this word could mean that the money was spent.

The next time the English text uses the term “money fails” (“money faileth”) is at the end of verse 15 which says: “why should we die in thy presence? For the money faileth?” This time the word translated “faileth” is the Hebrew word “‘aphec.” It means “to cease,” “to fail,” “to come to an end.”

In this instance the writer is not saying “we have run out of money,” but rather “the money has no value.” I once saw a picture of a German citizen during the Great Depression carrying a wheelbarrow loaded with about fifty-thousand deutschemarks. This was barely enough money to buy one loaf of bread. The money was worthless. The monetary system had failed. The monetary system was broken and it remained so for ten years: from October of 1929 when the Stock Market crashed to the first of September of 1939 when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, and started World War II.

What will we do if there is a world–wide depression like the one in the 1930’s or the one described in Genesis 47? There are four distinct things that I think every person alive today should know, believe, and meditate on. Three of them come from this text and the fourth is taken from Roman history:

First, you must know that the history of nation-states is the record of God’s dealings with humankind. The history of humanity is not just a chronicle of market forces and social uprisings, of war, conquest, acquisition and buyouts. Behind the recorded pages of the events, occurrences, heroics, victories, defeats, sufferings, experiments, discoveries, expansions, and inclusions there is the unseen hand of the Sovereign Lord leading, guiding, judging, caring, and redeeming.

Many years ago, I heard the late Dr. Manuel L. Scott say: “God is at work in this world with an agenda to which he allocates the priorities.” We live in a world where evil takes place, but this evil doesn’t stop God from working. Sometimes he is working in the midst of the evil and sometimes he is working through it, or around it, but most often in spite of it. If the Stock Market goes down to zero, if every manufacturing plant closes, and if every bank shuts down---none of this will indicate that God has left his post. God is at work in the world.

Secondly, God never sends a world-wide judgment without a warning. The Prophet Amos under girds this truth with the following declaration:

Surely the LORD God will do nothing, but that he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7, KJV)

I believe that God has been sending out the call for repentance for the last several generations to America and we have not heard it. I do not mean personal repentance, but national repentance, felt on a personal level. Too many of us claim personal salvation in Jesus Christ while worshipping at the altar of extreme capitalism and prosperity. Far too many American Christians are only Christian by culture and not by conviction. Too many Americans believe that real faith in Christ has to do with their race and not their walk with God.

September 11th was a call for repentance, and for a while we did repent and bind together. Then we allowed ourselves to be lead into the very things that caused the tragedy in the first place: militarism, nationalism, and xenophobia. More than forty years ago, God sent his prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr., who said to the leaders of this nation: “America, God says, ‘If you don’t repent, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power.’” We have been warned again and again, but we did not repent.

Thirdly, you must know that God never allows (or sends) world-wide calamity without a purpose. There is a line in the book of Amos that supports this thought. It says:
“When a trumpet sounds in a city,
do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
has not the LORD caused it?”
(Amos 3:6).

The Authorized Version of Job 34:29 brings the idea home: “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? And when he hideth his face, who then can behold him? Whether it be done against a nation, or a man only.” These texts mean that God is still in control. When I say that God is in control, I don’t mean God controls the minutiae of life, I mean that "God is in control of the systems that control the changing energies of existence" (M.L.Scott)

On March 28, A.D. 193 Didius Julianus, (known to history as the Emperor Julian) a wealthy Roman Senator purchased the Imperial dignity of the Roman Empire at a public auction held by the Preatorian Guard. He was divested of the emperor’s crown and his life 67 days later when one of those soldiers from whom he had bought the crown forced him into a room in the palace complex and beheaded him.

The Emperor Julian paid the sale price that he had bid for the throne, and there was nothing wrong with the economy. The act of selling the government to the highest bidder was wrong but the economy was good. The Emperor had not considered that there are some things that even money cannot buy, and one of them is an escape from justice.

Fourthly, you must know that God is in love with justice, and he wants us to be also. The problem with the economy is not a lack of money; it is a lack of justice. Whenever justice is trounched in the street, the money will soon fail. When money is used to buy the lives and hopes of human beings and trample them underfoot, that money will soon fail. When people come to love money, wealth, and power more than they love justice, mercy, and wisdom their money will soon fail. The abhorrence of justice brings judgment. Sometimes the only way God can get us to love justice is to empty us of possessions and wealth, till we come to love what he loves.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

An Announcement of Judgment

There are few biblical stories that find a parallel with modern political situations like the shocking story of the “Emperor’s Banquet” told in Daniel chapter 5. Biblical scholars refer to it as “The Story of the Handwriting on the Wall.”

The background of the story is a simple court ceremony in the Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian Emperor is the “shah-an-shah” or “king of kings” of his time. This means that he is not simply the ruler of a distinct land, culture, language, and people group, not just the chief of a local tribe, but rather a universal ruler. The “king” of Babylon is the king of many peoples, the sovereign of many cultures, languages, tribes, and the lord of many people groups.

In the story the young emperor throws a lavish party for the purpose of emphasizing the extent of his empire and the breadth of his rule. He calls on all his client kings and their retinues, his governors through-out the extent of his empire, and commands their presence at the state banquet. When the guests are saturated with food and drink, the music of the several royal bands has filled the air, and the night’s debauchery was about to begin, the banquet is interrupted by an uninvited guest:

“Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way” (Daniel 5: 5-6, NIV).

Josephus says the king “saw a hand proceed out of the wall, and writing upon the wall” (Josephus, Antiquities, 10.11.2-4). Thus the story tells of an apparition, a vision, a strange other worldly occurrence that defies human explanation: the finger of a hand without a body writes as if inscribing into to wet plaster on a wall. Then the hand disappears but the message, though cryptic, remains: “Numbered, Weighed, Divided.” This was as sure a sign of judgment to any ancient reader as the appearance of an angel with a drawn sworn sword.

We later learn from Daniel that the words are cryptic signs of divine judgment which mean that the emperor and his empire have been judged by the heavenly court and found guilty of offenses against God. The empire’s days have been numbered, meaning “finished.” It has been weighed and found wanting, meaning “guilty.” And the empire has been divided, meaning taken from the young emperor and given to others. The sentence was carried out, according to Daniel, that same night (Dan. 5:24-31).

The unfolding story reveals an emperor and an empire that is rife with pride, arrogance, and insolence, and is condemned by divine judgment (Dan. 5:17-24). The judgment of God has fallen on the empire because neither the people nor their leaders have turned from arrogance and pride, although often warned, and afforded great grace. They did not listen. Then the judgment came (Dan. 5:24-31). This story carries four distinct parallels to the present American political and financial crisis:

The first and most lasting symbol of the supernatural origin of the judgment is the unidentified hand writing on a wall. We are not told whose hand it is; we do not see a body, a form or a face; only a hand writing on a wall, a finger scribbling a message in plaster. When the hand of judgment appears, it often has neither name, shape, nor origin. Often it is the will of Providence to do its work in such a way that none can be blamed and none can take credit. This is a constant refrain in Scripture: common events are guided by the hand of an uncommon God to bring about his purposes in the earth.

Often, in agreement with Josephus, the hand of judgment doesn’t just appear near the wall, it truly comes out of the wall, out of the same situation for which we are being judged. The debacle of the financial markets in the final months of this administration is almost apocalyptic. When our financial and futures markets are failing while being surrounded by financial geniuses, it’s a hand out of no where, writing on Wall Street. The judgment of Wall Street is coming out of Wall Street.

The second similarity between our biblical story and present day America is that the judgment came amidst unlimited hedonism. This is also a theme of Scripture: judgment often comes when the powerful and arrogant are prancing high.

When the people who caused the melt down on Wall Street thought that they would leave in golden parachutes, something happened that has refocused our attention on them and the administration that allowed this rape and pillage to occur. God has an arrest warrant for the rich and powerful just when they are ready to strut and prance.

The third similarity of the text and present day America is the judgment was brought about because of unrestrained haughtiness. In both cases the cause for the judgment is pride, arrogance, and insolence. If you read Daniel’s explanation to the king you will see that the judgment did not come because the king drank from some gold and silver vessels. Rather it was because he used those vessels, once dedicated to Almighty God, to praise his gods of metal, stone, and wood, and never mentioned the God who held his breathe (Dan. 5:23).

Daniel was saying that the king’s arrogance was a pride that treated God like a thing and treated things like they were gods. Herein is the American sin: America has always treated people like things and then treated things like they had the value of people, thereby blaspheming the very image of God, whom America says it loves. No matter how much God has favored us or defended us, mainstream America seems to be addicted to the disease of human exploitation. The nation was founded on slavery and in everything it does it seeks some way to exploit, use, or take advantage of other human beings.

Finally, the biblical story and our present situation in America are similar because both their behavior and ours has one result: the unavoidable humiliation that is judgment. The judgment is unavoidable because when it is made known the decision has already been decreed. The judgment has already been pronounced by the time the principles learn about it. Once judgment has been decreed, it’s irretrievable. God never contradicts himself. When the hand writing appeared on the wall it was not to warn of a coming judgment; it was to say that the judgment had already been made, and to give the ensuing sentence.

There is a great difference between a warning from God that “judgment will come if”…, meaning that there is a contingency and we can do something about it, and an announcement that God has made a decision and here are the consequences. The announcement of judgment will only come after much warning and God’s great patience.

It is our constant turning away that brings judgment; our incessant drive toward evil and away from God that causes him to bring his judgment upon us. “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed---without remedy” (Prov. 29:1, NIV).

This is what brought the judgment in the book of Daniel. In the biblical text, the Emperor’s father, Nebuchadnezzer had been rebuked by God, and driven out of his mind to live among the animals, until he acknowledged that God alone is the ruler in the kingdoms of the earth. Then God brings him in splendor back to his throne. Daniel implies that the young emperor witnessed this horrific lesson, yet paid no attention.

The horrors of the Civil War, the dead and broken bodies of two World Wars, the deprivations of the Great Depression, the labors of Korea, the shame of Vietnam, the cost of the Iraqi war, the robbery of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the exploitation of African-Americans, the humiliation of Hispanics, the abuse of the Chinese, the internment of Japanese citizens, the abuse of women and girls, the turning away of Jews, nor the exploitation of every body’s labor----none of these calls to repentance has brought us to it. That’s why there is a fingering writing against the Wall Street.

The message is, “Numbered, numbered, weighed divided.” Your days have been numbered, you have been weighed and found wanting, and your kingdom has been divided and given to others.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Has Anyone Seen June Cleaver?

From October, 1957 to June, 1963 America was given a weekly vignette of wholesome, moral, secure, balanced suburban family life in a television situation comedy entitled “Leave it to Beaver.” This was a 30 minute chronicle of the life of the family of Ward and June Cleaver and their two sons, twelve year old Wallace (Wally) and seven year old Theodore (The Beaver) Cleaver. (This was their ages when the show started in 1957).

Ward Cleaver was a successful businessman who worked in an office at something that is not quite clear to the audience; whatever it was it was lucrative: Ward’s income took care of himself and three other people in middleclass suburban style. They lived in a big suburban house, drove nice family size sedans, and dressed well.

June Cleaver was always impeccably dressed, her hair well coiffured, and her string of pearls always around her neck. June Cleaver was in pearls and high heels, and wearing a party dress or a cocktail frock, even when gardening or doing the dishes. It seems that June woke up with her hair in place, already outfitted and ready to go to a cocktail party or be the hostess of one.

June was also impeccably behaved. June never disagreed with Ward Cleaver, for as we had already been told for a while by another television show, “Father Knows Best.” Ward never got on June’s nerves. He never acted in any way except the most noble and the most exemplary actions. June was never frustrated with Ward. She never felt like cussing Ward. June Cleaver was so content with Ward that she was probably the first “Stepford wife.”

Not only did June Cleaver never have any problems, she also never had any answers or solutions. Why should she need them? She was married to Ward Cleaver who did all the thinking and came up with all the solutions to any problems that might arise. June never lost her temper.

For June Cleaver there were no problems anywhere,
or at least she did not talk about them when millions of Americans were hanging off her every word. No, there were no outside problems for June Cleaver because her world was Ward, Wally, and the Beaver. And there were no problems on Maple Street or Pine Street in Mapleton, USA.

In June Cleaver’s world there are no African-Americans, no Hispanics, no persons of Asian or Native American ancestry, no Moslems or Buddhists, no human beings whose sexual preference is not heterosexual, no persons who are physically or mentally challenged, and of course there are no poor people. June Cleaver never has to face challenges about abortion because there is no premarital sex in her “cookie cutter world.”

June Cleaver was never challenged by unemployment, job outsourcing, inflation, rebellious children, balancing home and careing for elderly and infirmed parents, personal healthcare bills that she is unsure how to pay, or any of the problems that face real woman in a real world, even in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

June Cleaver lived in an insulated world. June was on television for six seasons: from the Fall of 1957 to the late Spring of 1963. These were the years that served as the seed bed for the revolutions in thought and behavior that would change America, but you would never know it by listening to June Cleaver.

Between 1947 and 1961 Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin developed vaccines to eradicate polio. With her precious Beaver being in the target age-range for polio you’d think that June would be concerned about this medical miracle. June never mentioned the polio vaccine.

Three years before “Leave It to Beaver” went on television, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Brown Vs. Board of Education decision against the Topeka, Kansas School Board, outlawing segregated schools in America. In six seasons on television, June Cleaver never once mentioned this historic decision.

About a year before “Leave It to Beaver” began its six year run Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association successfully broke the back of segregated public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. June Cleaver never uttered a word about it.

In 1960 doctors and scientist seeking to give women control over their reproductive health introduced the “birth control pill.” This simple medical miracle revolutionized dating, sexual habits, and marriage in America and around the world. It was never mentioned by June Cleaver.

In 1960 John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to become President of the United States. June Cleaver never noticed.

The question is “why?” The answer is that June Cleaver and the other characters of “Leave It to Beaver” are not real people. They are invented symbols of what some one wanted American life to be; they are not a reflection of what American life is or was, ever! June Cleaver and her family are “symbols” or better yet, “projections” of some one’s ideas of what America was in their minds or what America should be.

Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the two white men who originated and wrote the “Leave It to Beaver” program were also writers of both the radio and television versions of “Amos N’ Andy” (from 1943 to 1960). (“Amos ‘N Andy” was originated by two other white men, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll in 1928).

Connelly and Mosher were doing the same thing with the scripts for both programs: selling a message of what life in America ought to be. They had a central message for both shows: “This is who we are.” The “Amos ‘N Andy” program reinforced stereotypical bigotry while “Leave it to Beaver” reinforced a message of prosperity and greatness.

It made no difference to Connelly and Mosher that both messages were untrue; it was a message that helped sell products and solidify a nation. In other words Connelly and Mosher were using the media to shape a national consciousness. By their portrayals of ideal personalities, they invited people to either accept these roles, at the least, or aspire to them, at the most. Millions of Americans did both.

June Cleaver said, “Things are good. Your husband is your refuge. Your children are well behaved. There are no problems inside or outside of your home.” This was only true on Maple Street or Pine Street in Mapleton, USA, a make-believe house on a make-believe street in a make-believe town. In the real America people were catching hell everywhere. (During the six year run of the show, the Cleavers lived on Maple St. and Pine St.)

Sarah Palin is June Cleaver all over again. She tells us that all of America lives in Mapleton, and we are all married to Ward Cleaver. In her world there are no problems that a smile and wink can’t change. “There have been some mistakes with this war and with this administration,” says Palin during the debate, “as with all administrations,” never once admitting that the war in Iraq was wrong to begin with and that this administration has been eight long years of bumble and stumble, always going from bad to worse.

Sarah Palin, a.k.a., June Cleaver,
wants the world to believe that all is well with Ward, Wally, and the Beaver. This is not true. Mapleton does not exist, not even in Wasilla, Alaska, a place more than two thousand miles from main stream America. Ward is a drunk, and June Cleaver has no idea what her children are doing or with whom they are doing it.

Sarah Palin and June Cleaver are a marketing package. Those who made the package have little or no concern for the content, because there is no content. The package is empty, but it makes no difference as long as it is pretty and makes people feel good. It’s the package that is being sold, not the content. People look at the package, the outer wrapping that is June Cleaver and Sarah Palin, and identify with them, want to be them or to be like them, not knowing that what they are seeing really doesn’t exist. Even the package is make-believe.

There is no June Cleaver. Connelly and Mosher made her up just like the Republican handlers made up Sarah Palin on Thursday night. Palin was as much make believe at the debate on Thursday night as June Cleaver was in her high hills and pearls doing her gardening. Any serious candidate for a national office would know at least one landmark Supreme Court case.

I see June Cleaver every time some slick politician tries to sway my vote by zeroing in on a candidate’s religion, church, or its leader, or sell a package that says “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” or tries to convince me that his screw-ups are really “a mission accomplished.”

I see June Cleaver every time I see someone inaugurated to high public office who is not qualified to be county dog catcher, and who won the office because his/her team of magicians were able to distract voters long enough to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

I see June Cleaver every time some “nickel slick, shinny dime” high priced Madison Avenue political advertising machine picks up someone who is as dumb as a box of rocks, stuffs them full of irrelevant facts and figures, and trots them out like a show horse before adoring fans.

It seems to me that the mess that has inundated this nation as a result of eight years of George Bush’s “June Cleaver-like leadership” would be enough to break America from this silly notion that “the person in the office doesn’t matter as long as he/she has the right ideology and the right people around him/her.

It does matter, stupid! June Cleaver doesn’t have enough sense to change from a cocktail frock and heels, into slacks and sneakers when she is doing her gardening. How do you think she can run a nation?

Has anyone seen June Cleaver? No! Even the people who thought they saw her were only seeing the “make-believe.”

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