So help me

There was a story flying about the Internet about a Republican sponsored bill in the Arizona House that would require high school students to take an oath of education to graduate. Students would swear to support and defend the Constitution with “true faith and allegiance…so help me God.”

When I started tracking this story down the sources seemed to exclusively be progressive (which Republicans consider to be a code word for “liberal, left wing”) sites. For a while I was beginning to suspect the story was the same kind of unverifiable detritus that haunts Republican blogs and websites. But I did finally track down the link I shared, which was to the text of the bill itself. The bill reads:

BEGINNING IN THE 2013‑2014 SCHOOL YEAR, IN ADDITION TO FULFILLING THE COURSE OF STUDY AND ASSESSMENT REQUIREMENTS PRESCRIBED IN THIS CHAPTER, BEFORE A PUPIL IS ALLOWED TO GRADUATE FROM A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN THIS STATE, THE PRINCIPAL OR HEAD TEACHER OF THE SCHOOL SHALL VERIFY IN WRITING THAT THE PUPIL HAS RECITED THE FOLLOWING OATH:I, _________, DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; THAT I TAKE THIS OBLIGATION FREELY, WITHOUT ANY MENTAL RESERVATION OR PURPOSE OF EVASION; AND THAT I WILL WELL AND FAITHFULLY DISCHARGE THESE DUTIES; SO HELP ME GOD.

I don't know why it's all caps. Maybe legislation in Arizona is more officious than elsewhere. It's certainly harder to read.

The notion that a high school diploma requires a test of patriotism is bizarre enough. But that would be a Constitutional question. Requiring a student to bundle their support of the Constitution with an affirmation of belief in God goes against the spirit of the Constitution and certainly against Christianity. Jesus believed that faith should be freely given. In fact, all gifts should be freely given.

It also seems to attempt an end run around the Constitution in the name of the Constitution. A pledge of allegiance should not be coerced, but to require it as a condition of receiving a diploma is nothing more than coercion. It is to demand that the sate of Arizona require an affirmation in defiance of the First Amendment.

No doubt the bill's sponsors justify this to stop the erosion of religious and family values they perceive to be endemic in our society. How ironic that their actions threaten the Constitution and Christianity more than those who deny the existence of God altogether.

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Tebow Teberty

If you missed last week's post, that's because it wasn't published even though it appeared to be published on my computer. I apologize.

Tim Tebow, never one to shy away from controversy for the Lord, is back in the headlines again for his scheduled appearance at the notorious (or beacon of righteousness) Liberty University. The name is somewhat disingenuous because it was more recognizable under its former name, Liberty Bible College. So what's the problem, some might ask. Isn't he the kind of guy who would appear at a Bible college?

The problem is, according to many progressive watchdogs, LU is run by the Falwell family who have historically attacked gay people, gay couples and the rights of gay couples to marry (among other right wing views). This appearance comes not long after he cancelled on Dallas First Baptist and pastor Robert Jefress for espousing similar views.

To many this speaks of hypocrisy, to others it means Tebow is willing to join a right wing, anti-gay agenda. To the young Christians gathering at LU's national convocation, Tebow is a hero who scores for Jesus and the Jets.

I think it's pretty clear that Tebow has taken a stand against the far-right Christian gay bashing of Christians like Jefress and the Falwells. The question is whether or not his decision to appear at a convocation of young people who consider him a role model is appropriate. Or, more importantly, does Tebow have the right to chose the people with whom he associates?

Jesus ran into the same problems, as I recall. He liked to hang out with hookers and drunks. And he was accised of hypocrisy as well, not to mention giving prostitution and drunkenness his seal of approval. And the more I think about it, he continued to choose his associates, including low life fishermen (the Jewish version of trailer trash) and political activists.

Every once in a while Carol and I let my family drag us to their mega church. It doesn't mean with give them our seal of approval. Christians are not Scientologists. We aren't forbidden to associate with those who disagree with us, in fact, it's a sign of our love that we're willing to do so.

So until Tim says, “You know, I agree with Jefress and the Falwells. I'm so down on gay people and other suspicious leftists and sinners,” I say we let him choose his associates and not hold him accountable for their hatred.

Government is not the enemy of charity

Consider the following passage from Mark 10:

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

We are currently in the middle of a debate about the best way to make government solvent. According to many in the Christian Right, the best way is by sacrifice. Not self-sacrifice, in which, we pay more taxes, but the sacrifice of others we don't care about who receive benefits from government.

I'm including the sacrifice of money to educate other people's children, money to take care of veterans, money to support the families of soldiers, money to insure the health care of those most in need. The message of the Republican Right, and that includes the Christian Right, is of the preservation of wealth. And those who are willing to pay more in taxes to make sure that the needs of others are more adequately met are considered to be anti-Christian and even anti-American.

I find this message ironic coming from the mouths of those who profess that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Nowhere do we hear the rich and powerful consider sacrificing their wealth. Not even offering the sacrifice in the manner of Isaac and his son. They are not even willing to put their wealth on the altar with faith that God will return it to them.

No, they insist wealth is their god given right. Which it may be, but according to Jesus that wealth was given in order to take care of the poor.

It is easy to claim that care of the poor should come at the hands of private charities, not bloated government bureaucracies. Yet private charities are also bureaucratically top heavy (I know, having worked for them) and often depend on government funding as much as private support.

I am all for a balanced budget, but I am willing to pay my fair share rather than carve it out of the backs of the poor. And I think I am following the path set out in the Gospels to suggest as much.

WWJD? Defy the IRS

Last Sunday 1400 pastors openly defied the IRS by endorsing candidates from the pulpit in spite of rules prohibiting this. The pastors call the event “pulpit freedom Sunday” claiming that the IRS is violating their free speech rights as citizens.

What these pastors forget is that when they speak from the pulpit, they no longer speak as citizens but as the official representatives of tax exempt organizations. This means that the money to pay their salaries and bonuses is not created by making wealth but by syphoning it away from the government.

You can write off your donations to the organizations that pay their salaries, and the organizations (called churches) that sell books and merchandise don't have to pay taxes on that income either. In other words, those very pastors are sucking at the government tit.

If they had to compete with other pastors directly for your income (on which you have to pay taxes), many of those pastors and their organizations would go flat broke. So they owe their livelihoods to the very governments they challenge.

In short, these pastors don't speak as citizens but under government subsidy. And they should not be allowed to endorse candidates any more than other government employees.

This year, those pastors went a step further. They mailed those sermons to the IRS. And they knew they could get away with it because if the Department of Justice went after them, they could play martyrs in Obama's war on faith.1

The act of mailing those sermons is, of course, very Christian. Didn't Jesus tell us in the sermon on the mount that if you think someone offends you, slap them on the cheek publicly?

This Christian war on democracy (funded by the Corporate Christian Complex who, in turn, is subsidized by money written off from taxes that the rest of us would have to pay the federal government) goes back to the sixties. The Supreme Court ruled that citizens could not be coerced into participating in public prayer which, ironically, is something Jesus said Christians shouldn't do to start with (Matt. 6).

From our reaction, you would think the government had burned us at the stake or crucified us in front of the White House.

You see, these same pastors think that not only should they disobey Jesus, they should expect the rest of us to do it with them. They should be allowed to display symbols of their faith whenever and wherever they please (much like marking their own territory).

At the same time, they think the symbols of other faiths should be hidden away so they don't have to be offended by them. They resent Kwanza programs or art projects displaying Moslem or Hindu traditions in schools. They think mosques should be prohibited on sites where they should be allowed to build churches.

In short, they think they should be afforded a different standard of citizenship. Sort of a citizenship premium pass, paid for on our dime. And that is about as unAmerican as you can get.

I remember a song from Bible School, “they'll know we are Christian by our love.” Instead they know we are Christians by our obstinance, hypocrisy and double-standards. Then those same pastors wonder why others hate us.


1It's actually more complicated, but it boils down to the same thing. The IRS lost a court case brought by this same group of pastors raising a technical challenge. The court ruled the IRS had to change how they inspected churches in violation of their rules. Were the IRS to rewrite those rules to comply with the court order and legally go after offending churches, then those churches would claim they were victims of the war on faith. back

In God We Trust, all others pay taxes

One of Romney's newest campaign promises is that he will not take “In God We Trust” off US coins or bills. Naturally, Republican voters now think Obama will remove the phrase. Otherwise, why would Romney pledge it?

Needless to say, neither Romney not Obama has the power to dictate coinage design to the US Mint. But the controversy began when the government moved the phrase from the face of certain coins to the edge and released one pressing with the phrase missing. The phrase moved back to the face in later pressings.

Why is this important? Because even though Jesus told believers not to make a public spectacle of their faith (Matthew 6), he clearly didn't mean American Christians. We're the best Christians in the whole wide world and it's our job to make sure people know it.

We don't actually have to trust God, we just have to remind people that we do. After all, if we really trusted God we wouldn't worry who got elected President. We would trust God to do his will no matter who sat in the White House or Congress.

If we really trusted God to express his will, we wouldn't pay taxes. We would just give government whatever they asked and trust God to spend it wisely.

So I think Romney hasn't gone far enough. If he really was commited to the public trust in God, he wouldn't stop with money. He would make sure it was printed on every American flag, right below the field of stars. He would amend the preamble of the Constitution to read “We the people of the United States who TRUST IN GOD” and Declaration of Independence to read “we hold these truths to be self-evident that we TRUST IN GOD.”

The pledge of allegiance would read, “one nation, under God IN WHOM WE TRUST.” We should include the phrase on checks issued by the government. We should include it on every ballot. We should print it on the casing of every bullet and bomb we unleash upon the unChristian infidels.

Every Presidential portrait should portray our Commander-in-Cheif shaking Jesus's hand, and a word balloon with the phrase “In God We Trust.” The phrase should be wrapped around the eagle on the Presidential Seal.

After all, how can God know what's truly in our hearts unless we spell it out for him.

Or, if we really trusted in God, we would trust him to know that we trust him and not need to tell everyone. Which was, as I recall, one of the points Jesus was making in Matthew 6.