Under siege or seeking attention?

In 2006, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council swore to Chris Matthews that eighty percent of evangelicals agree that religion in this country, in particular, Christianity, is under attack. He was citing a 2005 Defamation League poll, and, to be honest, these results are about the most skewed in that direction I recall seeing. But it's a sentiment I hear over and over again.

It goes hand in hand with the rabid anti-American rhetoric that accompanied the Tea Party coup that shut the government down for more than two weeks. And it was an anti-American coup. So let's be honest about the pictire being painted here: Christians in America, not all Christians, but a select handful, are a remnant of the faithful standing guard against a corrupt society hurling every possible abuse and temptation and they alone will be found worthy at the end of time.

This is, to be honest, a sentiment right out of the book of Revelations, a view that the righteous were a select few who earned their way to salvation by remaining pure through trials and tribulations that others are too weak to withstand. A view rejected by many Christians as running counter to the message of grace that dominates the Gospels and Paul's letters. A view that was one of the main reasons the Eastern Orthodox churches wanted Revelation to be kept out of the New Testament Canon.

It is also a view that persists in spite of the fact that Christians in America, even Evangelicals, have it better than Christians any where in the world. Considering the physical attacks on Christians in Egypt and Syria, I would think American Christians, especially evangelicals, would be publicly praising God for the liberty to worship, pray and preach in public.

Yet we still read outrageous claims such as: Christianity in America is coming under attack like never before. While Islam and other religions get a free pass, it’s open season on the Judeo-Christian faith, or Christianity is under attack by this administration. Not religion, but just a particular brand of religion. If you're Muslim you get special consideration. But not if you are Christian.

In the post Christians under siege Dr. James White made the more reasonable statement that, “The developing fear is that government will make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith.” Unfortunately, in almost every example I've ever explored, that choice has been a misunderstanding of what the government is asking, or, more often, a misunderstanding of what Jesus demands of believers.

Most often evangelicals assume religious liberty means their right to practice lazy faith. They believe they should never be asked to be required to deal with people who disagree with them, inconvenience their own beliefs, cater to the beliefs of others, or even practice the rigors of their own faith. Their concept of religious freedom is their right to practice Christianity in a vacuum in which their communities, schools, businesses and airwaves support their beliefs and never give them reason to be aware that others believe differently.

In other words, they want America to be like the one they think existed in a past that never was, when there were no Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or free thinkers.

White offered four examples where Christians were asked by government to violate the principles of their faith (all having to do with same sex couples). He doesn’t explore them in detail, but I think we should:

  • Catholic Charities in Illinois shut down its adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples (as the state required).
  • A Christian counselor was penalized for refusing to advise gay couples.
  • A court clerk in New York was told to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite religious reservations.
  • A wedding photographer was sued for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding.

Let’s start with a principle outlined in Matthew 20:1-6. I'm not going to cite it, you should know it (or you can look it up). Basically, A vineyard hires workers to work the fields for the afternoon for ten dollars (let’s say they're migrants). An hour later he hires more for ten dollars, an hour later still more for the same rate and with an hour to go still more for the same rate. The workers who work longer think they'll get a bump, but Jesus says they should be willing to accept the work they agreed to.

This isn't just a principle of Christianity, it's contract law. Speaking of contract law, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, if any man will sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well. So it sounds like Jesus expects you to fulfill your contracts as a given. So with this in mind let's look at White's examples.

If Catholic Charities contracted with the state to handle their adoption services, they knew in advance they would be expected to meet all requirements, including new requirements. Since the law changes all the time they had to know they would sooner or later be expected to adopt to same-sex couples. If they could no longer fulfill this requirement, this is not the government's fault. It can hardly be an attack on religion.

But I have to ask why they drew the line at same sex couples. Doesn’t the church disapprove equally of divorce and abortion? Does Catholic Charities adopt to couples who were previously divorced or mothers who had abortions?

Similarly, if a Christian is interviewing for a job as a counselor, he is responsible for finding out if his employer expects him to counsel gay couples not the other way around. The employer does not work for him. If the employer makes it a condition of employment, then he should turn down the job. And before you argue Christian persecution, homosexuality is just as abhorrent to Islam and Judaism, so counselors from those faiths face the same concerns. The same goes for court clerks.

If a wedding photographer is sued for not photographing a same-sex wedding, the Christian thing to do, according to Matthew is to pay. On the other hand, I don't see this as a religious freedom issue. I don't see the court siding with the plaintiff in this case. Unless the photographer took their money and then refused to take the photos. And then the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom. It's theft, pure and simple.

Let’s think this through. Can't have a Christmas tree in your town square? That's sad. In Austin, we can. But you know what, we can all have one in our homes. And we can carry our bibles any where we want, and read them in the open. And we can talk about them anywhere. I have never been thrown out of anyplace but a library for talking publicly about the bible with others (not preaching, but having a conversation). And no one has ever arrested me for praying silently in public, or saying, “Praise The Lord.”

Come to think about it, even non believers say, “Jesus Christ,” out loud in public and they have never been arrested.

You can drive around with bumpers stickers about Jesus on your car. Even really obnoxious ones. And I've seen plenty. You can tell people you're a Christian without going to jail. You can argue with your college professor about Jesus without consequence (even if you're convinced she'll fail you). You can petition your city council about public prayer without being sent to prison. You can march on Washington, you can challenge politicians, you can even call the President a tool of Satan without retaliation.

So if you are a Christian in America, and you get that feeling that you're being persecuted, try something with me. Say, “Thank you, Jesus, that I get to be in America, where we have more religious freedom than anywhere else.”

And quit your whining.

 

Slap the other cheek, too

Hand it to the Republicans, they know how to turn Christian values on their head. This week the self-proclaimed party of Jesus, the party that intends to restore Christian values to America (even to those Americans who chose not to embrace them) celebrated those values with the Slap Face Hillary web site.

That's right. After making it clear that Republicans would not share the airwaves on CNN with Hillary Clinton by threatening to withhold debates from coverage if they aired a docudrama of Clinton's life, they have given us a web site inviting viewers to log in and slap Hillary Clinton in the face. You can slap Hillary as many times as you want.

Hillary's other cheek.

This site falls in the category of “If you don't get what's wrong, there's no way to explain it to you.” It would be like explaining the irony of beating up a beggar saying, “God's peace be with you,” to keep the streets safe for decent Christians.

This Republican mentality would laugh at Jesus' injunction to turn the other cheek because they would simply strike that cheek too. In fact, they would call you stupid for doing so. That's one of the reasons the site encourages visitors to slap Hillary as often as possible.

They could never comprehend that Jesus fully grasped the reality of that mentality and the cruelty that lay behind it. To them he was a naive liberal who never had a clue what would happen until they drove the nails in, and then it was too damn late to get down. But Jesus understood the act of turning a cheek was not intended to transform the heart of the striker, so much as those who watched the transaction.

When others saw the cruelty of the Romans and the generosity of the Christians, hearts would be transformed. And, over the centuries, that happened. Unfortunately, those in power simply disguised themselves as Christians as they continue to do today, and people lost faith.

When Republicans whine that Americans have lost faith in Christian and family values, a complaint they utter over and over again, maybe they should log onto their own site, sites like Slap Hillary. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out why.

 

Uncle Santa needs you

The annual season for the war on Christmas opened this weekend. Technically, the skirmishes started a few weeks ago in Santa Monica and Alsip, Illinois. However, it's never official until Bill O'Reilly issues the declaration.

courtesy of examiner.com

The Christian Right believes they have an exclusive right to display their imagery during the upcoming season. After all, Christmas is a Christian holiday.

Unfortunately for Christians, other people celebrate their own holidays this time of year, and have been doing it far longer than Christians. The Christian Right forgets that their particular day is privileged only because the Federal Government, whom they believe conspires against them, recognizes only their celebration as the official holiday.

Christmas is the only religious holiday honored by the United States. Christians like to claim Thanksgiving as theirs too, but Thanksgiving is really a celebration of ecumenicalism, if it has any religious significance at all. Thanksgiving recognizes an event in which Native Americans, who revere the spirit world, came to the aid of Christians who might not have survived the winter in spite of our all-powerful God.

(I was always told that God sent the natives to help the Pilgrims, and I believe he did, but the irony of God sending pagans to rescue believers is lost on the story tellers.)

Of course, New Year's Day is the United States' official version of a purely Pagan holiday, but Christians and the failure of collective memory have managed to white wash any such religious connections today.

I was told when I was a child that Christmas was the umbrella for Chanuka. In fact, Christmas was supposed to be the time when people of all faiths set aside their differences to celebrate a day of peace. That day of peace is gone.

Christians should be grateful that theirs is the only religious celebration officially recognized by the United States. Instead, many of us seem to believe the very government they hate is punishing them by making room for all Americans to celebrate.


Speaking of the war on Christmas, I am finishing revisions this weekend on my Christmas (holiday) novella, The Worst Noel, a spin off of my novel Raising Hell, in which Pilgrim must save a town from its own outbreak of the Christmas wars. It will be on sale for Nook, Kindle and iBooks in time for the holidays (which you will find ironic given the topic of an upcoming post).

 

Vote conscience

In spite of the campaign rhetoric, this election is about everything but the economy. The economy has been little more than a smokescreen for a chance to press the same social agenda that Republicans have pressed for decades, an agenda that rewrites both Christianity and the Constitution.

A small sign of this, but telling nonetheless, was the uproar created when Kay Hill of Round Rock, Texas, was asked to cover up her shirt at her early voting polling station. The shirt said, “Vote the Bible.” While wearing such shirts isn't explicitly illegal in Texas, there are legal restrictions on campaigning in polling places.

She claimed her free speech rights were violated, as did the group Texas Values which now represents her. In her words, “Vote the Bible” doesn't endorse a political party or candidate, just her belief in the bible. Thirty years ago this might seem reasonable. In 2012, however, the position seems a little disingenuous.

The Republican Party has wrapped themselves not just in the flag, but between the pages of the Bible as well. For all her protestations to the contrary, no one doubts that “Vote the Bible” is an endorsement of Mitt Romney and his Party. In fact, the Christian Right has made it clear that the Democratic Party is not the party of the Bible.

In September, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki wrote in Catholic Times:

I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.

This is the same disingenuous language, since Paprocki spells out why the Republicans espouse Christian values and Democrats don't.

What are these Christian values? They all involve compelling others to conform to our beliefs:

  • We want the right to make others join us in public prayer to the Judeo-Christian god.
  • We want pledges to support the nation to be tied to an invocation of our God, forcing those who don't accept his existence to validate our belief.
  • We want to force women to practice our life values. It is not enough to to preserve life in our own bodies, we compel other women to do so as well even when they were raped or their health is in jeopardy.
  • We don't even want women to have the option to prevent pregnancy.
  • We want children to be indoctrinated into the tenets of our faith under the guise of science.
  • We want to deny health care to the most needy.

In every case, Christians would scream bloody murder were the tables turned. If we were asked to join in public prayers to Allah, or to public chants to Buddha, we would consider ourselves martyrs (although I can't imagine many American Christians actually willing to die over it). If the pledge contained the phrase “a nation that needs no God for sanction,” we would call it persecution. If women were forced to practice birth control, we would call it injustice. If children were taught “evolution proves there is no God” in social studies textbooks we would scream political indoctrination. If circumcision were made mandatory, we would proclaim ourselves victims of a war on faith.

Jesus never asked us to be the moral arbiters of those who don't follow him. In fact, when I read the Bible, the only one who answers to God for my sins is me, and I do not answer for the sins of others. If we pursue the agenda of the Christian Right, we risk becoming part of the evil ourselves.

I see a darker possibility on the horizon. There may well be a culture war, but it is not a war on Christians so much as a declaration of war by a a few Christian sects on people outside the faith, and even Christians whose faith they feel diverges from theirs. There seems to be a desire to impose their orthodoxy on the rest of us, and, as recent events have proved, the Christian Right feels they are above the law in ways the rest of us aren't.

As to the economy, let's face it. The Republicans' true constituency will do well with a good or bad economy. But if we look at the record of the Republican Congress, it becomes clear they blocked every measure proposed by the administration to create more jobs and improve the economy because those measures wouldn't do it their way.

Jesus is about choice. Your choice. Your choice to follow him. We can only lead the way for others. Faith is not compulsory and to believe otherwise is to be both unChristian and unAmerican.

The supreme irony is that twenty years ago the Christian Right would not have accepted Mitt Romney as one of them. At least they have become more tolerant of someone.

Yoga is “a goy” spelled backwards

Once again Christian parents are up in arms, this time in California. It seems their innocent children are being subjected to yoga classes, which is tantamount to forced Hinduism. Needless to say, the Christians want to sue.

I did the math, and it does seem that yoga is a perniciously anti-Christian practice. If you spell yoga backwards, you get “a goy.” Any one who knows Yiddish knows that “a goy” is the term for someone who is not one of God's chosen people. It doesn't get more insidious than that. We might as well be forcing our children to pray to Ganesh.

CNN asked a spokesman for the Christian Right why parents would object to yoga and he said exactly the same thing. Well, not the backward spelling thing, but that making kids practice yoga was forcing them to “take poses that honor Hindu Gods.”

Up until that moment I didn't know that “downward facing dog,” and “salute to the sun,” were Hindu gods, not to mention “corpse,” “tree,” and “mountain.” But, it seems, they are.

Oh, wait. Using the backward spelling trick, “downward facing dog” is really “downward facing God.” It all makes sense to me now.

Carol is Cherokee, and we made medicine bags at the Cherokee Township meeting this afternoon to appreciate the artifacts of their passing culture. It reminded me of school, when we made headdresses and other native artifacts. I realized that if we were to make medicine bags in school these days, the Christian Right would claim we were honoring Native American Gods and sue the school district.

As I recall, with school funding being slashed right and left because of No Child Left Behind, schools had to give up arts and PE just to keep their budgets afloat. Yoga seems to me to be a pretty cost effective way to provide physical fitness. The districts could even stiff the parents for the cost of the mat as a “school expense.”

If the suit is filed, and upheld, a small minority of Christians will have denied school children across the country another opportunity for fitness.

So I will conclude with a thought I have shared before:

Stop whining, Christians. You sound like babies who lost their pacifiers. You're supposed to be persecuted. It's in your Bible. People are supposed to hate you, revile you and even kill you. How can you bear the cross when you can't even bear to be in the same room with people who disagree with you?Listening to you, I would think the US Constitution is supposed to spin a comfy womb where you can suckle the milk of faith and never be exposed to doubt.

When you stand before God at judgement and he asks what you did for him, you should hope you have something more to offer than you voted Republican and stopped a yoga class.

Written on stone tablets (made in China)

So we know that Obama is anti-life, anti-marriage and anti-Christian. The latest revelation is that Obama and his lead hit man Hillary Clinton have done an end run around the constitution and used the UN to ban guns in America.

I was puzzled about all this brouhaha until I realized God had revised the ten commandments. This may sound absurd to you, but I’ve already reported that the Christian right has decided to revisit the Bible and release the version God intended.

I got a peek at the Ten Commandments 2.0 and found them enlightening. Here’s the honest to God commandments the way God would have written them had America been there in time for the Bible to be written:

  1. America is God’s nation. Thou shalt elevate no other nations before it.
  2. Thou shalt defend the Lord with guns and keep the government from taking them away to prevent thy defense thereof. This is the second, and perhaps, greatest commandment. 1
  3. Though shalt display images of thy God, his ten commandments and even his commemorative tree on his birthday in every public office, school and mall, yea even in communities where secular humanists abound.
  4. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain, which is defined thereby as questioning the Lord or those who defend his name or swearing unless you are in the military or play football or doing guy stuff.
  5. Thou shalt remember the sabbath and keep it holy by observing Football, NASCAR and church if it doesn’t conflict with game time.
  6. Honor thy father and mother unless you are a character in a FOX sitcom.
  7. Thou shalt not kill unborn children, but after that they’re on their own.
  8. Thou shalt not commit adultery unless you can deflect accusations by pointing the finger at others.
  9. Thou shalt not allow the government to steal by levying taxes.
  10. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, which doesn’t count if they’re liberals, secular humanists or otherwise unworthy of God’s favor.

Obviously the original tenth commandment was bumped off the list, but it was too long to remember anyway and besides, even if you do know what coveting is, you can buy the stuff you covet on credit.


1I know this is a shift in the order of original commandments, but since the Constitution is the second highest authority for the American Jesus, the second amendment allows new Bible scholars to feel fairly sure that God originally intended this to be the second commandment as well. Since there were no guns at the time, God was holding this back for a later revelation. back

Judge not the judges

especially without the facts

Newt is fading so quickly at the polls that this post may seem like kicking the wounded dog. Nonetheless, Newt rebounds quickly, even when he shoots himself in a vital organ. Whether or not he’s finished, he keeps serving himself up as defender of the faith. With the economy improving and Obama’s fortunes rising, I suspect more and more Republicans will try to reframe the debate around Jesus.

Recently he declared once again that federal judges need to be put in their place because of their open hostility to Christians. His campaign web site declares: “The revolutionary idea contained in the Declaration of Independence is that certain fundamental human rights, including the right to life, are gifts from God and cannot be given nor taken away by government. Yet, secular radicals are trying to remove “our Creator” – the source of our rights – from public life.”

This is a profound misinterpretation and is fundamentally misleading. The “right to life” in the declaration has nothing to do with abortion, it has to do with what John Locke’s social contract. Until the rise of the Christian right, even conservative scholars would have agreed that the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” meant the government had no right to take the life of a citizen without just cause.

Since the “right to life” stands on equal footing with the “right to pursue happiness,” Newt’s more restrictive interpretation of right to life as a stand against abortion puts the right to life in direct conflict with a woman’s right to pursue happiness. I would even go further and suggest that arch conservatives were always quick to point out the phrase “all men were endowed by their creator with the right to…” excludes women. Since men couldn’t have abortions, obviously right to life meant something different altogether.1

On the other hand, Republicans in the past have always claimed that the Declaration of Independence is little more than a statement of intent; the Constitution is the edifice on which this nation was built. This is because too XXXXX many liberals and Democrats appeal to the Declaration. God and the “right to life” appear nowhere in the Constitution. Even more horrifying, the “Creator” who endowed us (men) with our inalienable rights was a remote and impersonal deity. Many of the founding fathers were deists.

In a recent speech, Gingrich referenced a case from Central Texas to prove that Federal judges were little more than “dictatorial religious bigots.” The case, which I’ve discussed before, resulted in an injunction by San Antonio Judge Biery ruling on a lawsuit against Medina Valley High school, who, according to Newt, declared that “not only could students not pray at their graduation, if they used the word ‘benediction,’ the word ‘invocation,’ the word ‘God,’ asked the audience to stand or asked for a moment of silence, he would put the Superintendent in jail.”

Wrong on all accounts. Biery ruled that school officials and students couldn’t ask audience members to pray with them, could, in fact, speak of their faith as long as it wasn’t presented in a way that could be considered coercive, and, in fact, could say just about anything. However, an official benediction or invocation couldn’t be included as part of the official graduation program. Nor was anyone likely to go to jail since fines were also included in the possible penalties.

I have referred to the situation before as coercive prayer, and the Book of Daniel praises Jewish martyrs who would rather to be burned to death than forced to pray to another God. An option I’m sure Newt would take in the same situation. But Jesus’ invocation “do unto others as you would have them do to you” also means Christians shouldn’t coerce others to pray either. Judge Biery simply decided that the Constitution agreed with Jesus.

For Newt this means that the Constitution needs to be rewritten to stop judges from making the wrong decision (i.e., force them to bow to the will of local citizens and politicians).

The most important fact left out of Newt’s account is that the next higher court of appeals overturned the decision almost immediately. In other words, the judicial system tries to be self-correcting by referring decisions up the line to more experienced judges with more distance from the case. This seems to me to be far better than putting judges on a chopping block whenever they decide the law disagrees with a plaintiff or defendant.

This also serves to stress a more important issue. Jesus doesn’t need the Christian right to enforce his will on anyone. Nor does he want us to. People have to come to him of their own free will. To demand that they pray, in public, to our God (or to demand they give up their beliefs) is to behave exactly like the Babylonians, Assyrians, Soviets and other enemies of true faith.


1Okay, I’m playing semantic sleight of hand here. In my defense, however, semantic wrangling is a key element of being raised Baptist. If you can’t twist the scriptures to your own end, you’re little more than a heathen.back