Monday, August 29, 2005

Fake Headlines for August 29, 2005

"GODLESS" RUSSIAN-NAMED HURRICANE ATTACKS NEW ORLEANS

LITTLE LEAGUERS
ON ESPN GUILT TRIP STEROID USING PROS

"WE'VE GOT SPIRIT" CHANTS MAR DUELING PROTESTS IN CRAWFORD

MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS: BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, YADA, YADA, YADA

AL SHARPTON ACCUSES U.S SECRET SERVICE OF ASSAULT

PAT ROBERTSON YEARNS FOR CONQUEST DAYS OF JOSHUA


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sheehan Protest: Mistakes on Both Sides

As Cindy Sheehan continues her protest of the Iraq war outside the President's ranch in Texas I cannot help but observe the catlog of mistakes made by both sides in this drama.

Sheehan has every right to be angry over her son's death and every right to protest in a civil manner if she believes he died as a result of bad policy. That being said, she also has no clue how run her own public relations strategy. When this began she was a poor mother protesting the loss of her son at war. It was exactly what the anti-war movement needed a face to characterize the suffering they believe has been caused by poorly executed war policies. The problem now is she has permitted herself to be exploited by people like Michael Moore and Ariana Huffington, who are anti-war, but even before that were anti-Bush with a hatred so deep it clouds any substance they might bring to the table. As a result her rhetoric has become their rhetoric saying Israel needs to get out of Palestine and that her son was "murdered" by Bush and his policies. If there was any doubt that this rhetoric carries little weight with the American public one should go back and check the 2004 election results. Sheehan should have immediately brushed off any help from Moore or any other acknowledged Bush hater by simply stating that she was there to protest the death of her son in a war which she feels was not justified and was not properly executed to ensure the least number of American casualties. Instead her protest is in tremendous danger of becoming a "I Hate Bush" protest drowning out the real message altogether.

On the other side, it has been suggested that Bush should have met with her right away. The problem there is it sets bad precedent. The President cannot meet with every single person who has a greivance with his policies dead son or not. The mistake of the administration is not providing a simple response which acknowledges her grief, the sacrifice of her son, shows some level of grief for the losses already suffered, and simply stating that the President cannot offer that kind of one-on-one attention to every grieving family member. To meet with her says that a President can be manipulated into meeting someone just because they show up and become a public relations nightmare. While I firmly believe the President is accountable to the American people, that accountability comes at the voting booth, not via one on one meetings. This should apply regardless of which party is in office. The Bush people have to move away from this idea that he "has no time" to meet with her or even that he met her already, but make it about precedent and illustrating an appropriate level of grief and empathy in her direction.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Why the Christian Right is Wrong: Part 3

Abortion

"[Abortion is a] sad, even tragic choice for many, many women..."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton(D-NY)

If the above statement were presented sans the author to many Christians and devout pro-lifers, one would expect them to give you are hardy "Amen" or agreement with the premise. Yet the statement above does not come from even a conservative Republican but rather from a woman most of the Right hates as much as the Left hates George W. Bush. While the statement seems to be part of a greater plan by Clinton to moderate herself ahead of the 2008 Presidential election, the premise has merit even for the pro-life Christian Right. It denotes an approach to the issue which is largely absent from the current anti-abortion political agenda one of fighting to prevent abortions and attempting to reach women and help them to avoid this "tragic choice" The basic premise of the anti-abortion fight for the Christian Right is to change the laws of land to stop any and all abortions, period. Given the atrocity abortion is this is commendable except the Christian Right focus is not on establishing the rights of preborn therefore entitling them to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" but rather the focus has been on overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling which declared choice for women in reproductive matters. There is also little focus on initiatives which meet women where they are in an effort to change the hearts of women to either (1) avoid getting pregnant in "abortion-friendly" situations i.e. outside of marriage or (2) counseling them to make the choice for adoption rather than abortion. The latter option is the focus of many Christian organizations but from a political standpoint and in terms of the Christian Right agenda it is the all out war on Roe v. Wade which consumes the stage.

Roe V. Wade

In 1973, this landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court basically held that in reference to abortions a woman is permitted to choose what she can do with the pregnancy and the government may not interfere. Roe also placed the matter squarely in the court of the states to pass laws to deal with abortion, as long as it was not banned. Those laws are constantly being tested in the judicial system to form the abortion rights picture. However in media presentation and public perception Roe v. Wade is erroneously seen as a up or down approval of abortion. Most Americans seem to think that overturning Roe v. Wade means abortion would automatically be illegal. This seems to be the thinking on the Christian Right as well since a great number of resources are vested into changing the makeup of the federal courts to render Roe untenable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Political scholar David Pothier stated:

Most people don't realize that Roe v. Wade simply states that it is unconstitutional to completely deny citizens in any state access to an abortion. It does allow for limits on abortion on the state level, but it only prohibits an outright ban. If the decision was overturned, abortion would not become illegal. Rather, each individual state would decide whether to legalize it or ban it.

Pothier makes a key point that actually makes overturning Roe a horrible idea. If Roe were dropped then abortions would occur on a state to state basis. This would mean staunchly conservative states would ban it while liberal states would let it remain. This comes very close to the slave/free states of the Civil War and would also mean that any hope of ending abortion nationally would be gone since some states will never move from liberal to conservative. There is also a rather unhealthy obsession with Supreme Court justice confirmations which consumes too many valuable resources and sacrifices too much political capital. It has never been nor will it ever be politically viable to scale back the freedoms you have already granted a group of people. The current agenda on abortion is a PR nightmare fraught with a counter-spins from the Left which characterize the Christian Right as advocates of big government intrusion into the most private areas of a woman's life. It does not matter how egregious the atrocity you are battling, you will never win if it appears to you are preventing a person from exercising a previously assigned liberty.

Rights of the Fetus

The political agenda of the Christian Right should start and stop with the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution. There is no further need for more laws and more legislative wrangling when there already exists a mechanism for curtailing abortions. The point of focus should not fall on curtailing the rights of women but rather extending rights to the pre-born. Liberals say they are pro-choice, well pro-lifers should be pro-choice as well meaning the unborn child should also have a choice concerning life or death. As with all other issues where a child is involved, if he/she is unable to make that choice, the state should make it for them. If that framework were in place then stopping abortions would not be taking freedom but rather extending it to a new generation of Americans. The greatest problem with this stance is the scientific angle. A large section of the scientific community disregards the supernatural and make findings based on pure biological functions. Officially, a fetus is not a person until it reaches a point in which it could live outside the womb. The magic number in most cases is 24 weeks gestation which means a child can live, grow, and have a beating heart for the better part of five to six months and still be terminated with the sanction of the government. The premise is that if it cannot survive without the mother then it is not really a person. This position is wholly contradicted by a host of other premises in society however. Even from 24 weeks up until they can attain some meaningful employment and is responsible enough to take care of their own needs a child cannot live without his/her parents. A one year old left in his/her crib without food, water, nurturing from a caregiver will die just the same as a 20 week fetus outside the womb. If self sufficiency is a necessary requirement to judge the value of life, then the moment a heart stops or breathing ceases anywhere that person ceases to be viable person according to standard applied to pre-24 week fetuses. Just because the fetuses life support system happens to be another person does not mean they should be denied the chance to live. Another contradiction is that the laws of most states hold that it is felony to kill a dog who has bare minimum intelligence and potential for societal enhancement but killing a child who has unlimited potential is accepted. The point is that the Christian Right must make a greater effort to fight the anti-abortion battle in an arena that is tenable both constitutionally and in terms of public perception. Extending the rights of the constitution to the unborn child can be spun in a more positive light.

The Current Situation

Until the protections of government can be afforded to the unborn child, the Christian Right must make every effort to prevent as many abortions as possible. There are already plenty of pregnancy care centers and adoption agencies which seek to help women avoid the tragedy of abortions by giving them a means to adopt. These agencies are in constant need of resources to make a greater impact and it is likely that far more abortions can be prevented in vesting more resources with organizations on the battlefield than in the courtroom. As with all things, the ultimate goal of Christians should be the Gospel and changing the moral climate not by the passage of laws but by the changing of hearts. The current mentality of the Christian Right is for the government to modify moral behavior by banning an immoral activity. The point that is sorely missed here is that even if abortion were illegal, the circumstances which lead to abortion i.e. sex outside marriage, incest, rape, and teenage pregnancy would still exist. Sure, abortions would stop, but these sins would continue. It should be the focus of the Christian Right to share the Gospel and help the people who are the sinners in the above situations, both men and women, to embrace a righteous lifestyle. Any movement to train men to respect women, to curtail their sex drive until marriage, and to be responsible for the life they helped create, even outside wedlock would also help curb the abortion totals. If some women had a support system and a family unit to facilitate keeping a child, some abortions would cease to occur. Abortion is not a woman's issue alone, since it takes both a man and a woman to create a life. Reaching out to men and making it clear that they can have just as much role in preventing the circumstances that lead to abortions as the women is paramount in winning the battle.

It is not enough to merely stop something from occurring and believe that solves the problem. Christianity is a matter of the heart first, and then behavior will follow. As Christian we should strive to share with people Gospel because the work of the Cross can reach a place not politician or law can ever reach, the heart. Abortion is a horrible atrocity and should be prevented at all costs. How many lives have been lost because the proponents of life have taken the wrong approach to solving the problem?

Back: Part 2, Who are They?
Next: Part 4, Gay Marriage


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Why the Christian Right is Wrong: Part 2

Who are They?

According to the American Religions Identification Study conducted in 2001, 77% of all Americans call themselves Christians. Although that is down 8% from 1990, that is s startling statistic. If 77% of the population truly held to one kind of belief system, that would be an unbeatable political voting bloc. However, practicality and observation illustrates this to be untrue. The facts are clear that this 77% is comprised of Christians from various backgrounds, theological beliefs, and style of worship. This begs the question be asked: How many and what kinds of Christians from this 77% actually make up the Christian Right? There are plenty of terms to go around for Christians based on a variety of standards. Having said that it is important to realize that there is a Biblical standard of what defines a believer in Christ, and in the interest of remaining as non-judgmental as possible this piece will not delve in to that standard. Based on anecdotal observations and a general understanding of culture American Christians can probably be place in one of the following four categories:

1. Fundamentalist
Extreme in doctrine and applications of Biblical belief. They are somewhat sound doctrinally speaking since they completely believe the Word of God, but they also tend to add to that Word their own sets of rules. Salvation is often times tied to works and behavior not grace. Generally characterized in the culture as rural or mountain folks and being little educated. Politically speaking this group is comprised of Republicans. Denominations usually represented in this group: Southern Baptists, Pentecostal Holiness, Church of God, Assemblies of God, and various small independent churches.

2. Conservative/Moderate
Some would use the term Evangelical here however in the interest of comparison the more neutral labels will be applied. This group is more practical in their application of the Bible. They are generally no less fierce in their doctrinal stances than Fundamentalists but they also tend to understand that for example one alcholic drink does not mean a person has sinned. This group firmly believes in salvation by grace and a distinct salvation moment. Generally speaking this group tends to be educated and also extremely active in mainstream culture, especially within the sub-culture of Christian music, books, etc. Most are regular weekly church attendees. Most of the people in this group are registered Republicans or Independents. Denominations which fit the bill here are: Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Methodists, Lutheran, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, Assemblies of God, and larger non-denominational churches.

3. Liberal
This group tends to be regular church goers, but are less than inclined to accept the full teaching of the Bible on certain social issues. People in this group tend to follow most of the tenets of Christianity, such as the golden rule, helping the sick and the poor, and following the basic teachings of Christ. However, this group is less inclined to accept the Bible as the whole truth but rather as one of many sources of truth and even express skepticism in reference to many of the Biblical stories. This group tends to be looser with the interpretation of salvation and may even say that God is good and would not send anyone to hell. Since they also tend to be liberal politically they tend to pick and choose between Biblical beliefs and political ideology i.e. rationalizing that homosexuality is not a sin or believing in evolution over creationism. People in this group are generally higher educated, self proclaimed intellectuals, and also African-Americans who seek political progress at the expense of Biblical doctrine. Democrats comprised the greater number of Liberal Christians with Independents and fiscally conservative Republicans also being included in the group. Denominations included in this group are: Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, United Church of Christ, American Baptists, and many churches in the Northeast, California, and large cities.

4. Nominal
Members of group can actually fall somewhere in the previous three. This group portends Christians who may or may not be regular church attendees. They may believe some of the Bible or all of it. Some in this group tend to use church as a social club and may even be a church official, but there is no depth of application of Biblical values in their lives. Salvation may be assumed by default or there may be that "moment" but it turns out it was not from God. People in this group are often characterized as "Sunday Morning Christians" or members of the "Easter/Christmas Club" since that is the only two times they go to church. The label "Christian" is a cultural label and does not carry any meaning in the way they live their lives i.e. sin likely will always abound. All politcal parties and denominations have people like this in all parts of the country.

If the Christian Right had to be defined based on the above concepts then it would mostly include the first two groups and also a good portion of the last group since people who carry the cultural label of Christian might also tend to be against gay marriage or abortion. Perhaps the easiest definition is the contrast between the Christian Right and the Liberal group from above. Where the Liberal group tends to allow their Biblical belief to be molded by the political ideologies, the Christian Right forms a political ideology based on Biblical belief. In other words a Liberal Christian might say that he thinks homosexuality is OK and as a result the Biblical position on it can be rationalized away. A member of the Christian Right says that homosexuality is a sin and the political process should move towards realizing that Biblical truth by passing laws to that effect.

The Christian Right also uses the term "family value" or "family friendly" which is a euphemism for Christian values and also implies that if you do not agree with their position you are by default anti-family. The most visible proponents of the Christian Right are James Dobson(Focus on the Family), Pat Robertson(The 700 Club), Jerry Falwell(Liberty University), Franklin Graham(Samaritan's Purse), Chuck Colson(former Nixon aid, head of Prison Fellowship), leaders of the Promise Keepers movement, and leaders of the Southern Baptists denomination. The trio of Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson tend to be the most visible and are widely acknowledged as experts on family values and defending Christian values. Their positions and faults will be examined more thoroughly in coming posts.

On concluding note, the people of the Christian Right are mostly true believers who are deeply impacted by the Word of God and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, believe they are duty bound to spread the Gospel of Salvation, and are looking forward to a eternal life with Him. In terms of intent and desire they are good people. On a personal note, I fall into the Conservative/Moderate group as do most people I know. I believe our faith is true and I make no secret about what I believe. Yet, I do not subscribe to the party line of the Christian Right in many cases. The question that is being asked here is how do these heartfelt Christian beliefs fit into the political process? And given that they have a place in that process how does the Christian Right handle the issues which are encompassed by those beliefs?

Author's Note: While I used denominational names in the above subsets, I was speaking more to the type of church a person in each group might attend not so much that the official stance of said denomination fits that group. For example, the Roman Catholic Church official doctrine is more fundamental than other sects, but in practice many Catholics, discard some of the more stringent views of the Church. The groups above are represented by individuals but organizations as a whole.

It also should be noted that the above definitions are based on observation and are presented in general terms. There are no absolutes here and I know I omitted a whole host of denominations as I opted for the more visible ones. The statements above are not blanket statements but a framework from which we can compare and define who makes up the Christian Right.

Back: Part 1, Introduction
Next: Part 3, Abortion

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Why the Christian Right is Wrong: Part 1

Author's Note: I am a professed believer in Jesus Christ, a member of one of the largest Baptist churches in North Carolina, a Master's of Divinity recepient from a highly regarded non-denominational seminary, I voted for George Bush in 2000 and 2004. I am not a member of the "Christian Right" and I have serious misgivings about how Christianity is portrayed in the political process as well as how Christians leaders in the country interact in the political process. What is the role of Christianity in the political process? How do Christians balance theology and political ideology? These are the answers I hope to find over the next series of posts.

Introduction

In the Presidential election of 2004, incumbent President George Bush was swept back into office for a second term largely on the backs of socially conservative voting blocs in key states. In Ohio, where the President won by 118,000 votes, an initiative to ban gay marriage on the same ballot helped to energize the Christian conservative base thus tipping the scales in favor of the sitting President. A similar scene played out across the country where Bush, who is a professed born again Christian, was the default choice for voters focused on the moral issues. Democratic candidate, John Kerry, a devout Catholic from Massachusetts was not a palatable choice for staunch Protestant voters who tend to distrust Catholicism, believe that Massachusetts is a liberal cess pool of immorality and are fairly convinced that electing a Democrat means gay marriage for some and abortion for everyone. This is the current trend where moral issues and Christian values are influencing votes even if they do not actually influence the lifestyle of the voter in general. The concept of separating church and state is a fundamental ideal meant for the protection of the church from the government and to stave off the formation of a theocratic state. However, when it comes to the hearts and minds of voters as well as the influence of public policy on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and freedom of expression through risque mediums religion, particularly Christianity, cannot be easily separated from the mix. The result is the formation of organizations and political machines for the very purpose influencing votes and laws to better suit Christian values. The organizations are collectively known as the "Christian Right" and most any conservative voting Christian is lumped into this group whether they accept the party line or not. While Christians have every right to exercise their freedom to influence society, the Christian Right is making several key mistakes on a variety of precarious fronts which kill the message of the Gospel and present Christians as legalistic theocrats, not purveyors of the love and salvation of Jesus Christ. The Christian Right and its approach to issues like abortion and gay marriage reveal a trend of thinking and behavior which does not align with the message of Christ. There is also great concern for how the leaders of the movement present Christianity to the non-believers of the world as well as to those who are professed enemies of the faith. Christians should be an agent for change in the world through the Gospel. The current agenda of Christian Right does not reconcile itself with that thinking and the results may be far more damaging than the evil which they are fighting to prevent.

Next: Part 2, Who are They?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Who Says History Does Not Repeat?

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."
Bill Clinton, January 26, 1998

On August 17, 1998 Clinton admits to having an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky

"I have never used steroids. Period"
Rafael Palmerio, March 17, 2005 in his testimony to Congress

On August 1, 2005 Palmerio tests positive for steroids.

The Lesson: Unless something is unequivocally true then keep your mouth shut.

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