Category Archives: Politics

I never read a magazine in my life, and I’m not going to start now.

Excellent article in Christianity Today about the Ten Commandments debate. As you might expect, I don’t agree with their take on the Alabama issue, but the author makes a powerful point about the emphasis on external signs of faith. He basically says what I’ve been trying to say only much more eloquently. (He’s rather gutsy to make the comparison to the Nazis)

We can afford it, we’ve been blessed.

I’ve been debating with a friend about church and state, and it’s caused me to reflect a lot about the nature of Christianity. It’s not an easy faith. It involves sacrifice and humility, neither of which is something we enjoy doing. It’s not something you can just sit back and assume. It’s not about filling a pew or checking a certain box in a spirituality quiz.

Being a Christian in America is easy, and I wonder if that’s contrary to the nature of Christianity. A faith that is easy is never worth much, and consequently it doesn’t stand the trials of life. Christianity flourishes when it’s not so easy to believe. When the church faces persecution, the fringe believers quickly drop off. If you’re not committed to a faith, you’re not going to sacrifice anything for it. What’s left are the true believers, the ones truly ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith. Christianity shines in such downtrodden circumstances because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about sacrifice, humility, hard work, and grace and forgiveness for the little guy.

I’ve been debating all these intricacies of church and state, and I wonder if that’s so not the point. The Bible and Jesus himself were never very concerned with these matters. Obey your authorities and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s. That’s about the extend of it, because nothing else matters. Our concern as the Church is to spread the Gospel, not govern nations (though I suppose some are called to that). If a nation supports us, fine – but we’ll keep our focus on spreading the Gospel and challenging believers to the hard life of faith, not allowing government approval to let us grow lax. And if a nation persecutes us, fine – but we’ll continue anyway, going underground to spread the Gospel and calling believers to the hard life of faith.

Sometimes I wish the U.S. wasn’t such a Christian friendly place. When it becomes so easy to believe, it becomes so easy to be lethargic.

In Rod We Trust

Maybe I’m a flaming liberal. After all, I have expressed doubt about homosexuality, and I wasn’t on board with the one nation under God. Now I’m questioning the Ten Commandments. Something must be wrong with me. Growing up in a Baptist church (“every time a drum beats, a demon gets out of hell”) should produce less discerning citizens.

Alabama state officials moved the Ten Commandments monument yesterday, amid wails and prayers. But less obvious than the righteous grandstanding is the burning hypocrisy. Christians are making a wonderful show of support for a hunk of concrete. But despite their approval of commands to love God and obey your parents, they seem to have forgotten another command to love thy neighbor as thy self.

Melinda Maddox initiated the lawsuit against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore over the 5,000-pound concrete monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments. As a result, she’s faced eye for an eye justice, in the form of threatening phone calls, pellet guns shooting out windows of her house, and a boycott of her law firm that forced her to leave town. Maddox has become an outcast at the hands of people who claim to love one another.

I can only hope it’s a minority of the intolerant that are making Maddox’s life a living hell, but those who hate their enemies are outshining those who love their enemies in Alabama. If we acknowledge God with the ten commandments, why aren’t we acknowledging God with our actions?

Speaking of troubling actions, the entire installation of this monument is sketchy. Under the cover of darkness Moore and his supporters lugged the concrete block into the state judicial building. They didn’t obtain the proper approvals or go through the required channels. They took matters into their own hands, and the next day bragged about their forced government acknowledgment of God in a press conference. It seems odd that the Bible continually speaks of living in the light and leaving behind deeds of darkness. Acting honestly and in the open is valued, yet Moore seems to have no problem installing his monument under cover of darkness. If his cause is so just, why didn’t he install it in view of the world?

Christians have made an idol of publicly acknowledging God. I’ve learned the hard way that a bumper sticker slogan about your faith means absolutely nothing if your actions don’t back it up. “In God We Trust” means nothing on our currency if it’s not backed up by a people who actually trust in God. But rather than be outraged by our nation serving money over God, we’re outraged at attempts to remove a hypocritical phrase. American Christians, and people in general, are so focused on the outward expression that we completely miss what’s really going on.

I’ve heard so many Christians that get fired up over the Ten Commandments debate, or the pledge of allegiance debate. It’s all building up to the ultimate question of how much religion the government can support. Christians freak out, reminding us that this nation was founded by Christians, therefore it’s OK to acknowledge those roots. But what they forget is that this nation was founded by religious refugees who hoped to escape the religious persecution back home. The goal was to establish a country of religious freedom. With today’s pluralism and diverse religious beliefs, you’d be hard pressed support any religion in any way without offending someone. In the process we lose a public acknowledgment of God, but we gain tolerance: a healthy love and respect for one another that allows us to live together.

What’s a better witness to your non-Christian neighbor? Rallying to keep a God your neighbor doesn’t serve on our currency, or respecting your neighbor enough to let “In God We Trust” go? One seems to open doors while another slams them. We’re like the Pharisees, obsessed with praying on the streets and tithing before others, while Jesus calls us white-washed tombs: we’ve focused on the exterior adornments of faith but neglected the heart. Sadly for those who need God, it’s an outpouring of the heart, not exterior adornments, that make Christianity contagious.

Sorry, I’d rather go to heaven.

I’m not sure if I understand this whole snafu about a 10 Commandments monument in the Alabama state judicial building. A U.S. District judge ruled that it was an unconstitutional promotion of religion and ordered it removed. Now the suspended Alabama judge who had the monument installed in the first place is fighting to keep it. Protesters are gathering and threatening to physically keep the monument from being moved and calling for a nation-wide boycott of any company the government might hire to remove the monument.

I’m all for the ten commandments, but why all the fuss? The protesters are threatening violence and effectively killing the messenger by organizing boycotts. All for a hunk of stone? A graven image, if you will? The amens and hurrahs on the news seem like the gesticulations of an old man. If you care that much about acknowledging the foundations of law, then why not acknowledge them in front of your neighbor in ways that will matter so much more, rather than pounding your black leather bible over concrete.

If the monument listed laws from the Koran the protesters would be crying for a completely different means of justice.

(update: It seems Justice Roy Moore financed the ten commandments monument with private donations and installed it late one night when no one was around. The original source for this story wasn’t loading, so I’m a bit skeptical, but it still sounds rather fishy. Bungling around at night with mobs of people sounds more like the pharisees than the disciples.)

I used to like Michael Moore.

You know, I used to really like Michael Moore. His work on Roger & Me was astounding. I liked his TV shows. He had this over-the-top yet understated humor that was hilarious yet cut to the heart. It was great.

Moore claims on his web site that he makes documentaries, works of non-fiction, “so that all the little lies can be exposed and the public informed.” What a noble goal. But what a load of crap. Bowling for Columbine wasn’t exactly about exposing lies and informing the public. It was about twisting the truth to make a point, as a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece argues, and some random guy on the net has gone to great lengths to point out (label the random guy on the net a nut if you like, but he’s got his facts in order).

One of the most inaccurate scenes is when Moore opens a checking account in a Michigan bank and walks out an hour later with a free gun. Makes us look like a gun-totin’ society, doesn’t it? Too bad it took a month of negotiations between Moore’s studio and the bank to pull off that scene. Normally there’s a seven to ten day waiting period.

When confronted about inaccuracies in his lasted book, Stupid White Men, Moore replied that it was a book of political humor and that he didn’t respond to it. “Why should I?” he asked, “How can there be inaccuracy in comedy?”

Moore is all about exposing something, but it isn’t the truth. Maybe he should have called his book Stupid White Man.

I think what’s most upsetting to me is that Moore has to stoop to such levels. If you’re truly right about something, you shouldn’t have to stoop to deception to make your point. Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt and tackle their best possible position. Don’t pick away at stupid arguments with half truths and falsities. Is this world unfair? Yes it is. But adding to the lies doesn’t help anyone. Tell the truth, the actual truth, and it will set you free. Otherwise you’re just spewing rhetoric just like everyone you argue with.

The State of the State of the Union

So what’s the state of the union? Confused. You’ve got compassion and tax breaks on one hand, phony environmentalism and war mongering on the other. Looks like a mixed bag. I’m not big on politics. I don’t really like the whole mess. But I do like to stay up on things. I just don’t get why everything has to be so muddled.

Apparently giving the enormously wealthy tax breaks creates jobs and stimulates me to spend more money. I’m not quite sure how that works.

Apparently drilling for oil in a nature preserve is how you reduce your reliance on foreign oil. Funny he didn’t mention the details of that plan. Though the research money for hydrogen powered cars is a good step. It’d be nice to see the government help that technology get to consumers faster, though from what you hear from car companies the technology is already there.

And health care for all by some restructuring of Medicaid and stopping frivolous law suits. Granted I’m no health care professional, but I don’t see how that provides patient-selected health care for all.

AIDS in Africa. Now that was encouraging. It sounds Bush intends for America to lead the way and stop a continental holocaust. Rock the house.

And then we come to Iraq. Now I’m not big on war, but I bristle every time this issue comes up. I sympathize with the protesters, but I also see the danger of a rogue nation. It just seems like we’re treading on thin ice when we become the world’s cowboy, even if we are pursuing peace and justice. Unfortunately, the entire world isn’t looking for American peace and justice. Pissed off people fought back on Sept. 11th, and we’re going to create a lot more of those foes by storming into Iraq and kicking the crap out of a wounded animal. It seems like we should evaluate some of policies and make sure we’re a little more protected and understood in the eyes of potential terrorists. Don’t forget that we started Saddam Hussien on his little chemical weapons collection during the Iran/Iraq war in the ’80s. Just because we’re the biggest country in the world doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want.

That’s what I find so difficult. It’s probably necessary to go to war with Iraq eventually. I just wish we had all the right motives and the right justifications in doing so.

In the end, I find politics pretty lame. Right now just about every state is making essential cuts just to survive the fiscal year. Yet we don’t see anything addressing this budget catastrophe. I just get fed up sometimes.

Watching George W. Bush, I’m inspired by the display of world leadership this backwater governor from Texas has been able to muster. The guy has really done an impressive job. But then I look at some specifics and I’m not so sure. He’s trying to curtail abortion. That’s good. He’s killing the environment. That’s bad. He cares about AIDS in Africa. That’s good. He wants to give tax relief to billionaires. That’s bad. In the end, where do we stand? Do you go with the guy who agrees with you on as many issues as possible? Or do you go with the guy who isn’t going to look like a pansy on the world stage? And sometimes, you just can’t know.

Another thing that makes me a little uncomfortable, is the statement that freedom is a gift from God to humanity. Bush was referring to democratic freedom, but I can’t figure out where he gets that idea. American Christians love to hail democracy and freedom as God-given rights, but I just don’t see that in the Bible. God told us to pray for our leaders, to seek out peace, justice, and mercy, and to spread the kingdom of God throughout the world. Maybe that’s accomplished through democracy, but if that’s the case I don’t think democracy is the value you want to herald. I think it’s love, peace, mercy.

Random thoughts from a random American on the state of the State of the Union.

Exercising Democracy

I Voted.I like exercising democracy. There’s something powerful about it, and rightfully so. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18 (yep, all three of ’em), but tonight was the first time I actually went to the polls and voted. In past years I’ve voted by absentee ballot. This was also my first time voting as a resident of Minnesota–it will probably be my last.

I like the energy of going to the polls, the energy of being with all these other folks who want to flex their democratic might. I may be one vote in a million, but I am one vote in a million. My biggest regret was that I didn’t get an “I Voted” sticker. When you vote by absentee ballot you don’t get a sticker (though you do get a thin, stubby pencil), but I was hoping to cash in tonight. Alas, they must have run out or something, because I didn’t get a sticker. That’s my wife’s sticker. She voted earlier in the day when they were still handing out stickers. It’s really a form of bribery: if you vote, you get a sticker. But you’re really only cool if you go early in the morning so you can gloat all day long with your sticker: “Look at me! Look at me! I’m a responsible American.” Which really is something worth gloating about.

My only regret about voting at the polls is the lack of readiness. I had to do all my research ahead of time and come prepared with a little cheat sheet. Then, standing at the little booth, I had to match up my scrawled offices with the long, official names printed on the ballot, then try to fill in the appropriate circle. There was no second guessing, no chance to run back to the Web site and make sure I’m voting for the right person, no time to research the County Soil and Water Commissioner, who I didn’t have a chance to research (as if anybody has any information on that guy–I just wrote in Bono). That’s probably the biggest advantage to absentee ballot voting: you can vote in your underwear at 2:00 a.m. while sitting in front of your computer reading each candidate’s views. I guess next time I need to be a little more prepared for the onslaught of no-name judges I have the privilege of voting for. They may be running unopposed, but who knows if I’m voting for Satan-incarnate and I’d be better off writing in my cube buddy at work.

I had a hard time deciding who to vote for this year. I was one of those “undecided’s,” who figured out who I was voting for during afternoon break. (Note to politicians: any candidate who doesn’t have a simple, clear Web site outlining where they stand on the major issues is a moron. You didn’t get my vote because you’re living in the past, man.) I didn’t know who to vote for because I don’t like taking the typical Christian stance. You’ve heard this rant before, and I’ve seen it more and more often from others. I don’t vote on party lines. God’s not a Republican, he’s not a Democrat, he’s not a Green, and he’s not an Independent. He might be a Libertarian, but I kind of doubt that.

Every time I compare candidates I see losers all around. I see a great stance by Joe Schmo on abortion, but then he seems to value the lives of the rich over the poor. Apparently he’s willing to protect an unborn child’s right to life, but he’s not willing to protect a hungry child’s right to eat. Then there’s the other guy, Bob Somebody, who wants to feed those hungry kids, but then doesn’t see the need to protect the unborn children. I refuse to cast my vote based on one issue, siding with the evil minions who happen to help old ladies cross the street in addition to all their mayhem, simply because helping old ladies cross the street is good. The other guy’s not much better, he does good deeds throughout the week, but then for kicks on Friday nights likes to run over old ladies as they cross the street. You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.

Republican, Democrat, whatever. I’m just glad we can finally stop watching those irritating campaign commercials. I decided not to vote for one guy after he had his own daughter stumping for him in a commercial. How low is that?

So what did the politicians learn tonight? Have a good Web site and don’t put your children in your commercials. Thanks and good night.

PS – the new U2 came out today: The Best of 1990-2000. Mmm… U2.

Christianity and Patriotism

I feel so conflicted when American Christians act like they are citizens of the United States before they are citizens of the Kingdom of God. The Bible calls us to give to our government what belongs to our government, but give to God what is God’s. It seems to me that God requires much more of us than our government, yet we continue to give our loyalty, our passion, and our commitment to our country.

The United States is a great country. I don’t ever want to deny that. The freedoms we have in this country are to be valued and cherished. But with those freedoms come responsibilities and abuse. We are the most materialistic society in the world thanks to our freedom. It’s astounding.

Again and again American Christians make the claim that this country is God’s favored nation. Somehow God has shined his light upon us and us alone, and allowed us to become the world’s superpower. What do we base that right upon? This country was founded by God fearing men. God fearing men who owned slaves. God fearing men who believed in a detached, clock-maker God. Many of them were deists. God fearing men who decided not to give to Caesar what was Caesar, but decided to claim it for themselves and declared their independence. And time and time again Christian leaders turn to the passage in Chronicles where God cries out to the Israelites, saying that if his people would humble themselves and pray, he would rise up their nation. That promise is claimed for countries that are not Israel, and I wonder how that makes sense. We claim God’s blessing and we claim God’s favor, based upon what?

The motto of this country is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Jesus Christ calls us to take up our cross, an instrument of execution, and follow him. Jesus was asking us to die to ourselves. To take up our lethal injection, to sit in the electric chair–to give up our lives so that we can serve him. That doesn’t sound like the pursuit of happiness. We are called to be slaves to righteousness. That doesn’t sound like liberty. The American ideal is based on the oft-quoted, but not scriptural idea that “God helps those who helps themselves.” Lie. The opposite is found in scripture–God can only help us when we realize that we can’t possibly help ourselves.

That’s the whole foundation of salvation. We can’t pay the price for our sins on our own. It can’t be done. No amount of good deeds will wipe our slate clean. Only the blood of Jesus makes us clean. We can’t help ourselves.

So while patriotism swells around me, I find it choking. When patriotism sweeps in, logic and free thinking often pour out. We think our God-favored status gives us special rights, gives us permission to act in the world, to do what we think is right. The result has been abuses across the globe. Smart bombs that fall on wedding parties, the support of dictators and the repression of others, based simply on what effects our pocketbooks. Our country as a whole pays lip service to God, yet Christians cling to that like it’s something that matters. God doesn’t care if we give homage to him our money. He doesn’t need our money. God doesn’t care if we admit that our nation is under his watchful eye in our pledge. God doesn’t care if our judges and congressman and even the president spend a moment in rehearsed prayer. God doesn’t care about any of that. What really matters is if God is our god, any thing less is showmanship. Anything less is lip service. Any thing less is a slap in the face. So why pretend? Why insult God on high? He deserves better than that.

When we say God bless America, what are we really asking? Are we asking God to bless us above every other nation on earth? Are we asking God to bless our pocket books and our bank accounts and our stock options? Or are we asking God to convict us of the sin so prevalent in every wrung of our society. Are we asking God to help us kill those terrorists? Or are we asking God to make himself known to unbelievers? Are we asking God to let his people proclaim his name on the streets? Or we asking God to open hearts of the unsaved on the streets, so that lives are changed, not just callused by our faithful proclamation?

Occupied, oppressed, persecuted and closed nations are often places where you find the true Christians. Their family Bible, hidden in a slit in the mattress, is their prized possession. Not the brand new SUV in the driveway. The American Christian has become fat and lazy, drowned in a sea of possessions, paying lip service to God on Sunday morning, and then falling asleep to football Sunday afternoon while an unbelieving world goes to hell, all while we sing ‘God Bless America’ and think we live in the greatest nation on earth. Every empire that has ever existed and has ever fallen has swallowed the same lie.

Red, White, and Blue Isn’t Always Tried and True

America is the land of freedom. Until a time of national crisis, when patriotism outshines all wrongs. Katie Sierra is a 15 year old high school girl who was suspended last fall because she opposed the war in Afghanistan. She buys clothes at the Salvation Army and scrawls messages on them, like “When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America.” Her freedom of speech was denied because it incites her fellow students and disrupts the educational process. She’s now being home schooled because of fears for her safety.

She’s peace loving and anti-violent, yet her view isn’t accepted. Her fellow students and even strangers calling into talk radio shows don’t understand her lack of patriotism. She’s been threatened and attacked, and this is the ideal we call democracy. Why does patriotism seem to be accompanied with blind stupidity?

Of course Katie is fighting a hard battle. Most people in the U.S. think retribution is acceptable after September 11. The bombs falling in Afghanistan are acceptable, because what else can we do? We must fight back. But such unrestrained judgment isn’t without consequences.

On January 24, 2002 in Uruzgan, Afghanistan U.S. forces stormed two compounds, killing as they went. Cries of “We surrender,” and “For the love of Allah do not kill us,” could be heard as sleeping men were woken and killed. Two slain men were found with their hands tied behind their backs with nylon zip ties. 27 men were taken prisoner and an undisclosed number were killed. A leaflet was left behind with the words “God Bless America.” But perhaps God won’t bless our righteous vengeance, especially when we consider that these raids weren’t conducted against Taliban fighters, but friendly Afghan soldiers, loyal to the new government in Kabul. Apparently mistakes were made.

War isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the red, white, and blue isn’t always tried and true.

The Right to Vote

It’s odd how entirely separated we are from people hurting across the globe. I’ve never thought about how lucky we are to have a stable society. I’ve been reading a book about Zimbabwe and the land invasions that occurred last year. Due to a combination of my ignorance and a lack of news coverage I don’t have a clue what’s going on there now. But the book I’m reading details the atrocities that happened and how a corrupt government encouraged anarchy for its own gain. We laugh at the election of 2000 and everything that went wrong. In Zimbabwe the election of 2000 was full of violence, cheating, and extortion. People were told who to vote for and were promised civil war if they didn’t vote for the right party. It wasn’t a democratic election, it was a dictatorship operating behind puppet democracy.

What saddens me the most is how little we care. At about the same time the citizens of Zimbabwe were literally clubbed over the head with campaign promises, we were whining about the soaring cost of gasoline, wondering how we could afford to keep our gas guzzling vehicles running. It’s sad when compassion ends at national boundaries.