Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Book Review: Mere Discipleship

Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World (Brazos Press, 2003).

Many of us were introduced to Christianity through C. S. Lewis’ classic apologetic, Mere Christianity. It’s a classic for a reason, but Lewis presents Christian faith in terms which do not emphasize discipleship, but beliefs. This is even more true of the doctrinal primer, Basic Christianity by the Anglican evangelical John Stott.

Lee Camp, a minister in the Stone-Campbell (Christian churches/Churches of Christ) movement (and, thus, broadly “baptist,” though not “Baptist”) was one of the last Ph.D. students of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, one of my mentors. He took on the task of trying to present a “Yoderian” approach to Christian faith and discipleship in a Lewisian Mere Christianity format. The result is this slim and wonderful volume.

Here is the radical Jesus and the radical results of the simple proclamation that “Jesus is Lord.” I love the way that Camp shows that nonviolence is part of the right worship of God and that for Christians to not reject war and killing and embrace nonviolence is to fail to understand our own worship–or to really be worshipping the nation-state or some ideology or other false god. This is just one of the gems of this challenging, but easy-to-read (as Yoder often wasn’t!), slim volume.

Highly recommended. Go get it and read it, now. Then teach it in your youth group or adult Sunday School class. Are you still here? Why aren’t you ordering this book? Seriously. I get no kick-backs and often recommend books, but seldom does one come along as important as this one.

ESPECIALLY if you and your church are in North America, where “Christianity” has so lost touch with the Jesus of the Gospels that Christians here regularly support war, the death penalty, violence, neglect of the poor, etc., then you need to get this book immediately. Further, this volume is almost as challenging for political liberals like myself as for political conservatives–because following Jesus is RADICAL.

June 14, 2008 Posted by | theology | 1 Comment

Fictional Clergy Detectives II

From time to time, I have taken a break on this blog from my usual topics in theology, religious social criticism, politics, etc., to write about one of my hobbies: detective fiction. It’s usually done better in books than in film, but there are exceptions, and I have previously written about Columbo and The Closer.  I also wrote a column about Fictional Clergy Detectives.  Now, I will follow up on that column.

Note: I owe much of my research on this post (especially for series I have not read) to Philip Grossett’s excellent site, Clerical Detectives.  I failed to give him credit previously and he rightly called me on it.  As I used to tell my students (when I had them), intentionality has nothing to do with whether or not something is plagiarism.  Although this is not an academic publication, just a personal blog, I still need to be careful to attribute my sources.  My apologies to both Philip and Readers. (Orig. pub. May 04, 2008.)

This is a list of as many fictional “clergy” (stretching the term in some cases) as I have found. If I have read any of their mysteries, I will comment on them, but otherwise just link to more information.  Enjoy.

Fictional Sleuths From Non-Christian “Clergy.”  I list these interfaith sleuths first simply because they are so few and it is easy to overlook them.

Darcy Lott is the creation of veteran mystery writer Susan Dunlap, who has written other series and single novels.  Although she also has another job (stuntwoman!), Darcy is an American Zen Buddhist living in San Francisco. She is a jisha (assistant to the roshi or Zen spiritual leader) at the Ninth Street Zen Center in San Francisco.  There are 2 Darcy Lott novels to date:  A Single Eye (2006), which is a very Zen title, and Hungry Ghosts (2008). I have not read either of these novels, yet, so I cannot comment on quality, etc.

I have yet to see any fictional detectives who are Imams or other leaders in Islamic traditions.  There are, however, 2 fictional detectives who are rabbis and 1 who is a rabbi’s wife (rebbetzin).

Rabbi David Small is the fictional creation of Harry Kemelman (1908-1996), a former schoolteacher whose own father was an immigrant rabbi from Russia.  He created the character of Rabbi Small in order to explain Judaism (as Kemelman’s own centrist Conservative Jewish tradition sees it) to both Gentiles and to rapidly assimilating American Jews. I love this character and the novels. Rabbi Small uses pipul or rabbinic logic in solving crimes and the stories work as mysteries. As a teen, this was my first introduction to Judaism from a Jewish perspective. Small, and Kemelman, have their blind spots: His description of faith-based social action seems more caught from American individualism than from Judaism. In Monday the Rabbi Took Off, the Smalls travel to Israel for a Sabbatical and Rabbi Small describes Israeli treatment of Arabs in glowing terms that probably showed bias, THEN, and certainly fails to match current reality.  And often Kemelman’s/Small’s descriptions of Christian views seem to this Christian to miss the point considerably.  But if one loves mysteries, one does not expect to share all the biases and perspectives of the sleuth/hero.  The Rabbi Small mysteries are, in order of writing:

  • Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (1964), the debut, which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America. Title refers to R. Small sleeping in and missing the regular morning prayer service.
  • Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry (1966). Title refers to R. Small fasting for Yom Kippur.
  • Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home (1969). Title refers to the Smalls’ late return out of town on Sat. night and so missing a crucial board meeting the next day.
  • Monday the Rabbi Took Off (1972). The Smalls take a Sabbatical in Israel.
  • Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red (1974). R. Small teaches a course in Judaism at a local college and gets angry with student behavior (I sympathize).
  • Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet (1976).  Hurricane Betsy narrowly misses Mass. and R. Small gets briefly caught in the rain.
  • Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out (1978).  Title refers to R. Small getting angry with constant attempts by his board to fire him and simply leaving his office and taking a day off–which leads him to solve the current mystery, of course.
  • Someday the Rabbi Will Leave (1985).
  • One Fine Day the Rabbi Bought a Cross (1987). No, he didn’t convert to Christianity.
  • The Day the Rabbi Resigned (1992).
  • That Day the Rabbi Left Town (1996).

There is also Conversations with Rabbi Small (1981), which is not a mystery.

Rabbi Daniel Winter is the creation of an actual rabbi, Joseph Telushkin, who has written works on Jewish ethics and humor.  Rabbi Winter is a more contemporary figure than Rabbi Small. He is described as an Orthodox rabbi in a Conservative congregation with Reform laypeople!  He has his own radio show (“Religion and You”) and is the author of The Religious Manifesto.  He is better at growing his congregation than Rabbi Small. When asked if he is a male chauvenist, he replies that he probably is–but that sometimes he is ashamed of it. I haven’t read the series, but they seem to do well on Amazon.com, so I will probably check them out. 

  • The Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi Wahl (1987). A feminist (and female) rabbi is deliberately run over by an automobile after appearing as a guest on Rabbi Winter’s controversial radio talk show. Since he disapproves of female rabbis as a distortion of Judaism, Rabbi Winter is an initial suspect.
  • An Eye for an Eye (1991).
  • The Final Analysis of Dr. Stark (1998).

Ruby the Rabbi’s Wife is actually the Rabbi’s widow. The character is described initially as a bouncy, lively extrovert of 46 who owns a deli called “The Hot Bagel.” The books are all told from her perspective and in her words. She is “a solid size 14,” with auburn hair and curls cut short and green eyes. She has a 14 year old son, a 3 legged dog named Oy Vay (I love that!), and later gets a kitten she names Chutzpah! The lively widow is no longer young and beautiful, but doesn’t lack for male admirers including Kevin the incompetent rabbi and Paul Lundy, the police Lieutenant.  Ruby the Rabbi’s Wife is the creation of Sharon Kahn, an attorney and arbitrator who was, herself, the wife of a rabbi for 31 years. (Write what you know!)  I haven’t read these, but they sound intriguing. (This description comes nearly verbatim from Philip Grossett. See above.)

  • Fax Me a Bagel (1998).
  • Never Nosh a Matzo Ball (2000).
  • Don’t Cry for Me, Hot Pastrami (2001).
  • Hold the Cream Cheese, Kill the Lox (2002).
  • Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver? (2004).
  • Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir (2006).

Fictional Clergy Detectives: “Modern” Roman Catholic Priests (I.E., not set in Medieval settings).

Father Brown is the prototype of Catholic priest/amateur sleuth of fiction.  He may even be the first of the fictional clergy detectives, period. He is the creation of G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), a prolific author whose conversion to Catholicism turned him into an apologist for conservative Christianity (especially Catholicism). Chesterton based the fictional Father Brown on actual Isrish Catholic priest, Fr. John O’Connor of St. Cuthbert, Bradford, who was the human catalyst and guide for Chesterton’s conversion. The Fr. Brown stories are short stories collected in 5 volumes.  I have not really enjoyed these stories, myself. I find Fr. Brown too perfect a character to be believable, though many others disagree.

  • The Innocence of Father Brown (1910).
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown (1913).
  • The Incredulity of Father Brown (1923).
  • The Secret of Father Brown (1927).
  • The Scandal of Father Brown (1935).

Fr. Ralph McInerny, who teaches at Notre Dame, created the popular sleuth, Father Dowling.  This series of novels became so popular that (rather lame) TV series was spun off, Father Dowling Mysteries (in the UK known as Father Dowling Investigates). It ran for a few years in the ’90s.  I was so unimpressed by the TV series that I have never picked up any of the books. Friends who are fellow mystery buffs inform me that this was a mistake, so I may correct it soon. McInerny is still writing these novels and they are still selling well.

Father (later Bishop) Blackie Ryan is the creation of Rev. Dr.  Andrew M. Greeley (1928-), himself a Catholic priest (of a decidedly liberal bent) and a sociologist of religion who has also written other best-selling novels.  Fr. Ryan is the Rev. Monsignor John Blackwood Ryan, S.T.L., Ph.D. (and later Bishop), a priest and a philosopher. In the first book, he is just past 40 and Rector of Holy Name Cathedral.  Fr. Ryan is the author of such unlikely treatises as Truth in William James: An Irishman’s Best Guess and James Joyce: Catholic Theologian! Many have accused Ryan of being the alter ego of the author, but Greeley says that though Ryan often speaks in his voice, he has a different appearance and qualifications and gets on better with church authorities. He is presented by the author as the best of American Catholicism. (Throughout the series, Ryan sometimes refers to God as “She” or “Her.” This has both biblical and traditional precedent, but, I find it unbelievable that, since the Roman Church has backed away from Vatican II, that any priest who did this could still become consecrated as a bishop! Maybe Greeley was being hopeful about the future?)

I think this series works well as mystery fiction and I like Fr./Bishop Ryan very much.  He reminds me, slightly, of some priests I knew as colleagues when I taught religion and philosophy in a Catholic university.

  • Happy Are the Meek (1985).
  • Happy Are the Clean of Heart. (1987)
  • Happy Are Those Who Thirst After Justice. (1987)
  • Happy Are the Merciful. (1992)
  • Happy Are the Peacemakers (1993)
  • Happy Are the Poor in Spirit (1994).
  • Happy Are Those Who Mourn (1995).
  • Happy Are the Oppressed (1996).

Greeley changes publishers Blackie’s move from priest to auxiliary bishop.  In these latter books, there are more elaborate conspiracies. One learns much church history (from a Catholic viewpoint).  For instance, in The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood, one of Blackie’s adversaries is a retired Notre Dame professor who was a progressive before Vatican II, but changed his mind later. We learn that he is devoted to the theory that the papacy has been invalid since 1959 (there is a real movement that believes this) and, so, he respects Blackie’s position but not his authority since only a valid pope could appoint a bishop! In The Bishop Goes to THE University (which, in Chicago, always means the University of Chicago and not any of the many other universities in the area), Blackie gets embroiled in a very complex plot involving the Vatican, the CIA, the KGB and its successor the FSB and the complex relationships between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  The plot seems unlikely, but not impossible–far more possible than the kind of thing Dan Brown popularized in The Da Vinci Code.  I know, for instance, from my own small contacts with Christians from the former Soviet Union that the KGB repeatedly inserted agents into the ranks of Orthodox monks and the clergy of Protestant groups, too.  Christians I have met from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America have told me that the CIA tried the same thing all during the Cold War–and is probably still trying to subvert clergy as part of the so-called “war on terror.”

  • The Bishop at Sea (1997). British title: Blackie at Sea.
  • The Bishop and the Three Kings. (1998)
  • The Bishop and the L Train (2000).
  • The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain (2001).
  • The Bishop in the West Wing (2002).
  • The Bishop Goes to THE University (2003).
  • The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood (2005).

 

Father Robert Koesler (pronounced “Kessler”) was created by William X. Kienzle (1928-2001), who had been a Roman Catholic priest himself for 20 years before resigning over the refusal of the Catholic Church to remarry divorced people.  The character appears in 24 novels, helping police solve murders that have a Catholic connection.  Kienzle may have been the first priest to write detective stories–and been the inspiration for Greeley’s works above.  The Fr. Koesler novels are set in Detroit. There are too many of them to list, but all are readily available. The first is The Rosary Murders (1979).

Father Mark Townsend, S.J. is the creation of an actual Jesuit Priest, Fr. Brad Reynolds, S.J. (1949-). Both the actual Fr. Reynolds and the fictional Fr. Townsend used to live in Alaska.  Fr. Reynolds is a priest in Oregon and Fr. Townsend is in Seattle, WA.  Jesuit education involves around 15 years of study in philosophy and theology, interrupted by a “regency” which is hard work in the field. Reynolds uses this intense educational program in his approach to Fr. Townsend’s sleuthing–he arrives at the answer in ways that often involve more abstract logic than “real world” experience.  The strength of this series lies in characterization and setting, but it is weaker on plot. One hopes that will change in future books.

  • The Story Knife (1966).
  • A Ritual Death (1997).
  • Cruel Sanctuary (1999).
  • Deadly Harvest (1999).

Father Joseph Bredder is one of the best of the Catholic priest sleuths of fiction, to my (liberal, Protestant) mind.  He is the creation of Leonard Wibberly (1915-1983), an adventurous journalist turned novelist, who wrote under his own name, under the names Patrick O’ Connor, Christopher Webb, and, for the Father Bredder mysteries, Leonard Holton.  Wibberly’s most famous novel was the 1955 The Mouse That Roared, a satirical farce about a tiny European country that declared war on the U.S. and was made into a movie starring Peter Sellers.   Holton claims that he wanted to write mysteries, but disliked the violence of many sleuths or the fussiness of the “Miss Jane Marple” types. So, he created Fr. Bredder, a former professional boxer and ex-U.S. Marine turned Franciscan priest as a nonviolent detective who was also decidedly masculine.  The stories are very fast moving and set in San Francisco.  There are 11 novels.

  • The Saint Maker (1959).
  • A Pact with Satan (1960).
  • Secret of the Doubting Saint (1961).
  • Deliver Us from Wolves (1963).
  • Flowers By Request (1964).
  • Out of the Depths (1966).
  • A Touch of Jonah (1968).
  • A Problem in Angels (1970).
  • The Mirror of Hell (1972).
  • The Devil to Play (1974).
  • A Corner of Paradise (1977).

 

Medieval Monks/Friars as Sleuths:

The best example in this category is Umberto Eco’s classic, The Name of the Rose (1980 in Italian; 1983 in English) which became a movie by the same title.  The hero is Brother William of Baskerville, a brilliant Franciscan monk (who used to be a Dominican and a member of the Inquisition) and he must solve a series of murders in an isolated monastery in 14th C. Italy.  A  must read.

Edith Pargeter (1913-1995), writing under the pen-name of Ellis Peters, created an excellent Medieval sleuth, Brother Cadfael, a monk in a Benedictine abbey in 12th C. Shrewsbury near the Welsh border.  There are 20 novels, beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977) and a BBC TV series based on the novels ran for some years. Peters won several awards for the novels and was eventually awarded an Order of the British Empire for her work.  I am just now discovering these and can’t yet evaluate them. I don’t know the historical period well enough to know how accurate the historical part of this historical fiction is, but the mysteries themselves are challenging. The Medieval setting means that the detective, Bro. Cadfael, cannot just wait for the crime lab to solve everything.

There are several others in this category, but I have not waded through them, yet.  I’ll end this post here and pick up soon with fictional nuns/women religious as sleuths, then turn to the many Protestant variations.

June 14, 2008 Posted by | detective fiction | 10 Comments

John McCain: Theocrat?

Thanks to Bruce Prescott for this gem.  McCain claims that the U.S. Constitution establishes the USA as a “Christian nation.” Hello: The Constitution forbids any religious test for political office. And, as Bruce points out, the First Amendment explicitly says:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”  Now, I’m very aware of the attempts by fundamentalists to say that this just prevented the establishment of a national church or denomination, but that Christianity itself was firmly established.  That’s hogwash as numerous studies of the religious attitudes of the Founders have shown and also the last 50 years of Supreme Court rulings.

But, from the perspective of Christian theology, McCain’s error is even larger. There is NO SUCH THING as a Christian nation.  In the Great Commission (Matt. 28), the Risen Christ commands us to make disciples from among all nations.  In Revelation, the saints come from “every tribe and nation.” Nationalism of any sort is forbidden to Christians because our faith is universal. That is why I object to national flags in the sanctuaries of local churches.  ALL are welcome in God’s house on EQUAL basis and we worship the Lord of all history and nations, not a tribal god.  The path from this kind of “Christian nationalism” espoused by McCain (like Bush before him) to a Nazi-like worship of the nation itself is short. 

I don’t know if McCain is a true theocrat or simply will say anything to get elected–but I don’t want to find out, either.  U.S. citizens must insist that persons of all faiths and no particular faith are equal before the law of the land–no second class citizenship for Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, agnostics, etc.  And, true Christians must insist even more strongly that a “Christian nation” is a contradiction in terms and that there is no place for national chauvenism among the followers of the Lamb.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 10 Comments

The McCain File

Sen. Barack Obama (and now the Democratic National Convention) takes no money from Washington, D.C. lobbyists.  This ad shows just one of the many ways that McCain, who claims to be for clean government, is really a tool of foreign lobbyists, some with ties to dictators and U.S. adversaries.

With the help of some Bush lobbyists, McCain and the Republican National Convention raised $45 million dollars last month.  The Obama campaign is countering with small donations from thousands of individuals.  In the last few weeks, they have enlisted over 25,000 first time donors, most with $25 or less.  They hope to have 30,000 new donors by the end of June–helping them to campaign in all 50 states, on behalf of many progressive candidates.  To contribute to this–to pit citizen power against the power of corporate lobbyists, click here.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments

If Obama Becomes President: Realistic Hopes & Obstacles for Peace & Justice

I have already sent an email similar to this blog post to several email lists of peace groups. I have been a “peace and justice activist” since my conversion to Christian pacifism and subsequent discharge from the U.S. Army (1983) as a conscientious objector to all war and preparation for war. In that time, I have found that peace activists in the U.S. (maybe also elsewhere) tend to be purists about political candidates. This leads to 2 patterns that I want to discourage: Type 1 says (sometimes for theological reasons) that all presidents or prime ministers or politicians are alike–or too close to worry about. The differences are shades of gray. Peace activists should not waste their time trying to get any particular candidate elected. Type 2 tends to think a particular candidate can become a cure-all or peace messiah: If we just this person elected, we can put away our signs and civil disobedience and war tax resistance and strategies for mediation, etc., etc. because all will be well.

I have strong arguments against both attitudes. No politician is anywhere near perfect. All are at times hypocritical or pander for votes or, at the least, are inconsistent. But sometimes the choice between candidates and/or parties is clear. I think this is one of those times. I think a President Obama would mostly be an ally to peacemakers–but would have to be pushed in some areas. I think that a President McCain would have peacemakers mostly on the defensive as Bush has–trying to cushion or prevent the worst of his policies. A President Obama will disappoint us as a candidate Obama already has, at times. But I do think it worthwhile for peace activists, including Christian peace activists, to work hard to get him elected, staffing phone banks, contributing money, knocking on doors, registering voters, etc. But not because he will be anything close to a pacifist.

Should Sen. Obama become President Obama, what realistic hopes and what obstacles to peace and justice can we expect?

  • He will end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is, by itself, a huge reason to work for his election rather than John 100 Years McCain’s. Ending the occupation will be messy. The troops will probably only be pulled back to Kuwait or Qatar and some will be redeployed to Afghanistan. We must work to insist on rebuilding Iraq and we peacemakers must push for an international UN peacekeeping force (and/or work with groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams or Nonviolence International, Peace Brigades International, etc. to for 3rd party non-violent intervention and work at reconciliation between Sunni and Shi’ia and Kurd). The temporary reduction of violence from the troop “surge” seems to have ended and violence is once more on the upswing. But if more chaos follows the exit of our troops, the Right will clamor for their return. Obama is committed to ending the occupation, but he has repeatedly stated that it won’t be easy. We can be hopeful, but want to give all the help we can to ensuring the building of a peaceful, prosperous, free and secure Iraq in the aftermath of the war and occupation.
  • Afghanistan. I think we have to brace ourselves for the fact that Obama will increase troops and other resources to Afghanistan. Besides the pursuit of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this will be mostly in a support capacity. Our task as citizen peacemakers from around the globe will be to seek nonviolent alternatives in nation-building, hoping that an exit from Afghanistan without leaving it a failed state will be possible in the near future.
  • Pakistan. I think Obama will be guided by those like Joe Biden who want to support the Pakistani democracy by building schools and other development projects. His willingness to bomb the tribal territories along the Afghan border in pursuit of Al-Qaeda is a real concern and we need to see what we can do to provide alternatives. I do think an Obama presidency will help more than McCain for the U.S. to become an even handed broker between Pakistan and India over both Kashmir and nukes, instead of the one-sided support for India on these matters that has been our policy.
  • I have now heard 3 Obama speeches to the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and all of them showed me that he has no real empathy for Palestinian suffering. He tilts toward the Right where Israel is concerned–and not just to win Jewish votes, I think, although the tone of his most recent rhetoric is probably a response to McCain’s attacks. He HAS committed himself to a 2 state peace settlement within the 1967 borders. He has said nothing about the WALL and his most recent remarks about Jerusalem as the capitol, instead of a shared city, were very unfortunate. We will have to work hard here for a true just peace–and part of that will include working to change the shape of the debate in our society. We will have to give him the political climate that can make work to heal BOTH Israel AND Palestine something he can advocate without ushering in a new Right in Congress or the White House. Obama did promise to work throughout his presidency, not just at the end, for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Although I am always against demonizing folk, I am glad that Hamas renounced its “endorsement” of his candidacy–something that just played into the hands of the Right here and in Israel.
  • Latin America. This is one of the most under-reported, but truly progressive, dimensions to Obama’s foreign policy. Go to his website and check it out–and hear his speech before the Cuban-Americans in Miami. He is against NAFTA and voted against CAFTA because of lack of protections for unions and for the environment–and he knows that the weaknesses of those agreements have led directly to the increase in illegal immigration here. But he knows that global trade will play a part in all U.S.-Latin American relations and supported the pact with Peru as having the necessary protections–whether he was right or wrong, it shows his willingness to make distinctions and find common ground. He is not quite a member of the Fair Trade movement, but he is closer to that than to the Free Trade fundamentalists. He is committed to ending the civil war in Columbia and he sees Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez as a possibly dangerous adversary, but not as a demon. He wants step-by-step normalization with Cuba, but will leave the embargo on, at first, as a lever to help encourage more democratic reforms. (I think the embargo is a complete waste, but I like the fact that Obama is thinking in step-by-step fashion and focusing on behavior change, rather than regime change.)
  • I think his speeches and actions can lead us to expect reasonably hard-nosed diplomatic engagement with Iran (he is pushing for disinvestment of Iran if it does not renounce its nuclear energy program), Syria, North Korea, Russia and China. His approach is classic “carrot or stick” politics, but seems to work for more carrot than stick.
  • Obama has been one of the strongest Senators working to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan; the Democratic Republic of Congo; and to end the military dictatorship in Burma/Myanmar. He definitely prefers diplomacy and economic and political sanctions to military intervention–and international UN peacekeeping to go-it-alone policies by the U.S. However, I think peace folk need to work to educate him more on the practices of just peacemaking so that he is not boxed into a debate framed as “do nothing vs. military intervention.”
  • I think we can expect a definitely stronger commitment to the United Nations and other post-WWII international institutions for peace, development, and security. We can expect (and urge) him to sign the cluster-bomb ban, the ban on landmines, re-sign the ABM Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Possibly, he would also sign the Treaty of Rome that commits the U.S. to the International Criminal Court, but if he pushes too fast on this one, there could be a Right wing backlash.
  • I don’t think we can expect any deep cuts in military spending his first term. In fact, in terms of troop strength, armor and equipment, and conventional weapons, we should expect Obama to push for increases. Toward the end of his first term, we MIGHT get him behind cutting the wasteful “Star Wars” missile defense and other cold war weapons with no practical use in today’s world, including deep, multi-lateral cuts in nukes. But people in this country are still fearful and fear leads to imperialistic and militaristic actions. To get these kinds of cuts (which we need), we are going to have to work to create the kind of political atmosphere and discourse which leads to “strength through peace” rather than “peace through greater firepower.” Before we as citizen activists (including religious leaders) create such an atmosphere, any president which moved to make deep cuts in weaponry would lose at the polls and we’d end up with another Neo-Con regime. Too fast a movement can create a backlash.
  • For the same reason, I don’t expect a President Obama to show any enthusiasm for a Dept. of Peace. The campaign for this will have to be through Congress–I doubt he would veto it. The same goes for the creation of the Peace Tax Fund for conscientious objectors to be able to pay all of their taxes without any going for war. An Obama presidency would not be as committed to these kinds of actions as, say, a Dennis Kucinich would be.

A later post will outline my thoughts on what progressives can reasonably expect in domestic policies from a President Obama.

Presidents are not magic wands. Citizenship involves more than casting a vote every 4 years. So does the work of peace with justice. We will have plenty of petitions to Congress, letters to the editor, sermons, speeches, demonstrations, independent projects that have no government support (and maybe government opposition) that show new ways of approach, etc., etc. But it seems obvious to me that engaging in all that, in our peace teaching, our counter-recruitment, our citizen-diplomacy meetings, our nonviolent campaigns, etc., that we would have a much more supportive context for this kind of work Barack Obama in the White House (and, I hope, Bill Richardson as Sec. of State!) than with John McCain there. John McCain, like George W. Bush, would keep peacemakers constantly on defense, trying to curb the worst excesses of bad polices.

The contrast leads me to believe that peace activists, faith-based and otherwise, should work hard for the election of Sen. Obama as the next president of the United States–with plenty of hope, but eyes realistically wide open and prepared for disappointments and set backs even if he is elected. Our true work goes on, no matter who is in power–but that doesn’t make elections irrelevant or unimportant.

Jim Wallis likes to say that rather than trying to change one politician with his or her finger to the wind, we should work on changing the direction of the wind.  I think that in Obama we have the opportunity to elect someone who knows that new winds are coming and wants to encourage them.  That’s worth working hard for between now and November 4th–although electoral politics will always be only one dimension of the work for peace, especially from a Kingdom of God perspective.

June 7, 2008 Posted by | economic justice, foreign policy, peacemaking, U.S. politics | 21 Comments

Will the Real John McCain Please Stand Up?

  • John McCain once believed in comprehensive immigration reform–nearly identical to the Bush plan (one of the few good ideas of the Bush era) and that Democrats supported and the Republicans defeated. Now, to try to secure his base, McCain, the one GOP candidate for pres. who was trusted by a % of Latinos, has reversed himself and supported the border fence and no path to citizenship for undocumented aliens currently living in the U.S.
  • John McCain once called the Religious Right, “agents of intolerance.” Now, he has been burned by John Hagee and Rod Parsely because he actively sought the support of these same agents of intolerance.
  • John McCain once was firmly opposed to all forms of torture, including waterboarding.  Since securing the GOP nomination, he voted against the Senate bill to ban all forms of interrogation that do not conform to the Army manual (based on the Geneva Conventions) and, when it passed anyway, urged Bush to veto it (which he did).
  • John McCain once called Hamas “the duly elected government of Palestine” and said the U.S. government would have to talk with them. Since then, he has attacked Barack Obama because a member of Hamas endorsed his candidacy (yesterday, this was revoked), even though Obama never urged talking with Hamas before they gave up violence and recognized Israel’s right to exist. (In fact, in 2002, Obama urged the U.S. not to support Palestinian elections with Hamas on the ticket.)
  • John McCain has called Obama’s position about talking with enemies, including Iran, “naive,” and even “appeasement,” but McCain’s high ranking staff members have included lobbyists with ties to many dictatorships unfriendly to the U.S.–including Iran. (Why talk to them when you can just lobby for their interests in Congress?)  Cindy McCain, who owns most of the family wealth, only recently sold stock from dictatorships with clear conflicts of interest with the U.S.
  • John McCain used to believe in clean government, but now his campaign has more lobbyists than any in recent history.
  • John McCain once opposed spying on U.S. citizens, without a warrant.  Today, he completely reversed himself and supported Bush’s domestic spying program 100%.
  • John McCain once opposed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but now wants to make them permanent. He has recently claimed that he only opposed them because they weren’t accompanied by spending cuts (pay as you go fiscal conservatism), but that was NOT the reason he gave then. For the first round of tax cuts (2001), McCain complained that they unfairly benefitted the super-rich with little help for the poor or middle class.  He was right, so why does he want to make such injustice permanent? For the second round of tax cuts (2002-03), McCain complained that never in our history had we cut taxes in time of war. Wars are expensive and need to be paid for by the generation waging them, not their children and grandchildren. He was right, so why does he now want to make those cuts also permanent?
  • John McCain has claimed in Louisiana that he struggled to do right by the people of New Orleans. In fact, he opposed the creation of a Katrina commission twice.
  • John McCain has claimed in Washington State and Oregon that he is an environmentalist that wouldn’t wait 8 years (a reference to Bush) to act boldly on climate change and that he supported the Senate bill that would seek to tackle climate change.  A week ago, he changed his mind, opposed the bill and announced that he would skip the vote. Today, Obstruction-in-Chief Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Republicans blocked passage of the bill.
  • John McCain used to be considered a bi-partisan, “maverick,” independent, straight-talking, moderately conservative Republican who could work with Democrats to get things done. But in 2007, he voted the Bush line 95% of the time and in 2008, he has voted the Bush agenda 100% of the time.

Can America trust John McCain? Has the “Straight-Talk Express” taken a detour through “Baloney Town?” (This is a somewhat cleaner version of a question asked by comic Jon Stewart, who admired the old John McCain.)

These outright reversals do not count the many inconsistencies, errors in fact (such as confusing Sunnis and Shi’a, believing that we are back down to pre-surge levels of troops in Iraq), plagiarized slogans (“Leadership We Can Believe In” combines lines from both Clinton and Obama), confused claims or just outright incompetent statements.  It doesn’t include his plans to privatize Social Security (which the American people overwhelmingly rejected in ’05 when Bush tried it) or that his economic advisor is “Foreclosure Phil” Gramm whose work has been a major factor in the housing crisis or that another major advisor (Goldfarb) believes the Constitution gives the president “near dictatorial powers” in time of war (!), or that Karl Rove, who smeared McCain and his family in 2000 is now advising his campaign this year, etc., etc.

America and the world suffered grievously under George W. Bush.  Clearly, John McCain would be more of the same. We cannot take even 4 years of a McCain presidency.

 

June 6, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Voters for Peace

 Now that the candidates for the General Election are set, peace voters can make sure our voices are heard.  68% of the American people want the Iraq War completely ended, including 75% of Democrats, 71% of Independents, and 52% of registered Republicans.  So, click the following link to write Sens. Obama and McCain and tell them that your vote will depend on their commitment to completely end the Iraq War.  You can also use that link to contact independent candidate Ralph Nader, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney.

http://votersforpeace.us/pvpletters.html
 
Please follow up by sending this link with a letter to your local paper so that we can blanket the U.S. with this campaign.

June 6, 2008 Posted by | peacemaking, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Unlikely Allies

 

To see Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Pat Robertson on a couch, together, pushing for action on climate change, click here.

To help solve Climate Change, go to http://www.wecansolveit.org/

To help pass the Climate Defense Bill in the Senate this week, call your Senators and urge passage, now!

June 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Americans Approve of Diplomacy with Enemies

Jesus commanded his followers to talk with their enemies.  The Torah commands that one help an enemy’s ox stuck in a ditch.  And such political realists as FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, Nixon, Reagan, etc. all talked to enemies of the nation.  Now, the latest Gallup poll shows that most Americans (including 79% of Democrats, 70% of Independents and even 48% of Republicans) favor U.S. presidents engaging national enemies in direct diplomacy.

I wonder how McCain’s “talk is appeasment, especially when done by Democrats, but lobbying for enemies is okay if done by Republicans” line will spin this latest evidence that he is completely out of touch with the American people?

June 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off

Presidential Dictatorship?

 The news has been full of McCain’s lobbyist-campaign workers and their ties to dictatorships, including Iran. (Talking with Iran is “appeasement” if you are Sen. Obama, but in McCain’s world, lobbying for Iran with the U.S. Congress is apparently just fine!) But, today, we find that a brand new McCain aide, Michael Goldfarb, believes the Constitution gives the U.S. President “near dictatorial powers” in foreign policy.

Haven’t we just had 8 years of this terrible, misguided, illegal thinking?  There are movements in the American Bar Association to strip such Bush people as Alberto Gonzalez of their licenses to practice law for just such views–turned into policy by the Bushies.  This is a VERY GOOD REASON to support a presidential candidate who believes in the Constitution, and has taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago. 

Bill Moyers recently warned that democracy in the U.S. has been a history of narrow escapes and that our luck may be running out.  All those who don’t want a presidential dictator should, AT THE VERY LEAST, demand that McCain fire Goldfarb and repudiate his views–and then decide carefully whether to trust McCain’s word.

June 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off

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