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

History Will Not Absolve Us

On Friday, George Hunsinger, one of the finest theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary and the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, wrote an article for the Common Dreams website called “History Will Not Absolve Us.”  It is a reflection on the continued leaks of more and more information about high level involvement in the planning and execution of torture by the Bush admin.  (I was glad that my friend, Dave Gushee, now teaching at McAfee School of Theology (Mercer University) in Atlanta, and founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights asked an excellent question about this to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the “Faith and Compassion” dialogue hosted by Messiah College in Grantham, PA last Sunday night and broadcast on CNN. Obama’s answer was excellent, too and got some of the largest applause of the evening.)

Hunsinger claims that history will not absolve this nation of these acts of torture, no matter our claims of ignorance, or fear of terrorism as justification. I agree. More, I think that GOD will also hold us accountable. The churches have not been entirely silent on this issue, but they have been far too quiet.

We are a pluralistic nation, but over 80% of us in this country claim to be Christian. Well over 50% attend church regularly.  Evangelical Protestants, who elevate the authority of Scripture above all else, make up between 40 and 50% of the nation, according to surveys.  But far too many evangelical leaders have tried justifying the torture or covering it up.  White evangelicals are practically the only group left in the country who still support Pres. Bush and hold him up as a “Christian leader.”  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive GOP nominee for president, stood out among the GOP candidates as the only one willing to oppose torture–but after winning the nomination, he spoke out and voted against a bill that would have forbidden the CIA to use such “harsh interrogation” techniques as waterboarding (called in all other times and places “water torture,” used in the Inquisition and prosecuted by the U.S. in previous wars!), and then applauded Bush for vetoing it when it passed despite McCain’s efforts to shipwreck it.  Yet, although he can’t decide whether he’s a Baptist or Episcopalian, McCain claims a deep Christian faith and courts the endorsements of conservative evangelical and fundamentalist preachers (including pro-torturers like Rod Parsely and John Hagee!).

How can any follower of the Crucified One countenance torture?

How can any nation dedicated to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law countenance torture?

U.S. Americans, especially U.S. Christians, have clearly lost their/our way–their/our moral bearings.  History will not absolve us–nor will the Lord of History.

June is Torture Awareness and Abolition Month. The National Religious Coalition Against Torture is urging congregations (parishes, synagogues, temples, meetings, etc.) to highlight the moral issue of torture in sermons and worship throughout June and, specifically, to hang a banner against torture outside their congregation as public witness.  We also need letter campaigns to Congress, the White House, presidential candidates, and the editorial section of newspapers.  We need to join with other congregations in our region in responding to this grave moral concern.  See the NRCAT website for actions, to order “Torture is Wrong” banners, etc.

The guilty (ALL the guilty, no matter what office they occupy!) must face criminal prosecution. But while only some are guilty, all of us are responsible for stopping this and preventing recurrences.

UPDATE: In a related story, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (formerly known as the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights) took the rare step of asking the U.S. District Court of Appeals in D.C. to reconsider its dismissal of a lawsuit against former Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of those tortured, saying that the dismissal ignored key previous rulings.  See:

April 25, 2008
3:35 PM

CONTACT: ACLU & Human Rights First
Rachel Myers, ACLU, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org
ACLU And HRF Ask Circuit Court To Reconsider Rumsfeld Torture Case
Precedent Used To Dismiss Case Wrongly Ignores Constitution, Groups Say
WASHINGTON, DC – April 25 – The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (HRF) today filed an unusual motion in federal court in an effort to overturn the dismissal of a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The March 2005 lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Iraqi and Afghan former civilian detainees who were tortured while in U.S. military custody and eventually released without being charged with a crime. The lawsuit charged that then-Secretary Rumsfeld was legally responsible for policies and practices leading to the torture and abuse of detainees.


“It is increasingly obvious that responsibility for widespread and systemic abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan lies at the top of the chain of command, but no one has been held accountable,” said Lucas Guttentag, ACLU lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The rule of law and the protections of the Constitution cannot stop at the water’s edge when United States officials adopt policies that violate fundamental rights and core American values.” 

Today’s motion asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to hear the case in the first instance as an “en banc” matter, meaning the entire court would hear the request rather than the standard procedure of assigning the case to a panel of three judges. The motion asks the court to sit “en banc” in order to reconsider its existing decisions that suggest that foreign nationals outside the United States can never bring a claim against government officials for violations of the Constitution. 

In March 2007, Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit even though he described the case as “lamentable” and “appalling” and noted that “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.” Still, he concluded that under the governing precedent the case must be dismissed. 

Today’s motion argues that the appellate court decisions on which the district court relied are inconsistent with key U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decisions and should be reconsidered by the court of appeals. 

“We are asking the court to reconsider its decision. We seek accountability for senior American officials who ordered and allowed torture and cruelty overseas,” said Deborah Colson of Human Rights First. “Especially in light of recent revelations about the involvement of high-level officials, reliance on the judicial process is a critical safeguard against abuse of power.” 

The original lawsuit charges that the Constitution and international law clearly prohibit torture and require commanders to prevent such actions when they know or should have known of abuses. In addition to direct orders and authorizations, then-Secretary Rumsfeld and other high ranking officials who were named as defendants in the lawsuit knew of the torture and abuse at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan and failed to act. Recently, President Bush admitted to ABC News that he knew his top national security advisers, including Rumsfeld, had discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. 

Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Brigadier General James Cullen, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeal, are of counsel to HRF. In addition to Guttentag, Colson, Hutson, and Cullen, attorneys on the case are Steven Shapiro, Cecillia Wang, Jennifer Chang, Mónica Ramírez, Omar Jadwat, Amrit Singh, Steven Watt, and Hina Shamsi of the ACLU; Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; Michael Posner and Sahr Muhammed Ally of Human Rights First; Bill Lann Lee of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.; Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP; David Rudovksy of Kairys, Rudovsky, Epstein & Messing LLP; and Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University School of Law. 

Today’s motion is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/35034lgl20080425.html  

Judge Hogan’s decision is online at: www.aclu.org/pdfs/safefree/ali_v_rumsfeld_memoorder_granting_motiontodismiss.pdf 

More information about the case against former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/detention.html and www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/lawsuit/index.asp

April 26, 2008 Posted by | human rights., torture | Comments Off on History Will Not Absolve Us

Race and Gender Faultlines

The faultlines in U.S. politics over race and gender are becoming extremely obvious.  But this is hardly new.  This country, including it’s great promise, was built on the genocide and stolen land of Native peoples and the chattel slavery of Africans–and almost every civilization throughout history has oppressed women.

As a white, male, Southerner, I continue to grieve at the way the Powers That Be use race and gender to exploit not only women and racial minorities, but also poor whites.  Poor and lower-middle class whites continue to allow racism to be used to harm our own best interests.  Slavery didn’t help poor whites–because free labor beats cheap labor every time! So how did rich white slaveowners convince thousands of poor whites in the South to fight and kill and die so that other people could continue to own human beings as property??

After the Civil War, during the Gilded Age of Robber Barons (our current economic inequality is reaching those levels), the Populist movement rose up fight money power with people power, led by Tom Watson, a Southern white who tried to forge a multi-racial coalition to overcome economic exploitation. Racism was used to break up the coalition and, by the end, Watson himself had become a racist demagogue who supported the worst of the Jim Crow segregation laws.

In the North, they used race and ethnicity to set Irish against Italian against Pole–and all of them against African-Americans, while the rich laughed all the way to the bank.

The first women’s movement came from the involvement of white women in the work to abolish slavery–and women’s rights were championed by black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass. But when the only version of the 15th Amendment (banning restrictions on voting based on race) which would pass enfranchised only black males, a schism appeared between the movements for racial and gender equality. Hurtful things were said on both sides.

This reappeared during the Civil Rights movement and the 2nd Wave Feminist movement:  Remember Stokely Carmichael’s infamous comment that the only role for women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was “prone!”

Race affects even the healthcare debate: Bill Clinton has rightly mentioned several times that we came closest to getting universal healthcare under Harry Truman’s post-WWII presidency. That’s the time period when Canada and most of Europe adopted universal healthcare and was a perfect time for us to do so as well. Truman had campaigned on completing Roosevelt’s New Deal. Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Healthcare expenses were a much lower percentage of the economy. But it was blocked by Southern legislators, despite the fact that the South would have benefitted most and contributed the least to the plan in taxes. Why? Southern legislators feared that universal healthcare would force them to integrate their hospitals! (They were probably right.  Southern hospitals were finally integrated after the 1965 passage of the Medicare and Medicaid Bills–which were nearly blocked by Southern Senate filibusters!)

And no one should be surprised at the Black/Latino split in the U.S. (though it is not as wide as white media pundits make it out). In many places following the Civil Rights movement, white power brokers would allow one “minority position” in city councils or business boards, etc. so that Brown presence meant no Black presence and vice versa.  White politicians would and still do condemn a black owned business, wipe it out, and rebuild with a white company–and hire all Latino workers to build the new construction.

This election could end tragically with divisions along race and gender lines.  The Powers of repression, economic exploitation, ecological degradation, and military imperialism could get their way by exploiting our fears and resentments.  Or we could refuse to let that happen this time.

Regardless, we clearly need more national conversations–real dialogues–on race and gender matters. They will not always be comfortable, especially for white males. We have benefitted from our race and gender even when we have not asked to–and when we are struggling ourselves it can feel as if we are blamed for what others have done in our names.

Healing has to begin somewhere. Let it begin in each of homes, churches, and communities.

April 26, 2008 Posted by | family, prejudice, race, sexism, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Did the FBI Cover-Up Torture by the CIA and Defense Dept?

The following is a transcript of Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL)’s exchange with FBI Director Robert Mueller during Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.  Mueller’s evasive responses seem to indicate that when FBI agents came to Mueller with evidence of CIA and Defense Dept. interrogators using torture, Mueller forbade them to participate, but did not investigate the allegations, allowing other agencies to torture as they saw fit!

Robert Wexler: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, in January of 2006, the New York Times reported that the NSA wireless wiretapping program had produced thousands of leads each month that the FBI had to track down, but that no Al-Qaeda networks were discovered. During a July 17, 2007 briefing, FBI deputy director John Pistole indicated that the FBI was not aware of any Al-Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States. In August of 2007 Congress passed the Protect America Act, giving the intelligence community greater access to electronic communications coming into and out of the United States. I have two questions in this regard.

RW: Has the FBI found any sleeper cells yet? One…

RW: Two. Has the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programs either before the Protect America Act or after led to the prosecution and conviction of any terrorists in the United States?

Robert Mueller: Well, as to your first question as to whether we have found affiliates or, as you would call them, cells of Al-Qaeda in the United States, yes we have. Again, I cannot get into it in public session, but I would say yes we have. With regard to the relationship of a particular case or individual to the terrorist surveillance program, again that is something that would have to be covered in a closed session.

RW: Alright, Mr. Director. An LA Times article from October, 2007 quotes one senior federal enforcement official as saying quote “the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved” end quote. The article goes on to say that some FBI officials went to you and that you quote “pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the investigations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy” end quote.

RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?

RM: I can go so far sir as to tell you that a protocol in the FBI is not to use coercion in any of our interrogations or our questioning and we have abided by our protocol.

RW: I appreciate that. What is the protocol say when the FBI knows that the CIA is engaging or the Department of Defense is engaging in an illegal technique? What does the protocol say in that circumstance?

RM: We would bring it up to appropriate authorities and determine whether the techniques were legal or illegal.

RW: Did you bring it up to appropriate authorities?

RM: All I can tell you is that we followed our own protocols.

RW: So you can’t tell us whether you brought it; when your own FBI agents came to you and said the CIA is doing something illegal which caused you to say don’t you get involved; you can’t tell us whether you then went  to whatever authority?

RM: I’ll tell you we followed our own protocols.

RW: And what was the result?

RM: We followed our own protocols. We followed our protocols. We did not use coercion. We did not participate in any instance where coercion was used to my knowledge.

RW: Did the CIA use techniques that were illegal?

RM: I can’t comment on what has been done by another agency and under what authorities the other agency may have taken actions.

RW: Why can’t you comment on the actions of another agency?

RM: I leave that up to the other agency to answer questions with regard to the actions taken by that agency and the legal authorities that may apply to them.

RW: Are you the chief legal law enforcement agency in the United States?

RM: I am the Director of the FBI.

RW: And you do not have authority with respect to any other governmental agency in the United States? Is that what you’re saying?

RM: My authority is given to me to investigate. Yes we do.

RW: Did somebody take away that authority with respect to the CIA?

RM: Nobody has taken away the authority. I can tell you what our protocol was, and how we followed that protocol.

RW: Did anybody take away the authority with respect to the Department of Defense?

RM: I’m not certain what you mean.

RW: Your authority to investigate an illegal torture technique.

RM: There has to be a legal basis for us to investigate, and generally that legal basis is given to us by the Department of Justice. Any interpretations of the laws given to us by the Department of Justice….
(talking over each other)

RW:  But apparently your own agents made a determination that the actions by the CIA and the Department of Defense were illegal, so much so that you authorized, ordered, your agents not to participate. But that’s it.

RM: I’ve told you what our protocol was, and I’ve indicated that we’ve adhered to our protocol throughout.

RW: My time is up. Thank you very much Mr. Director.

WHY ISN’T THIS FRONT PAGE NEWS IN EVERY PAPER IN THE U. S.?  We should call for Mueller’s resignation and get an FBI Director that will investigate ALL claims of torture! (Of course, without a Justice Dept. willing to prosecute. . .)

April 26, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Jeremiah Wright Speaks Out

 Melissa Rogers, who runs the best blog on news relating to church/state matters in the U.S. gives us the following:

The African-American Religious Experience: Theology and Practice

That’s the title of a talk the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright will give next week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  Here’s part of the blurb on Wright’s presentation:

The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A Wright Jr.,  senior pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, will discuss the role of faith in the public square in a presentation entitled, The African American Religious Experience; Theology & Practice, at a National Press Club breakfast on April 28th.
        Dr. Wright will also talk about his pastorate, his development as a theologian and teacher, and how the issues of social justice and global inequities have shaped his faith and his fight for those who are most marginalized in society. He will address the legacy and tradition of education in his family. And Dr. Wright will put into perspective theologically, historically and politically, his ministry and public service that has been so widely discussed in the media.

And, as has already been widely noted, Wright will join Bill Moyers this Friday on Bill Moyers Journal.

UPDATE: The Caucus gets a preview of Wright’s comments on Bill Moyers Journal.

And Chris Sanders notes that the media distortion of the ministry of Rev. Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ has led to a new blog by a church member, The Truth About Trinity United Church of Christ.  Far from being white-hating separatists, Trinity UCC is a black-majority congregation in a denomination that is mostly white.

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Tag–I’m IT

I’ve been tagged for a blogging meme game (these are fun) by Rev. Bob Cornwall of Ponderings on a Faith Journey. 

The rules are:
1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Ten years ago, I was . . .

Teaching religion and philosophy at Spalding University and Simmons College (both in Louisville), while trying for a permanent, tenure-track position anywhere. I was also chairing the War and Peace interest group of the Society of Christian ethics. I was on the steering committee for the Louisville chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation . My oldest daughter was 3 and my second had yet to be born.

5 Things on Today’s “To Do” List;

  1. Work on my book on progressive (peace and justice oriented) Baptist congregations.
  2. Work on my novel about a liberal Baptist minister who solves murder mysteries.
  3. Prepare Bible study on Mark’s Gospel for Sunday.
  4. Call 10 people in rural KY for the Obama campaign.
  5. Clean up dog poop in yard.

Things I’d Do If I Were a Billionaire:

Well, this will never be the case and daydreaming of it probably blocks more constructive work, but these are the rules.  I’d try to give away most of it to charities and causes I believe in–AIDS research and prevention, the environment, peacemaking, human rights, death penalty abolition and prison reform, poverty alleviation, etc.  And, since a billion goes a long way (except when fighting a quagmire of a war!), I’d also endow at least one chair of higher learning in a progressive Christian liberal arts college and/or seminary. I would pay off my dad’s mortgage.  Of course, I would really beef up my daughters’ education funds (though I expect both of them to win scholarships since they are both straight 4.0 students) and provide for my wife and myself in retirement (as of now, I don’t see how we can ever retire). I’d travel, too, and teach for free.  I might also start a business: a local bookstore to replace my beloved Hawley-Cooke Booksellers, bought out by (sigh) Borders.   I would NOT try for tax shelters or move my money off-shore, etc.

3 Bad Habits:

  1. Interrupting people before they have finished speaking. I have been working on this my whole life, but still haven’t completely broken it.  It really bugs my wife, and rightly so.
  2. Procrastination.
  3. Late night refridgerator raids.

5 Places I’ve Lived:

  1. Manassas Park, VA
  2. Orlando, FL
  3. Atlantic Beach, FL
  4. Heidelberg, Germany
  5. Louisville, KY–Longest place I have ever lived.  I was also born in Philadelphia, PA, but we were only there for my first 6 months of life.  Other places include Atlanta, GA, Chicago, IL, & Pasadena, CA.

5 Jobs I’ve Held:

  1. Bailiff –Duval County County courthouse.
  2. Outreach coordinator for a faith-based peace organization
  3. Youth minister
  4. Interim pastor
  5. Religion/philosophy professor (I’ve also been a clerk in the U.S. Army–prior to becoming a conscientious objector, of course; held numerous restaraunt jobs, including cook, waiter, dishwasher; vetinary asst; asst. in the wet lab of the Marine Science Center, Mayport, FL; did computer mapping for Louisville Gas & Electric Co., chaplain at a nursing home; security/night watch at a different nursing home; library asst. a university and currently work at UPS for the insurance while trying to get back into either teaching or another peace & justice position.)

Tag, You’re It:

Dan Trabue

Kevin Borders

Texas in Africa

Aaron Weaver

Melissa Rogers


April 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

O.K., NOW, I’m Bitter

Just kidding.  Last night’s victory for Sen. Clinton (D-NY) in PA, while disappointing, was expected. In fact, given the non-stop smear campaign by Clinton and surrogates, by the G.O.P., and by the media (especially so called “debate moderators” at ABC), Sen. Obama did surprisingly well. Sen. Clinton did not win by a large enough margin to close the gap with Obama’s delegate count, nor his lead in the popular vote–and so have a convincing argument for the remaining superdelegates. (Early count suggests she won 84 pledged delegates last night and Obama won 74, which should still put her over 150 delegates behind.) She needs something on the order of 85% of all remaining primary votes, winning all the remaining Democratic primaries by over 20%, to catch Obama’s lead.  Not gonna happen.

Here’s the remaining primary schedule:

03 May Guam caucuses (Obama favored: 4 pledged delegates at stake).

06 May Indiana and North Carolina primaries. (Obama is, depending on polls, 11 to 15 points ahead of Clinton in North Carolina, with 115 pledged delegates at stake.  Indiana could be close. Northern Indiana is Obama country and Southern Indiana is Clinton territory. But, so far, Obama is in the lead by 7-11 points, depending on poll.  Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), a Clinton superdelegate and probably on her short list for running mate, has been campaigning hard for her on TV ads–which spill over into KY viewing area, but Obama is also picking up influential Indiana surrogate support, including that of former Indiana Sen. Lee Hamilton (D-IN)–whose seat Bayh occupies–co-chair of the Iraq Study Group (that Bush/McCain failed to heed). Hamilton has plenty of influence and shores up Obama’s foreign policy credentials. 72 pledged delegates are at stake in Indiana.)

13 May West Virginia primary.  (28 pledged delegates are at stake. The white, rural nature of WV favors Clinton, but, unlike in PA there are no areas of “ethnic whites,” whites whose primary identities are still Romanian or Polish or Irish or Italian, etc. It is in those “ethnic white” states–except for Illinois–that Obama has struggled most to win white votes.  Clinton is still favored here, but an endorsement for Obama from either Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) or, even better, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), or both, could swing this for Obama.  Neither WV senator has yet endorsed a candidate, but Byrd is probably being lobbied by both. He has strong ties to the Clintons, but he has warmly welcomed Obama to the senate and is eager to show the world outside of WV just how far he has repented from his early career as a segregationist.  WV is Clinton-friendly, but not out of reach for Obama.)

20 May Kentucky and Oregon primaries (Everything said about WV could be repeated in KY. Obama is favored in Louisville and Lexington, but Clinton is stronger in rural and small town KY, and Obama must cut into her lead there to win KY. So far, the only KY superdelegate to endorse is Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) of Louisville, who is an Obama supporter.  If Greg Stumbo (D), state rep. and former state attorney, were to endorse Obama or Rep. Ben Chandler, it would go a long way. But Obama needs to visit Eastern KY, highlight the problem of Appalachian poverty, talk about mine safety under GOP deregulation, about ways to save our mountains without losing jobs, ways to help small farmers as big tobacco declines–those issues can win over enough of KY for a win.  KY only has 8% African-American pop., and most of it is concentrated in Louisville.  51 pledged delegates at stake.  Oregan, by contrast, should go heavily for Obama with 52 delegates at stake.)

01 June Puerto Rico primary. (55 delegates at stake. I don’t know who is favored here. Clinton has had a lead on Latinos generally, but has lost the Latino vote in CO and UT and IL, divided it evenly in NM, and won it only by 55% in TX.  Obama has won all of the U.S. territories so far except American Samoa. )

03 June Montana and South Dakota primaries (16 pledged delegates available in MT, 15 in SD. Obama has done well in these Mid-West “Red” states and I think he will win, at least, South Dakota.)

And that’s it.  Even if Obama only wins North Carolina and Oregon remaining, he would finish with the most pledged delegates and, probably, the popular vote.  That leaves only Clinton’s claim that he doesn’t win most of the “big states” (but what is NC? MD? IL?) to swing superdelegates, and her claim that he cannot beat McCain–which she has now admitted that he can.  She can force him to limp to victory–and possibly weaken him for the fall, but I don’t see how she can win. Her campaign is deeply in debt and his is plenty flush.

Oh, and if Clinton and Obama keep criss-crossing KY, it is bad news for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), no matter whether Greg Fischer (D) or Bruce Lunsford (D) wins the primary to take him on in the Fall. (I will vote for Fischer.) McCain and McConnell have been bitter rivals in the GOP, with McConnell trying unsuccessfully to get the Supreme Court to overturn the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, so McCain has stayed away from KY.  Maybe this is the year we finally “Ditch Mitch.”


April 23, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 5 Comments

Book Review: The Audacity of Hope

During my break, I finally got the chance to read Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. Anyone still trying to decide between Obama, Clinton, and McCain should read this book, written a year before his campaign began.  It is not as powerful as Dreams From My Father (his first book, written before he ran for any public office), but it gives you deep insights into how he thinks and approaches life and politics.

I read books in the order they appear, figuring authors arranged their chapters that way for a purpose.  But white evangelical Christians, who have heard decades of propaganda against Democrats not being “true Christians,” or those who have heard the recent propaganda against Obama’s faith (either the “secret Muslim” nonsense–most recently encouraged by Newt Gingrich!–or the attacks on his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright), may want to begin with the chapter on “Faith” and then go back to the beginning.

This is one of the most honest books I have ever read by a politician.  It is thoughtful and shows how Obama seeks to learn from those with whom he disagrees–on almost everything.  While critical of the Clintons in places, it also has numerous places of praise for them. The same is true of several Republicans.

The real context of his “bitter” remark is here, too. The term “bitter” was unfortunate, but far from being an attempt to disrespect working class whites (or their religion), it was an attempt to describe the way some of their resentments are justified–but have been shamefully manipulated.  All throughout the book, Obama sticks to his progressive principles while trying to get people to understand each other.

If I were not already committed to vote for Obama, this book would have convinced me.  That’s what I told people here in KY when making calls for the Obama campaign, yesterday, too.  (Obama seems to have the edge here in Louisville, but, not in rural KY–yet.)  It also answers the numerous charges of “he’s all talk,” by giving major substantive approaches to most of the problems facing the nation. 

Not that I always agree.  A convinced pacifist, I still think his Just War approach to foreign policy is not bold enough in peacemaking efforts–but what a huge improvement over a policy of preemptive wars!  Likewise, I don’t think reforming death penalty systems is enough–I want capital punishment abolished.

But I am not voting for sainthood or perfection, but for someone who can lead the country in a better direction–not just a return to the ’90s, either.  I have no doubt a president Obama will make mistakes. I see problems in this book that indicate that.  But, it also shows a man deeply aware of how even the best politicians can become out of touch, can go wrong, can be sucked into a system that gives us more of the same.  That awareness, which permeates throughout this book, might be a helpful innoculation.

This one is worth reading even if one is a diehard Republican who is already committed to voting for McCain. Why? Because, this is not a campaign book, but an appeal to the U.S. people to seek answers together for the many problems we face. It’s an invitation to conversation.  I urge readers to read this and join the conversation.


April 21, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 8 Comments

Context Makes All the Difference

Because of my mental health break from blogging, I have yet to comment on the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright, retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.  Marty on the Homefront has the full context of the snippets played out of context of his sermons here.  I have been furious about this. I would never have said, “God damn America,” (or any place else), but the prophet Jeremiah (Wright’s namesake) said much the same thing about Israel/Judah. As Frank Schaeffer pointed out, his father, Francis A. Schaeffer, who helped to launch the Religious Right in the late ’70s, repeatedly called for armed revolution against the U.S. by Christians if the government refused to outlaw abortion–but no conservative Republican politician was ever demonized for friendship with Schaeffer. In fact, at his funeral, Ronald Reagan and other prominent conservatives were in attendance. John McCain’s endorsements by Hagee, who has called for Palestinian genocide and demonized both Jews and Catholics (but is uncritically supportive of the Israeli govt.), or by the late Jerry Falwell (who blamed 9/11 on feminists and gays and liberals–everyone but the terrorists), or Pat Robertson (who regularly urges the assassination of foreign leaders with whom he disagrees) have not been much questioned. (In fact, the press have long sugar coated the real John McCain, but that’s a subject for another time).

The demonizing of Rev. Wright, and Obama by extension, strikes me as racist. I DON’T mean that black ministers are not subject to criticism, nor that Wright’s remarks weren’t rightly repudiated by Obama.  As I said above, I would never ask God to damn anyone or any place. But I have heard Wright preach at the 2003 meeting of the Alliance of Baptists, which celebrated our ecumenical ties with the Disciples of Christ and with the United Church of Christ (Wright’s denomination and Obama’s). I know the good his church does. I know that a man who was once a U.S. Marine has more patriotism than any of these chickenhawks who demonize him.  I also know that, while I have preached far fewer sermons and written far less than Rev. Wright, one could easily take minute snippets out of my stuff and make me sound like an idiot or worse.  (Someone once overheard me quoting someone with whom I disagreed and claimed I was making physical threats on the president!) I could do the same with almost any public speaker–but it wouldn’t be either right or honest and it wouldn’t help in any public discussion of major issues.

What strikes me as racist about this is that no one even inquires who the pastors are of white candidates, no matter what they say.  Ronald Reagan seldom even went to church.  The only time we knew who Bob Dole’s pastor was came when the press leaked that both the Clintons and Doles went to Foundry United Methodist Church in D.C. (during the time that Rev. Dr. Philip J. Wogaman, whom I know slightly, was pastor). Shortly after that the Doles moved their membership, but no one asked where. We knew nothing about Bill Clinton’s Baptist congregation in Arkansas until they refused to kick him out during the Lewinsky scandal.  Do we know Hillary Clinton’s current pastor? McCain we know can’t decide whether he is Episcopalian or Southern Baptist.  So, the extreme focus on Obama’s pastor by mostly white reporters and politicians, most of whom have never been in a black church and don’t know anything about African-American Christianity, strikes me as having, at least, racist overtones.

I have been twice a member of a black Baptist congregation and I know that members expect the pastor to be bold and confrontational–but don’t expect to follow his every word.  I remember when visiting a black church in which the pastor described the “war on young black boys” in the ’90s that the members came up to me afterword to make CERTAIN that I knew their pastor was not demonizing all whites–but I knew that already. (In fact, nothing was said that day with which I particularly disagreed.)  I also know that Black sermons take you to the depths of pain and anger before giving you the hope and joy of the Good News. But the ignorant media never showed that these snippets from Wright were NOT the conclusion of his sermons.

Nothing approaching real journalism was attempted. When confronted with the free ride given to McCain despite his endorsements by controversial rightwing preachers, reporters said they might cover that if those sermons were playing on Youtube! So, today’s reporters are too lazy to investigate, but have have YouTube users do it for them. No wonder we are in such sad shape!

(Hey, if we can’t smear Obama as a closet Muslim, let’s smear his pastor and make them both sound anti-white and anti-American.)

Obama may or may not become the next U.S. president. Either way, he will recover.  I grieve because Rev. Wright, a brother in Christ, may not recover his reputation as a sincere servant of God.  The false witness borne against him is a great and lasting sin.  Conservatives would be outraged if “the liberal media” quoted race-baiting statements from Rev. Jerry Falwell in the days when he still supported segregation, without ever mentioning his later repentance on this issue. But I have heard ZERO conservatives standing up for Rev. Wright. (Even Mike Huckabee, who DID say that Obama should not be held accountable for Wright’s statements unless he agreed with them, did not make any attempt to stand up for Wright. And, as a former preacher, Huckabee knows that no preacher wants to have his or her whole preaching career judged by fragments of one or two sermons. We all have sermons we regret. ) What context can be given for that omission, I wonder?

P.S. Frank Schaeffer also rightly notes that Clinton is wrong about Obama being “out of touch” with religious America. As Schaeffer notes, candidate responses to controversies can be dismissed, so we learn more by what they say BEFORE it was an issue. Schaeffer quotes from Obama’s remarks in 2006 at a Sojourners event, an evangelical event.  The full speech is on the Obama campaign website and has been since it went up. But the speech itself was given nearly a year before Obama began campaigning for president. His accounts of his conversion all pre-date this, too.

I am not sure Schaeffer is right to dismiss Clinton’s own faith as genuine, and I don’t know about McCain’s faith (he seems to hold the nation itself as his god, but I could be wrong), but I agree that Obama is certainly most “in touch” with Christian America. I never thought I would agree as much with one of the founders of the Religious Right, a self-declared 55 year old father of a Marine, who is gun owning, flag waving, military loving lifelong conservative.  But as Schaeffer says, if Obama can reach him, he can reach anyone in America.

April 19, 2008 Posted by | politics, progressive faith, race, scandal | 7 Comments

Book Review: Conservatives Without Conscience

While on my break from blogging (and news/media overload), I did quite a bit of reading–trying for “big picture” perspectives on life, religion, and politics–especially, but not exclusively in the U.S. context.   One book I found very helpful was John W. Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience which chronicles the rise of “authoritarian conservatism” in post-WWII America and analyzes how it came to dominate the contemporary Republican Party and, to the extent that Republicans have had the upper hand since 1980, the U.S. as a whole.

I must stress that this informative work is not a “liberal screed.”  John W. Dean was the White House counsel to Richard Nixon and the first insider to break with Nixon over Watergate–his testimony was crucial in the Watergate hearings.  Dean is a Goldwater conservative who signed onto the modern conservative movement in college in its beginnings and worked on Goldwater’s staff.  Until he recently re-registered as an Independent, he remained a Republican and still holds to many conservative views on smaller government, traditional values, the wisdom of the past as guide to (controlled, gradualist) changes in the future, caution in international alliances, etc.

So, Dean’s description and analysis of a conservative movement that has become cancerous with “authoritarianism” is an internal criticism–like my criticisms of some aspects of political liberalism or the Democratic Party rather than an outside criticism like my criticism of Republicans and conservatives.  It is all the more damning an indictment for being written by an insider.  Dean uses the many post-WWII psycho-social studies of authoritarian mindsets to analyze what has gone wrong in modern conservatism–and how it has actually betrayed its early roots. (He shows how in many instances conservatives and liberals have actually changed places: e.g., with liberals now wanting more power in Congress and less in the Executive Branch–as the Constitution intended–and conservatives now arguing for powerful “unitary executives” and a rubber-stamp Congress!)

I don’t agree with all of Dean’s conclusions–I am a political liberal after all.  But his description and analysis of how we got into this mess is very illuminating. It is also a warning because similar distortions and corruptions of liberalism as a movement are very possible–authoritarianism (which, in its most extreme cases leads to totalitarianism) is a disease which can kill democracies from within.

April 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Book Review: Conservatives Without Conscience

Childhood Heroes?

Since today is my 46th birthday, I am returning to blogging by reposting this earlier post on childhood heroes (and heroines), originally published on 22 Sept. ’07.  I will add some additional childhood heroes at the end–and invite others, again, to list and explain their own role models.

Who Were Your Childhood Heroes?

I’ve been thinking about this question much lately.  Early role models (heroes) shape us more than I think we realize–no matter how we change later.  Parents (or their absence) are, of course, major shaping influences for good or ill (or both). But, other than parents, what other heroes have shaped us?  Some kids in strong faith-filled families are primarily shaped by biblical figures (Jewish and Christian)–or Qu’ranic ones in the case of Muslims.  But not only was my family-relationship to church life intermittant, I never saw the biblical figures as heroic.  The way I read Scripture, GOD is the only “hero” and the human protagonists (Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, the prophets, the apostles, etc.) are usually portrayed as deeply flawed, very human figures. The emphasis is that God can use anyone in divine service, because God has already used people with incredible shortcomings in major ways–a message I find reassuring. 

Many kids have sports figures or celebrities as childhood heroes.  I never did, although I played sports a little.  I had 3 major childhood heroes:

Neil Armstrong, astronaut and first man to step foot on the moon.  I was 7 when Apollo 11 landed and since we lived only a few miles from Cape Canaveral (Cape Kennedy, as it was then called in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination), we used to watch the Saturn V rockets take off from our backyard.  My imagination was captured by the exploration of space–the final frontier as we learned to say from Star Trek episodes. I also liked stories of exploration: Leif Erikson, Captain Cook, Admiral Perry’s artic race, Thor Heyerdahl’s Ton Kiki expedition. I became convinced that, even though horrible wars and exploitation had often followed human exploration, that humans were explorers and that humanity needed to keep seeking the next horizon, in science, etc. in order rise above itself.  Exploration had been the alternative to wars, too: When the Vikings became explorers they gave up raiding the coasts of Europe.  Despite the expense (much less than wars), I believe something in our society died when we stopped human space explloration.  Early on, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Jacques Cousteau, was my hero for much longer than Neil Armstrong.  Again, he was an explorer and, living in Florida, I well knew the lure of the oceans.  But Cousteau also made me an environmentalist.  As a teen, I became a licensed scuba diver and dreamed of becoming an oceanographer or marine biologist.  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t cut the chemistry.) I joined the Cousteau Society at 09 and am still a member, doing my part to save the planet, especially the oceans.

My final childhood hero was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  This one stuck. In fact, as an adult I came to know far more about King (a very human person with faults–from chain smoking off camera to marital infidelities): his theological and philosophical influences, his theory of nonviolent direct action.  Dr. King’s life and work became part of my doctoral dissertation.  I have not uncritically adopted his views as my own, but they have formed one major influence.  But as a kid, I only knew the image–the eloquent speech moving folks to struggle for justice and peace; the personal courage and willingness to suffer.  In my semi-secular childhood home, I didn’t immediately appreciate King’s faith–that took introduction to people of faith, especially by African-American friends.  And I didn’t become a pacifist until after joining the U.S. Army at 17–but it is quite possible that Dr. King had sown an early seed even here.


Fannie Lou Hamer was the only female leader of the Civil Rights Movement whom I knew of as a child. I remember watching her testimony before the credentials committee of the Democratic National Committee in ’64 (not first hand since I was only 2, but replayed in a documentary when she died in ’77) about all that she went through to register to vote. This sharecropper without an education had such faith in God, democracy, nonviolence, and love (even for the whites who beat her) that it moved me to tears–and still does.  My belief that ordinary people can change the world is rooted in the work of people like Mrs. Hamer.

Martin Luther  was a hero in my teens (after my new birth and serious attention to faith), not so much because of his theology (which I would explore more deeply in college and seminary and come to both appreciate/agree with much and criticize/disagree in other places), but because of his willingness to suffer and die for his beliefs. I don’t know whether Luther actually said, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” at the Diet of Worms, but that unwillingness to recant (unless persuaded by Scripture and sound reason) captivated my teen-aged self as a new Christian.  It was shaken when I found out how Luther encouraged persecution of Jews and the violent repression of peasants. (I have never been a Lutheran and moved to an Anabaptist faith.)

In my late teens, becoming serious about my faith, but not yet realizing a “call to ministry,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer became one of my heroes. He still is. Bonhoeffer’s theology has greatly influenced mine–though I criticize his contextual ethics for its Barthian rejection of principles.  My pacifism differs from his (he called himself a pacifist) in that I could not participate in a plan to assassinate Hitler–even in his limited role. And, although he started the Church re-thinking its relation to Judaism, I find his theology still too supercessionist.  But I constantly reread Bonhoeffer and constantly learn more from him.  Again, as a teen, my view was less developed. I was blown away by The Cost of Discipleship (which I now realize suffered from a terrible translation from German to English) and my Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom by the Nazis, but didn’t have the tools to evaluate his overall views.

 So, who were your childhood heroes? Did they make any lasting impression or influence even if they later took a different place in your worldview or values?  Did you have heroes whom you later had to reject or reevaluate? Were your major heroes fictional or historical or contemporary? 

I’m curious–and this discussion will keep me from direct political commentary long enough to refocus again–I can get too caught up as a political junkie! 🙂

April 18, 2008 Posted by | heroes | 13 Comments