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

“Christian” Hate-Speech & Inciting to Violence Returns

Those items to the left, along with T-shirts and bumper stickers with the same slogan seem like more American civil religion, right? Remember all the “Prayer groups for the President” during Bush’s first term?  Wrong.  Psalm 109: 8 reads “May his days be few and may another take his office!” It is one of the imprecatory or cursing psalms.  Written by someone persecuted by one of the wicked kings of Israel, this Psalm asks for Divine Violence against the person “prayed for.” In other words, these cute teddy bears, buttons, etc. are calling Pres. Obama a “wicked ruler” like one of Israel or Judah’s wicked rulers and asking for God to smite him dead!

Look at the verses that follow: May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.  May his children wander about and beg, seeking food from the ruins they inhabit.  May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruit of his toil.””  It goes on in this line.  Toward the end, the Psalmist says why he is so angry at the ruler he is cursing in prayer:  Because he has favored the rich and not the poor.  Well, I’m one who doesn’t think Pres. Obama has yet done enough for the poor, but American Christians have not prayed for the deaths of Presidents Reagan, Bush I, or Bush II, who all did so much damage to the poor in this country. 

Is it appropriate that we urge American Christians to pray cursing psalms?  Is that the kind of praying for enemies that Jesus encourages in the Sermon on the Mount?  I want us to share the Psalmist’s passion on behalf of the poor and the Psalmist’s fearlessness of those in high places–rather than cringing toward those in authority–but I find the violence in the heart displayed in this psalm to be exactly what Jesus was AGAINST.  And it leads to actual violence.

There are people out there who have mental problems–and many have guns.  What if Christians who don’t like a certain president, encourage this kind of hate and then someone decides to HELP God “honor this prayer” –to become a self-appointed instrument of God in smoting this president or another?  I think all those involved in making or marketing this kind of garbage, and every preacher who does not denounce it (especially preachers who do not like the current president), will have blood on their hands if someone attempts to assassinate Pres. Obama based on this Psalm.  Conservative Christians especially say that Muslim leaders do not do enough to denounce violent Islamic extremism (the Islamic leaders I know spend HUGE amounts of time denouncing such and trying to get rid of it). So, they need to be held to their own standards.   This is trawling for “Christian” terrorism and should not be tolerated.

Lest someone think that my concern stems only because I voted for this president, let me say this: I refused to speak in 2005 at a peace rally that included the leadership of a secular peace organization known as A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) because ANSWER is actually a front group for an oldline Marxist organization that hates Israel (NOT just Israeli policies–ANSWER denies Israel’s right to exist at all!) and they passed out signs saying “Draft the Bush Twins.”  I did attend some mass rallies that ANSWER also attended (you can’t predict who else will show up), but I denounced their signs and brought my own with better messages–and I wrote about why such signs were not helpful, no matter who made them.  Everyone knew and still knows that I consider George W. Bush to deserve a trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity–but I denounced hate speech by some on the left against him and his family at every turn.

This is ALWAYS wrong–and it is especially dangerous in a society like ours with a long history of political violence.  The pulpits that either encourage this or are silent about it are no different from those that encouraged or were silent about the violence against civil rights workers in my childhood.

Time to be counted. My conservative Christian friends:  If you do not speak out against this, you are no worse than the hatemongers who stir up terrorists.  There are times when silence equals complicity and this is one of them. Speak up–no matter how you feel about this president.  In fact, the MORE you dislike him and the more your church knows that, the MORE you need to condemn this violent “praying.”  It is an abomination before God.

November 21, 2009 Posted by | prayer, U.S. politics, violence | 2 Comments

U.S./Russia Nuclear Disarmament Talks: A Matter for Prayer

Next week, the U.S. and Russia  begin our first serious talks about nuclear disarmament since the end of the Cold War.  Both sides want to make deep cuts in nuclear arsenals–perhaps getting to under 1,000 warheads each. (Then we’d go from being able  to blow up the world several thousand times over to being able to blow it up “only” several hundred times over.)   Together, the U.S. and Russia account for over half of all the nuclear weapons worldwide.  That’s why nuclear disarmament must begin with us–the nuclear arms race began with us. 

This is huge.  1. That’s a lot fewer nuclear weapons that could be stolen or targetted by terrorists.  2.  It shows a serious desire to get to a non-nuclear world.  It’s MUCH easier to convince, say, India and Pakistan, that their nuclear arsenals threaten the  subcontinent and make both LESS safe when it doesn’t just look like the U.S. wants all the nukes for itself.  Our moral leverage vs. the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and  Iran increases (although, for Iran, it would also help if we forced Israel to declare its nukes–it has about 30–and start giving them up, too).  3.It saves money–not the most important thing from a peace perspective, but it may be that the economic downturn actually helps the forces of peace.

For readers who are persons of faith, I urge that we all pray that more than talk happens. Pray for a strong and binding treaty that makes deep cuts (with promises of more as these are made) and gets quickly ratified. (The GOP will definitely try to filibuster ratification of any meaningful treaty. There used to be anti-nuclear Republicans, including, during his last 3 years of office, Ronald Reagan–persuaded by the Australian medical doctor and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott and by his Secretary of Defense, William Cohen.  And the first Pres. Bush took unilateral steps after the end of the Cold War to get us going in this direction, too.  But, so far as I can tell, only Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) is left of the anti-nuke Republicans in political office.)

Share your hopes for these talks with your elected officials (of any party) and with the press. We need to show massive public support for the success of these talks.  I want to especially urge this for Republican readers who may not like Obama.  I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. But when he went to Iceland to meet Gorbachev and try to get disarmament, I prayed for success. It was hard for the Democratic partisan in me because I knew that if those talks were successful, Reagan would get the credit and Republicans would win more public approval.  But I had to put the welfare of the planet ahead of my partisan desires.  We Christians are always told to pray for public officials–whether we voted for them or not. (And if you think of some politician as your enemy, as I came to think of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, then Jesus gave us specific orders to pray for our enemies.) I have to say that I prayed harder for Reagan–and Gorbachev–during that time than ever before or after.

Readers in other nations, especially if your nation also has nukes (U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, possibly North Korea, Israel), please do what you can to support this process, too.  Tell your officials that you want your nation to support this process by also beginning to disarm your nukes.  It would REALLY help if, after the U.S. and Russia agree to this first round of massive cuts, one of the Western powers like France or the UK could simply go for the zero option.  Can we have a contest for which nation will be the first since South Africa to completely give up its nuclear weapons program and invite international inspectors to verify this?  Imagine the moral leverage that would give the world with Iran and North Korea.  The new message,  even from generals, is that we are safer the FEWER nukes exist.

We also need you international readers to urge your governments to keep up the pressure on the U.S. and Russia:  No matter how deep, a first round of nuclear cuts should not be the last.

We cannot un-invent the technology.  So, there will always be the threat of nuclear terrorism.  But a nuclear arsenal is no deterrent to terrorists. And if we cannot completely erase the threat of nuclear terrorism, we can erase the threat of nuclear war. 

From a global perspective, if these talks are successful and lead to a new nuclear DIS-armament race, they will be the most important initiatives of the Obama presidency (and Medvedev presidency!).

Please pray–and put your prayers into  action with letters to editors and phone calls, letters,  and emails to elected officials  (of any party).  Next week’s negotiators need to know that the world has their backs on this one.

April 18, 2009 Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking, prayer | 6 Comments

Prayers for Senator Edward (“Ted”) Kennedy (D-MA)

I have upcoming analyses of race and gender and class in the Kentucky elections, which I will save for this weekend. I have other posts to get to, as well.

But not today. Today, I have to reserve just for asking prayer for Senator Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy (D-MA), the “lion of the Senate,” who has now been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor which is aggressive. It will be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, but the usual life expectancy after this kind of diagnosis is for less than a year, though I pray otherwise. (David Kuo, Bush’s original person in charge of the “Office of Faith Based Initiatives,” who resigned when it became clear that the office was being used for partisan gain rather than truly helping people, has an article on Faith in Public Life, in which he reveals that he has the same kind of tumor, but has been going strong for 5 years, now. I pray Kennedy also beats the odds.)

I was moved by the way that even longtime Republican adversaries like John McCain(R-AZ) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered apparently heartfelt prayers for Sen. Kennedy. (On the other hand, the Rightwing press and blogs, including many from the Religious Right, have been full of hateful, nasty comments, the LEAST offensive of which has been, “This couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy!” Who ARE these people? Who is their god? NOT, the Living God, Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen, that’s for certain!”) This is a testimony to Kennedy’s legendary ability to work across party lines in the Senate even while championing a long list of causes that the Right derides as “liberal,” such as labor rights, civil rights, the environment, public education, universal healthcare, and a non-imperialist foreign policy in which diplomacy and support for human rights are our first moves and military action a last resort.

Ted Kennedy is hardly beyond criticism. Earlier in his life, he apparently copied his older brother John’s womanizing, which, combined with drinking, led to the disaster known as “Chappaquidick,”–an inebriated Kennedy wrecking his car in a river, resulting in the death of a female passenger with whom he was apparently having an affair. (In high school, I told the same “Teddy for Lifeguard” jokes as my friends–and we were Democrats!) His first marriage fell apart. In 1980, he unwisely sought to unseat Pres. Jimmy Carter (D-GA) as the Democratic nominee and this schism, taken all the way to the Convention, was a major factor in Ronald Reagan (R-CA)’s victory that year–followed by a landslide victory in ’84 and the dominance of the GOP in national politics until 2006 (and, in my opinion, the steady decline of the nation’s moral health as regards to the common good). I have criticized Ted Kennedy for all these things and more.

But none of that changes the fact that he has been a champion of the poor (though coming from a very wealthy family), of civil and human rights, of education and healthcare, of working families–of a caring and compassionate society. I believe his passion in this regard stems not just from his family tradition, but from his deep Catholic faith–though his form of that faith is a liberal one. He has been in the Senate since I was born (1962) and I was counting on his influence to help get us universal healthcare. I pray I can still count on that help.

May God forgive your sins and shortcomings, Sen. Kennedy. May a gracious God heal you in body and restore you to us to continue your fight for justice. May we as a people be ready to take up that fight for justice as you face your own mortality and prepare for what may be your final battle. Amen.

May 21, 2008 Posted by | prayer | 5 Comments

Matters of Prayer from Global Headlines

Several elections are happening this weekend. 

  •  France is holding first round presidential elections.  There are 12 candidates and if no one of them wins a majority, there will be a run-off between the top two candidates.  Since French foreign policy is set by the president (not the prime minister), the outcome could affect many outside of France. France is not the powerhouse it once was, but it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G-8, a powerful member of the European Union, one of the 5 declared nuclear powers, and one of the few nations in Europe that still has the ability to intervene militarily outside its borders.  And it is a powerful force in the Middle East and played a crucial role in the Lebanese peace process.  So, a significant shift in French foreign policy would affect many.
  • Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is voting for president and parliament this weekend, only a week after massive voting irregularities in Nigeria’s regional elections.  The results will likely be more suspect than than the U. S. election of 2000. Pray hard for Nigeria; since independence it has yet to have two democratic governments in a row without a military dictatorship in between.  The peaceful transfer of power is as important as the voting process.
  • The tiny, rich, and beautiful Himalayan nation of Bhutan has been an absolute monarchy. Yet the king wants it to become a parliamentary democracy.  A few years ago, he severely limited his power, then abdicated in favor of his son. Now, voting is underway in a nationwide mock election to teach the nation the mechanics of elections and voting. Next year, they are to try the real thing. The people are doing this for their beloved king. Seeing the instability of many of their neighbors, the majority of Bhutan would prefer the monarchy!
  • Ukraine and Romania are having constitutional crises.

Other global headlines that should lead us to prayer: 

  • The people of Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Territories, are continuing a series of nonviolent protests to the wall that Israel is using to seal them in like a gigantic open-air prison (and not just Bethlehem). But they do so in solidarity with all the world’s suffering. This week, their protest included a vigil for the killings at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA!
  • The U.S.-led “surge” in Iraq is not working. It is decreasing the violence in Baghdad, but only by displacing it to the rest of the country. Body counts higher than that at VA Tech are happening several times per week.
  • U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, a presidential candidate, has made jokes in public this week about bombing Iran.
  • Columbia’s president Ulribe has been accused by many human rights organizations of having ties to right wing death squads in his nation. Therefore, when Ulribe arrived yesterday in Miami, FL for a regional conference on global warming, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore cancelled his participation in order not to condone such massive human rights violations by his presence.  George W. Bush’s White House spokesperson announced in reply that though this administration still denies the threat of global warming and catastrophic climate change (being proud members of the Flat Earth Society), it has the highest respect for President Ulribe. Sure, why not? After all, the military prison at Guantanemo Bay was modelled after those of brutal regimes like Ulribe’s.
  • More fighting has broken out in the Rwandan capital of Mogadishu and those members of the interim government who invited in Ethiopian troops to help put down rebels now regret it and some are calling for the Ethiopian troops to go home.
  • Carnage continues in the Sudan.

April 21, 2007 Posted by | prayer | 2 Comments

Pray–and Work–for Peace in the Middle East

I hate to interrupt the lovefest wherein people accuse me of everything except the heartbreak of dandruff because I insist that government remain neutral about religion and that religious groups support themselves. It’s just so much fun to be told that I’m the anti-Christ for insisting that evangelistic efforts don’t need tax money that it’s hard to interrupt that love even for a moment.

However, my concern for the deteriorating situation between Israel and Lebanon (and my concern for the innocents in both nations) makes me remind people to find ways to call for a cease fire, U.N. international peacekeepers, and a Full Middle East Summit to deal with long overdue issues, including the soon resolution of a full-two state solution in Israel/Palestine according to pre-1967 borders. I gave the initial Baptist Peace Fellowship statement on this in Saturday’s blog. If you haven’t read that, scroll down and do so.

Churches for a Middle East Peace has put out an action alert you can sign up to here: http://www.cmep.org/Alerts/2006July14.htm . Foreign Policy in Focus, a program of the Institute for Policy Studies, has a great background paper by Professor Stephen Zunes on the muddled history of the U.S. and Lebanon. Read it here: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/3237
And Peace Action, the largest grassroots peace organization in the U.S., has put up an op-ed from the Boston Globe that shows how both Israel and the U.S. have been acting all out of proportion to attacks–in a way that is psychologically explainable if not morally justifiable. It suggests a way forward: http://www.peace-action.org/Headlines/7.17.06.html

I do hope that all the people who claim to be pro-life show as much concern for living children in Lebanon and Israel as they do for unborn fetuses. Life outside the womb needs our help now–no matter what these children’s parents have done or governments, etc. For the innocents’ sake we have to stop this before it becomes even more of a bloodbath. And please, don’t anyone write in claiming that God is happy with all this because it means Jesus is coming back soon. I swear I will reject all such bloodthirsty theology and ban such comments from this site. The God who was willing to die rather than kill enemies, takes no joy in any deaths. Saying otherwise is blasphemy.

Lord, makes us instruments of your peace.

July 19, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking, peacemaking, prayer | 3 Comments