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

Political Sex Scandals: Why Do They Hurt the Republicans More Than Democrats?

Like most people, I saw the train wreck of a press conference by SC Gov.  Sanford (R) yesterday.  It got me thinking about political sex scandals in the U.S.  Human sexuality has been around for as long as humans, and adultery almost as long.  Politicians are probably not tempted to cheat on their spouses at any greater rate than other humans.  However, the trappings of political power may lead to pride and a sense of entitlement and that may lead politicians to ACT on the temptations of adultery more than others. It is odd; no matter how many get caught in these scandals, others follow who are convinced THEY will never be caught.

It is strange that female politicians seldom seem to get caught in sex scandals.  I can’t think of any in recent history.  This either means (a) that female politicians are morally stronger and resist the temptations to cheat far better than their male counterparts or (b) they are MUCH more discreet and better at not getting caught or (c) both.  Maybe this is another good reason to elect more women–fewer sex scandals. It’s worth a thought.

Now, sex scandals are equal opportunity.  There is no evidence that politicians of one political party cheat on their spouses any more than those of another.  But the pattern in the U.S. is different.  With Democrats (except for Bill Clinton), when caught they resign and that is usually the end of their respective political careers.  With Republicans, they seldom resign and sometimes are not even forced from office (e.g., Sen. David Vitter of LA was found in ’06 to be a frequent customer of the D.C. Madam–and  his love for prostitutes also involved [ugh] wearing diapers.  But Diaper Dave is not only still in office, but seems to stand a good chance of being reelected next year.).  Yet, the sex scandals of Republican politicians seem to hurt their party as a whole more than similar actions by Democratic colleagues. Why?

It seems to me that the difference is the hypocrisy factor.  The Democratic Party in the U.S. has not tried to set itself up as the “morality police.”  Democrats sometimes campaign as “strong family people,” but this is seldom the center of the campaign.  They don’t claim to be morally superior.  They don’t try  to claim that voting for them is the only way to save the American family.  Republicans do make such claims–usually by implication, but sometimes in almost those very words.  Further, Republican politicians loudly call for Democratic politicians to resign if they get caught in sex scandals–and claim that voting for them is a way to restore the moral fabric of the nation.

So, when Republican politicians (often, as in the case with Gov. Sanford, the very politicians who called for others to resign over adultery) get caught cheating, their hypocrisy shows up. And whether or not the politician, Vitter or Sanford or Ensign (R-NV), etc. survives, the Republican Party as a whole suffers.  If you set yourself up as the national morality police, your credibility erodes every time another of your group has to have the embarrassing “confessional press conference.”

June 25, 2009 Posted by | scandal, U.S. politics | 21 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

Evangelicals: A Major Force Behind High Rate of Executions in Texas

Like Jonothan Marlowe of The Ivy Bush, I find this article nauseating.  Texas is the capital punishment capital of the USA, which makes it one of the most pro-execution places on the planet, since the U.S. trails only China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Sudan in numbers of executions in 2006. In 2005, the U.S. was 4th in numbers of executions, trailing only China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. [ Data Source.] Great company to keep.  The article in question shows that a major factor in the huge Texas support for the death penalty, is the extremely high percentage of U.S. evangelicals in Texas! 

How revolting. “Evangelical” means “gospel centered,” but apparently Texas evangelicals have completely missed the gospel. If we declare “Jesus is Lord,” then we worship and serve One who was, Himself, the victim of unjust state execution.  Have these “evangelicals” missed all of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, enemy love, forgiveness, and leaving vengeance to God? (Reconciling God’s compassion and wrath as displayed in Scripture is a major theological problem that we won’t solve here and now. But it is worth noting that throughout Scripture we are commanded to imitate God’s compassion and forbidden to imitate God’s wrath or vengeance.)

In his post on this, Jonothan notes that he has been determined to hold onto the label “evangelical” as a self-description, but that articles like this make it very difficult. I understand completely.  A global view is helpful:  Around the world most evangelicals (and other Christians) are against the death penalty.  The current campaign in Italy (which abolished the death penalty long ago, as with most of Europe) to spread death penalty abolition throughout the world was started, not by Italian Communists or secularists, but by Italian Christians. It began in the evangelical Protestant community, although the campaign was quickly endorsed by the Vatican and spread rapidly through Italy’s much more dominant Catholic community.  If any politician in the UK or Australia or Canada or Europe or South Africa tries to drum up support for a “bring back the death penalty” campaign, their pastors or bishops rebuke them publicly and they get angry letters from Christian constituents–the exact opposite of what happens in the U.S.

It’s almost as if “evangelical” means something in the U.S. completely different than anywhere else.  Everywhere “evangelical” means gospel-centered: Protestants who give supreme authority in matters of faith and morality to Scripture (often-but-not-always using the label “inerrant” for Scripture), who make personal conversion and justification by faith central.  But in the U.S.–AS ALMOST NOWHERE ELSE–“evangelical” has the additional meaning of “politically right wing–in favor of militarism and the death penalty, hating universal healthcare and public education, neglecting the poor, contemptuous of the environmental fragility, lustful for wealth, etc.

So, Jonothan, I suggest that if we “gospel-centered” Christians in the U.S., who follow the nonviolent, compassionate Jesus, crucified and risen, as Lord, want to keep the term “evangelical” without constant embarrassment, we do more give the term the same connotations as it has globally and strip it of its uniquely American connotations. Otherwise, the term is useless.

It is also clear that we will never abolish the death penalty in the U.S. without the support of the churches. So, how do we grow abolitionist Christians–in Texas and throughout ever pro-death penalty state in the U.S.?  How long do we let state-sponsored revenge and the cycle of violence take God’s Name in vain?

August 14, 2007 Posted by | Christianity, death penalty, scandal | 20 Comments

Huckabee Withdraws–From the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.

As both Bruce Prescott and Melissa Rogers have noted, the Florida Baptist Witness is reporting that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an ordained Southern Baptist minister and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. president in ’08, has noisily withdrawn his participation in the upcoming Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. This event, largely organized by former U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter (D), arguably the most famous Baptist layperson in the U.S., is to bring long-divided groups of Baptists together in common work for the Rule of God. Huckabee had been scheduled to be one of the speakers. I am not a fan of Huckabee’s politics and oppose his presidential ambitions, but I had thought that he was personally a good guy and I was pointing to his participation in this event as a good sign.

 Now, Huckabee has withdrawn and his reasons are quite disturbing.  1) He claims to have withdrawn because Jimmy Carter, in an interview, claimed that George W. Bush’s foreign policy was the worst of any president in U.S. history, including Nixon’s.  Why is this a reason for withdrawing from an event that isn’t about politics, much less about Bush? Carter has been known for his blunt speech for decades, including about members of his own party (e.g., Ted Kennedy, the late Tip O’Neill).  If Huckabee only wants to meet with Baptists who admire the current president, then he’s going to have a hard time meeting anyone outside the Southern Baptist Convention. One would be hard pressed, for example, to find many African-American Baptists who are big Bush fans. Does Huckabee never want to meet with these sisters and brothers?  If loyalty to a political party is a “test of Christian fellowship,” then the only word to describe the phenomenon is “idolatry.” I have worshipped in congregations that had elected officials from across the political spectrum (not to mention the rest of us who aren’t in elected office). Has Huckabee never done this?  Is this some new version of the twisted “homogeneity” principle used by some church growth theorists–in direct contradiction to the New Testament’s message of reconciliation between various classes, races, language groups, both genders, etc.??

2) Huckabee’s other reason for withdrawing from the Covenant event is even more disturbing. He claims that he cannot appear on the same program as Marian Wright Edelman, founder and head of the Childrens’ Defense Fund, the foremost, independent, grassroots advocacy agency for the wellbeing of children.  Huckabee claims that Edelman’s presence as a speaker is “evidence of the extreme liberalism” of the event. Huh?  This is confusing on several levels.

A. As Bruce Prescott asks, since when is trying to seek justice and wellbeing of children either “liberal” or “conservative?” Does this mean that Huckabee’s much vaunted pro-life credentials stop when children are born? For crying out loud, even G.W. Bush adopted (I’ll not say “stole”) the CDF’s “Leave No Child Behind” slogan when he created his “No Child Left Behind” education law (which leaves MANY children behind, but that’s a different issue).  Isn’t it a BASIC principle of biblical faith, which surely any ordained minister must know, that children (along with widows and other vulnerable people) are a test of a just and caring community?  Did Huckabee somehow miss all that the Bible says about protecting children?  Why would he put down Edelman’s work–work which has led to 3 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize??

B.  Suppose, for a second, that Edelman is a “liberal” in either politics (which would not be surprising since she was a Civil Rights activist in college before becoming one of the first African-American women to graduate from Yale Law School) or theology. (How would he know anything about her theology? She hasn’t written on it and I doubt Huckabee shows up at Edelman’s church much.)  Isn’t the very purpose of this meeting for Baptists to cross dividing boundaries of race, region, history, culture, worship-style, and YES, divisions of political and theological conviction in order to find common ground as sisters and brothers in the Lord? Did Huckabee imagine that only “conservatives” (however he defines the term) would be at a meeting designed to get past such divisions??

Bruce Prescott speculates that Huckabee’s real reason for withdrawing as a speaker and participant is because the leadership of the SBC (which opposes the meeting) has pressured him to do so.  That may be it. Or it may be that some campaign guru has told him that he cannot afford to be seen with the likes of Carter and Edelman if he wants any shot at the G.O.P. nomination. Both are pretty sorry excuses, in my view.

Will other Republican politicians who had planned to come to the Covenant, such as Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), now back out, too? Will the conservative SBC Bloggers who met with Carter and planned to come, now retreat?  Will either denominational or national politics trump the “ties that bind” sisters and brothers in Christ?  It’s happened before, but I know it breaks God’s heart every time.

My respect for Mike Huckabee as a person of faith and integrity (whatever our differences in theology or politics), just plummeted to the basement.

May 22, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, scandal, sin | 10 Comments

Hey Jesus! Happy Birthday!

Kim Fabricius, writing over at Connexions, has this great Christmas reflection written as a dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter. Check it out!

December 22, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, incarnation, scandal | 2 Comments

Unholy War

Unholy War

What would Jesus name his tank?

This photo, taken May 5, 2005, was posted on the U.S. Marine Corps website (but has since been removed), under the headline “M-1A1 Abrams tank rolls over insurgency in Iraq .” The words written on the tank’s gun are “New Testament.”
All churches should react with horror: denounce such a perversion of the gospel in their local papers, protest to the U.S. Marines, etc. This kind of blasphemy is what comes of centuries of mixed messages by the churches on war. It is time for a complete recovery of gospel nonviolence/biblical pacifism. It is time to stop confusing the Way of Jesus with the way of the gods of war and destruction!

May 31, 2005 Posted by | Iraq, love of enemies, scandal | Comments Off on Unholy War