What does Free Speech Look Like?

It looks like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem prior to a football game.

That might make you angry.  OK.  Of course, Kaepernick is no longer alone in taking a knee at the beginning of the national anthem.  The number of players who are doing it, for the same reasons, is increasing.   Fans are also joining in.  Their critics are dismissing it as some kind of racial “thing,” that is nothing more in their mind than “disrespecting the flag,” and of course, in the process, they are insulting the military and veterans who “fought and died for the flag.”

It’s not that.  Not even close, and you can figure that out by simply paying attention.

First of all, the veterans and military who fought, and died, in the service of our country were not fighting “for” the flag, which is a mere symbol of it.  They were fighting, and dying, and sacrificing, for the individual rights and freedoms that America stands for, including the right to freedom of expression, or free speech, guaranteed in the Constitution.  That is exactly what is being exercised by the NFL players taking a knee at the beginning of the national anthem.  They have the constitutional right to do so, and to define exactly what their actions are expressing.

Kaepernick, among some of the others, has made it very clear that from his perspective, his taking a knee is not intended as disrespect for either the anthem, or for the flag.  This is a protest aimed at injustice, mainly motivated by the frequent and high profile police shootings of African American men.  He’s been quite specific about it.  They’re protested peacefully, purposefully, and quietly, as opposed to some of their critics who have been rude, disrespectful, and intolerant.  Even if you completely disagree with the way they have chosen to protest, and with what they are protesting, that doesn’t excuse a rude, disrespectful demonstration of bad behavior, or name calling, or making accusations based on unfounded and mistaken perceptions.

These guys are protesting on behalf of people whom they feel are powerless and disenfranchised.  Of course, most of them are pretty well off, given the salaries in the NFL, and the more talented players, like Kaepernick, won’t ever have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.  Most of them realize how well off they have it, and if you bother to look into it, you’ll find that most of them use their advantages to help those who are disenfranchised, and impoverished in the economically disadvantaged communities where they’re from, or in the cities where they play.  Most of them are very generous with their fortunes, and with their time.  If you want to know how much, well, do a little research.

Most of them grew up in the ghettos and slums of America’s large cities.  Playing football was, for most of them, their way out.  They have a clear understanding of how it feels to experience discrimination, violence, fear and intimidation that is racially motivated.  They’ve experienced the injustice that we only know by looking at statistics, that African American males are far more likely to be suspected and profiled by police even when they haven’t committed a crime, and are far more likely to be treated more harshly by police than their Caucasian counterparts, twice as likely according to the facts.  Few of us have uncles and aunts, parents or grandparents, who lived in fear of being accused of a crime they didn’t commit, or of being subject to violence, threats of lynching, intimidation in the form of a burning cross, or a burning church.  Trayvon Martin, Anthony Lamar Smith, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray make it difficult to conclude that race no longer matters, and is no longer a factor in injustice.

Not all of the protests involving the perception of injustice surrounding these incidents, and others, have been peaceful, but these are.  They take a knee at the beginning of the anthem, thus making the point, and when it’s over, it’s over.  Putting personal constrictions on their actions, misinterpreting what they’re doing, or accusing them of “disrespecting the military” is misguided and mistaken. Not all of the military, or all of the veterans, are opposed to the actions being taken, in fact, many of them get it.  An increasing number of social media posts from military personnel and veterans who are very supportive of the way these players are going about their protest, are getting the word out.  Many of them also see, and have experienced,  the same kind of injustice.

Personally, I would very likely not choose to take a knee, or remain seated during the national anthem, as a means of protesting something I believed to be unjust.  But I’m a Caucasian male, almost 60, who grew up in small town, rural America and never worried much about being attacked and shot because I was walking through a housing complex where most of the residents were a different race, or being racially profiled and chased down by police, or being wrestled to the ground and suffocated because I didn’t hear a police officer’s command.  I’m also not an NFL player who realizes that he has a rare but powerful opportunity to draw attention to something that needs to be made right, because this is America.  The veterans and military personnel who defend this country also fought for the civil rights of those people for whom Collin Kaepernick, and the other NFL players who are taking a knee, are protesting.

Pay attention before you jump to conclusions.

 

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Where Were You?

This morning, from a distance, I watched the 16th commemoration of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.  I didn’t get into the area where the ceremony was being held, but watched from a vantage point nearby.  I still can’t imagine what it looked like for a passenger jet to crash into the building, even one that looks as sturdy and and solid as the Pentagon.

Once things calmed down, then-President Bush made a speech at the Islamic Center in Washington, DC.  The setting was chosen to make a point, as the speech was intended to do.  I rank that action, and that speech, as the finest moment of his presidency.  The President refused to indict an entire religion based on the extreme actions of a group of individuals representing a tiny, fractional sect of it.  Instead, he emphasized that those Muslims who were citizens and residents of the United States were entitled to a clear constitutional protection of their religious freedom, and he acknowledged those Muslims around the world, the vast majority of them, who had no part in the terrorist action.

You can read the speech here   https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html

Much has been written about the “why” behind this worst terrorist attack in American History.  Most people are dismissive about it, because the shock and pain was so great.  It’s much easier to simply state that “they hate us and what we stand for” than it is to get past that into actually looking at the root causes and giving consideration to a whole series of events, much of which goes back to 1917, and some of which goes back long before that.  A terrorist attack of that magnitude, especially with the suicidal dedication of the attackers, doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  They are also not as simple as an easy dismissal makes them.   The Bible confirms the flaws of fallen humanity and the condition of living in a fallen world separated from the power of God.  Resentments abound over struggles for world hegemony that represents the pinnacle of worldly power, and those resentments have a nasty habit of boiling over into vented rage.  These are capable of defeating the best intentions and the most lofty idealism.  War is the result, fought on many different scales, dependent on the resource ability of those who decide that destruction of the foe is the only way to determine who is in charge.

This was a war.  It was a small one, and it was quick.  It depended on the element of surprise for an impact that was far greater than the physical damage that was done.  It succeeded in that, though only temporarily.  It may have also succeeded in some places on the ideological front as well, in that the emotional reaction to what occurred actually helped push the cause along, and put some of the divisions in place that the attackers intended to accomplish.  Hatred erupted, of the same kind that caused the attackers to do what they did, and fear increased exponentially, also an intended goal of the attackers.  Those are the things that must be conquered in order to claim the victory.  That’s why Jesus came.  His sacrifice makes it possible to overcome fear, hatred, and the evil that springs up with events such as 9-11.  He provides the kind of power that allows a family member of a victim to pronounce forgiveness upon those who organized and conducted this attack.

That’s powerful, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Difference Between Robert E. Lee and George Washington

The President made some remarks today about Robert E. Lee, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, basically an ongoing attempt to divert the negative publicity he has been getting because he can’t seem to get it right when it comes to the Alt-Right, the Neo-Nazi movement, and the issue of white supremacy.  Among the many levels of help he needs when it comes to making public statements, he needs someone who can help him get the history correct.  One of the qualifications of a president should be a thorough knowledge of American History, or at least, the ability to do some research in advance before speaking about it.  The current President needs a lot of help in this area.

Trump questioned whether statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would now be subject to removal like those of Robert E. Lee because they also owned slaves.  The answer is no, because the point he was trying to make, that taking down statues of Robert E Lee is political correctness running amok over culture and historical tradition, is not supported by historical fact.  Merely owning slaves isn’t the real issue.  Washington, Jefferson, and others among the founding fathers, were part of a culture in which slavery was an accepted institution.  The incongruity that exists because the author of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves has long been a topic for discussion in countless history classes.  But there are vast differences between Washington and Jefferson on one side, and Lee on the other.

There are some interesting, quirky connections between Washington and Lee.  Lee was born on a Virginia plantation in an elegant home owned by his parents, but during his childhood, his father went broke, and eventually moved the family to a small house in Alexandria. Lee attended Christ Church, the Anglican-turned-Episcopalian church in Alexandria of which George Washington had been a member, and had attended.  Lee married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the great-granddaughter of First Lady Martha Washington and her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis.  Mary’s parents owned Arlington Plantation, directly across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and the mansion at the top of the hill became their residence.  That’s quite a pedigree, and those connections should have served to make Lee, who attended West Point for his commission, a patriotic and loyal American.

So you don’t think there’s a difference between Washington, who served the country and devoted his later years to building the nation, Jefferson, who authored its foundational documents and helped define and build democratic principles into the nation’s government, and Lee, who took advantage of the resources his country had given him, trained as a general in its military academy, and then turned against it in rebellion, siding with his state’s defense of the institution of slavery, instead of defending the constitution and the unity of the country?  Yes, all three men owned slaves.  Washington recognized how degrading it was, and there is evidence that he cared for his slaves as well as the times allowed, freeing them in his will upon his death.  There is also documentation that Jefferson treated his slaves very well, freeing many of them, and providing for their well being.  Both men took action, within the limits of the restraint of the social fabric of their time, which promoted the eventual demise of institutional slavery.  Lee is also said to have treated his slaves well, but he chose to turn his back on his country to defend his state and its decision to go to war to protect the institution of slavery, and the white supremacy that was a philosophical foundation of the practice. Why does that deserve having a statue made of you?

The statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and other confederate leaders that dot the South were put up during a time when the effects of Reconstruction, mainly the government’s intervention to protect the civil rights of African Americans in the period following the Civil War, were being rolled back by a succession of Presidents and Congresses, beginning with Woodrow Wilson.  The Ku Klux Klan, sensing political support, grew larger and more bold, and helped to create an atmosphere in which such statues and monuments were built with public support and with tax dollars, in public places.  Prior to this time, it would have been very difficult, perhaps impossible, to put up a statue of Lee, or a monument to Davis.

We’re not going to take down statues and monuments to Washington, Jefferson, or other founding fathers.  They were slave owners, as were most of the wealthy and powerful men of their time.  They were caught up in the ideology of the day, time, and place, which relied heavily on the use of slave labor to produce a profitable plantation.  We recognize the history of slavery, and its impact on American settlement, economic and social development, politics, and just about everything else.  Yes, they owned slaves, but the ideals and principles which they built into the American democratic republic were eventually interpreted as applying to everyone, and the groundswell of support that was received as a result of that interpretation led to the eventual abolition of institutional slavery, and the extension of the guarantees of individual rights to all citizens, regardless of their race.  Did they foresee the day when that would happen?  I believe the evidence points to the fact that they did.  They were certainly major contributors to the ideals which made it possible.

Lee’s background, and his connection to the Washington family provided him with the same opportunity.  And at a critical moment, when the country was coming to the conclusion that slavery was an immoral affront to a Holy God, he made a choice to turn his back on his country, the principles of his faith, and his military oath and commission to defend those who were rebelling against the United States, and who held to the ideals of white supremacy.  He took command of the largest, and most effective military division of an enemy country, gave orders leading to attacks on American soldiers, and fought to defeat its principles of liberty by denying it the opportunity to prosperity.   More than 400,000 people, mostly soldiers of both sides, died as a result of his decision making ability.  At war’s end, the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, had him arrested for treason.  Read the constitution’s definition of that principle, if you want to know why.  It was Ulysses Grant, Lee’s fellow West Pointer, who got him off the hook.

How would you feel if, in the wake of World War 2, statues had been erected honoring Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel and Adolf Hitler in public parks and in front of courthouses in the United States?  That’s exactly what it is like for African Americans, and for any Americans who are sickened and disgusted by the ideas of white supremacy, represented by the Confederate States of America and promoted by those who fought for it.  Our country exists as it does today, with a constitution proclaiming liberty and justice, and defending the “inalienable rights” of humanity, in spite of the Confederacy’s attempt to destroy and defeat it.  It is only the initial origin of the confederate states as part of the United States which forces us to share a common history.  During its existence, it was an enemy state not unlike Nazi Germany in ideology, including the belief that slavery was the natural product of a “social order” that determined white people were superior to dark skinned people.  If individuals want to display the symbols and monuments of that disgusting part of our past, free speech under the constitution they tried to destroy permits them to do so, on their own property.  But get it off public property and the tax rolls.

And let’s get this straight.  There were no “good” people in the mob in Charlottesville who marched through town carrying torches, and baseball bats, deliberately attempting to provoke people to violence, and shouting Nazi and anti-semitic slogans.  Good people protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, Mr. President?  Hardly.  And there wasn’t any violence until some of the white supremacists provoked it.  Many of those there to protest against the alt-right were clergy, or associated with a group of local churches who organized the protest.  The white supremacists were completely responsible for the violence, and for the death caused when one of their number rammed his vehicle into the crowd.  Their leader took responsibility for that, and promised more deaths resulting from their hatred and vitriol.   Hearing him speak so hateful toward anyone who doesn’t share his race or his ideology brought one word to mind.

Deplorable.

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Ferguson

St. Louis county is made up of dozens of small and mid-sized municipalities.  It’s hard to tell when you cross from one into another, unless they’ve put up a sign, which most of them have done.  The city of St. Louis itself is crowded into a bend of the Mississippi River south of its confluence with the Missouri River, bowing out toward the east in a long sweep of about 15 miles or so, to the River DesPeres on the south side.  St. Louis County wraps around the city, to the north, west, and south, and is mostly suburban.  While some of the municipalities are small, with populations of less than 5,000, Ferguson is one of the larger ones on the north side, between the I-270 loop and I-70.

Originally a small town in a rural area outside St. Louis, with a core of historic buildings in its business district, and historic homes in a residential neighborhood, Ferguson was in the path of “white flight” growth as people left the city because of bad schools and high crime, and moved to the suburbs.  Ferguson developed into a working class community, with small bungalows and brick homes characterizing the neighborhoods.  And during the 70’s, as the African American population began to move out of the city because of bad schools and high crime, they came north.  Ferguson’s smaller homes, with better property values, was a big attraction.  The African American population, concentrated on St. Louis’ north side, kept moving north, and over a twenty year period, Ferguson went from being a predominantly white suburb to a predominantly African American one.

My wife is a native of St. Louis, and I met her while serving as a summer mission worker in a community outreach ministry of her home church in the city.  We both watched with concern and horror as the events unfolded in Ferguson following the Michael Brown shooting.  My wife has a close friend and several relatives who live near there.  Growing up in St. Louis, in the inner city, she was familiar with ongoing racial tension that came to a head from time to time.  Her church was located in a neighborhood that had been the scene of rioting and violence, and had taken precautions to protect the congregation during services.  Located virtually on the very street that was a defining boundary between races, it also tried in many ways to reach out to the community as a means of being able to preach the gospel, and bridge the tensions in the community by building relationships between its members and its neighbors.

I came to St. Louis in the summer of 1977 to work in the church’s community outreach.  The church was just a few blocks away from one of the largest public housing projects in the city.  Go north and cross the street on the north side of the park, and you were in an African American neighborhood.  To the west, across Jefferson, also African American.  To the south, along Gravois, and going south along the interstate and east of Jefferson, and it was a white, working class neighborhood where three breweries were the major employers.  Several of the areas to the west had pockets of Asian and Slavic groups. It was quite a change for someone who grew up in a small town in Arizona, very intimidating and frightening at first.  But after a few days, we got into a good routine and it wasn’t long before we knew the streets pretty well, where it was safe and where it wasn’t.

We hauled a projector, screen, puppets, cookies and a cooler full of red kool-aid around in a bus to a different neighborhood every morning, gathered dozens of kids, showed cartoons, had a puppet show and told Bible stories, then served the kool-aid and cookies. Afternoons were pretty busy, too.  We worked with a team from another church, packing donated food into boxes, and delivering them to apartments in the projects.  I’d never seen poverty up close.  It was pretty shocking, and it bothered me.  It was an existence of survival.  I tried to understand the circumstances that brought these people to this place, and why they couldn’t seem to escape them.  It was pretty overwhelming.  More than 7,000 people lived in the 10 story apartment buildings in the project, and the list of needs was endless.  People lived there because their circumstances forced them to.  It wasn’t a place you’d go if you had other options.

The woman who ran the social ministry in the church across the street from the projects helped me put things in perspective.  “Don’t question why,” she would say.  “Just try to love people the way Jesus loves them.”  I tried.  I made friends with some of the kids who came to the VBS we had at toward the end of the summer.  Some of them weren’t very trusting, understandably, though I didn’t know why at the time.  But there were a few with whom I did share a genuine friendship.  From them, I learned a lot.

One of the things I learned is that I can try as hard as possible to understand the circumstances and situations that have brought a person of another race, in poverty, to the place where they think and act as they do, but I can’t ever get to the place where I can feel what they feel, know what they know, and understand what they do.  I grew up white, in an overwhelmingly white community, relatively prosperous, at least, not ever being in a position where I didn’t know where my next meal would come from.  Most of my family was raised in a church, or at least, connected to one, and no one ever denied me anything because of the color of my skin.  I cannot point to relatives who were horsewhipped, or lynched, or who lived in fear of their lives and their property, or who were denied a job and a means of supporting their family because of their skin color.  My Dad was never without a job and a means of supporting his family, nor have I ever been in that position for any extended period of time, and I never experienced the disappointment of not being hired for a job for which I was well qualified because of the color of my skin.

No one ever burned a cross in my yard, or torched my church.  I was never turned away when I registered to vote because I could not pass an impossible test.  I was never told I had to sit at the back of the bus.  I was never turned away from a restaurant, or a bathroom, or a drinking fountain.  I might think I’ve had a few employers who didn’t pay me what I thought I was worth, but I never had to take a lower wage because of my race or skin color.  I was never turned away from the door of a school.

We visited Ferguson this past week.  It doesn’t look much different than it did in the 70’s.  The houses and schools are a little older, the trees have grown up, but it looks pretty much the same as it did in the 70’s, last time I was there.  It also doesn’t look anything like it did on those nights when the news coverage showed businesses ablaze and police cars overturned.  The damage is repaired.  The streets are quiet, and the historic downtown area, where protests crowded the streets in front of the police station and municipal buildings is as quaint as ever.  It’s still a nice looking St. Louis suburb.

What you can’t see, from driving through, are the scars left by generations of racial discrimination, the battles and fights for many of the city’s residents to get the housing they have, and into the schools where their children now attend, and to get away from the poverty and deprivation that they experienced simply because there isn’t a level playing field when it comes to race.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.  For with the judgment you, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Matt. 7:1, HCSB  Supposedly, there’s a native American saying that has a similar interpretation.  “Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”  If you interpret Jesus’ words literally, you can’t get a better interpretation than that.  At this point, I haven’t walked the full mile, so I’m not going to point a finger and judge.  I’m going to listen to what you have to say…

If you believe in the sanctity of human life, you must come to the realization that it is more than just a catch-phrase for a political faction pertaining only to the nine month period of human gestation.  Don’t get me wrong, it most definitely does pertain to that, but that’s just a small part of the whole spectrum of the gift of human life, in God’s image, to which it does pertain.  Indeed, all life does matter.  To insist that Black Lives Matter is just a euphemism for a racist perspective is to lack an understanding of the affects of generations of racism on those black lives, and it invalidates your credibility when you claim you believe in the sanctity of human life.

 

What is an Authentic, “Biblical Worldview”?

And the Lord said:  “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder, and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”  Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV

The term “Biblical worldview” is, perhaps, the most overused one in all of the “religious speak” that has developed around the Christian faith.  It’s a term most commonly coined and used by those in the branch of American Protestant Christianity that has come to be known as the “Evangelical right,” or the “Conservative Evangelical” branch.  When it is used by leaders of that particular branch of Christians, it generally applies to a codified set of principles they have developed which blend their social agenda and their political perspective with selected interpretations of bits and pieces of Biblical principles.

In that context, “Biblical worldview” means a set of beliefs based on the presuppositions and assumptions that are part of the religious dogma of the Evangelical right which are used to justify, and claim to support, specific and identifiable parts of an agenda, and to contrast other beliefs not consistent with the presuppositions and assumptions that can be labeled “liberal” or “left wing.”  Sometimes it is couched in language indicating that your Christian faith is open to questioning if you don’t accept these assumptions at face value.  It’s a “populist” Christian perspective, with enough bits and pieces of scripture thrown in to make it seem genuine, and to make it palatable for those who accept the written and spoken word of the populist leaders, rather than read and study the Bible in depth for themselves.

Though it has taken on some new characteristics over time, it has some issues that have formed a core foundation.  The linking of the belief in the sanctity of human life almost exclusively with the issue of abortion is one of the primary characteristics.  Opposition to any kind of same-sex marriage or union has been another perpetual issue.  Unqualified support for Israel on the grounds of a premillenial, dispensational view of Biblical eschatology is also high on the list, and goes hand in hand with a Reconstructionist view of the American Republic, with faint echoes of “Anglo-Israelism” and a belief that the founding fathers intended the constitution to be interpreted from a pro-Christian perspective.

I’ve been a student of the Bible for most of my life, a study that involves as much as my church could offer, that I could gain on my own, and through formal coursework in Biblical studies at a Christian university and a Theological seminary.  So I know that a worldview that is genuinely founded on, and rooted in the principles of the Bible is not nearly that shallow, nor is it that slanted in its interpretation of Biblical principles.  You’ve missed the point completely if you think that a Biblical worldview has, as its substance or its ends, anything having to do with American politics or politicians.

The clearest, and strongest Biblical source for worldview development is Jesus.  Go figure.  The idea that God’s plan for the redemption of his creation was to come and be here himself, in the form of his son, Jesus, is the very crux of a Biblical worldview.  That answers the basic questions about the origins of humanity, and its nature.  The words of Jesus, recorded by the authors of the gospel, are the words of God in the flesh.  The actions of Jesus, recorded by those same authors, are acts of creator God interacting with the humanity that he created in his own image.  If you want to know a genuinely Biblical worldview, then Jesus is the place to start.

This isn’t difficult to figure out.

One of the most definitive statements about Jesus in Matthew 5:17, is at the very core and crux of a Biblical worldview.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” he says.  “I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.”  The religious leaders of his day considered those words pure blasphemy.  He meant it, too, and declared it when he screamed, “It is finished!” while hanging on the cross.  Put those words together with something else he said.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

There’s Jesus on a Biblical Worldview.  You’re right, it doesn’t sound much like anything we’ve been hearing about it, does it?  Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and then simplifies all of both into these two simple commandments.  Love God, and love your neighbor.  And we know how he defined that.  So a Biblical Worldview comes down to these two very simple things.  Loving God, and loving the humanity that he created in his own image.

We could leave it there, and let this be a definitive statement on a Biblical worldview, and it would be more than adequate.  But everything in Jesus’ ministry was an example of how these things got fleshed out.  He was all about demonstrating his love for his “neighbor” by serving them, unconditionally.   He sought out the neediest people to heal, and did so in such a way as to restore their quality of life, unconditionally.  In a few cases, he demonstrated his love by raising the dead to life.  He chose to serve the people who were social, political and religious outcasts by preaching and ministering to them, unconditionally, exhorting them and restoring them as God’s people.  He advocated for the poor.  And if you hold to a belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the scripture, it is hard to re-interpret, redefine, or simply dismiss his words about the rich, or his contempt for the religious establishment of his day.

His church, in its early days, immediately following his resurrection, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to live out this same “Biblical worldview” by the surrender, and communal distribution of its private wealth.  A committee of seven deacons was appointed to make sure that the poorest and neediest members of the community, mainly the foreign-born, Greek speaking widows, were included in the distribution of the goods.  Once again, this was done unconditionally, to love their neighbors as themselves.

Jesus, and the early church, demonstrated their belief in the sanctity of human life by serving the needs of the poorest, and neediest people around them.  They healed.  They met physical needs.  They included.  They offered grace.  And look how blessed they were!  The narrative in the first third of the book of Acts is as exciting a description of revival as you can find.  The Holy Spirit was a clear presence.  They gathered to worship daily.  Their meeting place was shaken by the Holy Spirit.  People were healed, had their physical needs met, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

If you’re looking to twist this into some kind of political position, good luck.   Protecting the unborn is just one aspect of the sanctity of human life.  Turning it into a political issue, and then setting it against legislation that restricts human access to affordable health care is self defeating.  Jesus doesn’t mention same-gender marriage or relationships, and while I don’t believe that his silence can be taken as approval of it, I also don’t believe that his approach would be more consistent with his treatment of taxpayers, sinners, and the woman caught in adultery than it would be with the current interpretation of a “Biblical worldview.”  And after he cleared the money changers out of the Temple, and determined that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven, I don’t have to wonder what he would think about a government health care proposal that gives the rich a huge tax break, while at the same time cutting off the ability of the working poor to afford health insurance, and have access to health care.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord…..

 

Why we Need Government to Manage Health Care in the US

It’s not unconstitutional for the government to develop and administer a system of providing, and financing, health care in the United States.  I see that argument, but it is based on the false philosophical and political perspective that health care is an “industry” based in a free market economy, and must be completely free of any kind of regulation.  Government’s role is the protection of its citizens, from foreign threats, and internal threats, and from the greed and exploitation of those who are more than willing to take advantage of people because they have the means to do so.

The previous article I wrote here establishes health care as a basic human right, rooted in the principle of the sanctity of human life.  I see no credible argument against that position, and since many of my readers claim to be followers of the Christian faith, there is no argument in that domain against this position.  Human pain and suffering should never be used for profit, period.

It is the government’s role, constitutionally, to protect its citizens from being exploited.  People will pay whatever it takes, down to their last dime, to relieve their own pain and suffering, or that of someone they love.  Survival instincts and the sanctity of life are strong forces that drive human behavior.  And we have as many examples as we need of seeing the cost of services driven well beyond the resources necessary to deliver them and include a reasonable, fair profit for providing them.  In the United States today, half of every dollar you pay for medical care goes to paying all of the people involved in delivering the care, including the doctors, nurses, employees of the medical offices and hospitals, and all of the direct and indirect costs associated with those services.  So where does the other half go?  That’s the profit margin.  Half of what you pay doesn’t do anything to provide care, it simply gets transferred from your bank account to the individuals who earn  dividends for owning the means of care, or of owning the insurance company.  Half.  Yes, that’s exploitation, caused by greed.

There’s even a question about the costs involved in the half that you pay which does cover your medical care costs.  The cost of supplies, equipment, and medications purchased for health care purposes are much higher than the same goods get when used for other purposes.  If you want to get involved in a good discussion of something that pulls in an inordinate amount of money for what it actually delivers, look at the prescription drug business in this country.  Even health care professionals are victimized by the business tactics and profiteering that goes on in that business.

Part of the current problem with the American health care “system,” is that it is really multiple systems, some competing with each other, some monopolizing the provision of health care in a particular area.  Three of the major hospitals in one particular metro area, which account for about half the patient population, are owned by the same corporation.  Two of them still go by the names under which they operated when they were owned by church groups, when they were not-for-profit, though that is no longer the case, and that’s another issue.  Rates are all over the place, and it is virtually impossible to shop and compare.  The more desperate the situation, the higher the rates you pay.

Getting this under control may be quite a problem.  The profit margins in both health care provision and insurance are staggering, higher than in any other business except energy, and the profiteers are well protected by friends in the government.  The removal of the few government protections that exist as a result of the ACA drew a massive amount of protest and response, and so there’s a glimmer of hope in that many legislators who seemed bent on continuing to help the profiteers backed away when it seemed that their constituents might support an opponent who held a different perspective.  It took seven years for people to catch on to how the ACA might benefit them, but it has gone from support by 46% of the electorate to 58% now supporting it.  Those are numbers that few politicians want to oppose.  So there is some hope.

It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel.  A single-payer, government operated system, with private health care providers regulated through control of how they receive compensation for their services, would provide this country with exactly what it needs, and would, as it has in virtually every other country where its been done, maintain health care quality at a high level.  With accessibility and research and development in countries with “socialized medicine” exceeding that of the US, most of the bugaboos that get raised are proven false.

This shouldn’t be a “partisan” issue.  Do what’s best for the people you serve, not the profiteers who want to take advantage of their pain and suffering.  Health care and health insurance are not part of the free market, at least, they shouldn’t be as long as human nature still bends to greed.

 

Health Care is a Sanctity of Human Life Issue

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Psalm 139:13-14

This is the most commonly cited verse in the Bible in reference to the sanctity of human life.  For Christians who believe that life begins at conception, this statement is both authoritative, and comprehensive.  It’s not a stand-alone proof-text either.  Jeremiah 1:5 carries the same implication, based on God’s omnicience with regard to his creation.   In that reference, God calls Jeremiah as a prophet, and says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  Mary’s cousin Elizabeth told her, “When the sound of your greeting came to my ear, the baby in my womb leapt for joy.” 

Those are not necessarily intentionally connected passages, but they all support the basic, foundational principle that human life fully exists before birth.  There is identity and purpose in human existence which is part of a divine plan emanating from the energy of divine creation itself, which we commonly refer to as the “will of God.”

There are differences of opinion about who has ultimate control over life before it is born, but for the most part, it would be difficult to believe in a beginning point other than conception if you accept the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing God, and if you believe his will included sacrificing his own son to conquer sin and reconcile his creation to himself.  Once a person comes into existence at conception, the sanctity of that life is equal to that of the mother, in spite of the physical control she may have over the situation.  As a Christian, I believe that’s a basic and foundational belief that goes to the heart of the faith itself.

When does that status, which we refer to as the “sanctity of human life,” end?  Does something change at birth which causes a life to require less care, and less protection of its sanctity?  Of course not.  Once conceived, a person has a divine purpose that extends throughout their entire life on earth.  There’s no difference in the sanctity of life before or after birth.

Many Christians have become intimately involved in politics in order to advocate for government legislation to protect human lives still in the uterus.  That advocacy includes making the artificial termination of a pregnancy illegal, and extending constitutional rights to any person, from the moment of their conception.  There are those who question whether or not this is a decision for the government to make, but if you believe that the life of a conceived child is equal to that of its mother, then government protection is not only warranted, it is required.

So why is it that so many Christians who believe this are willing to accept a political philosophy that devalues the sanctity of life after birth by relegating health care to nothing more than an economic commodity in which the life protecting, and life enhancing services of medical practice are relegated to the status of nothing more than an economic commodity competing in the “free market.”  Massive amounts of money and effort go into lobbying efforts to elect politicians who claim to share this foundational Christian belief in the sanctity of life, to the point of promising to actually do something to restrict or end access to abortion.  But many of the same politicians that they support with the expectation of protecting the sanctity of human life before birth support a position on health care that skews the value of life based solely on the monetary value of the care required to maintain it, and which often takes advantage of pain and suffering, or fear of death, to raise the price beyond its real value.

If you believe in the sanctity of human life, and you believe the government should protect that life from conception, then you must also believe that the government should protect life from economic exploitation.  Americans pay twice as much for health care as any other citizens in the industrialized world.  Half of that money doesn’t go toward supplying a single resource related directly to their health care, it pays dividends to the corporate interests that own both the means of providing health care, and the means of financing it.  A common expression, profit from pain, is an apt description of how this system works.  The more desperate the situation of the people seeking care becomes, the higher the price goes for the care that they are seeking.  That’s what the free market does when health care is nothing more than an economic commodity, and not a basic human right connected to the sanctity of human life.

If health care became a completely free-market enterprise, then it would be something from which most people would need to be protected.  Price of services would be governed by how desperate someone was to get care.  Many people would not be able to access medical care because the cost would be prohibitive.  Even with the ACA, that’s still the way it is for many people.  Are their lives sacred?  Do Christians care enough about others to put the same kind of effort into advocacy for the sanctity of human life that they do into figthting abortion?

They should.

 

The Baptist Standard Gets it Wrong on School Choice

https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/editorial/20008-editorial-tell-legislators-what-you-think-about-school-choice-vouchers

The Baptist Standard is the news journal of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  The news stories are accurately and fairly covered, and the opinion pieces are usually fair and factual.  However, there are some glaring inconsistencies and errors in the editorial piece linked above, which appeared on February 22, 2017, written by editor Marv Knox, related to the issue of school choice and the proposals of vouchers for private schools being proposed at the time to the Texas Legislature.  It doesn’t appear that the editor did much more than cite commonly held, parroted beliefs about school choice of those opposed to it, without doing much research on the subject.

Mr. Knox makes some assumptions that are no longer true, and exhibits a degree of ignorance about Christian schools in particular, as opposed to “private” schools in general.

The assumption that support for the public education system is consistent with a somewhat vague interpretation of a general application of “historic Baptist principles” completely ignores the glaring reality that the public education system in this country, generally and specifically, is hostile to most of the beliefs Baptists hold to be essential to their faith.  The curriculum objectives are written around a wholly secular philosophical perspective that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of God, and as such, is not “religiously neutral” but is, rather, anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian.  Why would Baptists prefer teaching objectives to their children that are aimed at undermining their faith, rather than an education that undergirds and supports their values?  And why should they be required to support the undermining of their beliefs with their tax dollars?  Historic Baptist support for separation of church and state never envisioned a state that was hostile to the church, or an educational system that would become a platform for undermining it.

The quality of the education provided in the public school system is also a valid concern.  The public education system uses objectives aimed at achieving “minimum standards.”  Students are rarely challenged, and while you can find plenty of news items and magazine articles on high achieving public schools, they are rare, and even the best ones are not as good as most private schools.  Christian schools are right up there when it comes to the quality of instruction.  Of course, their critics have all kinds of reasons why, but it boils down to parent involvement, commitment that is motivated by that “religious purpose,” (like, perhaps, a desire to please God), and sound, instructional methodology provided by qualified teachers.  Why should parents have to support a poor-performing system with their tax dollars, and then pay extra to get their kids in a school with quality instruction?  Students whose parents don’t have the means to consider a choice are stuck in poor performing schools.

The assertion that vouchers “don’t help the poor” is speculation, and without foundation.  There are a number of states around the country, including the District of Columbia, that have operated voucher programs of various kinds for a long time.  The DC opportunity scholarship program is totally income based, and allows some of the poorest, and most educationally underserved children in Washington to attend some of the nation’s most elite private schools, many of them religiously-owned and operated.  Every indicator of student progress shows these students benefit tremendously from this program, from academic progress to the drop out rate.  Among those states that currently have voucher programs in place, virtually all of them are predominantly income based in their requirements, and serve populations of lower income families.

The basic tuition and fee rates for most Christian schools, 85% of them according to studies done within organizations like ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) are less than the per-pupil expenditure of the public school systems in their state.  Some of those states with voucher programs are finding that providing funds for students to attend private, Christian schools saves them money because the per-pupil expenditure is less than what they must provide to public schools.  

The assertion that a voucher, provided to parents, violates the historic Baptist principle of separation of church and state just doesn’t hold water.  The federal government has been giving similar vouchers to college students, in the form of Pell Grants, for decades, and students at virtually every Baptist-owned and operated college and university in the country have used them.  The fact that they are provided to college students, getting an education that is not compulsory, compared to those in grades K-12, which is, does not negate the fact that these are vouchers, made up of public tax dollars, that go to support parochial education, including helping to pay tuition and fees for students who are studying for the ministry.  You can’t have this both ways.  A Pell Grant is public money that is, in many cases, going to fund parochial education.  They are based on income requirement and student need, and for the most part, they enable the student to choose a venue for their higher education that they might otherwise not be able to afford.  End of story.

Students in Christian schools aren’t sitting around with open Bibles in their laps all day long, singing “Father Abraham” and studying theology.  Most Christian schools exceed accreditation standards required to prove they are meeting the state’s minimum objectives and providing a quality education to their constituents that will allow them to graduate from high school and be admitted to a college or university.  As long as they are meeting, and in most cases far exceeding, those minimums, the religious content of their curriculum should be of no concern to the state with regard to a voucher or school choice program.  Do the research, and you’ll find that even the Christian schools that have loaded up their enrollment with children from low income families in inner city poverty are exceeding those state minimum standards, and are seeing higher standardized test scores, college admissions, lower dropout rates and better results than the public schools get.

There’s no disadvantage, and lots of advantages, for the Baptists who have opted to send their children to Christian schools, nor for their churches, who are reaping the benefits of a trained, committed core of leaders who graduate from them.  The position taken by the Baptist Standard and its editor reflects a lack of familiarity and knowledge with Christian schools, an increasing number of which are being started by, and affiliated with Baptist churches in Texas and elsewhere, and the increasing number of Baptists who are sending their children to them.  Times have changed and so have schools since the days of Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptist Association.  If Baptists don’t adjust their historic principles to meet the challenges of the time, their denominations will struggle, their churches will decline and their influence will wane.  Look around.

 

 

 

 

Fixing Health Care: It’s Not as Difficult as you Think it is

There’s an easy way to fix health care.  Now that we’ve turned it into a complicated, partisan political fight, it seems like there is no solution in sight.  But there is.  It will take putting some perspective on it, answering some questions, and deciding to do what’s right.

A few observations.

Let’s talk priorities.  This is about each individual person, and their personal health care.  It is not about profit margins or tax breaks or anything else.  We have a sizeable group of people in this country who advocate for the sanctity of human life, a principle they primarily apply to the unborn.  But if life is sacred, and I certainly believe that it is, then access to health care, the best that society can provide, is a basic human right.  A book could be written substantiating that principle.  From a Christian moral perspective, it’s a no brainer.

If that’s the case, and I believe it is, then the patient is the priority in any health care arrangement.  That’s right.  It’s about providing the best care available to meet the physical, health needs of people.  I’ll bet most people who work in the medical profession would agree with that.  So any health care plan or program that we come up with needs to put the needs of people first, because its not about politicians or profits, it’s about the sanctity of human life.

The “free market” has proven itself incapable of providing a health care program that is equitable with regard to treatment, and affordable.  Human nature being what it is, greed spoils the balance between resources available for care, and what to charge.  The relief of pain, or the preservation of life, are not economic commodities with value determined by their intensity or severity.  In fact, profiting from pain is immoral.  Since it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens in their pursuit of “life, liberty and happiness,” developing and regulating an equitable, accessible health care system is its responsibility.  And we don’t have to re-invent the wheel on this.  Most European countries, along with Japan and Canada, have successfully figured out how to own, and effectively administer and operate both health insurance, and hospitals and other institutions that provide health care.  At least 17 of those countries have been able to achieve a higher standard of medical care than the United States, and they have done it for about half, or less, of the amount of money that Americans now pay for their health care.

By the way, we already have a government operated health care insurance plan in this country, into which people pay premiums and out of which they can pay for medical services.  It’s called “Medicare.”  The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is a more extensive effort to reform health care, make it accessible to all Americans, and attempt to keep the costs of both care and insurance, which were getting out of the reach of even middle class Americans, from limiting access to health care for even more people.  It has had a cumulative effect in accomplishing several of its objectives:

  • It has added more than 20 million Americans to the ranks of those who have health insurance.  This has cut losses that hospitals and caregivers have had to absorb, especially through emergency rooms and trauma care that they are required to provide, whether patients have insurance or not.
  • It has saved billions of dollars for employers who provide insurance as a benefit by slowing down the rate of increase of the cost of insurance premiums.  Most insurance policies were going up by an average of more than 15% prior to the ACA, that rate has now been cut to about 8%.
  • Millions of people have benefitted from being able to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, and from being able to secure insurance benefits in spite of pre-existing conditions.

And here’s some other news.  The plan is not “collapsing,” or “exploding,” as its critics keep saying.  There is absolutely no evidence to support that contention.  There are some companies who aren’t happy because they cannot raise rates higher than the contracts allow for, and they can’t profiteer off of the market changes that have occurred as a result.  But we’ve already discussed the fact that profits aren’t morally compatible with the belief that health care is a basic human right, directly resulting from the belief in the sanctity of human life.  The Affordable Care Act can, according to the Congressional Budget Office, continue to function indefinitely.  Costs could be reduced even further if states that have held out of the exchanges would get involved, and help spread the costs.

But let’s put first things first.  We must come to a broad acceptance in this country of the principle that health care is a basic human right, not a commodity that generates economic value by pain and suffering, or a privilege for those who can afford it.  If we believe in the sanctity of human life, then there is no other option but considering it as a basic human right, something which people should be able to access like clean drinking water.  When we get there, then we can discuss the best way to deliver it, and the first people we should ask about that are medical professionals who understand that their patient is the object of their care.

 

 

 

 

Southern Baptist Churches that Escrow Cooperative Program Money are not “In Friendly Cooperation”

Raised in a Southern Baptist church which I joined at age 7, educated in a college that belonged to a state convention, and a seminary that belonged to the denomination, in addition to years of ministry service through one of its mission agencies, I’m pretty familiar with how the Southern Baptist Convention works, and how it does business. There are times when its leaders can act in a way that is very provincial and backward, and get outside written documents prescribing how business is to be handled, but there are generally enough level headed people to require a level of accountability, and insist on going by the rules.  So I can claim expert status when I say that I know how the SBC works.

SBC churches operate from an equal platform when exercising denominational participation.  Actually, fewer than a fourth of the churches ever bother to send even one messenger to the annual meeting of the SBC.  However, all but a few churches have the ability, based on their financial support and membership, to send the maxiumum number of 10 messengers to any convention meeting.  The largest church is limited to 10, and some of the smallest churches have the ability to achieve the threshold for 10.

So when a large, influential church determines that it will escrow its denominational support to leverage some kind of denominational action, there are a couple of things that are happening.  One, they are breaking the commitment they made to the denomination, when they affiliated, which included their agreement to submit to the way the denomination does business.  Accountability of denominational agencies and their heads is through the trustees that have been nominated and elected to serve on their boards, a process in which every church has an equal opportunity to participate.  Two, they are arrogantly flashing their own sense of self-importance, and elevating themselves over other churches that are honoring their agreement,  using influence that most other churches don’t have,  or wouldn’t consider using, to force an action that goes against denominational policy any way you look at it.  They are saying, loud and clear, that they are too prominent, too big, and too important to have to follow the same rules that everyone else does.

The primary issue relates to Russ Moore, and his leadership of the ERLC.  From what I can gather from reports in the Baptist press, at least one of the more “prominent” churches that is putting its CP giving in escrow is citing their own disagreement with his actions, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign, as the reason for their action.  I don’t see anything in the media reports about the church following Biblical principles by sitting down with Moore, and conversing him before publicly declaring their intentions, but they may have communicated with him in some way.  The disagreement is apparently over his lack of enthusiastic support for Trump’s presidential candidacy, and perhaps the church leadership’s interpretation of things Moore may have said about Christians who supported him.  Also mentioned is the position taken by the ERLC, supporting the religious freedom of a mosque in New Jersey.

Regardless of the content of the issues, as a Baptist entity, the ERLC is not directly accountable to any individual church.  It is accountable to a board of trustees, key word “trust”, who are selected by messengers sent from the churches, collectively, that contribute to the expenses of its work. I believe that an individual church, or an individual member of a church, can address the trustees regarding the way any issue has been handled by the ERLC, but the final decision or determination of whether or not the ERLC has followed its directives consistent with its policy is made by its trustees.  To support the SBC through the Cooperative Program is to agree to that way of doing things in advance.  Integrity demands following that procedure in the event of a disagreement, and accepting the outcome and decision of the trustees.

There’s nothing, except integrity, that prevents churches from taking their football and going home when an SBC agency or entity does something it doesn’t like, and the church prefers not to follow the policy.  But in making that decision, the church should realize that its actions are being interpreted as hostile to the denomination, because they are not following the prescribed method for dealing with these kinds of disagreements.  They are publicly stating that, as a congregation, they are no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC.  If they were, they’d follow the rules to settle their differences, not attempt to force action using money as leverage, and not hold missionaries and seminary students hostage in order to get their own way.

Surely, among the messengers gathered for the next annual SBC meeting, there will be someone who rises, when the motion is made to seat messengers, and makes a motion to declare all churches that have escrowed CP funds during the past year as not being in friendly cooperation with the SBC, and therefore not eligible to be seated as messengers.  Add to that a motion that any current member of those churches currently serving as a trustee or committee member, as a member of a church that is not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, be removed from their current denominational service, and you’ve resolved the problem.