Abortion Politics: A conversation with a political operative.

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Abortion Politics
“What brought you to DC?” I asked the guy sitting next to me at the bar. He was well dressed, tie loosened, and finally off work at 9:00p.

“Politics, just like everyone else.”

I love being in Washington DC, the frenetic energy, the pace, the seemingly endless potential to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s why I wanted to go into politics when I was in high school… and maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in ministry. There are some interesting similarities between the two.

My single-serving friend for the evening was a political fundraising director for Congressional campaigns. He seemed to be pretty good at his job considering he’d hit all of his financial goals for the 4 previous GOP Congressional campaigns he’d run… well over $1.5 million per campaign. We talked shop for a while, I learned an awful lot about fundraising from this guy in just the 20 minutes we talked.

As we sat there talking, he looked tired; ready for this political season to be over. (Aren’t we all?)

“Do you vote for or believe in the candidates you raise money for?” I asked.

With a snort he responded, “No way.”

“Why do you do it then?”

“It’s a job.”

“I get that,” I responded. “Is it easy?”

“Yeah,” he laughed sarcastically, “if you have no soul!”

I chuckled along with him even though I think he may have actually been a little more serious than sarcastic. But I was really interested in his response so I pressed a bit deeper. “Who are the easiest people to raise money from?” I asked, wondering how predatory political fundraising is… I didn’t expect his response.

“Christians. Without a doubt. Christians.”

He had no idea that I am a pastor. No idea what I did for a living. Perhaps one of the benefits of being an evangelical pastor and not wearing a clerical collar.

“Why are Christians the easiest?” I asked.

“All I have to do is talk about abortion and they’ll support anything and anyone. In fact, abortion helps me get them to double max all the time.” (I had learned earlier in our conversation that a double max is the $10,500 total for a married couple for the primary and general election.) “And then,” he continued braggadocious-ly , “I get them to pledge a vote to my candidate, even though he won’t be able to do anything about it… And my candidate knows it. Abortion is just a GOP political tactic now for money and votes.”

“My candidate won’t be able to do anything about [abortion]. Abortion is just a GOP political tactic now for money and votes.”



You know that moment when you keep talking and reveal too much behind the curtain? Yeah. That was that moment. But I don’t think he cared… or maybe it was a moment of confession from someone who was starting to wrestle with the current reality of our political system.

I was taken back. I couldn’t believe he said what I have been thinking for nearly 10 years now.

You see, I cast a vote in my first presidential election for George W. Bush on the promise that he would do something about abortion, and more specifically about Roe v. Wade. The conservative Bible College I attended ran Pro-Life campaigns on campus, went to DC to rally against Roe v. Wade, and all of that made an indelible imprint on me–which is why I also cast my second-ever presidential vote for George W. Bush. I was a single-issue voter, and this compassionate conservative president was going to make a difference in the right way.

And then he didn’t.
And neither did Congress.
Everything stayed the same.

You see, when George W. Bush was in office, the Republicans had control of the House and Senate for 4.5 years of his 8 years in office. That’s nearly 60% of his time in office. And together, they couldn’t do it… or wouldn’t do it.

…Four and a half years…


Of course when you believe in a cause and you’re promised an action that never materializes, you tend to become a little cynical. My cynicism surrounding abortion politics began to create a few different scenarios in my mind for what was really taking place behind the curtain. Of course the one scenario that stuck in my mind was that the GOP really didn’t want to do anything about abortion because it was a source of cash and easy votes. Well, the curtain has been pulled back thanks to my single-serving friend and the darkness of abortion politics has been revealed.

So, if you’re voting for a pro-life candidate or if you’ve given to a pro-life candidate maybe start looking at the rest of their platform to see if they’ll enact legislation that will help drive down abortion rates through policies that help support women and create better environments for them and their children, like Obama has done (13% decrease according to a study done by Guttmacher). Maybe there is still a way to “defeat” abortion… but it’s going to look a whole lot different than the rallies and picket signs we were encouraged to take up in the fight.

Update |
“I’m pro-life. And I’m voting for Hillary. Here’s why. is a great blog post that was recommended to me regarding this conversation of voting and the pro-life movement. Shannon, the author, lays out a thoughtful position on pro-life and why a tacit GOP vote because of their pro-life stance may not necessarily be the best way to go.

Criminalizing the Black Body

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Citizen Book Cover
“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the color line,” declared W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903 at the outset of his classic text The Souls of Black Folk, but it’s not a problem anymore. We have done a thorough job of convincing ourselves otherwise, of covering up the issue and believing that progress has been made and that racism is simply a relic of another time. This treacherous lie is simply not true and is eating away at the fabric of our society as we watch more and more young black men and women die at the hands of the police. We have done nothing more than glide through varying cycles of positive change countered by numerous periods of regression, producing nothing more than “temporary peaks of progress, short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance” [1, p. 74]. White privilege is real.

From the inception of America with its founding documents and societal constructions, systems and structures have been invented, implemented, and reconfigured in order to bind the black man and woman with a status of non-human. Yes, non-human. It first began through legal designations. The moment the black man, woman and child were bought and sold by slave traders and shipped around the world, they were designated as chattel–legal personal property [2]. Lasting for more than 200 years, this legal designation was abolished with the thirteenth and fourteenth amendment to the Constitution; however the non-human designation continued in a far more insidious way: The criminalization of the black body.

Criminalizing the black body was no small task, it would require a dominant narrative to take hold and the cooperation of popular culture, hard and soft sciences, and legal institutions. In 1902, bestselling and highly influential author and Southern Baptist minister Thomas Dixon Jr. would be one of the first to popularize this notion. Dixon spun a tale of post-Civil War America that depicted emancipated slaves as beastly, amoral monsters. He explained how the “Negro” had turned from “a chattel to be bought and sold into a possible beast to be feared and guarded. . . . a menace” to society [3, p. 5, 33]. Dixon continued to build this narrative of the criminal black body in 1905 with his most popular novel The Clansmen by detailing the rape of a young white virgin by a ‘Negro’ who was described as:

“half child, half animal, the sport of impulse, whim, and conceit,… a being who, left to his will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no words of love, whose passions, once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger” (p. 293, 304)

Dixon brings the emotional narrative to a close by describing the act of animalistic rape itself: “A single tiger spring, and the black claws of the beast sank into the soft white throat” (p. 304). This narrative was used to perpetuate the nonhuman nature of the ‘Negro’ replacing the idea of him as property with one that is inherently criminal [4]. In 1908, sociologist Kelly Miller reviewed Dixon’s writings and detailed the building climate of opinion surrounding his fiction, “The criminal propensity of the Negro is the charge that is being most widely exploited… he is made to appear a beast in human form whose vicious tendency constitutes a new social plague” [5](p.95).

Not to be outdone by Dixon, the filmmaker D. W. Griffith continued this narrative of the black man as a predator with his 1915 film The Birth of a Nation–the first motion picture to be shown in the White House. Griffith depicted the black person as unintelligent beasts who were sexually aggressive towards white women, a threat to their life and liberty [6]. The black man was now becoming a criminal threat and a liability to society.

This criminalization of the black body went beyond popular culture and was widely supported and furthered by the medical profession. Medical journals propagated the degenerative evolutionary conclusion of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropologists, biologists, and ethnologists [7]. Considered the lowest species on the Darwinian hierarchy, a permanently inferior creature, predisposed to savagery, the black person possessed an overdeveloped sexual appetite which was deemed an existential threat to the very foundation of white society [4, 7, 8, 9]. This existential threat and overdeveloped sexual appetite was the result of a complete lack of morality from the black individual. One doctor wrote:

Virtue in the negro race is like angels’ visits–few and far between. In a practice of sixteen years I have never examined a virgin negro over fourteen years of age [10]

The overdeveloped sexual appetite of the black person knew no bounds. Dr. William Lee Howard surmised in a well respected medical journal, “The attacks on defenseless white women are evidences of racial instincts that are about as amenable to ethical culture as is the inherent odor of the race” [11]. George Winston painted an even darker picture of the black man’s criminal, sexual appetite for white women through a telling and cumulative narrative that embodied all of the current cultural fears:

When a knock is heard at the door, she shudders with nameless horror. The black brute is lurking in the dark, a monstrous beast, crazed with lust. His ferocity is almost demoniacal. A mad bull or tiger could scarcely be more brutal [12, p. 109].

According to Frederick Hoffman, the rise of the criminal black man was not due to poverty, discrimination, or from a lack of opportunity and education but rather an inherent and innate tendency towards crime and immorality.

This well-formed narrative of moral depravity fueled the belief of the criminalized black body. While its easy for us to say, ‘That was a hundred years ago, things are so much different now!’ this belief is what gave rise to the lynching culture in the United States, including the fourteen-year old boy Emmitt Till in 1955 for perceived flirting with a white woman in a convenience store [13]. Lynching culture was created to protect white society and deter the amoral, criminal black body. Lynching culture was not made up of vigilantes alone but were aided, abetted, and participated in by police officers who would help arrange this skewed form of justice. Lynchings were scheduled, promoted events where whole towns or neighborhoods would gather together in celebration of “justice”. People would even gather around and pose for pictures with the black victim.

While we may want to believe that lynching was something that happened so long ago, the last officially recorded lynching was less than 50 years ago, in 1968–however, many argue it was actually 1998 in Jasper, Texas when James Byrd was chained to the back of a pickup truck by three white men and dragged to his death. While we may have placed lynching in a historical context that lives outside of the confines of our lived reality, if you’re 47 years of age or older you were alive during the last lynching.

The criminalization of the black body is the second iteration of our mass project of non-humanization. I would argue that the long-standing project started by the likes of Thomas Dixon whereby we have criminalized the black body is what has led to the death of so many of our black brothers and sisters: Walter Scott. Jermaine Reid. Philip White. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. Rekia Boyd. Sean Bell. Tamir Rice. John Crawford III. Aiyana Jones. Kumani Gray. Michael Brown. Miriam Carey. Sharonda Singleton. Tommy Yancy. Jordan Baker. Amadou Diallo. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling. (And on and on and on the list goes.) Each and every one of these black men and women were treated as criminals first, deemed worthy of immediate and swift justice at the end of a barrel instead of the end of a rope. The criminalization of the black body is nothing new, its a part of a long history of non-humanizing the black man, woman, and child. The trajectory of our history has not changed, it just looks a bit different.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
[1] Bell, D. (2005). The Derrick Bell Reader: Critical America. New York University Press.
[2] Browne-Marshall, G.J. (2007). Race, Law, and American Society. Routledge.
[3] Dixon, T. (1902). The Leopard’s Spots: A romance of the white man’s burden. Doubleday, Page & Co.
[4] Fredrickson, G.M. (1987). The black image in the white mind. Wesleyan University Press.
[5] Miller, K. (1908). Race Adjustment: Essays on the Negro in America. The Neale Publishing Co.
[6] Stokes, L.M. (2007). D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of A Nation: A history of the most controversial motion picture of all time. Oxford University Press.
[7] Brandt, A.M. (1978). Racism and research: The case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The Hastings Center Report, 8(6), 21-29.
[8] Corson, E.R. (1893). The vital equation of the colored race and its future in the United States. The Wilder Quarter-Century Book. Cornell University.
[9] English, W.T. (1903). The Negro problem from the physician’s point of view. Atlantic Journal-Record of Medicine 5,459, 470-471.
[10] Quillian, D. (1906). Racial Peculiarities: A cause of the prevalence of syphilis in Negroes. American Journal of Dermatology and Genito-Urinary Diseases, 10, 277.
[11] Howard, W.L. (1903). The Negro as a Distinct Ethnic Factor in Civilization. Medicine, 9, 424.
[12] Winston, G.T. (1901). The relation of the whites to the negroes. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 18, 105-118.
[13] Douglas, K. (2015). Stand your ground: Black bodies and the justice of God.. Orbis Books.

Guns. Guns. Guns. (Yes, guns.)

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GunsI was guided into my office where I was greeted by an FBI agent and a Sergeant from the city police department. “Aaron, you should sit down for this.”

I sheepishly sat down, hands trembling, palms sweating, I held my breath. “The threats are credible,” they told me with a mixture of seriousness and compassion. “We’re here to protect you and the congregation.”

Just a week before, my house had been broken into while we were away–later described as an intimidation tactic. Members of our congregation had received numerous threats, and orders of protection were issued for the church, my home, and the homes of a couple of our elders. A whirlwind of events occurring just after his felony gun charge was somehow dismissed and he was released from custody. The “he” in this story wasn’t just some random stranger, we all knew him, respected him, trusted him, loved him. He wasn’t some crazy random stranger.

I sat in silence as my mind wandered into the abyss of numb nothingness.

“Aaron,” the FBI agent said to recapture my attention. He leaned in and looked me square in the eyes with more confidence and seriousness than I had ever seen in anyone’s eyes, “I want you to know that you’re safe. If he comes into the building and he doesn’t stand down…” he paused to laser focus his words, “I will not hesitate to put a bullet in his head.”

My eyes grew big as the gravity of his statement rang long and hung heavy in the air:

“I will not hesitate to put a bullet in his head.”

I couldn’t catch my breath. The tension in the room grew unbelievably thick and painfully uncomfortable. Everything blurred and it felt like the room was spinning. My mouth dropped as if to say something, anything, but I was at a complete loss. There were no words, no sounds, no breath, only shock.

With a wink and a head nod he blurted out, “Now go get ’em preacher!”

Go get ’em?

“Go get ’em?!”

I guess this was an attempt to cut through the tension, to bring about some sort of levity, maybe some normalcy to the Sunday experience. The officers stood up to walk out of my office, we shook hands, and I stood there staring at the door… the same door that only a few weeks before served as my only protection when he came into the building and threatened me. I wanted to curl up into a ball in the corner. I wanted to cry. I was desperate for some sort of emotional response, but nothing came. The overwhelming stress and life altering fear of these previous weeks had robbed me of every last emotion possible. I was empty.

I took seven long steps to the top of the stage that morning, and with each step I felt more and more vulnerable, more and more exposed. I never realized just how high the stage was until that moment, my feet well above the tops of everyone’s head. I tried to make myself as small as possible, my only protection being the thin flimsy metal music stand and three pieces of paper containing my notes. ‘Surely this will shield me,’ I reassured (lied to) myself.

I scanned the three exits in the back of the auditorium wondering from which one he was more likely to emerge. “Hopefully the middle one,” I thought as I saw the FBI agent standing there faithfully and confidently on guard. I gathered as much confidence and courage that I could muster, looked at the nearly 400 faces staring back at me, inhaled deeply, and began.

Aaron, get your gun!

“You know, if you had a gun up there with you in the pulpit, things would have been different,” pastors and Christians have scolded me. “If your congregation had been armed,” they said, “he never would have thought of showing up in this ‘gun-free zone!'” “It is your responsibility to protect your flock, how could you not have armed yourself to take him down? How could you not tell your congregation to arm themselves? How could you have led them like sheep to the slaughter?” each statement overflowing with chastisement, rebuke, and reprimand as they penetrated my heart deeper and deeper.

I absorbed these criticisms, I allowed them to shred my heart and pick apart my soul; I was overcome with guilt. “These people trust me to shepherd them, to protect them, to care for them… why didn’t I have a gun?” I wrestled long and hard with these thoughts and allowed guilt to be my guide.

It is no secret that I do not like guns nor am I a fan of the current gun culture in America. However, that wasn’t always the case. As I stood on that stage 10 years ago, I took great comfort in having an FBI agent standing guard with a gun at his hip. While I was fearful of his words, “I will not hesitate to put a bullet in his head,” they were, in some strange way, comforting. Five years before with a group of Quakers (read pacifists) in the mountains of California I learned how to shoot a gun (ironic, I know). I learned the ways of the shotgun and the ways of a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun. I was actually a pretty good shot (probably from years and countless hours of Duck Hunt!) I was comfortable with guns. However, as I worked through the words of Jesus, the Old Testament narratives, the Psalms–even the imprecatory Psalms, searching for answers, allowing Scripture to form my understanding, more and more my perspective on guns changed. I changed.

While all of these criticisms that were levied against me were well-meaning, asking me to consider my own self-preservation and the protection of others under my care, ultimately these pragmatic ideas missed the mark by failing to take into account what these types of actions do to our soul.

The soul, according to Dallas Willard is that which encompasses and organizes the whole person, it is the entirety of the self (the heart–or will, the mind, the body), forming one person functioning in a flow of life. Often times we like to think of the soul as a mere component of our being, an element, an aspect of who we are. But the soul is who we are.* So when someone talks of soul formation, they are speaking not of some purely mystical experience that affects one aspect of who you are but rather of a holistic experience that affects every aspect of your being—which is a way of saying your soul affects everything and everything affects your soul.

As a pastor my role is fairly clear, to guide people into a transformative relationship with Jesus. This is soul work. It is much deeper than a simple introduction to Jesus but rather the careful and intentional transformation of your soul (your entire being) into the image and likeness of Jesus. Theologically speaking this is called Theosis, or a union with Jesus (God)**.

Soul work is not about actions or behavior modification, those are the fruits of soul work, of the transformative work that is done in the very depths of your being that affect the flow or output of your life. Often times we simply want to look at our actions, at the question “What would Jesus do?”–which can be a valuable exercise–yet we miss the deeper work that is necessary in becoming like Jesus. This requires that we first understand who Jesus is–which is a long-term process birthed out of relationship–because we cannot become like Jesus without first understanding who he is: otherwise, we are simply putting on a veneer of actions and behaviors that are incongruent with our being (Matthew 23).

So, who is Jesus?

Answering this question is something that you have to investigate/discover/experience for yourself, Scripture speaks of Jesus as God, as the source of all life (Colossians 1). I love how Jesus contrasts himself in John 10: “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that they may have life!” Jesus, the source of life, the giver of life, the bread of life, stands in opposition to death, in opposition to destruction.

Each one of us has the capacity within us to do great good or great evil, to give life or to take life. And as I wrestled with the questions before me, I understood that ultimately this is a heart issue at play. However, the tired old adage: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” falls short. We have the tools at our disposal to take life, to destroy life, and the question is should we who are being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus employ those tools?

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul says that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. And maybe that’s why Jesus allowed some of his disciples to walk around with weapons, it was permissible. But the moment Peter deployed his weapon, using it in self-defense and in the defense of Jesus, he was rebuked for his actions. Jesus was stern with Peter for using a weapon and then he healed the man’s ear. It’s interesting to note here that in all of the recorded history of the Apostles, not one of them used a weapon in self-defense when they were later captured and killed, many with their families. They never used a weapon to defend themselves or their families. Tertullian remarked, “Christ,  in disarming Peter, disarmed every [Christian]…. The Lord has abolished the sword.” This episode of Peter’s rebuke changed everything in regards to armed Christians. It goes on that the employ of weaponry or weapons of war in the early church for any reason was forbidden. St. Athanasius would say nearly a century later as a forgone conclusion, “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.” This was the weapon of the church: Prayer. All through a transformative encounter with Jesus.

Understanding Jesus changes you, it changes your perspective, your outlook, your understanding. And if Jesus is life, and if we are to be transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus, the question then becomes: Can a gun do that? If I am supposed to be transformed into the image of Jesus, if I am supposed to be like Jesus, can I do that through the barrel of a gun? Does a gun bring life?

The purpose of a gun

The purpose of a gun is plain: to kill, injure, or destroy. While we might want to say that guns are there to protect and save life, the reality is that the only way a gun protects and saves is through killing, injuring, or destroying life in the other (or through the threat of killing, injury, or destruction). In fact, in using a gun for self-protection/preservation you are trained and encouraged, “Shoot to kill!” In this, the purpose of a gun stands opposed to the very being of Jesus. And ultimately, regardless of the situation, a gun in my hands makes me less like Jesus.

I did not have a gun.

I finished my message. It was all a blur. As I walked off the stage my hands were still trembling and sweating from the fear.

He never walked through those doors. He never showed up.

The most frequent command, or as N. T. Wright puts it, “the most surprising command” in all of Scripture is this: “Fear not!” I experienced fear that morning. I experienced fear that week. I experienced a deep seeded fear throughout that season. You see, fear is a belief; it is a belief based upon the anticipation of evil. A belief that evil will strike at any moment. Yet we are commanded: Don’t anticipate evil, don’t expect evil to happen.

And I know we so quickly want to say, “But, wait! Hold on now, evil is all around us. It’s encircling us, it’s right there on our doorstep just waiting to pounce!” I know some of us have had direct experiences with evil, many in ways not all that dissimilar from mine: we’ve been threatened, terrorized, some of you have been beaten, abused, mugged, and I know it has changed us. We have tasted fear up close and we never want to go back there again. We want to take control. We want something tangible in our hands that can give us a sense of safety, of security.

But in doing so, by carrying a gun, are we not living in anticipation that it’s going to happen again?

Are we not living in anticipation of evil?

Are we not being prepared for evil to strike?

Because if you’re not expecting or anticipating evil, then why have a gun?

“Fear not!” is not just a command, but it’s a dream that I believe God has for our lives. He doesn’t want us to have to live that way.  You don’t have to live that way. You don’t have to live in fear, in anticipation that evil will strike at any moment. We can walk away from fear—which is becoming increasingly harder to do as our current American society and culture entrenches itself deeper and deeper into fear.

Dallas Willard once remarked, “As we mature in Christ, it is actually possible to outgrow fear.” A different reality is possible when we drop our weapons of fear and instead turn into the God of peace and love and life. It is my hope and prayer that the I will continue to outgrow fear, and that my Christian brothers and sisters will do the same.


“Come, my children, listen closely;
I will teach you the ways of worshipping the LORD….
Turn from evil and do good;
embrace peace–don’t let it get away!”
Psalm 34.11, 14

* In fact, I might argue that if we are going to accept Willard’s understanding of the soul we need to drop the definitive article in front of soul and stop referring to it as “the” soul. By doing so we are making soul something other, something separate, extracting it from the self, changing its nature to something elemental, when in fact “soul” is you’re entire being.

** Michael Gorman has written a fantastic book around Theosis that I’d highly recommend.

About Last Night: Trump, the Ides of March, Empire, and the Church

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Trump-Empire
I love politics; I am fascinated by the gamesmanship, the strategy, the political maneuvering, the hyperbole, even the lying and manipulation that occurs on the regular. The lengths we will go to acquire, increase, and fight to maintain power says a lot about who we are as a people. And really, isn’t that’s what politics is all about: Power.

As this entire political season has unfolded the lament of the people has risen throughout social media and across the print media landscape decrying the peculiar ascendency of one candidate in particular: Donald Trump. Pundits have spoken and written at length trying to understand how an incendiary candidate such as Trump could rise with such popularity, such influence, while using the rhetoric, language, and tactics he has; it is as if the pundits are attempting to verbally process this seemingly ahistorical phenomenon that continually races on ahead of conventional thinking. Last night was no different.

On the Ides of March, we witnessed the assassination of the Republican party as the final “establishment” candidate suspended his campaign and exited the fray. As insiders and party members scramble to save the party, looking towards a “savior” to emerge, the candidates have still pledged to support the eventual GOP nominee, even if it is Trump; as if this pledge of party loyalty and support will somehow resurrect a party gone mad.

As Trump once again marched ahead with giant strides towards the GOP’s Presidential nomination, social media and pundits let out a collective angry roar of disbelief: “How can we stop this man?”

I have been accused from time to time of being too liberal for my conservative friends, of being too conservative for my liberal friends, of being too pro-government from my libertarian friends, and too libertarian from my pro-government friends. The challenge is that I cannot be cubby-holed because my political philosophy is not derived from party affiliation nor allegiance. Rather, as a Christian, my political philosophy is derived from the red letters of Scripture (the words of Jesus). While I would love to say that my understanding of Jesus is the right one, the correct one, the best one, it is not without flaws, without fullness, still lacking the proper nuances and correctness. My understanding of Jesus is still growing, still developing, still maturing—as I hope is everyone else’s: for he who has stopped growing is dead.

As a Christian it is to Jesus and Jesus alone that I pledge allegiance, not a flag, not a president, not a country. Is this not what we mean when we declare “Jesus is Lord?”

The conflation of Christianity and Americanism has done nothing but dilute the values of Jesus within the church and among Christians (mainly among Evangelicals) in favor of propping up and supporting a political party in its pursuit of power. We are trading our sonship our daughter-ship for a piece of bread and stew. Let us not be so manipulated by the siren call and smooth talk of politicians who co-opt Scripture and use the church as a stepping stool, a means to their own political ends.

The apostle John, in describing the Church’s relationship with empirical power (specifically the Roman Empire) exhorted, “Come out of her, my people,” separate yourselves from the Empire that has engulfed and manipulated you. What’s fascinating about this “come out of her” language is that, according to scholars, this is actually erotic, R-rated sexual language: the same used for coitus interruptus, or to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax. John is describing a steamy love affair in which the Church and the Empire are not just “in bed with one another” but are intimately entangled. (In many respects this reminds me of the story of Hosea! Isn’t it interesting how history continually repeats itself?) “Come out of her!” Disentangle yourselves, and instead run back into the arms of God, remember our first love and once again proclaim that “Jesus is Lord!” If we do not, if we continue our sordid love affair, if we continue to take the affairs of politicians more seriously than Jesus, then Pax Romana becomes our gospel and the president becomes our God.

Trump is not our savior. Cruz is not our savior. Kasich is not our savior. Even Bernie with all his popularity, nor Hillary are our saviors. (In fact none of them may even be the savior of the Empire.) Presidents and politicians will disappoint us, and why wouldn’t they? Their whole game revolves around manipulating the populace in their quest for power. So while we may lament the results of last night, let us remember that as Christians it is to Jesus and his kingdom that we pledge our allegiance, not a flag or a country.

Immigration Reform is a Family Values Issue and a Moral Imperative

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Immigration Reform

This post was originally written for and featured as a guest commentary in the Illinois Times.
——

Every single day hundreds of families are needlessly torn apart through a broken and inhumane deportation system badly in need of reform. Last year alone over 368,000 people were deported and by the end of 2014, over 2 million will have been deported during the Obama administration.

Two million.

This is a startling number, a number that represents sons pulled away from their fathers, daughters torn from the arms of their mothers, husbands ripped from the arms of their wives. No matter where you stand on the issue of immigration one thing has become very clear: Immigration Reform is a family values issue and it must be fixed now.

On April 29th more than 250 evangelical pastors from 25 states descended upon Washington DC to advocate for sensible immigration reform with our elected representatives. We shared stories from our congregations of families torn a part, and of children left in limbo demonstrating the effects of a broken immigration system that destroys the fabric of our nation. We spoke of the need to maintain respect for the rule of law, meaning there can be no blanket amnesty or guarantee of citizenship and those who entered the country illegally should admit their wrongdoing, pay fines and back taxes, submit to background checks, and demonstrate their ability to support themselves. Undocumented immigrants who desire citizenship should take their place in line behind those who have begun that process; meaning there should be no special pathway for those who entered the country illegally.

The Evangelical Immigration Table is a consortium of evangelical pastors from around the country who have banded together around these sensible solutions we believe are not only necessary but possible to achieve right now, if Congress will act.

Immigration reform elicits a great deal of passion on both sides of the aisle, but as a Christian, it is imperative to remember that every person, documented or undocumented is created in the Image of God and precious in his sight. You and I may be Americans, but the Church transcends boundaries and borders. For us, “there is one Body, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Though we may be American or Mexican, Syrian or Italian, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. It is time for us to start seeing our brothers and sisters, to fight for our brothers and sisters, to speak up and speak out for our brothers and sisters who have no voice.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We are caught in a great moral crisis that seeks to destroy the sacred bonds of families, a dilemma that tears at the very fabric of our nation. This is a crisis that as Christians we must stand with our brothers and sisters and let our voices be heard. For the very words of Scripture say,

“The Lord your God… defends the cause of the fatherless and widows, and He loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

Scripture is not silent, it bursts with commands for us to love the immigrant, to care for the immigrant, to speak on behalf of the immigrant, documented or not. And where Scripture speaks, so should we. It is not only time for the Church to speak loudly, but it is time for Congress to take action today because everyday we wait, more and more families are torn apart by this inhumane and archaic system.

Patriotism and the Church

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the partisan church

These words were penned by CS Lewis in 1942 in his work The Screwtape Letters, a fictional account of how the underworld works to subvert the Church and the Christian witness in our world through patriotism and a partisan spirit:

“If your patient can be induced to become a conscientious objector he will find himself one of a small, vocal, organized, and unpopular society, and the effects of this, on one so new to Christianity, will almost certainly be good. But only almost certainly. Your best plan would be to attempt a sudden, confused, emotional crisis from which he might emerge as an uneasy convert to patriotism.
Let him begin by treating Patriotism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent argument it can produce in favor of the war-effort. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.”

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Lewis was writing in England at the height of World War II as a groundswell of patriotism began infecting the church in England. These words, written over 70 years ago, are more timely than ever for the church in America, especially in regards to the partisan spirit that has overwhelmed our national discourse. In many corners of our USAmerican society the Church has become not only a mouthpiece for a particular political party, but has become the coveted “base” to which politicians look to secure their nomination and re-election bids. This marriage between the Church and a political party has neutered our prophetic witness, rendering the values and principles of the Kingdom of God silent in our society. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy.

Before his death at the end of World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer posed this question for us to ponder:
“Do we believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, or do we believe in the eternal mission of France [America]? One can’t be a Christian and a nationalist at the same time.”

May we, the Church, come to believe that the Sermon on the Mount is greater than the US Constitution.

Regarding Gay Marriage

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Gay Marriage Equality Logo

I have been asked on several occasions about my reaction regarding the Supreme Courts decision on DOMA and the same courts indecision on California’s Proposition 8, a proposition that I was able to vote on and had many conversations about during my time living in San Francisco. I have taken a great deal of time and have had many conversations with LGBT friends, LGBT advocates, pastors, clergy and others to think through the theological, cultural, and social implications. As a result, I have come to a fairly nuanced view of Gay Marriage, a position that I believe warrants further conversation and an open mind for consideration.

The Entanglement of the Church and the State
In the United States there has been a long history of separation between the institutions of Church and government in our country. The debate on ‘how’ and ‘where’ and ‘if’ they should intertwine will undoubtably rage on well into the future. However, the realm of marriage is the one place where, in practice, the line between Church and State are erased and both institutions are joined in tandem to accomplish a single goal: matrimony.

In every other area of life the Church (institutionally speaking) and the State (institutionally speaking) are separate. This was, in my opinion, a beautiful corrective to what the Founding Fathers experienced in England (see: The Church of England). This was meant to not only protect the institution of government, but also to protect the institution of the Church. Neither would intervene in the affairs of the other. Later on down the road this has played out in the non-profit status of the Church (there is a debate in some circles arguing that churches should pay taxes and donations should not be exempt. I would argue that to revoke this status from the Church would actually work to weaken the barrier that is in place that keep the two separate. But that’s another discussion for another time.)

In regards to marriage there is a blending, I believe, that is both unhealthy for the Church and for the State.

What is marriage? First and foremost, marriage is a sacrament. Meaning it is a religious institution. It derives its meaning, it’s purpose, its form, and its function directly from Scripture (specifically Judeo-Christian Scripture). However, in our USAmerican society this has been lost. Marriage is now understood as a right, and along with this right, it brings a bevy of benefits. However, nowhere in Scripture is marriage seen as a right. Marriage is a sacrament. This leaves a very blurred line in our society.

Let me give you an example: Every time I perform a marriage ceremony, I am required to play “agent of the State”. Meaning, my signature (in tandem with the County Clerk’s signature) is required on a legal document to “solemnize” the marriage. I step outside of my role as pastor and into the role of legal officiant for the State. As a result, my signature bestows the rights of marriage to a couple. Nowhere in our society is the separation of church and state more non-existent.

This is the reason why the debate surrounding Gay Marriage is so difficult. There is an entanglement in this realm that should have never come to fruition. Someone fell asleep at the wheel.

Let the State be the State
The issue for the State is one of rights. The Church should not be put into a position of granting civil rights to people. Should we be prophets who speak with prophetic voices into the government, as citizens, by all means! That is our governmentally granted right. But we should not grant rights. As such, we need to step back for a moment and recognize (specifically Christians) that the government is not the Church, the government is not a Christian/religious organization. (If you think otherwise, you might have some serious study ahead of you. This is a fundamental and foundational perspective for my argument.) As a result, we (the Church) should Let the State be the State.

This means, allowing the State to grant civil rights to whomever the State deems appropriate and for whatever purpose it so chooses, and we should recognize we may not always be comfortable with the governments choices/actions*. Government is a temporary reality. Unfortunately, many Christians do not see it this way (as evidenced by a great deal of the doom and gloom responses to the last two Presidential elections.) The Government is not the Church… and the Church is not the Government.

Now, does this mean that the Church should be silent? No. We should be active participants with our voice and our actions in our government. But hear this: The Church should use our voices and our actions for good, not evil. Meaning, we should actually stand up for and with those who are being treated as outcasts and as second-class citizens. This is the same sort of justice that drips from the pages of Scripture.**

Let the Church be the Church
The issue of Gay Marriage should actually be taken out of the realm of civil rights and placed squarely back into the quarters of theology. The entanglement of Church and State has done a great disservice to the Church in this realm. This has actually produced a great schism within the church regarding the question of gay marriage. A discussion of Civil Rights vs Theology has ensnared us and divided us. Neither is completely correct and neither is completely wrong.

We (society as a whole) need to let the Church be the Church. This means allowing every church to come to a position on where it stands theologically. Without the question of Civil Rights and justice, this should allow us the proper space and perspective to talk constructively. And without the question of Civil Rights looming large, society should then step up and respect each Church’s decision. This, however, will never happen as long as a pastor’s signature bestows rights on a couple whether gay or straight.

A Way Forward that Honors the Church + the State
The question then is how do we disentangle the mess we have inherited? I think there is a two-fold solution to this.

  1. Civil Unions for everyone. That’s right, I think whether you are Christian or not, religious or not, everyone should have to apply for a Civil Union license. This allows the government to give or rescind legal rights to couples however it chooses on the basis of equality. This puts everyone in the same boat. Now, to help untangle the mess, there should be an added step to this process: No one gets grandfathered in. Meaning, if you are currently married you need to go and apply for a Civil Union with everyone else. This allows for a clean slate approach. Everyone is on level, equal ground. The second thing this does is puts a bit of revenue into your local economy (a $20 filing fee with the County Clerk could do a lot for your city. Call it a Civil Unions tax if you will.)
  2. Marriages for the religious. To separate Civil Unions and Marriages allows for several beautiful things to happen for the Church. First, it can be treated once again (more so in the Protestant Church) as a sacrament, a special God-ordained moment in the life of the couple. Secondly, this gives the Church the opportunity to elevate the importance and meaning of marriage. It places choice and a stricter vetting process into the hands of the Church… if it so chooses. It is no secret that the divorce rate among those who call themselves Christians is higher than that of non-Christians. We have trounced the meaning of marriage in our own right. Perhaps its time for us to do our part to actually increase the meaning and value of marriage.

This solution is not perfect, I am well aware of that. However, I believe the benefits far outweigh the negatives. I believe it allows us (the Church) a good way forward in recapturing the word marriage from society as nothing more than a civil word and begin its reintroduction as sacrament. As it relates to the question of Gay Marriage, a solution like this allows each individual denomination or church community the opportunity to wrestle with what to do from a theological perspective if a gay couple asks to have their Civil Union solemnized in the eyes of God. It opens up opportunities for grace and love to abound and hard conversations to be had for all involved.

This is an entangled mess, but I do think this is a strong way forward. Simply put: in the question of Gay Marriage, we need to get the Church out of the business of granting rights to citizens of the State.

* I am always uncomfortable with the decisions of war that our government engages in.
** If you need a list of such Scriptures, just ask.