Sunday, August 30, 2015

‘Not a politician’?

During the 1996 presidential campaign a panelist on a Christian radio talk show noted that GOP candidate Bob Dole, a deficit hawk when he was in the U.S. Senate, changed his position to support tax cuts. The panelist said, essentially, “That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Of course he did — that’s precisely why Dole changed his position, to get such people to vote for him.

I recall that exchange in reference to Donald Trump’s leading the Republican Party in the race for the White House. Many people supporting him — including, I understand, more than a few evangelical Christians — are saying because, well, he’s saying what they believe, most notably with his stance on illegal immigration.

In other words, in that narrative he’s not one of those mealy-mouthed politicians not willing to take a stand.

Here’s the problem: It could be that Trump is taking that stand simply to get those votes; indeed, it’s likely that his utter lack of polish is a campaign tactic in its own right. (Remember that Sarah Palin, when she was selected to run with John McCain in 2008, came out trash-talking but eventually had her head handed to her.)

See, you simply can’t run a campaign on anger toward some target; at some point you have to do brick-and-mortar things and, importantly, get the money to pay for them. Building a wall along the southern border with Mexico and deporting the undocumented, as Trump said he wanted to do, would cost billions that this nation simply doesn’t have. Of course, when you’re trying to take a political posture details are irrelevant. Trouble is that when you do you give people the optimum opportunity to vote against you.

At some point, Trump will need to turn down his rhetoric or get specific or realistic about his plans. If he doesn’t, and at this point it doesn’t seem likely, he’s toast.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Trumped by Trump — and trumping himself

I’ve believed from the start that Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite to take the White House next year. I must admit, however, that I didn’t foresee the help she’s getting from Donald Trump.

According to polls, Trump, running as a Republican, has twice as much support over his next rival for the nomination and as such causing problems for the GOP because of his unwillingness to say what it wants him to. Moreover, during the debate among the 10 leading candidates last week, he wouldn’t rule out an independent campaign if he doesn’t get the official nod.

Thing is, Trump’s appeal is based on his willingness to say what much of the GOP base feels, especially with his broadsides against immigration, but without tying that to the rest of its platform. That’s problematic because the folks who control the party have been trying for decades to paint themselves as political “outsiders” when, really, they’ve never been anything of the sort. In other words, Trump’s heretofore successful campaign is a repudiation of, frankly, their wanting to have it both ways. And since he's too rich to be bought, he's painting them into a corner.

But civil-rights leader Al Sharpton, who once worked for the late R&B singer James Brown, had an interesting take on Trump, whom he apparently knows — and why Trump doesn't stand a chance of becoming president. Sharpton made the analogy that Trump was playing the Apollo Theater when at some point he'll need to tailor his act to Lincoln Center. That is, it's one thing to try to grab attention and another entirely to establish yourself as a serious, polished candidate who knows what he's doing.

Now, people may make the argument that Trump's "not a politician." Sorry, folks, but like it or not, yes, he is precisely because he's running for office and you don't want to give people an opportunity to vote against you. At some point he has to put together a coherent plan that he says he intends to implement if he's elected and not just make things up on the fly; as such, simply "voting them out" doesn't represent a strategy.

I can't say just yet how far Trump will go to get elected or whether he'll survive the primary/caucus season. But at things stand now, he is the alternative to politics as usual, and that's appropriately frightening to the Republican Party.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Behind the Planned Parenthood video

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

— Ninth Commandment

You’ve probably heard of the recently released video of a higher-up at Planned Parenthood that supposedly highlighted the apparent selling of body parts, even discussing costs for getting them out and leading to possible Congressional hearings.

It turns out, however, that the woman involved was talking not about selling organs, illegal against Federal law anyway, but merely collecting tissue, the same as many hospitals do. And the costs she discussed? Shipping.

This video thus represents another propaganda ploy, the likes we’ve seen over the past two decades, first with the “scandals” surrounding then-President Clinton and more recently with ACORN, essentially destroyed after an alleged scandal in its Baltimore office; and former Department of Agriculture aide Shirley Sherrod losing her job over racist remarks she supposedly made. (The ACORN situation turned out be to staged and Sherrod was actually detailing how her own racial resentment was eased — but not before the intended damage was done.)

Some of the same people were involved, which is the point.

As someone who opposes abortion, I’m no fan of Planned Parenthood, but misrepresenting the words of another for any reason in general and for political gain in particular smacks of demonic forces. That’s right — the devil. And it shouldn’t be tolerated.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Some thoughts about the ‘Stars & Bars’

In 1998, the high school marching band in whose district I live caused a bit of a firestorm when it performed a halftime show with a Civil War theme, with part of the show including the playing of the tune “Dixie” and the displaying of Confederate flags — which offended many African-American parents. In response, I wrote an op-ed, “Don’t look away, but play ‘Dixie,” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, during which I referred to my time attending Georgia Tech, seeing that banner on a consistent basis and not bothering me at all.

That being said, given the massacre last month in Charleston, S.C. in which a young white man expressing racist ideology shot to death a state senator who was the pastor of the historic church where it happened and eight other African-Americans, Southern states probably should retire it from official status and relegate it to museums and private homes.

To say that what is more accurately the battle flag of the army of Northern Virginia simply represented slavery and, thus, racism and needed to come down for that reason is a bit of a stretch, as racial justice and reconciliation weren’t even on the agenda in those days and African-Americans were, really, an afterthought.

Remember that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was an opponent of slavery, and even when running for president, Abraham Lincoln, because of whose election 11 Southern states seceded, said he didn’t believe that the races could live together and proposed shipping blacks back to Africa — in line with the views of many even abolitionists. And while Lincoln also opposed slavery, he also proposed a compromise that one “free” state would be admitted to the Union for every slave state. (Only after his Christian conversion in 1862 and the possible recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France did he decide that slavery needed to be eliminated altogether.)

The flag, however, did make an official comeback in South Carolina during the civil-rights movement, its proponents insisting that doing so commemorating the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War — which, while true, certainly came across to many as opposing desegregation.

Moreover, one of my PG colleagues — and now that I think about it, he was right about this — noted back then that the flag also represented treason against the U.S. government. And while it’s fine to recognize that period, that’s not something to celebrate at any time for any reason.

That’s why it needs to be officially retired.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How about some repentance?

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-gender matrimony has many folks apoplectic, with reactions ranging from “God needing to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah” to the surety, in the minds of some, that this country will become outright hostile to people of faith who oppose homosexual conduct.

The former I don’t see happening, but I think the latter might be correct. And that will be their own fault.

How so? Well, way too many folks — and I first saw this in the late 1970s — decided to use gays as a political piƱata for the sake of outrage, not to mention raising funds. Keep on doing that and eventually people will react. On top of that, it’s very easy to focus on sins that others commit, especially those connected to sex.

But things like unjust economics, a major theme in the Scripture and especially the Prophets, often don’t rate as biblical. Wonder why? Well, we benefit from them. Indeed, evangelicals have had an alliance with the business community since the 1940s and in the process failed to critique it. So now that business are supporting gays because they make money off them, we’re finding ourselves isolated.

Bottom line, we need to rethink our alliances — and repent of them. Perhaps then if we speak about sin people will take us seriously.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Taken for granted

What’s the commonality between the possible removal of the Confederate battle flag, sparked by the massacre of the pastor, also a state senator, and eight other members of a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., from public display in many Southern states; and the recent SCOTUS decision legalizing “gay marriage” throughout the nation?

One thing that comes to mind: Flag supporters and same-gender matrimony opponents never gave a consistent rationale for their views.

In the case of the flag, avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof shot up those folks after a Bible study, saying, “You need to go.” And considering that such is considered to have represented racism all these years, especially during the civil-rights movement, it can be hard to believe, as its defenders insist, that it represents Southern “heritage,” not hate. They just assumed that what they held dear represented truth and not considered a consistent insult to a large segment of the population — with whom it never discussed the issue.

And in reference to gay marriage, many look to the Bible, which does label gay sex but also a number of other practices as sinful. (Funny, but those aren’t addressed.)

Numerous Christian bodies, including my own denomination, have said that their pastors would refuse to perform same-gender weddings (a position I personally support); in those cases, however, they’re willing to be “out of step” with the rest of the world, as any church should be. It becomes a problem when that view becomes part of the culture, and given the reality that folks often get married because they’re “hot” for each other and divorce when that’s no longer the case, the complaints about gay marriage ring hollow.

Basically, it has come down to “We can’t have our way anymore — what’s going to happen to our country?”

Perhaps that needs to be rethought.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The future of the American church

What will the Christian church in the United States look like in the next generation? And who will be part of it? Only God knows for sure. But, as the song goes, “the times, they are a-changin’.”

The Pew Research Center, which measures numbers, noted that the results of a survey released earlier this week indicated that the percentages of Americans not affiliated with any religious group has risen sharply, nearly eight percentage points, over the past seven years, driven largely by the so-called millennial generation. The survey didn’t try to explain comprehensively why this is happening, but I have my suspicions.

I suspect too much of an emphasis on and expectation of maintaining “tradition.”

Long gone, of course, are the days where you were born, reared, married and died in one singular faith tradition without questioning. But it seems to me a lot of that has to do with the growing lack of insularity between different traditions, with people moving among them as never before around the time I was coming up. (Until 1998 I was a lifelong Presbyterian of a fairly conservative bent; while I still think of myself as Reformed, that theological school is not a “test of fellowship.”)

I do get concerned, however, with my generation’s emphasis since the 1980s on a national “Christian heritage,” with a couple of state legislatures working on bills to make the Bible their official book. And I wonder if people in their 20s and 30s — those who would be the ages of my children if I had any — are rebelling against that because a higher percentage of the “nones” come from that generation than the population at large.

You see, “tradition” implies “establishment,” to which God never called us as a church because when you become establishment you invariably also become liberal, watering down some Biblical essentials for the sake of getting along in society. What became the religious right beginning in the 1970s and drove the culture war some 30 years ago melded conservative politics with liberal theology, with the fight against “gay rights” actually fitting into that category because all the Bible has always said about homosexuality is, in essence, “Don’t bring that into the church.” Trouble is, our efforts to marginalize gays then have in fact backfired tremendously, with even a number of evangelicals supporting same-gender matrimony.

Some folks are already saying that American society will crumble if people stop going to church; I question that because Europe has been pretty secular for decades, if not centuries, but tends toward stability. I suspect they fear a loss of privilege, an understanding that their values aren’t to be challenged or even questioned. But to me, it also signifies a lack of trust in God to preserve His people, especially since many of them cry “persecution” at the drop of a hat. (Truth be told, you can’t be persecuted if you’re in a position of power.)

I can’t say with any certainty just what the future holds for the church in American society. But I do know Who holds that future so I’m not worrying about it, and we may simply need to adjust.