I can’t breathe

December 3rd, 2014

My black brothers and sisters are being killed by police officers with impunity.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Dozens of U.S. cities prohibit people from feeding the homeless where they live.

I CAN’T BREATHE

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and private prison operators make money out of people’s misery and use the imprisoned as slave labor.

I CAN’T BREATHE

We are one of the richest countries in the world, and yet millions of our citizens lack adequate food, housing or medical care.

I CAN’T BREATHE

We are one of only three countries in the world without paid maternity leave, and millions of poor women have their unborn babies killed because they can’t see how they can support them.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Representatives of big corporate interests are put in charge of agencies that are supposed to regulate them, resulting in serious harm to our people, our land and our environment.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Palestinians are denied basic human rights, and my country gives billions of dollars to the oppressors.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Egypt sentences hundreds of peaceful protestors to death, and my Secretary of State praises the country ’s “democracy” and we give billions of dollars to the Egyptian forces of oppression.

I CAN’T BREATHE

SOA/WHINSEC trains those from Latin America who oppress those struggling for freedom, and kill with impunity.

I CAN’T BREATHE

U.S. drones attack foreign countries, and only 1 in 28 of those killed are official targets, and many more are children and women.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Billions of our innocent fellow creatures are held in inhumane conditions, tortured and slaughtered for our palates, causing considerable human health problems and contributing greatly to global climate change.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Unfortunately, I could go on and on.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:23-24 (NRSV)

How long, O Lord, how long?

-Bill Samuel, December 3, 2014

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Participatory Worship

November 10th, 2014

        So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (1 Corinthians 14:26, The Message)        

This is a subject in which I have had great interest for decades, but my thoughts have been stirred recently by an event and some things I’ve read.

A number of years ago I attended an independent charismatic church. At that time, they had a Friday evening service which was not programmed in advance. There was a pastor of the church who, in Quaker terms, clerked the service, helping it to flow as the Spirit led. At the beginning, you would see people talking to him, relaying what the Lord had said to them about what needed to happen that evening. The character of the service varied enormously week from week, as the Lord led. But most of what was vocalized was from the floor of the church. The only standard thing which happened is that, sometime during the about 2.5 hour service, bread and juice would be put out giving the attenders opportunity to take communion. That period would usually be pretty quiet. People often took some time to pray before consuming the elements, frequently kneeling on the steps which are used in place of an altar in that church. I really appreciated this service. Unfortunately, the church stopped doing it.

Charismatic and pentecostal churches often allow people from the congregation to offer a Word from the Lord, but at least at Sunday morning services that’s usually within the context of a service in which the usual Protestant prepared sermon from a pastor is the central focus, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps some of them offer another time when it is all from the body, but I couldn’t find any in my area which do. (And I have theological issues with most charismatic and pentecostal churches.)

The Quaker tradition is to have worship in which there is not a program set in advance, but the Lord may speak through anyone gathered. However today most Quaker groups which are still non-pastoral have moved away from a center in Jesus Christ, and generally the range of expression which is acceptable is limited by a somewhat repressive WASP middle class cultural environment. I have been at a couple of Quaker gatherings where a session broke free from those restraints, and a vibrant, charismatic session resulted. However, that is rare.

I suspect a major reason why the kind of participatory worship Paul recommended to the church in Corinth is so rare is fear. What might happen if the Spirit was allowed to work in the congregation free from control by one or more leaders and from cultural constraints? It seems so much safer to keep things under human control.

So I have this concern for finding and nurturing spiritually alive participatory worship. I would appreciate reflections on this subject and any pointing towards where I might find such worship or how I might facilitate it.

-Bill Samuel, November 10, 2014

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Prayer for Peace

September 7th, 2013
       

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4, NIV)

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3, NIV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44, NIV)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

       

I thank God for the divine love and compassion for each and every human being, which is a model for us.

I thank Jesus Christ for modeling a life of care and sacrifice, and showing us another way than the world’s way of exercising power over one another. I thank Jesus for telling us to love our enemies and put away the sword.

I thank Pope Francis for calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. I thank all those religious leaders of various faiths who have joined in this call, and all the faithful who are setting aside time for prayer for peace.

I pray for the people of Syria that there be an end to weapons taking their lives, injuring them and forcing them into refugee status.

I pray for Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, others in the Syrian government, and the leaders of all the non-state armed elements in Syria that their hearts be transformed and that they put away all weapons of war, and seek a solution which will provide a democratic government which will focus on the needs and rights of all the people of Syria.

I pray for Syrian Christians that they might find hope and strength in the peace and power of Jesus Christ, that they may be free of repression, and that they may find ways to build peace and restore the nation.

I pray for those in Syria who seek to uphold nonviolent action as a way forward that they will not give up hope, and that they may see their efforts increasingly appreciated and supported.

I pray that the leaders of key countries involved, and of the United Nations, will cease providing weapons to all forces in Syria, and will join together to support a Syria where all of its people can live in peace and freedom, with the rights of all respected.

I pray for President Obama, Administration foreign and military policy officials, officials of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and the United States Congress that they might search for peaceful ways forward and not inflict yet more violence on war-torn Syria. I pray they will seek a more humble and cooperative role for our country in the world. I pray they will open their hearts to provide generously for humanitarian aid to Syrian refuges and victims, and welcome Syrian refugees to our great country.

I pray for those serving in the armed forces of our country that they will turn from the ways of violence, and seek ways to use their commitment, courage and desire to serve to foster a world of peace, where all may have the food, water, shelter and medical care they need.

I pray for the leaders of companies which produce weapons of war and support the military infrastructure of our country that they might seek ways to transform their businesses to ones which produce products and services to meet human needs. I pray that all employed by such companies may search their hearts for ways to earn a living which foster peace, care for creation and provide for human needs.

Lord, I pray that the seeds of war in my own heart be transformed through your love, and that I may be an instrument of your peace.

-Bill Samuel, September 7, 2013

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Analysis of Presidential Proposal to Stage Armed Attack Against Syria

September 2nd, 2013

I prepared this analysis to outline to my Senators and Representative the reasons why it is imperative that they oppose the President’s request for authorization to stage armed attacks in the country of Syria. I urged Senator Barbara Mikulski, Senator Ben Cardin and Representative Chris Van Hollen to insist on full public hearings on the proposal before any Congressional vote, and to actively oppose any military action in Syria not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.

The following analysis is of points which are relevant to the President’s proposal. The first two points alone demonstrate that any Member of Congress voting for the action is violating his or her oath to support the Constitution of the United States. The others are not essential therefore to making a decision, but are additional factors.

  1. The government of Syria has not attacked the United States. While the Administration has made no claim of such an attack, this point remains critical because it is the only basis provided in the United Nations Charter, which as a treaty ratified by the U.S. is part of the supreme law of the land, for a nation (or group of nations) to take military action against another nation except as part of an action authorized by the United National Security Council. The relevant language is in Article 51 of the Charter: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
  2. The proposed action would constitute international vigilante action. The only body authorized to respond militarily to violation of “international norms” is the United Nations Security Council. This is clear in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. If I am enraged by a crime committed by one person against another, and fear the justice system will not appropriately respond to the crime and therefore take it upon myself (alone or with others) to violently assault the perpetrator to hold him “accountable” for his crime, such action is considered illegal vigilante action and I (and anyone else who joined with me) may be held criminally liable for the assault. That the person assaulted may indeed be guilty of the crime is not a valid defense to the criminal charges against me. What President Obama proposes is exactly the same thing on an international scale. It would be a vigilante action by those not legally authorized to punish the offender. The idea of flagrantly violating international norms ostensibly to enforce international norms should be viewed as obviously flawed.
  3. The proposed action would justify a Syrian attack against the U.S. Should the U.S. attack Syria apart from a UN Security Council action, the government of Syria would be entitled under Article 51 of the UN Charter to take military action against the U.S. in response. Do we really want this?
  4. We do not have clean hands. The U.S. engaged in chemical warfare in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, causing extensive harm to civilians both immediately and in the years since. A recent study, Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009, by Doctors Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi concludes that this caused a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects. See news story on the study. Using the Administration’s rationale, another country would be justified in staging a military attack against the U.S. to hold us “accountable” for that violation of “international norms.” Do we really want to open that can of worms?
  5. The action would almost certainly cause casualties of innocent civilians. Cruise missiles are not precise weapons which can discriminate between combatants and civilians. Civilian casualties are almost certain. Their blood would be on our hands.
  6. Military action would inflame an already tragic situation. Foreign military action would inject yet a new source of violence in a country plagued by violence from various armed groups. Direct outside military intervention could result in other countries and non-state armed groups responding by taking military action in Syria, against U.S. ally Israel and against other nations. Some observers fear it could escalate into World War III. We can not know in advance how severe these consequences would be, but we should be aware that we would be stirring up a hornet’s nest.
  7. The underlying facts are in question. There are conflicting reports on the cause of the chemical weapons incident. The Administration has not publicly released the evidence supporting its case. Reporters on the ground have found evidence of a very different scenario. See the analysis by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting of these two very different accounts of the incident. We need to be wary of self-serving explanations by the Administration, particularly in view of the history of an almost completely false story being told prior to the U.S. attack against Iraq. Among the questionable elements in the Administration’s story is the use of the propaganda technique of inserting irrelevant facts to try to cover up the lack of key evidence. The Administration points to a rocket attack by Syrian forces 90 minutes before the incident, but doesn’t show its relevance to its argument. Since this attack did not occur at the time of the incident, presumably it involved conventional explosives. It appears to be a smokescreen to try to hide the lack of evidence of a Syrian attack at the tie of the incident. If U.S. intelligence allows us to pinpoint Syrian attacks, why can’t the Administration confirm an attack at the time of the chemical weapons incident?

-Bill Samuel, September 2, 2013

I hereby authorize any person or group to reproduce or link to this post in whole or in part without further permission from me. I request that those reproducing all or a substantial part of the post appropriately credit the source. -Bill Samuel

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Am I Trayvon Martin?

July 21st, 2013

In the public witness actions regarding the case of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin, many people have carried signs reading, “I am Trayvon Martin.” This brings me to the question which I use to headline this post.

This case has triggered something deep in much of the African-American population in the United States. I have heard from a number of whites whose response is to analyze the case. This I think is missing the point. In some ways, the case is not ideal as a frame for looking at the larger issues. But Zimmerman’s relationships with African-Americans and the way Martin responded when he felt threatened by Zimmerman should not be the focus of our national discussion. Rather, we should be looking at why this case causes such deep reactions among our African-American brothers and sisters, and how we can address these underlying issues. I think the President’s comments to the nation on July 19 provide a more useful framework.

My personal reaction not surprisingly is closely related to my personal experience. Due to the unique circumstances of my life, my perspective is informed in the way that the perspective of most Americans of European heritage is not.

Martin died when he was a 17-year-old high school student. So I think back to when I was a 17-year-old high school student - which is 48 years ago for me. The year I turned 17 my family moved to a small Southern town where my father taught at an African-American college, and we lived on the campus. This was my senior year of high school. This was the first year of token integration in that rural county.

The school system didn’t decide until the last minute how to handle the buses. They communicated bus information to students by telephone. My family did not have telephone service because the local office of the phone company (this was the days of phone company monopoly) didn’t want to serve “n****r lovers” (the asterisks were filled in in their case), and it took months for the appeal to go through to get our telephone. As a result, they were unable to notify me of what bus to use.

Because I had not been told what bus to use, I went with a kid three doors down on campus who was going to the same school. He was African-American. The bus driver was quite surprised to see me, but I was allowed on the bus. The buses were segregated. Our bus served its dozen students after it dropped off students at the black high school in the morning and before it picked them up in the afternoon. As a result we got to school late each day and left early each day.

Only one white student at the school would talk to me with other than insults. Since I was the only senior on the bus, I was isolated most of the day. I remember being really scared for my safety when one time the science teacher sent the class off to lab and didn’t come with us. During that lab, one student (President of Youth for Goldwater) remarked loudly to another student, “If there’s one thing I hate worse than a n****r, it’s a n****r lover.” Fortunately I was not physically attacked, but I always felt in danger.

The whites in town knew me as “that n****r lover in the high school.” When I walked down the streets of that tiny town, I saw each white person on the street as a potential threat to me, and each African-American as a friend. This perspective was realistic. This was my experience for a year, and only when I was in that town. So this was only a taste of what African-Americans experience every day wherever they are. They are always marked persons in the larger American society.

What white people in this country need to understand is how it feels for a person of color - and most dramatically for a young African-American male - to be a marked person viewed suspiciously by many others when they are in the larger society environment. If whites can achieve some understanding of what that feels like, they can begin to understand the emotional reaction of African-Americans to the case. It isn’t just about one person in Sanford, Florida. It’s about all who have experienced being regarded as suspicious simply for who they are. The “I am Trayvon Martin” signs express a deep truth about them also being treated as suspicious for who they are.

So I am Trayvon Martin, or at least I was Trayvon Martin. And with my African-American brothers and sisters, I yearn for the day when no one is treated as suspicious just because of the color of their skin, and perhaps combined with their age, their gender and what they happen to be wearing. I yearn for a day when each person regards each other person as a brother and sister worthy of dignity and respect across the boundaries of ethnicity, culture, age, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities, and anything else which divides us artificially.

-Bill Samuel

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An Open Letter to FCNL

December 26th, 2011

This email to Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), was written in response to an email fund appeal from her. I have written a number of such emails over the course of the last 3 years, and I normally get no response. This one I am going to make public.

Dear Diane Randall,

For decades, I contributed regularly to FCNL. I felt it stood for what I believed in, and I could count on it. I thought it was largely free of partisanship.

Then came the Obama election. After the election, I saw a metamorphosis in FCNL. It seemed to become a branch office of the White House - of a President who campaigned on escalation of the war in Afghanistan, increasing the military budget, and increasing the number of military troops. These were all things FCNL traditionally would have opposed. The President kept all those promises, and FCNL supported him in that. It campaigned for a budget that increased military spending and devoted over half of all discretionary spending to the military. Joe Volk, then FCNL’s Executive Secretary, sent out an email asking supporters to write letters to the editor supporting the President’s Afghanistan policy.

At that point, I resolved to stop supporting FCNL. I pointed out this radical change in FCNL to others, and urged them to not support FCNL. Many FCNL supporters had the same reaction. If you will look at donation trends, you will see that FCNL’s income dropped dramatically during that time. The FCNL budget and staff were reduced. The official propaganda from FCNL was that this was due to the economy, but I’m sure FCNL’s betrayal of its values was a large factor.

Gradually FCNL moved back to its traditional positions. However, it has yet to publicly admit it got off course. I am a Christian. I believe in repentance and redemption. But fundamental to that is admitting the sin. I believe there are thousands of us willing to come back as FCNL supporters if FCNL will admit it went seriously off-track after the Obama election, and pledges never again to sacrifice its values to engage in a partisan effort. But we’ve been waiting for years for this, and so far have not seen any sign of an admission by FCNL that it went terribly wrong in that period. I continue to wait.

Bill Samuel

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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama, Christmas 2010

December 25th, 2010

Merry Christmas, Mr. President, to you and your lovely family.

In your Christmas radio message you said, “many are fighting halfway around the globe – in hopes that someday, our children and grandchildren won’t have to.” I believe that you were sincere in saying that, but I ask you to look at that statement in light of the facts of history.

Many of your predecessors said the same thing with respect to the wars they were fighting. People on both sides of every war seem to say that. World War I was called the “war to end all wars.” This hope has proven itself through thousands of years of history to be misplaced. To the extent that history can be said to have proven anything, I believe it can be said to have proven that you don’t bring an end to wars by waging war. It not only doesn’t sound logical; it just doesn’t work.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Is it just possible that Jesus knew what he was talking about? Is it possible that you really do not achieve good ends by slaughtering people?

In your Nobel address, you said you could not be guided as President by the examples of Gandhi and King. Your implication was that the ideas of peacemakers are impractical in “the world as it is.”

Is it possible that it isn’t people like Jesus, Gandhi and King who aren’t facing the reality of “the world as it is” but those that advocate and wage wars? None of these men ever held political office. Yet each of them accomplished a lot more for good than you, the most powerful political leader in the world, will ever achieve by squandering our nation’s dedicated people and resources on wars. And they lived in “the world as it is.”

Mr. President, I implore you to re-consider your following of an approach that has proven over and over again to be ineffective, and causes untold misery. I ask you to abandon the approach of endless wars and instead offer us the politics of hope and lead our country in more positive directions that will constructively use the idealism of those currently on the battlefield and our material resources.

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Reflections on Independence Day

July 4th, 2010

Today in the United States is Independence Day, when the country celebrates the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. At my church, we were completing our annual God in the Movies series, and we focused on the John Adams mini-series. What caught my attention was a particular remark by John Adams, and what I drew from it was quite different from what the day’s speaker did.

The comment, made by John Adams at the Second Constitutional Convention, which caught my attention was that the end would be worth the means. My own Christian understanding is that the end can not really be separated from the means. Rather, we must be sure we are using ethical means if we hope to achieve a good end. The ethical way may seem naive and impractical, but in fact it is not only the right choice, but the only pragmatic one if we really desire a good end.

As the speaker noted, John Adams was a man who really sought to do the right thing. There is much to admire in his life. However, he made a critical error in his thinking in his belief that the willful shedding of the blood of many people could be a means to a good end. This critical error was not only made by most of those who attended that Constitutional Convention, but also by most societies throughout the ages. The universality of the error does not make it right.

Our Lord Jesus Christ allowed his own blood to be shed for the freedom of all. But he refused to be a part of shedding anyone else’s blood, and rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant at his arrest. The early Christian leader Tertullianus said, “the Lord afterwards, in disarming Peter, ungirded every soldier.” This was the almost universal view of the Christian church before Constantine.

One wonders how history would have unfolded had there been a Gandhi in America in the period in which the Revolutionary War took place. In India in the 20th century, as in America in the 18th, there were many who were calling for war against British imperial rule. Yet Gandhi’s different way captured the imagination of the Indian people. In America during the Revolutionary War era, the Society of Friends (Quakers), which has a strong testimony against war, was still a major religious body. However, they had largely withdrawn from the public arena, after having been very active earlier in the colonial period. What would have happened if they had proposed an alternative, nonviolent strategy?

The political leaders in America chose to engage in war against the British. At great cost of lives, they “won.” However, let us look not only at the independence of the United States, but what has happened since.

Born in violence, the United States has a long history of violence since. We have fought many wars, most of them wars of aggression and domination, since, up to and including the present day. We suffered a great Civil War. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” When you use the means of violence, the end is violence and bloodshed.

And what about freedom? The “free country” enslaved African-Americans and engaged in genocide against native Americans. The country has taken military, political and economic action to deny many countries their own freely elected governments. How, for example, might the story of Iran be different if the U.S. had not instigated a coup against Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and installed a tyrant?

We reap what we sow. American leaders in 1776 unleashed a campaign of violence which still reverberates today. Our independent country is #1 in its military, but behind almost all other industrial nations in almost every indicator of economic and social well-being. We have stirred resentment throughout the world through military interventionism, the undermining of free governments, the support of tyrannical regimes and economic imperialism.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God can redeem anything. If we “repent and believe the good news” our course can be changed and we can enter the blessed community of peace and well-being promised in such prophecies as Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom. Let us pray for and work for the day the United States humbles itself, confesses its sins, and turns from its ways of violence and domination.

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Share the Burden

October 31st, 2009

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There was a time when, if a nation went to war, the leader actually led the army into battle, risking his own life. Such a leader shows a meaningful commitment to the cause. He wasn’t like today’s “leaders” who send others into harm’s way, but don’t get in harm’s way themselves. This makes it much easier for them to take their nation into war. They claim sympathy for the poor chumps who get killed and wounded, but aren’t willing to make the commitment they ask others to make.

We need a Share the Burden Act. This legislation would require the Commander in Chief, whenever he (or she) sent troops into harm’s way, to spend a substantial portion of their time in the battle zone, actually leading troops in some of the most dangerous situations in the war. Likewise, the Secretary of “Defense” (a euphemism) and any Member of Congress who supported the military action, including by voting for funds for it, would be required to actually spend time in harm’s way.

Such an Act would separate the chicken hawks from those who actually believed in the military actions. I suspect that such a requirement would result in our nation’s leaders suddenly finding there were good non-military means of dealing with international situations and that war was not really necessary.

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Obama’s Double Standard

June 5th, 2009

In his June 4 speech at Cairo University, President Barack Obama said “Palestinians must abandon violence. . . . Hamas must put an end to violence . . .”

Now I strongly believe that Palestinians should abandon violence, and that includes Hamas. But what struck me in the speech is that no one else was asked to abandon violence; only the Palestinians.

President Obama nowhere in the speech demanded that Israel abandon violence. And nowhere did he promise that the United States would abandon violence. In fact, he spent a significant part of the speech justifying the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is still, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said on April 4, 1967, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today . . .”

I agree with President Obama’s statement in his speech “that violence is a dead end.” But if it is, why ask only one party to abandon it and why not abandon it ourselves?

I don’t think President Obama is even conscious of the inherent contradictions in what he said. Our society is so used to using “violence” (and “terror”) only to refer to actions by the marginalized that a mainstream politician like the President isn’t even thinking of the actions of Israel and the United States in terms of violence. This shows how distorted and sick thinking is in our society and in other privileged societies.

Later in the speech, the President said “we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments . . .” It isn’t spelled out explicitly, but the context makes it clear that what he is really saying is that the United States is justified in refusing to talk to the democratically elected Hamas because it is not a peaceful government. And despite the univeral sounding language, he is really only referring to one government, and he does not apply the same standard anywhere else.

The President strongly defended our ties to Israel even though their government is by no stretch a peaceful government - it kills far more innocent civilians than does Hamas (and it does so generally with U.S.-supplied weapons). And I think it is safe to say that the President would not take well to other governments refusing to deal with his Administration until it abandoned violence.

The contradictions I am pointing out here seem quite obvious, and yet I have yet to see another commentary that mentions them. I think addressing these contradictions is critical if we are to get to the point of realizing what the President correctly called “God’s vision” where “The people of the world can live together in peace.” Realizing the vision requires that the powerful as well as the marginalized turn from the ways of violence and domination.

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