Elections and Short-Range vs. Long-Range Thinking

July 27th, 2016

We have an election here in the United States in which both major parties have now nominated very unpopular Presidential candidates. A Data Targeting poll in May showed that 65% would be “at least somewhat, pretty or very willing to support a candidate for President who is not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.” A Gallup Poll last September found that 60% thought a third party was needed. Dissatisfaction with the present two-party system is at an all-time high.

Vote buttonThis is causing much dialogue about whether to vote for a third party or whether you need to vote for the major party candidate you least dislike because of the threat of election of the other major party candidate on the theory that third party votes hurt your second choice candidate. My contention is that your view on this may be very different depending on whether you are looking at it from a short-range perspective - generally one based only on this election - or a long-range perspective.

Why do we have a two-party system? Well the crux of it is what has been called Duverger’s Law. Duverger’s law is a principle which states that plurality-rule elections structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system. The reason is that voting for a relatively weak party creates the possibility that a major party will win without a majority of the vote, and it is likely to be the party most disliked by the voters for that relatively weak party. Based on this logic, many voters will engage in “lesser evil” voting in which they will not vote for the candidate they most agree with if s/he is a third-party candidate but instead for whichever one of the major party candidates they find less distasteful. The result is an enormous barrier to the rise of new parties.

The U.S. Constitution did not establish a two-party system or a party system at all, nor did it establish plurality voting. It mostly leaves elections up to the states. Most states (but not all) have a system in which the candidate with the most votes, no matter how small a percentage of the total vote that is, wins. This has greatly favored our present two-party system.

The President is chosen by an indirect means called the Electoral College. The details of how it works are not specified in the Constitution, but are a matter of federal statute. Unlike the case in most American elections, a majority vote is required in the Electoral College. So if there were multiple candidates with electoral votes and none had an initial majority, the electors would need to negotiate among themselves to come to a majority agreement on whom to elect, and the President and Vice President elected would not have to be from the same party. This is somewhat similar to parliamentary systems in many countries, where multiple parties negotiate to select a government. If the Electoral College deadlocks, the House (voting by state delegation) chooses the President and the Senate the Vice President. So it is not federal requirements which produce the two-party system.

In our country, politics is generally looked at from a short-range perspective - the impact of the current election. When looked at from this perspective, the lesser-evil approach seems reasonable. [Even here, the thinking is often myopic and subject to debate. Many of my friends on the left maintain that a vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party amounts to a vote for Donald Trump. But they are generally not considering that there are three third parties which will be on most state ballots, and the other two - Libertarian and Constitution - appeal more to people who would otherwise vote Republican. The effect of voting for alternative candidates is very uncertain.]

Most of these people agree a change in the system is needed. However, they say first we need to deal with this election. This happens every election. Mañana never comes with this short-range thinking. In theory, we can work for changes in election processes while continuing to operate under the two-party system but the likelihood of success is very small. In the first place, you can’t get the momentum needed for such a major change. Secondly, the change is not in the interests of the two parties favored by the current system so why should they allow a change?

Meaningful social change usually is a process which takes some time. It needs long-range thinking in order to succeed. And it absolutely requires the taking of risks. There is no risk-free social change process. And it normally involves efforts to actually implement what change you can without official governmental action. It also acknowledges that making the negative effects of the current system more obvious to the masses is usually key to getting large-scale popular support for change.

So how would we approach the election from a long-term social change oriented point of view? In the first place, we would be more willing to accept short-term risk. For example, would voting for Jill Stein make the election of Donald Trump more likely than if we voted for Hillary Clinton? We don’t really know, but we have to accept the risk that this might be the case if we want change in the long-term. Otherwise, the system won’t change. But if it was seen that the current system created a mess when there were four or five parties getting significant numbers of votes, there would be a great impetus to change the system to better accommodate multiple parties.

From a long-term social change oriented point of view, we vote for a candidate who for the most part expresses our beliefs without being too concerned about the overall results of this particular election. The more votes there are for third parties the more the possibility of a multi-party system becomes evident and the more the problems of the current system become evident. There arises greater awareness of the possibility of using a different system, and greater awareness of the flaws in the current system.

Ballot boxIf the number of votes for third parties (not just for the Presidency - the Green and Libertarian Parties are running many candidates for Congress as well as state and local offices) rises substantially over what has historically been the norm (and the level of current dissatisfaction with the major parties makes that a realistic possibility), we begin to enter a new situation. If candidates who are clearly opposed by the majority of voters are being elected, dissatisfaction will rise and momentum will be created for a more democratic system such as instant runoff or some other system requiring eventual majority consent. In our system, the changes will probably come state by state over a long period of time. A Constitutional change (which is not required to get away from a two-party system, but might have some merit), if it comes at all, would not come until that process was well under way. But long-term change would become much more possible, and we could get rid of the “lesser evil” dilemma.

Most countries find that it is the third parties which become the engine for meaningful social change. Even in this country, that has happened with the election of third party candidate Abraham Lincoln. Once we move to a multi-party system, like most democratic republics have, there will be greater opportunities for all sorts of social change to move forward in our political system.

So how can you exhibit long-range, social change oriented, thinking in this year’s elections? Vote for the candidates which best represent your values. Don’t vote out of fear of possible unintended consequences of your conscience-based votes. Vote your hopes, not your fears. Don’t despair of the possibility of change, but recognize that it won’t occur overnight.


From Death to Life: A Memorial Day Message

May 24th, 2015

     Some time later, I felt the Lord’s power take control of me, and his Spirit carried me to a valley full of bones. The Lord showed me all around, and everywhere I looked I saw bones that were dried out. He said, “Ezekiel, son of man, can these bones come back to life?”
     I replied, “Lord God, only you can answer that.”
     He then told me to say:

         Dry bones, listen to what the Lord is saying to you, “I, the Lord God, will put breath in you, and once again you will live. I will wrap you with muscles and skin and breathe life into you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Ezekiel 37:1-6 (CEV*)

This is an amazing passage which continues with the bones actually coming back to life. The scripture seems to be saying that God can bring life out of death, and God uses prophets - those who are especially faithful - in this work.

It seems appropriate that this (alternate) lectionary reading for Pentecost comes this year during Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. We remember those who lost their lives in the human folly of war, and our President issues a Proclamation in which he calls for “a day of prayer for perpetual peace.” If we would actually make it such, it would be about bringing life out of death.

The date for this reading in the church is also one week after the Transform Now Plowshares defendants were released from prison. Their offense was a prophetic action about transforming the machinery of war into life-affirming purposes.

We need more Christians to sound a prophetic voice for turning from the way of death and oppression to the Gospel way of peace and harmony. How is the Spirit of God calling you?

-Bill Samuel. Originally published as the Friends in Christ Weekly Message for May 23, 2015

* Contemporary English Version ©1995 American Bible Society.


I can’t breathe

December 3rd, 2014

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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.