Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Why I’m Voting for Joe

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

On November 4, we have an Election Day in the United States which will result in the choosing of the next President. Many people have explained for whom they’re voting, and I’ll join them in that. And that often includes why they’re not voting for someone else.

Very few of my friends seem to have seriously considered voting for John McCain, and I don’t think most of them would expect me to vote for him. So I won’t devote much energy to explaining why I’m not voting for him. I will reference him occasionally, but the major issue in the circles in which I move is whether to vote for Obama or for some non-duopoly candidate, so that is what I will principally address in this post.

Why I’m Not Voting for Obama

Since many people are making the assumption that if you don’t want McCain to be President, you should vote for Obama, let me address why I disagree.

I don’t believe in voting for the lesser evil. I think voting for evil is morally wrong. Of course you aren’t likely to agree with any candidate 100%, but it seems to me that you need to view them as on the whole working in the right direction to vote for them in good conscience. Since I believe that the fundamental assumptions that underlie much of the policies of the country are wrong, that means I don’t vote for candidates who basically uphold those assumptions, even if they may tweak them slightly in the right direction. Obama does not seem to reject any major assumption of our system, and has never stood for any significant change to the best of my knowledge, so he is not seriously in contention for my vote.

Let me just outline a few of the ways in which Obama represents the wrong way:

  • He has voted to spend over half of the discretionary budget on the military - current and future mass murder. And his campaign position is that we spend too little on the military, and should spend more. Furthermore, he wants to increase the size of the active duty military forces. [McCain's official position is virtually identical on all of this, although he did cite the military budget in the last debate when asked where he could cut.]
  • He favors massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan [so does McCain], and military attacks on Pakistan [McCain has criticized him for that].
  • He has said that the first thing he will do when in office is sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” which would outlaw all restrictions on abortion by the Federal, state, and local governments [McCain opposes it]. This is consistent with his record of opposing all abortion restrictions in the past. And while he says he is in favor of reduction in abortions, he refuses to support the Pregnant Women Support Act, a Democratic-sponsored measure which would provide the kind of social supports that make it easier for women to choose life.
  • He favors the death penalty, even though he admits it is ineffective, because he believes in vengeance.
  • He is a strong supporter of subsidies for corn-based ethanol [McCain opposes them]. Simply from an environmental standpoint, this is bad because producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But its most disastrous effect is on the poor. The diversion of corn to ethanol production is a major contributing factor to the precipitous rise in world grain prices we have seen (the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates bioenergy accounts for 30% of the increase). Skyrocketing grain prices mean poor people can not afford the food they need to survive. UN Food and Agricultural Organization Director-General Jacques-Diouf said, “The fact is that people are dying already.”
  • He favors “clean coal” [as does McCain], although experts say that there is no way to make coal production environmentally responsible.
  • He decided to attempt to buy the election with the massive sums he can raise, much of it from Wall Street and other corporatist elements, instead of accepting public funding of his campaign, even though he promised to accept public funding if his opponent did [and McCain has accepted public funding, resulting in having less than 1/6 of the funds Obama has].

Poverty and the “Matthew 25 Network”

There is a group calling itself the “Matthew 25 Network” organized by a Democratic operative which has recruited a number of pastors. Despite the name, it does not exist to encourage people to act in accordance with Matthew 25. It is rather an attempt to use Christ to support partisan political purposes, which is arguably blasphemy. Christ refused to align himself with any of the major religio-political parties of his day, and instead preached and practiced an alternative vision.

The “Matthew 25 Network” exists to support Barack Obama for President. This despite the fact that Obama’s policies are in direct contradiction to the principles Christ outlined in Matthew 25 of supporting the poor and outcast. Not only are his subsidies for corn-based ethanol production currently killing poor people, but his skewed national priorities directly result in killing the poor (most of the casualties from war) and also result in the lack of resources for programs to address social needs. As former President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Jesus did not say of the righteous:

For I was hungry, and you used the grain that could have fed me to produce ethanol. I was thirsty, and you used water resources to produce “clean coal” and ethanol. I was a stranger, and you bombed foreigners. I needed clothes, and the money you spent on clothes went for military uniforms. I was sick, and you devoted your resources to wars so there wasn’t enough for health care. I was in prison, and you executed me so the society could wreak vengeance.

If Not a Duopoly Candidate, then Who?

McCain and Obama aren’t the only people running for President. There are some who are on many state ballots, some on a few, and others running solely as write-in candidates. Many of these candidates represent a markedly different vision than that of McCain and Obama.

On many issues, I agree with the positions of Ralph Nader (independent) and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party). However, while these candidates stand for life in many respects, their campaign platforms do not stand up for the unborn, the veritable “least of these” (whom the “Matthew 25 Network” ignores). Nader seems preferable because he did come out in a 2004 interview for banning feticide, so seems at least open to recognizing the dignity and worth of the unborn. Nader is on 45 state ballots, more than any other alternative candidate. So if you’re going to vote for someone on the ballot, I would suggest you vote for Ralph Nader.

I intend to vote for Joe Schriner. He is a Christian who is running as a consistent life ethic candidate. He is right on all the life issues on which Obama is wrong. He is a strong environmentalist, and an advocate of simple living. He had hoped to run in the Green Party primaries, but his campaign was blocked by state Green Party leaders who objected to his being pro-life on abortion. I urge everyone to write-in Joe Schriner for President and Dale Way for Vice President. He is a registered write-in candidate in several states, including my state of Maryland.

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The Palins and Changing Gender Attitudes

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Sarah Palin has burst onto the national scene with her selection as John McCain’s running mate. She has generated an unusual amount of excitement. When someone generates the level of excitement she has, it is usually because they represent something to people. Somehow, they strike a chord.

Palin is a politician with a generally right wing perspective. It isn’t her views which excite people. There is nothing particularly notable about them. And in fact many who are excited by her don’t share most of her views.

Some call her “hot” but it isn’t her looks which are responsible for the phenomenon. She doesn’t dress provocatively or project an “available” image. And she has generated the most enthusiasm not among men looking for a sex object, but among women - and usually moms. She has an 80% popularity rating among white women, and there has been a remarkable political shift of 20 points in that demographic since she was nominated.

So what does she represent? She calls herself a feminist, but is definitely not aligned with the feminist establishment - mostly upscale white women with a heavy ideology that has never attracted the masses. She lives out the idea that a woman can do anything, and importantly that it is not a choice between having a family and doing something in the world. She is proud of having defeated the “good old boys” in her amazing gubernatorial election where she first toppled an incumbent governor in the primaries and then defeated a popular former governor in the general election. She is definitely feminine and not a man-hater, but unafraid to challenge men in what were traditionally the provinces of men. Her life becomes a symbol with which many ordinary women strongly identify.

Let’s not forget the man she calls “my guy” - her husband Todd. He seems like a “man’s man” - a TV commentator during the convention called him “studly.” Blue collar oil production worker, commercial fisherman, champion snowmobile racer - he really seems to fit the typical masculine image in so many ways.

And yet he is not the stereotypical macho male who feels the need to dominate women. He doesn’t seem interested in dominating his wife. He doesn’t seem to feel challenged by her success, but to be genuinely proud of her. And he doesn’t seem to have a problem with staying home and taking care of the kids while his wife is governing the state. Being “First Dude” is just fine with him.

The Palins have been flexible about roles. There was a time when she was a stay-at-home-mom - the “hockey mom” - and Todd was the breadwinner, and they were largely living “traditional” roles. Now she’s Governor and Todd spends a lot of time on the home front, taking care of the kids. They adjust to changing situations. They seem to have a secure, happy marriage, and love their kids and can adjust when their children don’t do what they hoped.

The Palins present a model of not being boxed in by rigid role assignments. It is a model that in no way challenges marriage and family, but shows that you don’t have to choose between that ideal and doing what draws you regardless of traditional gender roles. Their right wing politics highlights that this is not a way of living associated with a particular political ideology, but is something for everyone across the spectrum.

In some ways, the Palins seem to represent the triumph of the feminist movement. Those who have flown the feminist flag are divided in their reaction. Some have exploded in rage, because Sarah Palin is clearly not one of them. Others admit to admiring her, while being appalled at many of her views. Sarah does not spend her time bashing the feminist establishment, although the only feminist group she has felt able to identify with is Feminists for Life, which itself attracts mostly people with a very different political perspective than hers. And it has been interesting to see the dynamic between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. They seem to respect each other. Some would like to see Hillary lash out at Sarah, but Hillary doesn’t seem to be interested in that. I think she will keep their differences political, and not make it personal.

In part what we are seeing is a generational shift in attitudes. In that, Palin has a lot in common with Obama. They are of the same generation. Just as Obama is African-American but doesn’t get boxed into being a black politician like prior black candidates, Palin is proudly a woman but doesn’t get boxed into the old image of a feminist politician. So, while there is much going on in America that discourages me, I can see signs of important positive movement in my lifetime on some very important matters. The younger generations just aren’t hung up on race and gender in the way so many Americans were when I was young. They’re more willing to let people be people, and not box them in.

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Reflections After a Water Emergency

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

On Sunday evening, a 48-inch water main in our area broke. Our water authority gots lots of calls from people with no water or very low water pressure, but it took several hours to find the break since it was in park land down a ravine.

They then imposed mandatory water restrictions - no outside watering, no laundry, no dish washing, etc. They also issued a boil water advisory to last at least three days. Residents were advised to boil water (or use bottled water) used for drinking, preparing or cooking food, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, etc.

All restaurants - several hundred - in the area were ordered to close, and other businesses (groceries, convenience stores, etc.) selling prepared food were prohibited from selling food prepared after the incident. On the first day, government offices in the area closed. A number of camps and schools also closed.

By late Monday, they had isolated the pipes in the area of the break, and restored water service to the area and lifted the mandatory water restrictions. Restoration did not depend upon repairs, which will take longer. They even had to build a small road in order to get equipment down to the site.

Results from the first round of water testing became available Tuesday evening. None of the samples had any bacterial contamination. Good news, but the State requires two successive rounds of testing with no findings of contamination before a boil water advisory can be lifted. The State and County did decide to allow restaurants to re-open, but under a rather severe set of requirements with tap water, unless boiled, not usable for cooking, cleaning of table services or anything else, hand washing, etc.

On Wednesday evening, the second round of water testing confirmed the absence of bacterial contamination, and the boil water advisory was lifted. The water emergency was over.

All this was quite an inconvenience. But we ourselves never completely lost water. And we use bottled water for drinking, so that was not an issue.

This incident caused me to reflect on our privileged status. Most of the time, we have ample clean water for all purposes, right in our own home. So many do not.

Our situation at the height of our water emergency was much better than the every day situation of a substantial portion of the world’s population. They would be so grateful to be able to live under that kind of situation.

More than one billion people in the world today lack access to safe drinking water - not for a brief interlude due to a water main break but every day year round. And 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Each year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhea, mostly as a result of drinking contaminated water. Even many who do have access to reasonably safe drinking water have to haul it by hand some distance from their homes.

There is a vast difference in the lives of those of us who live in the world’s more affluent nations in reasonable comfort, and billions who live in poverty. Our status is not due to us being better or more moral than those in poverty. It is a matter of circumstance. Causes of the misery of so many include greed, wars, economic exploitation, and racism. Our profligate lifestyles definitely contribute to the problem.

What are some of the lessons I take away from this?

  1. Be thankful for my many blessings.
  2. Consider the implications of my lifestyle, and how that might change.
  3. Be in prayer for those facing extremely difficult life circumstances.
  4. Use some of my relatively abundant material resources to help those in need.
  5. Work to change national priorities away from militarism towards meeting human needs and increasing equity.

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Day of Prayer for Permanent Peace

Monday, May 26th, 2008

In respect for their devotion to America, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved on May 11, 1950, as amended (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. [From the President's 2008 Memorial Day Proclamation]

Memorial Day (today) is a major holiday in the United States. But listening to the news on radio and television, and perusing the daily newspaper, one rarely finds any reference to the official purpose of the holiday “as a day of prayer for permanent peace.” Instead, it is often twisted into a day for glorifying war.

The idea of Memorial Day originated during the Civil War when a group of women buried the dead from both sides of the war and planted flowers on the graves both of the fallen who had fought on their side and those who had fought on the other side. These women who had lost sons, husbands, brothers and others dear to them were moved to make this gesture of reconciliation and of recognition of the horror war imposes on both sides.

Sadly, we continue to live in a world of war. The United States is engaged in two hot (albeit undeclared) wars, and has garrisons in hundreds of countries across the globe. More than half of the discretionary budget of the United States is devoted to military-related purposes, and all three Senators running for President of the United States are calling for even greater spending for the machinery of death.

Meanwhile, across the globe, there are armed conflicts within a number of nations, some of them involving forces from outside the country of conflict. The tragedy of war not only directly causes many deaths and injuries, of civilians as well as combatants, but also results in hunger, homelessness, disease, environmental degradation, and enormous waste of resources that could have been used for good.

Many war veterans have recognized that they need to respond to their own experience of the horrors of war with a commitment to work to end war. See, for example, Vietnam veteran Mac Bica’s On This Memorial Day commentary.

I urge everyone to use this Memorial Day for its stated purpose, and pray for permanent peace. And may your prayers move you to action to end the madness of war.

Personally, I pledge this election year Memorial Day not to vote for any Presidential or Congressional candidate who does not stand for major reductions in the military budget and a change in America’s aggressive posture towards the rest of the world.

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An Evangelical Manifesto

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

On May 7, a group of prominent evangelical leaders issued An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. It was developed by a Steering Committee of 9, including the President of Fuller Theological Seminary and the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, as well as one of my favorite writers and a leader in the Renovaré movement, Dallas Willard. In addition, there were 75 Charter Signatories, including many very prominent names in evangelical circles - conservative, moderate and liberal. Hundreds more have also signed. So this is a very important document.

The document is the latest development in a growing movement in recent years to rescue Evangelicalism (the Manifesto insists on this capitalization, and I am following their lead in this commentary) from the narrow stereotype of a bunch of fundamentalist conservative Republicans whose concerns are mostly limited to a couple of very controversial issues. Another prominent landmark in this movement was the 2004 statement by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. Much credit for these promising developments should be given to evangelicals who have been actively laboring for many years for a broad agenda of social issues such as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Jim Wallis of Sojourners (both Charter Signatories of the Manifesto).

The Manifesto asserts three major mandates for Evangelicals:

  1. We Must Reaffirm Our Identity
  2. We Must Reform Our Own Behavior
  3. We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life

The wording of these mandates sounds like a call by the signatories to the Evangelical movement; an internal document for those who identify themselves as Evangelical. And it is that, and very rightly so. But it also serves an important function of speaking to those outside the Evangelical community to rectify misimpressions of what Evangelicalism is about. I feel it does a good job of speaking to both of these audiences.

I want to highlight some key elements of this landmark Manifesto (I can only here identify a few; the Manifesto is 20 pages and I encourage you to read the entire document for yourself), and offer some comments on them:

  • In reaffirming Evangelical identity, the Manifesto provides a useful definition: Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. Personally, I can wholeheartedly identify with that definition.
  • It notes that Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. This is in fact its historical place, but developments in the last half century came to blur the lines between Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and I think this point is important. [Side Note: While insisting that Evangelical and its derivatives be capitalized, they don't extend the same courtesy to fundamentalists.] Again, personally I have sought to distinguish my own faith understanding from either of these tendencies, although I have done it outside of mainstream Evangelicalism.
  • It reiterates the concept of sola scriptura and the “supreme authority of the Bible.” This is well in keeping with Evangelical tradition. Personally, I believe this contradicts the centrality of Jesus Christ and is in conflict with their own definition of Evangelicals. This is a major reason why I consider myself evangelical but not an Evangelical. This is not the place to go into depth on this issue, and I plan a separate post addressing it.
  • The second mandate the Manifesto identifies really constitutes confession and repentance. This is very healthy. It does an excellent job of identifying major areas where Evangelicals have often gone in the wrong direction.
  • In the third mandate of the Manifesto, it does a good job of identifying “two equal and opposite errors” of privatizing faith and of politicizing faith. It correctly calls for engagement with politics, but avoiding identification with party or partisan ideology. I appreciate its call to a civil public square — a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. This sets the proper balance.
  • It addresses a key historical issue for the Church in stating, We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. I think the truth is more mixed, and the Manifesto itself is somewhat weak in its argument in this section. It follows that statement by noting While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war . . . This is a factual observation (and putting the two on an equal plane is a step forward, as pacifists often don’t get much respect), but it is somewhat ironic as the Just War Theory is itself a Constantinian development. In this respect, the Manifesto may represent an important step forward, but also illustrates that there is some distance still to go.
  • Importantly, it shares with the earlier landmark NAE Call a call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics.

While I am not 100% in unity with the Manifesto, I heartily welcome it as an important and positive contribution to the Church finding its way to more truly be the Body of Jesus Christ.

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Everything Must Change

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Everything Must Change CoverLast year I was provided a pre-publication copy of Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope by Brian D. McLaren (Thomas Nelson, 2007, 327 pages). The goal was to read it and publish a review of it on my blog before the publication date. I knew that was ambitious, and in fact I didn’t finish it before then. All I got on my blog was a post on the amahoro story in the second chapter. I did finish the book months ago, but only now am I getting around to publishing a review of it.

This book follows on Brian’s previous book, The Secret Message of Jesus, which will give you a leg up in reading this book, but Everything Must Change can certainly be understood without having read The Secret Message first. The key point, reiterated in Chapter 1, is that Jesus’ message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven. (p. 4) The things that churches often spend their energy talking and disputing about actually serve as weapons of mass distraction (p. 21), keeping Christians from focusing on the really important matters.

Brian seeks to answer two basic questions:

  1. What are the biggest problems in the world?
  2. What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?

Brian did extensive research to determine what the most important issues are. He found that the experts have different ways of categorizing the world’s problems, but mostly come up with similar lists. Brian grouped the issues into three deep dysfunctions that would be agreed upon by many secular experts, plus a fourth which he feels is the leverage point through which we can reverse the first three. He names them each as a crisis:

  1. Prosperity Crisis - our unsustainable global economy that fails to respect environmental limits;
  2. Equity Crisis - the growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor;
  3. Security Crisis - the danger of cataclysmic war; and
  4. Spirituality Crisis - the failure of the world’s religions to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the first three crises.

Brian maintains that our global systems have become a suicide machine reprogramming the systems to destroy those they should serve. He’s not maintaining that this is some sort of secret conspiracy, but rather the consequences of attitudes and decisions over the centuries.

Brian doesn’t just expect you to take his analysis on faith. He outlines the crises, and provides sources you can use to explore the issues in greater depth.

This may sound like all doom and gloom, but as a follower of Jesus, Brian is a man of hope. He is confident that Jesus has provided the pattern for a way forward, and that Christians can make a real difference if they understand the framing story Jesus tried to show us and seek to live in accordance with it. The last part of the book he calls The Revolution of Hope, and it provides starting points for a way forward.

Brian is a great writer, and the book is much easier to read than one might expect for a tome on the world’s greatest problems. He weaves in a lot of personal stories that are very illuminating. I’m not saying there aren’t parts that are heavy going, but it is written so that it can be understood by people without a lot of degrees or specialized knowledge.

As harsh as Brian’s analysis sounds, actually he deliberately tries to be gentle with people who may be exploring some of these ideas for the first time. One consequence is that he doesn’t always carry things through to their logical conclusion, because he thinks many folks aren’t quite ready for that. For those in the Peace Church tradition, this happens notably when he makes a good case for the peace position of Jesus, but then fails to follow through, and allows for both the pacifist and just war positions.

But any quibbles I have with the book are minor. I believe that Brian has correctly diagnosed the major global issues, correctly described how Jesus’ life and message speaks to them, and helpfully provided some steps on moving forward to addressing the issues. I wholeheartedly recommend that every Christian - and every other person with a deep concern for the global situation - read this book. I also encourage the formation of small groups to discuss the book together, as I feel this sort of engagement with one another is very helpful. Brian helpfully provides discussion questions after each chapter, which can be used as the basis for small group discussion.

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