Articles By This Author
Congress Should Give the Interim Deal with Iran A Chance
After a decades-long standoff, Iran and the West (plus China and Russia) have signed an interim agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. While some are calling it a historic breakthrough along the lines of Nixon’s visit to China, the U.S. media has been mostly skeptical. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is already looking for ways to derail the deal by passing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and tie the President’s hands for future negotiations. Despite the fact that President Obama has successfully passed tougher sanctions on Iran than any previous administration, the U.S. media in lockstep with Congress continue to thumb their noses at anything that resembles diplomacy when it comes to Iran. And while other U.S. allies in the region — primarily the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia — have expressed their concerns over this deal, few Americans care about what the Saudis think. As representatives of the American people, what Congress really cares about is what Israel thinks.
That’s where things get dicey.
A (Possibly) Significant Development in Muslim-Christian Relations
A possibly significant development in Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations is being spear-headed by the Islamic Scholars of North America (ISNA). In July of 2012, ISNA Director of Community Outreach, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, convened a small multilateral forum of scholars in Mauritania to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world.
Mauritania is an interesting choice, since it has no indigenous Christian population, and the CIA World Factbook lists the country as “(official) 100% Muslim.”
So, officially, Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, which begs the question: If the ISNA is reaching out to Islamic scholars in Mauritania on the issue of minority religious rights, and the (official) statistic is that Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, is this a tacit recognition on ISNA’s part that some of the 100 percent officially Muslim Mauritanians have secretly switched their religion … and that international human rights standards should allow them to do so?
If that’s the case, then this is a significant development in interfaith relations.
… the key word being if.
In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center
When I was in junior high, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.”
So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.
The Triumph of Hypothetical Evil Over Real Evil
There’s a famous maxim that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Though Wikipedia says otherwise, the statement is often attributed to Edmund Burke.
I doubt that Wikipedia will give me the credit for this 200 years from now, but I’d like to take a crack at a counterpoint to Burke’s famous maxim anyway: Sometimes evil triumphs not when good people do nothing, but when good people fail to distinguish between hypothetical evil and real evil, and end up doing something about the former when they should be doing something about the latter.
Case in point: National Conservative Christian radio host Kerby Anderson’s attempt to rally his followers to thwart the Senate from ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty.
Toward an Evangelical Peace Movement
Billy Sunday was the most famous evangelist in America during the first two decades of the 20th century. Without the aid of loudspeakers, TV or radio, Sunday preached to over 100 million people the classic evangelical gospel that remains familiar to many people today. Repent and believe in Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins, and be saved from eternal damnation. The simplicity of Sunday’s message prompted millions of early 20th century Americans to examine the state of their souls and consider their eternal fates. Yet when it came to conscientious objectors during World War I, Sunday spared no mercy:
The man who breaks all the rules but at last dies fighting in the trenches is better than you God-forsaken mutts who won’t enlist.
Throughout our nation’s history, it’s been an axiom that Presidents lead us into wars, while Christians provide the flags and the crosses. Barring a few notable exceptions — Anabaptists, Quakers, and early Pentecostals — evangelical fervor has often promoted an uncritical nationalism that baptizes American military adventures with religious legitimacy. It’s no coincidence that the setting of Mark Twain’s famous War Prayer —in which Twain delivers a devastating critique of the use of religion to justify imperialism — is a Protestant Christian church. Given the historical record, it may seem the deck is stacked against American evangelicals organizing into a comprehensive peace movement — yet that’s exactly what’s happening.
Was Jesus a Fundamentalist?
When I was in my early 20’s, a Bible teacher by the name of Dianne Kannady posed a rhetorical question that continues to haunt me to this day: “If Jesus was your only source of information about what Christianity should look like, how would you live your life?”
That question has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.
Consider the three things that instantly come to mind.
1. Jesus preached nonviolence.
2. Jesus was a faith healer.
3. Jesus challenged the religious fundamentalists of his day.
Can Rich Folks Go to Heaven?
That whole camel through the eye of the needle thing: What is that about?
And, yes, the eye of the needle means exactly what you’re thinking. Not some gate in Jerusalem. Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle that you used to stitch that Noah’s Ark for your child’s bedroom — than for a rich guy to get to heaven.
Let. That. Sink. In.
Unless some freakishly unexplainable phenomenon occurs where camels all of the sudden start popping out of needles (imagine the Discovery Channel documentary on that one), I have to conclude that no rich person will be in heaven.
Except that’s not the end of the story…
God is Pro-Peace
As a person who (loosely) identifies with the evangelical tradition, allow me to make a clear, unambiguous, declaration: GOD IS PRO-PEACE!
You may be thinking, “Just how exactly does a guy who claims to believe in the inspiration of Scripture arrive at the conclusion that God is pro-peace? Has this guy even read the Bible? Maybe he’s one of those amnesia-type Christians, the ones who read through the Bible every year as part of their daily devotions, and every time they get to the slavery and genocide passages, their mind goes ______________.
Maybe it wasn't those exact words, but whatever you were thinking, believe me, I get it!
The Bible is Not a Public Policy Manual!
My pastor and I have a friendly tiff going on. He says that Jesus was strictly a-political; therefore Christians should abstain from politics completely. I say that Jesus challenged violent, poverty-inducing, socio-political structures throughout his life and ministry; therefore Christians have a duty to advocate for peace and to speak out for the poor and the oppressed. Both of us are hardheaded, and neither of us cedes much in our debates, but we always walk away as friends, because at the end of the day there’s a key component to the discussion that we both agree on: The Bible is not a public policy manual!
What I Wish I'd Known in Junior High: It. Gets. Better.
Allow me to share with you a list of characters I’ve been told that I look like. I got all of these when I was in elementary, junior high, and high school.
- Mr. Bean
- Ernie of Bert and
- Boy George
- The elf that wants to be a dentist from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Imagine being a 12-year-old boy and all of your classmates agree that you look like the nerd on Saved by the Bell. Not exactly a confidence booster when it comes time to ask a girl if she wants to — as I remember the phrase —“go out with you.”
But that was me. Scrawny. Brainy. Goofy. Religious. Socially-awkward. I sucked at sports, but could sing and act, which were gifts that no adolescent male wanted back then. These were the days before, High School Musical, American Idol, and Justin Bieber. Go figure.
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