Friday, November 18, 2016

NIEMOLLER FOR TODAY

First he'll come for the Mexicans,
but we won't say anything because we're not Mexicans.
Then he'll come for the Muslims,
but we won't say anything because we're not Muslims.
Then he'll come for the news media,
but we won't say anything because we're not of the news media.
Then he'll come for the feminists,
but we won't say anything because we're not feminists.
Then he'll come for the gays,
but we won't say anything because we're not gay.
But he won't come for us because we voted for him.

(My apologies to Martin Niemoller)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

DOES UNITY TRUMP TRUTH?


Most articles I read in Evangelical Christian magazines and websites since the recent presidential election are attempts at being irenic.  There are pleas for unity and sometimes gentle rebukes to those who are upset.  Politics we are told, should not divide the church.  Those who voted for the losing side are warned that they may have put their hope in a particular candidate rather than the Lord.  This is a time for Christian unity.  (I must confess that often I begin reading these articles, but don't finish.)  Then there are the Facebook post reprimanding those who protest, often accompanied with a few Scripture verses on submission to human government.

Unity and submission; that sums it all up.  Your side lost; get over it!  Quit being a crybaby!

However, as I think back on the history of the church, and as I ponder the Christian heroes of the last two millennia, I am often struck by the fact that these heroes were not submissive and they didn't strive for unity at all costs.  In fact, they often were the focal points of great division.  They were men and women who dared to speak truths that were contrary to contemporary church thinking.

There was John Huss (or Jan Hus) who dared to speak out against the medieval church in Bohemia and who was executed for his words and actions.  John Wycliffe who dare to translate the Bible into the English language, followed by William Tyndale who did the same, called by some God's Outlaw, who was also executed for his "crime."  And, of course, there was  Martin Luther who split the German church by his insistence on preaching righteousness by faith.  We who call ourselves Protestants celebrate these men as our heroes.

And, of course, there were many more - Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, both banished by the Puritan Church of New England for preaching and teaching a Christianity that was not tied to the colonial government.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, who stood against the evils of Naziism and was put to death for his efforts.  Martin Niemoller who did the same, was imprisoned for his stand and somehow survived.

We tend to forget that among other things, the Civil Rights' movement was essentially a religious movement, primarily led by Christians - even preachers, especially Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another martyr.  Many (most?) of his opponents were members of southern white churches.

In all of these cases, those we consider heroes were bucking an established church, one that had a too cozy relationship with the government.  And they were condemned for, among other things, their divisiveness and refusals to submit.

We need not stop there; we could go back to the prophets of ancient Israel, who spoke against the apostasy of their nation, the only nation that could lay claim to be a nation chosen by God.  Just looking into one book of the Bible - 1 Kings - we find Elijah, whom King Ahab called "the troubler of Israel" (18:17) and Micaiah of whom the same kind said, "I hate him because he doesn't prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (22:8).  And there were many, many more, some who died for their stand.

And dare we forget the One who is at the center of our faith - Jesus?  He did not come to bring unity within the "church" of His day - the Jewish leaders who were only too cozy with their Roman conquerors.  He even made the following troubling claim:  "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36).  Not much unity and submission here!

I believe that a great segment of the Church of Jesus Christ has lost its witness through its allegiance to one political party, to the point that the candidates and the pronouncements of that party have taken precedence over the principles of Christianity.

America has elected as their president one who has preached an America that is in contradiction to the morals and teachings of Jesus.  I will not elaborate on his pronouncements here (see previous post); anyone who has seen and heard him on television news should now what he stands for.  Of course, there are some who will tell us (as I have been told), "America is not the church!"  And they are correct; we live in a secular nation that has to quite an extent, abandoned its Christian background.

But this man was endorsed by many prominent (mostly white) Christians who are considered spokespersons for the Christian community.  And the statistics tell us that 4 out of 5 evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.  It looks to me as though the church has once again crawled in bed with the enemy.

As I have said before, I fear for my nation, but I fear more for my church.  And I make no apologies for the position I have taken.

It may be that the time will come when we will have to say with Martin Luther, "I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen!"

Saturday, November 12, 2016

JEREMIAH, WHERE ARE YOU NOW THAT WE NEED YOU?

Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke to the nation of Judah in her last days. The LORD Himself told Jeremiah that he was known and consecrated before he was formed in the womb, and appoint "a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).  Despite Jeremiah's objections the LORD gave him his assignment.

     "See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
     to pluck up and to break down,
     to destroy and to overthrow,
     to build and to plant."  (1:10)
 
Jeremiah was given an assignment that would seem to us to be paradoxical.  He was to call his nation to repentance for their sin and at the same time to announce inevitable judgment.  He knew that he was speaking to a nation - his nation - that was doomed.  It appears that he was not happy with his assignment and his message.  He was filled with grief over the doom of his native land.
 
Jeremiah was a patriot.  He loved his country.  He wept over its forthcoming doom.  Yet as we read his story, we find that his own people hated him and considered him a traitor.  He was imprisoned for his message - cast into a slime filled pit.

And Jeremiah argued with the LORD.  He even at times appeared to be angry.  Much of his book is a dialogue.  Often when given a message, he responds and complains.

"Then I said, 'Ah Lord GOD, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying it will be peace, whereas a sword touches their throat.'" (4:10)
     "My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!
          Oh the walls of my heart
      My heart is beating wildly;
           I cannot keep silent,
      for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
           the alarm of war." (4:19)
      
He wants to run away from the sight of the destruction.
      "Oh that my head were waters
      and my eyes a fountain of tears,
      that I might weep day and night
      for the slain of the daughter of my people!
      Oh that I had in the desert
      a travelers' lodging place,
      that I might leave my people
      and go away from them!
      For they are all adulterers,
      a company of treacherous men." (9:1, 2)
 
And on and on the tragic tale goes.

Tuesday, November 8, America elected Donald Trump as their next president.  Here is a man who preaches hatred for Mexican immigrants and for Muslims, who mocks the handicapped and war heroes, who has boasted about sexually molesting women, who claims he has no need for forgiveness; I could go on and on, but most of us have heard his pronouncements daily on the news.  He has received the endorsement of many "Christian" leaders, and members of his own party - even those he has verbally degraded - as well as the KKK and other right-wing hate groups.

So what is the reaction of the Christian community?  Bland, sappy messages on unity.  Where is the anger?  Where is the righteous indignation?  When I express anger, I am reminded that God is in control, that He sets up kings, etc., as if I didn't know that.

God is sovereign.  Nothing happens that is somehow out of His plan.  And yet He holds us accountable for our actions.  If we really believe in His sovereignty we know that He not only set up Trump, He also set up Hitler, but that did not absolve the German church for their complicity.

I haven't, like Jeremiah, argued with God.  I don't know His reason for allowing Donald Trump to become our president.  My fear is that the case may be as John Calvin is reputed to have said, "When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers."

[NOTE:  I posted the following paragraphs on my Facebook page at various times and received mixed reactions.  I am not reproducing the comments.]
************
Bill Ball, November 9 at 9:07 p.m.
     I read posts by many who are telling us that we as Christians should seek unity after the election.  Pardon me but where were the calls for unity during the past year and a half when many of our "Christian" leaders were endorsing a man for president who preached disunity and hatred for all who are different.  I can't seek unity with those who reject everything I want to stand for as a follower of Christ.
 
Bill Ball, November 9 at 2:20 p.m.
     Eight years ago America elected a good man as President and for eight years we heard slander and conspiracy theories and hatred directed at him by our family and "friends" on the right, most of whom claimed to be Christians.  Now America has chosen a hate mongering racist xenophobic bully for president and our family and "friends" tell us it's God's will and that we should not be angry.  Well I AM angry.  I'm angry at the pious hypocrisy most of all!!!
 
Bill Ball, November 9 at 8:30 p.m.
     I am an unapologetic Democrat.  I have not voted for a Republican since Gerald Ford.  I have been disappointed in many elections.  I have respected the decisions made by the American voters and the man chosen for president every time.  But this election was different.  The American voters have chosen a president who has spouted hatred for those he thinks are unworthy of our country including our present President.  I cannot respect a man like Donald Trump.  I am not just being a sore loser.  I fear for our country and especially those who are minorities.  I fear he will set back all the progress America has made in human rights.
************ 
I'm still fearful for my country and even more fearful for the church in America.  And I'm still angry at the hypocrisy of the Christian leaders who backed Trump and at the hypocrisy of those who want me to just be nice!


 
 
 
 

 
 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

WHITE TRASH

I have been mystified by the seemingly bizarre phenomenon of the rise of Donald Trump.  Here is a man who is (or at least claims to be) a multi-billionaire, who lives a sexually immoral life and boasts about it, who makes racist, misogynistic remarks, who mocks those he considers losers, who contradicts himself constantly (sometimes in the same sentence).  And yet he is adored, even worshipped (?) by a large number of the American people who are ready to make him our next president.

Even if we ignore the large number of blindly committed Republicans and the power greedy religious leaders, we are still left with a huge number of devoted trumpists.  Who are these people?  Are they really just "a basket of deplorables" as Hillary Clinton says?

When I heard about the book White Trash:  The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America, I felt I might find some answers or at least insights.  I was not disappointed.  This is an alternative history that ranks up close to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and while it does not go into the depth of detail of Zinn's book, it does fill in much detail and gives a different perspective from the history we learned in school.

The author, Nancy Isenberg, is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU and is the author of other non-fiction books as well as a regular writer for Salon.com.  Though the book covers much material in its 300+ pages, reading it was never boring.  In fact I found it a real page-turner.

This is not a book about heroes.  It does not paint our founding fathers as exemplary.  It does not glorify the "American dream."  We are not, nor were we ever, a "city on a hill."  Rather we are given a history of the underclass, of those who are to a great extent, ignored by the writers of history.  It is as well, a history of the attitudes of those who did "make history" toward those regarded as inferior.

The underclass has always been with us, and we might even say that our nation was begun as a dumping ground for the poor of England and elsewhere in Europe.  They were always there - on America's frontiers, fighting her wars.  As Ms. Isenberg tells us, "Long before they were today's 'trailer trash' and 'rednecks,' they were called 'lubbers' and 'rubbish' and 'clay-eaters' and 'crackers' -- and that's just scratching the surface" (page 2).

The author traces the history of these people through the centuries -- and they were and still are, as she reminds frequently, still with us; and they are us.  The colonizers and early settlers, the squatters on the frontier were there at the beginning and were part of the westward movement of American "civilization."

There were periods of our history when these people were looked down on as an inferior breed; racism and classism were not that far apart.  The history goes on through the frontier settlement, even our first (but not our last) white trash president, Andrew Jackson.  The antebellum south was populated with these, and it was there when racism and classism were played against each other.  It seems that one way of keeping the lower classes in line was - and still is - is to give them some to look down on.

The author relates the history  of the eugenics movement in this country and the talk of "good breeding."  It seems that Hitler was not that far removed from some of the thinking in America.  While no one would advocate his extreme "solution," it was thought that the problems of the lower classes could be dealt with by proper breeding, even "eugenic sterilization."

The history is traced through the depression, the dust bowl, the "war on poverty," but always bringing to mind those on the bottom rungs.  Though at times the "country boy" or the "redneck" gained popularity, such as with country and country rock music, it was often double edged.  Much of our pop culture was thinly disguised mockery.  TV programs such as "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Dukes of Hazzard," even "Andy Griffith" portrayed the lower classes as ignorant and uncouth.

So where is this book going?  Ms. Isenberg in her final chapter tell us, "If this book accomplishes anything it will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the founders' ingenious plan, or that Jacksonian democracy was liberating, or that the Confederacy was about states' rights rather than preserving class and racial distinctions" (page 313).

As far as the question I raised at the beginning of this post, she answers it well.  I asked "who are these people (the followers of Donald Trump)?'  Her answer:  "Today as well we have a large unbalanced electorate that is regularly convinced to vote against its collective self-interest" (page 313).

We have people in America - white people - who feel beaten down.  They feel the system has failed them.  The political party that at one time was their hope, has ignored them.  They, as we all do, "need" someone to look down on, someone to blame.  And we have a demagogue who has found a way to take advantage of this need.  It has worked many times in the past.  They are taught to fear and at the same time to revile Mexicans, Moslems, blacks, gays, feminists and that black man in the White House.

But these are not people to look down on as simply "a basket of deplorables."  They are real people with real needs.  They are a part of my background, even my family.  What this book has done for me is convict me of my own classism.  In my abhorrence of racism I have found myself using derogatory terms such as are used in this book, to put down those I consider racist.  How often have I referred to them as rednecks or crackers or hillbillies or trailer trash?

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He was clear that that term "neighbor" included everyone, even those who are unloving and unlovable.

Father forgive me for not loving my neighbor.