Archive for August 2012

In "liberal" v. "conservative" debates we've heard all year, one repeated argument is over entitlement and self-sufficiency.  One side argues in favor of social programs as a crucial safety net for the most vulnerable members of society.  The other side notes the cost of the programs and the potential for those same people to become dependent upon the support of government.  I've placed quotations around these ideological terms because the lines get more blurry than you would think around a concept I'll call The Nanny State.

Originally a British expression, Nanny State refers to government policies over-reaching and essentially "babying" the public.  It can function as both a liberal complaint (conservative fiscal policies designed to protect wealth) and a conservative one (legal requirements on products that invite litigation).  The tone of this current election year leans toward complaining about government coddling the perpetually unemployed.

Earlier this month, though, Missouri voters have given us a spectacular example (emphasis on "spectacle") of conservative, religiously-oriented over-reaching.  Quoting FoxNews.com:

"Missouri voters approved an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday [August 7, 2012] that proponents say will help ensure the right to pray in public.  The amendment was on a statewide ballot and had widespread support, though critics said the right to pray is already protected under the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.  State GOP Rep. Mike McGhee and other supporters agreed, but they said Amendment 2 is really an effort to make the state constitution match the U.S. Constitution and protect Christianity, which they said is under attack."

We probably should be deeply concerned about elected officials or their constituents setting out to change government in ways that will "protect Christianity."  Where Jesus said, "Give back to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22: 21), Missouri would like to force Caesar to name-and-claim what is truly God's.

The concept of Nanny State comes in when McGhee and others justify the amendment.  With limited anecdotes, examples have been given in interviews -- last week on National Public Radio "Tell Me More" and elsewhere -- of cases where teachers or other officials have misapplied the law or overstepped their authority.

From the same Fox article online: "McGhee, whose legislation led to the amendment proposal, told FoxNews.com about an incident in which a teacher told a kindergartner singing 'Jesus Loves Me' while swinging on the playground to instead sing 'mommy loves me.'  McGhee thinks the teacher simply didn't know the law and said the proposed amendment attempts to make clear such rights."

Why wasn't something done to provide corrective First Amendment instruction to the teacher in cases like this?  How does it make sense to pass an amendment to the state's constitution that merely repeats the current state of the law?  Are we afraid to give crucial information to teachers about executive orders going back to the Clinton administration that cover this exact same ground for all states?

Or, did the state already step in, whether by school administrators or other agents?  If so, why conceal that fact, if not to make voters perceive an "urgent need" where none exists?  Or, have all the talking points from this amendment merely been a smokescreen to cover-up what truly is new in the amendment: a rule that students can legally opt-out of any coursework that might conflict with their personal religious convictions?

Missouri voters have taken a terrible step.  They are out of line with Jesus Christ, from a conservative Christian perspective.  It appears that they have coddled teachers who needed to hear stern words of correction about interfering with a student's private and personal faith (yes, it is still private and personal on the playground or in the lunchroom, as long as it isn't proselytizing).  They have placed the possibility of a student being offended by educational materials above the necessity of learning itself.

If the Nanny State element isn't clear, I'll explain in reverse order.

Third, it is over-protective and counter-productive for the state to presume it can enable children not to be offended by school work.  It stunts their development intellectually, and it inhibits their ability to speak apologetically against ideas they may grow up to oppose.

Second, a constitutional amendment to "make clear such rights" certainly represents the worst kind of conflict avoidance.  What will McGhee recommend if this governmental "reminder" doesn't work?  At what point would Missouri lawmakers propose the most direct approach instead: talking with teachers and other officials who make mistakes?  Surely we don't need a constitutional amendment every time someone gets confused about the state of the law!

First, Missouri voters have presumably made a statement about how important it is to protect public expressions of religion.  Some conservatives have referred to this as a "public prayer amendment."  The headline on the Fox article reads: Missouri votes to fortify public prayer with amendment that critics call unnecessary.  Whether it is necessary or not, the entire idea is a slap in the face of Jesus and a renunciation of his teaching.

"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  (Matthew 6: 5-6)

This amendment is not what Jesus would do.  Clearly and directly, it is not what Jesus would have us do.  Perhaps, though, supporters of the "conservative" form of Nanny State don't defer to Jesus at all when they speak of protecting Christianity.  For some, that belief system is more political than religious and the power being consolidated is anything but spiritual.

Most of the vacation trips I've ever taken were driven by a lot of planning.  Reservations and ticket purchases in advance essentially set the schedule.  I've always been drawn to the idea of simply "hitting the road" or "going nowhere" for a dream vacation.  My wife and I have come close once, and the only trip I've enjoyed more came this year, alone together in Hawaii.

Different Drummer: Wim Wenders

RoseOnBeach.jpg

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Jesus once asked this question: "What can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" He was telling a crowd, not just 12 disciples, about what it meant to follow him. His answer had nothing to do with a "chosen people" or a "Christian nation." Jesus was speaking to a large group of individuals, and he asked each if he or she was willing to pick up their own cross and follow him. By "anyone" he meant "any one." This does not bode well for believers who think that electing the right leader or reviving some ancient laws will ensure salvation. In fact, hiding within such group-think is probably a sign that you are ashamed to follow Jesus his way.

Different Drummer: Toby McKeehan

DC Talk - "Jesus Freak"

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In a fascinating exchange of interviews on NPR Fresh Air last month (the Inappropriate Conversations page on Facebook has links), an American nun and priest traded perspectives on the true meaning of the term "pro-life."  The priest referred to the position of the pope on specific issues like abortion and euthanasia.  The nun made a distinction between pro-fetus policies and the larger set of pro-life policies including poverty and war among other threats to life.

I have always maintained that the term itself, pro-life, is meaningless.  From an earthly perspective, all of us will die.  From an eternal perspective, the response of some in the church to controversial issues like abortion strongly and wrongly imply that God's metaphorical hands are tied.  He is somehow powerless to save, either during an earthly lifespan, regardless its length, or afterward.

Of course, politically-focused church members and representatives quickly backtrack from these flirtations with heresy.  However, their policies don't line up with either a confidence in God's Providence or with the commands from Jesus and his apostles that hatred is unacceptable and we must not express it.  In both a gospel and letters, the Biblical writer John speaks for Jesus very clearly.

"Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3: 15-18)

Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.  I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves." (John 5: 39-42)

In the epistle, John refers to Jesus' words in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7).  In the gospel, John quotes Jesus directly.  Two warnings are clear.  One is a statement that you cannot be pro-life and express hatred, not toward politicians or doctors or women who've had an abortion, and not toward homosexuals.  The other is Jesus explaining that the Old Testament must not be an object of worship; that's not what the Bible tells us to do, even about the Bible itself.  Jesus says that those Hebrew Scriptures provide a testimony about Him, and that following those rules and laws will not give life.  It is one of many passages where he makes claims to deity that his Jewish contemporaries could not (and did not) miss: Jesus says that He is the way to eternal life.

These points matter, perhaps now more than ever.  In the midst of angry words this week over the meaning of "marriage" and the significance, or relative insignificance, of Levitical laws, more than one Christian on more than one occasion told me (with alarming confidence) that "Jesus tells us to hate ..."

I used quotation marks for a reason.  That's a direct quote.  It comes, in part, from the non-Biblical notion of some Christians that they must "love the sinner but hate the sin." It's a borderline heretical concept, where these Christians have taken the words and anthropomorphic descriptions of God's character from the Old Testament and presumed that they must be "like God."  It's heretical when this transforms into "playing God" by deciding through the politics of our times that Christians can levy judgment against others on the basis of Hebrew Scriptures in God's name.

Jesus has told us two things that we must not forget.  First, we aren't commanded to hate anything or anyone; in fact, Jesus commands us not to hate.  The line about "Jesus tells us to hate" is dangerously misguided and the driving force behind most of the very public actions from Christians in recent days.  Second, as Christians our guidance comes from Jesus and not a set of rules that he directly told us cannot supersede His love.

If we make a mistake here, we are not "pro-life" no matter what our political policies proclaim.  The Bible says we are murderers.  My fellow Christians have taken action and spoken words this week that were ultimately designed to shun our neighbors, supporting people who finance organizations with goals of isolating, arresting, or perhaps executing those same neighbors as "an abomination."  It is blasphemy to claim that this is what Jesus would have us do.

When warfare turns ugly, as it so often does, how do we assign blame?  I often (with an almost adolescent sense of justice) ask "who started it?" or look to moments when compromise or surrender should have occurred.  It is from this perspective that I hold the Japanese military leadership during World War II responsible for the existence of nuclear warfare, even though they didn't develop the weapons that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and they certainly didn't drop the bombs on their own country.

Different Drummer: Terry Gross

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Logical Insanity

Extra "Logical Insanity" available for $1.99

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