The God of no compromise and the government shutdown

vader cross ver 2For many of us who grew up evangelical, the word “compromise” has always been a bad word. It means to allow non-Christian values and influences to corrupt your devotion to Biblical truth. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the evangelical leader who started the modern Religious Right, claims that our government shutdown and its Tea Party architects cannot be understood apart from this fundamental characteristic of the evangelical ethos. Insofar as the Tea Party is an evangelical phenomenon, I think he may be right. Evangelicals are raised to be a people of no compromise. And it all starts with an understanding of Jesus’ cross that makes God into Darth Vader and turns us into cookie-cutter stormtroopers devoted to His imperial cause. Continue reading

The sad irony of the IRS and AP scandals

There has never been a time when somebody in our government was not misbehaving in some kind of way, whether it’s overthrowing democratically elected presidents of other countries or tailoring legislation to fill the pockets of campaign donors. The latest misbehavior has involved the surveillance of the Associated Press by the Justice Department as part of an investigation of leaks of classified information and the targeted scrutiny of conservative political “non-profits” by the IRS. The sad irony in these incidents is that the government is behaving undemocratically and very clumsily in response to issues that are legitimately undermining our democracy. Continue reading

Cut government spending, except when I have to wait in line

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A number of people in my church have been impacted by the game of chicken known as sequestration that Obama and the Republicans are playing with one another. Almost everyone either works for the civilian sector of the government, a government contractor, or the military. Several people have lost their jobs; many have been furloughed. And that’s why I’m more than a little bit hot about the way that Congress has suddenly bolted in action to exempt the FAA from sequestration rules so that people won’t have to wait in line at airports. It’s an illustration of the uniquely American religious belief in ideology without consequences. Continue reading

Bob Edgar: A Christian for the Common Good (1943-2013)

bob-edgarHe always had a joke for the pastor in the handshake line, often a slapstick pun characteristic of an older guy who didn’t mind being corny. He carried himself with the confidence of an ordained Methodist minister, former congressman, seminary president, and National Council of Churches secretary-general, but he was thoroughly humble and approachable, caring intimately about the personal lives of his fellow parishioners at Burke United Methodist Church. I was deeply honored to be a pastor in the church that Bob Edgar attended. His most recent position was the president of Common Cause, a national campaign to get corporate money out of politics. Bob believed in democracy, and he believed that Christians should fight for the common good. It was devastating to learn of his sudden death this week in a dark time when his prophetic vision has never been more sorely needed.

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Isaiah 10 and the fiscal cliff

When I read something in the Bible and I think I shouldn’t say anything about it because it might make people mad, God sometimes lets it go. But not this time. He’s been bugging me for two days. I wasn’t going out of my way to mine the Old Testament for social justice texts. I was just reading my Daily Office, trying to stay out of trouble. And then Isaiah 10:1-4 comes along: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain.” I’m afraid this prophetic word seems quite apropos in the context of our government’s fiscal cliff standoff right now. Continue reading

Why the market is a greater threat to freedom than the government

Freedom is one of those words that seems to have a very straightforward definition. It means being able to do what you want to do. Right? That is the definition presumed in the Enlightenment discourse that has shaped American cultural sensibilities. Freedom is the opposite of being bossed around by somebody else. But here’s the wrinkle. What if you can’t trust yourself to actually do what you want to do? What if you’re like St. Paul, who said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). The  Enlightenment understanding of freedom is built upon a very optimistic view of human nature that is contrary to the Biblical depiction of a humanity that needs to be liberated from the brokenness of sin. The Biblical understanding of freedom is not freedom from other tyrants but freedom from the tyranny of my flesh. The apostle Paul exudes perfect freedom in his letter to the Philippians despite the fact that the Roman government had literally put him in chains. Based on the Biblical definition of freedom as I understand it, I disagree with those who think our government poses a threat to our freedom; a much more sinister threat comes from our so-called free market. Continue reading

Should we be thankful for our government?

It might seem strange to say, but I’m thankful for my government. I’m not necessarily talking about the politicians in Congress whose commitment to ideology over reality is driving our country into the ground. They actually make up a very small portion of our government. I’m talking about the engineers, scientists, soldiers, policy wonks, diplomats, economists, project managers, social workers, secretaries, computer techies, accountants, janitors, cafeteria workers, receptionists, city planners, librarians, teachers, park rangers, police officers, and fire fighters who work in all kinds of ways behind the scenes to help our society function. Continue reading

What will we do when the poor get cut off?

Three years ago, I paid one of the first pastoral visits of my first field education internship. A girl named Dunia was in the hospital with severe appendicitis. Her mother Maribel was very distraught because she had already lost a daughter when she lived in rural Mexico where the health care system is much less adequate. Continue reading