Ukraine: The Humanitarian and Spiritual Crisis

While Russia claims it targets only military installations using precision-guided weapons, the ground truth appears much different. Of course, in the fog of war, very little information can be verified. But pictures and accounts of casualties in schools, hospitals and apartment blocks tell a grim story of ordinary people being caught in the crossfire.

The Ukraine invasion has already created an internal humanitarian crisis, especially in urban areas where communal services and utilities have been cut, leaving residents without heat, light – and the most crucial infrastructure for survival – sanitary water. Countless windows blown in by detonations, exposing living quarters to the Ukrainian cold. The less fortunate “de-housed”, missiles or artillery having left them homeless. Panic buying and hospitals filling, leaving food and medicine scarce. Cemeteries filling up. Internment camps. I know; I saw the same human miseries in Sarajevo.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that, as of today, some 368,000 Ukrainians have already fled west, mostly to neighboring Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. According to an ABC report, Poland is prepared to take upwards of a million refugees. The numbers of displaced Ukrainians may exceed that, give the “strong likelihood that this war will produce substantial refugee crisis.” A list of trustworthy U.S.-based charities addressing these needs can be found here. John Fea has collected evangelical sites as well.

The evangelical church in Ukraine is a strong one. Ukraine is the main missionary-sending country for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Already, churches are mobilizing to support refugees. They are appealing for Ukrainian language Bibles – people are desperate and the Ukrainian Bible Society can’t keep up with requests. A future under Russian rule looks ominous – if the persecution of evangelicals in Donbass and Luhansk is any indication. Looking forward, the strength of Ukrainian believers will be sorely tested.

Do not imagine for a moment prayer doesn’t matter. Pray for Ukraine… Pray for the presence of Jesus to permeate households & hiding places & be a shield & comfort to them. Pray a Psalm – maybe 27 or 31 – as intercession. Let’s pray.” She’s among countless evangelicals coming together – despite differences – to petition God on behalf of those afflicted.  “It is an actual war, and our prayers matter, your prayers matter, one”, an émigré at one Florida church pleaded.

They are desperate for our prayers.”

Know Jesus, No Peace.

[NOTE: Follow-on to Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War.]The evangelical thought leaders I’ve described have focused on Ukraine as a binary conflict between two superpowers domination systems – as Walter Wink described them. Empires are hegemonic conquest states. Like a hammer always looking for the next nail, empires like America or Russia exert acquisitive geo-political power. Overlooking our misadventure in Afghanistan (where my son was wounded by an IED) we need only look to Trump’s grandiose scheme to buy Greenland, or China’s menacing of Taiwan.

Military Darwinism determines that the stronger prevail, and we have tried our best to insure we are the fittest. Part and parcel of U.S. support to Ukraine and the “New Europe” is NATO military hardware. Like $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine or a pending $6 billion tank deal to Poland. It raises Russian suspicions that the “West is primarily interested in moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders, and not in spreading democracy and liberal values”. Decisions are based on what military power permits us to do, rather than morally what we should not. Regardless of Russia’s claim, relying on a NATO counterweight results in a spiral of violence. “The last thing Ukraine really needs is arms.” What Ukraine does need is the shalom of a stable internal and external environment. The country would be much better off if unimpeded to develop its economy and improve people’s livelihoods.

Two all-important questions are noticeably absent in this tale of super-world death match: Ukraine itself, and Jesus. Whether Russia or the Western powers prevail in the war likely to come, it is Ukraine that will be despoiled, left in ruins and human despair. Ukrainians would rather live in peace, coerced by neither military bloc, and allowed to engage in mutually beneficial diplomacy with both East and West.  “Diplomats and political leaders appear in danger of talking over the heads of Ukrainian people, while much commentary has ignored the likely consequences of proposals on the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.”

Violence can never be justified in the name of Jesus. But we see evangelicals like Dr. Land urging superpower America to go in guns a blazin’. They are accountable, according to William Stringfellow, for “naming each escalation and reescalation of war a way to quicken peace”.  On the other hand, we have Putin-flattering Franklin Graham, giving passive assent interspersed with the lazy sanctimony of “hearts and prayers”.  Leading evangelicals having the gravitas to shape policies and perceptions are either too compromised or too disinterested to act as go-betweens. The absence of evangelicals of stature as credible peace-makers prompted Russell Moore to suggest instead that Pope Francis should work with the region’s spiritual leaders to seek a lasting peace.

Is it that God cannot find an evangelical statesman for this calling?

Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War

Ever since Cain sulked off to form his city, humans have found refuge in building empires. Like hammers always looking for the next nail, empires thrive on exerting power over others. Walter Brueggemann notes that empires have insatiable appetites, intrinsically unable to restrain themselves. The United States is such a totalizing empire. So also is Russia. Translated, Ukraine means “borderland”. And that barbed wire frontier is where these antagonistic empires have squared off.

Most American Christians do not know much about Ukraine, other than it is somewhere between Washington and Moscow..  Estimates indicate some 190,000 combat troops50% of Russia’s offensive capability – is poised at Ukraine’s border. The U.S. government believes invasion is imminent. Facing fierce resistance, it would be a bloody and difficult war, creating an enormous surge of refugees, with devastating socio-economic shock across the European continent and beyond. Those who could not leave Ukraine would face a puppet government imposing harsh conditions, mass arrests and reprisals – not to mention an open sore of mass hunger and displacement. Even a “successful” war wouldn’t cease evil; peace at the barrel of a gun just changes the form evil takes.

How Russia acts – and how the West then reacts – remains an open question: one of the pitfalls of recording contemporary history. Facts constantly evolve; with Russia now annexing Donbass and Luhansk regardless of Ukrainian sovereignty. A number of political observers have insisted that “we need to be clearly on the side of the West.” But how should American evangelicals react?

One avenue – taken by Richard Land – is military deterrence. Land construes the Bible Americanly, believing in a strong U.S. military as a central article of evangelical faith. America is militarily strong and morally right; there are no limits to reordering the world that our God-ordained greatness could not bring about. A neo-con hawk, Land advocates “to arm the frontline states from the Baltic to the Black Sea to make it very painful and costly for the Russians to use military force.” This militaristic view is shared by those many evangelicals who, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “read the Bible with the United States cast in the role of God’s chosen people and carrier of God’s will for freedom in the world.” “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are,” George H.W. Bush once declared. The U.S. in this view, convinced of its own righteousness, is like a church where its foreign missionaries carry guns.

A contrary position held by many evangelicals is, simply put, to leave Russia to its own devices. “Russia did not and does not want to be part of the decadent liberal system”, one evangelical writer declares. He maintains that Post-Christian America is in no position to be the moral judge of the world by imposing “the ‘universal values’ of democracy, human rights, and liberty” upon nations like Greater Russia that don’t want them. In this thinking, Ukraine shouldn’t exist, because Biden’s “woke” America is so corrupted that it is no longer worthy of respect. Another goes so far as to say that if Russia conquered Europe, it would be an improvement. It’s a dystopian view that implies some conflict thousands of miles away is irrelevant to the U.S., which by now should have learned its lessons about policing the world. Yet more than that; it feeds into Dominionist ideologues who proclaim “we’re gonna rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Doubtless the most visible adherent of this latter view is Trump-admiring Franklin Graham, who sees the rapid decline in American Christianity primarily caused by the ‘progressives’ repudiating God as the source of moral guidance. Putin believes Ukrainians and Russians are “one people”, saved through the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church under Kirill – a convenient spiritual ally for the Kremlin – has accused the West of imposing secular values on Russia. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, meeting both with Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.”

“Putin,” writes David Brooks, “has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader.” But by far Putin’s biggest admirer is Donald Trump, who “cannot stop praising him”. “This is genius,‘ Trump declared after Putin helped himself to more of Ukraine. Together, they are “new breed of autocrats… people who aren’t interested in treaties and documents, people who only respect hard power.” Like President Trump’s Putin envy, evangelical culture is all about the pursuit of temporal power, awash with alpha males wielding supremacy over their mini-hierarchies. For evangelical diplomats, Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under Trump (and likely GOP candidate to take Trump’s old job in 2024) is the genuine article. He offered his admiration for Putin’s savvy in tearing off another piece of Ukraine. “He knows how to use power.”

Again, we should ask, is this how American evangelicals should react? This blog will be exploring that question in the posts to follow.

Public School or Armed Indoctrination Camp?

I believe in America’s public schools. I went through them, and I’ve taught in them. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the terrible. I was once mentored by a senior teacher who allegedly retaliated against a student for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. “The classroom is not a pulpit. It is a place of education, not indoctrination”, said one of the attorneys who settled the litigation.

That lawyer is swimming against the tide. All throughout the U.S., cancel culture partisans are taking over, from school board to school library to school classroom to teacher-led school prayer on the football field. “Following woke indoctrination in our schools, that is a road to ruin for this country,” Florida Gov. DeSantis warned.  Don’t mention gay, lesbian or any sexuality in class. Don’t bring up race, except slavery wasn’t that bad. And don’t use the word “slavery” – it was involuntary relocation. Don’t allow masks. Don’t teach a distorted “woke  progressive” view of separation of church and state, because history proves our godly Founding Fathers in fact expected the Christian religion to be promoted by government. It used to be that school administrators acted against bullying. Now, they are the bullies themselves.

And it used to be that teachers were critiqued based on the curriculum they failed to teach, not for the lessons they successfully deliver. All this amidst a critical teacher shortage. Teachers are demoralized, burned-out, underpaid, over-worked, and quitting in droves. “I don’t know how we’re going to continue to live in this hostile environment, how we’re going to encourage educators to enter the field and stick around,” one Florida teacher sighed.

My youngest is now in a public high school in Cobb County, Georgia. The school board that prohibits “the discussion of divisive concepts”, including that “the United States of America is fundamentally racist”. You know, the same congressional district that keeps voting for White Nationalist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. It’s the same school board that once placed stickers on biology textbooks “to foster critical thinking among students” that evolution is a theory, not a fact concerning the origin of living things. And now, new and improved – with guns! 

A new policy in the Cobb County school district allows the Superintendent to authorize district employees to carry guns. Any school employee – bus drivers, cafeteria staff, janitors, librarians, guidance counselors – who passes typical gun-carry requirements can be armed. The Super reiterated that teachers would not be armed, although the written policy doesn’t say that. Ain’t nobody gonna try and filch a second apple pie at the lunch line now. Better return that overdue library book before Ms. Grump come looking for ya!

Our school district has turned a “community of learners” into an ideologically-pure armed camp. With all the stresses on high schoolers today, I can’t imagine having to concentrate on algorisms when your algebra teacher’s Glock is slung across his shoulder. Surely we as a nation can come up with a more sane approach than turning educators into gun-fighters, and schools into Ft. Apache. All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not in school anymore, either as a teacher or a student. My sophomore son gives me enough to worry about.

Grinding Up Baby Kittens

In my adolescence, any number of unsavory jokes circulated about killing baby kittens, puppies, or infants. There is a definite cultural taboo in making fun of viciousness in imposing suffering and death upon the defenseless. But jokes making people laugh out of shock still percolate through society. Despite being reprehensible, people find dark humor in the unthinkable.

Levity is a way of finding a pressure valve to relieve stress; to rescue some degree of psychological well-being from the unthinkable. No matter how stomach-churning, someone will make a joke about it. Whether we admit it or not, dark humor reflects our helplessness in the wake of horror. We find humor in things to make them less threatening. It is the inner fear of society that produces sick humor. But a joke about dead puppies is an abstraction that occurs only in the mind’s eye. I doubt many of us would laugh to actually see them being tossed into a tree chipper. As is the case of school shootings.

In preparing this post, I came across a site labeled: “Hilarious Sandy Hook Jokes That Will Make You Laugh.” Of course, nothing is off-limits in this country anymore. I can’t imagine the parents of those murdered children are laughing along, nor are those of the 19 elementary school kids killed by a monster in Uvalde, Texas. But it’s a societal coping mechanism in the face of body-shredding firepower that can turn an elementary classroom into a large killing zone. Because there is no escape from conscience-destitute 2nd Amendment fetishists, the next school shooting is inevitable, unavoidable. There will be many more times of danger, desperation and death. We know that from the simple fact that school is about to start again. This unremitting string of terrible cruelties produces constant angst over the next mass tragedy. It’s coming, and we feel there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it. And so, we resort to humor as a soporific that gives us psychological remove; a sublimation of our innermost fears. In the back of our minds, we’re worried about what might happen tomorrow after we drop our kids off at school”,

Death isn’t in any way funny to me, especially when it involves slaughtering the innocents. St. Paul wrote, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”. I detest dead children (or dead pet) jokes, but my concern here is not with so much them, as with the dead children themselves and their devastated families. People should be shocked into restorative action by school shootings, not mollified by morally-putrid jokes to help themselves cope. If we felt the pain of every grieving parent, none of us could withstand the weight of it. That their children’s’ blood cries out to all of us from the ground makes all the more reason to see that we should.

“The sound of children screaming has been removed.” The Austin American-Statesman presented a leaked video account of the 77 minute clusterfuck response of cowardly police otherwise sworn to protect and defend. “We have removed the sound of children screaming…We consider this too graphic.” I think they should have allowed all of America to hear the carnage a gun did. An (semi) automatic is like a sewing machine in reverse. Instead of knitting together, it systematically rips its target to shreds. “This is a very devastating set of injuries,” the Connecticut medical examiner who performed the Newtown autopsies reported. “Their wounds were all over, all over.

I’m all in favor of more aggressive advocacy. We see it already in other contexts. Like the gruesome pictures required on EU cigarette packets of very ill smokers. Or, the annual drunk driving/post fatal crash re-enactment on the high school campus, like my daughter’s school did to warn kids just before Prom Weekend. Perhaps we should consider publishing school shooting autopsy photos so graphic you couldn’t un-look. There are obvious privacy aspects in play here, but if Americans were confronted by the non-unseeable and non-unhearable, we’d be steps ahead in developing moral outrage and “good trouble” to remove child-killing machines from our land.

As Common Dreams reported:

Note to America: When her son Emmett was savagely murdered in August 1955, Mamie Till demanded his mutilated body lie in an open casket so the world ‘could see what they did to my baby.’ Sordid fact: Mass murder of kids is graphic. Let their screams resound.”

The (Not-So) Inerrant Bible

The antediluvian world intrigues me. For what the Bible says about it, but more for what it omits. The Bible is the word of God. I get that. Meanwhile, the universe God created is given short shrift in the beginnings of Genesis. We read where He created the heavens and the earth. He had a lot of creating to do, of which much is left unsaid.  Frankly, I’d like to know what was going on in the 400 billion Milky Way stars, with 1-to-10 trillion orbiting planets. Not to mention the 2 trillion galaxies within our observable Universe. We are only beginning to understand things out there. Planet earth is but a grain of sand on endless miles of beach. Taking the Bible purely as an astronomy text makes for a very frustrating read. Apart from but a few brush strokes on a broad canvas, the Bible is silent. Let’s just say, there’s little help for cosmologists there.

Literalists don’t look at that as a weak point. Theirs is the conversation-ending “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” The fact that there’s a lot that God didn’t say doesn’t deter literalists from presuming to know he meant. In The Lost World of Scripture, John Walton and Brent Sandy observe there’s a considerable “lostness” in how the Bible came into being. This is the literalist’s dilemma throughout the pre-flood account of Genesis. Christianity is great at reading between the lines; the most malleable religion of all. The materiality of the Biblical ante-diluvian world is as ineffable as Heaven, given that an epoch terminated by a cataclysmic worldwide flood defies outside scrutiny. Even God to have delivered all of that pre-history into Moses’ hands is not specifically stated in the Bible. Nor is it a sure thing that Moses even wrote the Pentateuch – which somehow doesn’t explain how he could write the account of his own death.

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?, asks the Psalmist. The Bible soon segues into what was revealed to human beings, using anthropomorphic language. God walked in the garden of Eden. (Gen. 3). “There’s no definitive proof, but the passage’s implication seems clear to me”, writes evangelical defender Randy Alcorn. Implication, surmise, presupposition, conjecture. Literalists twist themselves into logical pretzels reading into the Bible what isn’t there, or simply talk godly twaddle like Sunday School teachers to their 3rd grades. “Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism”, Peter Enns writes, “but an apologetic one”. This explains why evangelicals cannot be silent even where the Bible is silent.

Indeed, evangelicalism has been afraid of intellectual honesty since the Scopes trial, which exposed the empty-headed, predetermined conclusions of their doctrinal beliefs. Like Ken Ham, where his concrete boat, The Good Ship Eisegesis, teaches there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. There is much to unlearn at his Kentucky religious theme park, where a little embellishment of the Biblical text might be necessary here and there to properly defend it. Temptation lurks in an apologetic that goes beyond the sacred page, seeking to control the text rather than submitting to it. God’s history is wild thing, which we profanize by domesticating it.

It’s easy to have these apologists drag you down into their “never contradicts itself” weeds, but the broad contours of literalism have been pretty well covered by Scopes. Suffice to it to say, that since then plenary inspiration has been a fundamentalist axe to grind against “liberal” Christians who see the Bible trustworthy so far as it is necessary for our salvation, and that it is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Funny that two pillars of fundamentalism – Machen and Warfield – rejected literalism in favor of “theistic evolution.” It wasn’t until the first Cultural War first salvos fired by Harold Lindsell, and later sanctified (or embalmed) by the Chicago Statement, that it became a doctrinal hill to die on.

Gallup published a poll this week showing a declining proportion of the overall American population — now 20% — believes the Bible is literally true, word for word. (This is down from 49% in 2011). Half of evangelicals polled did not believe every word should be taken literally. Most evangelicals look to the Bible for answers – not questions. If evangelicals were the least bit self-aware, they might appreciate that NO ONE wants to adopt an anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-educational faith that is so absurdly and proudly detached from reality. Personally, I can’t accept a faith – much less a supernatural faith – where I have to check my brain at the church door. And I find it distressing that, despite overweening confidence in knowing what the Bible clearly teaches, fewer and fewer evangelicals are able to articulate the essentials of faith in even an elementary way.

I recite the Nicene Creed each Sunday, believing God “spoke through the prophets.” I believe in the nearness of a personal God, under whose providence we have the Bible as the written history of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And that the Scriptures are sufficient in fulfilling their purpose and function. Just as God had intervened in time and space, He was making himself known by history in story and story in history – a narrative unity inextricably linked to form what might be called true myth. That is to say, the Bible is to be read more as the history of revelation, than the revelation of history. It is sacred history, which Walter Bruggemann observes “stands some distance from what modern people might call history”. In that regard, “history” in the Old Testament is backgrounded to the metanarrative of love relationship between living God and broken creation. The subject matter of the Bible is God as He deals with His creation. Its attention is on Divine doing; the history of the hidden God gradually lifting the curtain on himself for the redemption of a fallen world.

The Bible is the word of God. Once again, I get that. I completely believe in it; except in the ways I don’t.

Naked Christianity

A recent news article caught my attention: “Christians strip down at a South Texas nudist community”. It describes evangelical Christians who take it all off. Nudity is shameful, according to Focus on the Family. “From Genesis 3 onward Scripture seems to make it clear that, except in the case of sexual activity, it’s a shameful thing to ‘uncover one’s nakedness’”. I see just the opposite. Most people see nakedness as shameful because of sexual activity. “At Nature’s Resort, public nudity is not sexual,” the owner says. “The initial conception is that this is a sexual thing. People think we’re all out on the front lawn having sex with each other, swapping partners. In fact, if there is any overt sexuality, you see that gate open real fast and somebody is ushered out.”

“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” God, it seems, intended for humans to live in the nude. That it didn’t bother Adam before the Fall; it would seem that his fear arose more out of the new-found exposure to vulnerability rather than embarrassment.

Nudity was a taboo in the ancient Israelite society. Beginning with Adam’s sin, the Bible frequently associates nakedness with humiliation and dishonor. Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s daughters – “uncovering nakedness” connotes inappropriate sexual activity. But there are other passages where nakedness has nothing to do with that. Jesus hung naked on the Tree. And we have St. John matter-of-factly reporting that Simon Peter put clothes on when he jumped into the water. In the pre-mechanized world, there were occupations where nakedness was (no pun intended) best suited – those predating physical contact with whirling industrial machinery. Juxtaposed with Jewish morality is a Biblical ambivalence to nakedness where sexuality is not at issue.

Not making a big deal about seeing someone naked is a difficult question for us, in which there is a tension between the modesty of Christians, and the hyper-sexualized, X-rated society in which we live.  That said, I point to C.S. Lewis in saying there is no absolute Christian edit concerning the unclothed human form. One would never think of banning C.S. Lewis as a smut author. But in Perelandra, he casually describes how clothes are unnecessary on inter-planetary visits.  Indeed, in Heaven we are clothed with garments of salvation and arrayed in a robe of his righteousness. (Isaiah 61).

In Mere Christianity, Lewis opines that: “The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of ‘modesty‘”… While the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rules of propriety change. Even Pope John Paul II remarked that “nakedness itself is not immodest”. Context matters. I think of native tribes who lived naked for eons, until missionaries came to inform them it was evil.  Or, my elementary school experience, where we third grade boys didn’t think anything wrong in having to swim naked during pool time.

A stay at a German hotel might shock American tourists, with a sign at the indoor pool saying “No Bathing Suits Allowed”. Whenever I visited friends in Helsinki, we men would nonchalantly head into the sauna –sans clothes, of course.  I was too Puritan-minded to chance a mixed-gender sauna, also a common Finnish practice. In explaining how freeing the experience was, it was incomprehensible to American friends , who asked me whether/why I went to a gay bathhouse! Somehow, Finnish bathing culture escaped our remnants of Victorian prudery.

What person has never dreamed of bathing naked? I’ve done it! I was swimming at a sparsely-occupied beach on the Adriatic. What a sense of non-conformant liberty it brought. Or, at least partially. I kept my trunks on until in the ocean, and tied them tightly around my ankle – in constant fear of the knot becoming untied. And yes, I did pee in the Ocean!

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” says Job. Maybe there exists a “naked and without shame” setting in-between where God wouldn’t get mad if you did the same. You don’t stop being a Christian just because you happen not to be wearing any clothes.

I condone a group of naked Christians, who aren’t gathered for an orgy. Those who patronize a naturist retreat on Saturday, and sit in the front pew on Sunday. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. But looking in the mirror, I see almost seven decades of beauty-robbing decrepitude. Believe me, there’s nothing there there. I probably would not accept an invitation, especially since I wouldn’t go unless my wife came with. And that, my friends, would never happen!!

When the Buck Stops

As the leader of his powerful Western democracy, he had been elected on a sizeable margin. His governing style was described as flamboyant, opportunistic and populist. A thrice-married man and serial adulterer, he was a larger-than-life personality – a celebrity in his own right. Rules didn’t apply to him because when you’re a star, you can do whatever you please. He was a groper, and defended other sexual harassers loyal to him. He was a showman who could be humorous, entertaining or intimidating and bullying. His audacity to say whatever came into his mind was hailed as a sign of honesty and guts. His supporters praised his combativeness projecting the image of swift, decisive action.  His detractors accused him of lying, cronyism, bigotry, and amorality. He tore up international agreements negotiated in good faith. During COVID, his response to the pandemic “ranks among the worst public health failures in the country’s history” with many thousands of avoidable deaths. And yet, he flaunted lockdown restrictions.  He was by no means a religious person, but mouthed enough of the right words to win over the religious crowd. He led a charmed life, always coming out on top in fights that would doom another politician. Then came a day when he was out of office. Still, he tried to cling to power, and remained the center of political attention.

Lies? Yes, too many to count. But the core of the matter was “the abuse of power that preceded them.” He made crony appointments based on personal loyalty rather than suitability for the job. He was indifferent to allegations of sexual harassment in his staff, because his only concern was shoring up his own position. His administration had “no public interest, no moral principle or governing priority that could ever trump one man’s appetite for power and his personal vanity”. One article said his party “should hang its head in shame for foisting on us a man so wholly unfit for office that he had to be dragged from it kicking and screaming and threatening to burn everything to the ground.”

Who is this man, Donald Trump? Yes, but here I’ve referred to Boris Johnson. “The Tory party subordinated its history, its judgment and its political identity in service of one man’s monstrous ego,” The Guardian commented. Steve Benen of MSNBC put into the American perspective. British conservatives, confronted with a scandal-plagued leader, concluded they could no longer tolerate the constant stream of disgraces and indignities… [t]hey concluded that their leader’s record of dishonesty and misconduct was something they could no longer even try to defend.”

They call him Britain Trump,” the former President ineloquently once said of his British peer. The knives are out now for BoJo. With the J6 Committee’s probing and forthcoming Justice Department referrals, we can only hope the comparison remains consistent. Except that BoJo’s downfall was being a clownish fluffer.  Trump’s downfall was in spite of him being a criminal blowhard. At least in his case, hopefully the buck will stop in jail…

I’m No Christian Nationalist (But I Play One On TV)

That’s Robert Jeffress. He would have us believe he is simply a patriot. But his First Baptist of Dallas is a prime example of a Christian church using sacred space for the worship of the nation rather than God. Like its Freedom Sunday, where the whole service was a Pageant of Christian Nationalism, replete with military color guard and salute to our Armed Forces amidst a flag-waving congregation.

“The New York Times has libeled me by characterizing me as a Christian Nationalist”, complains Ralph Drollinger, who runs a ministry to Capitol Hill. If it looks like a duck… yet Jeffress refuses to come out of the closet. And Drollinger claims Christian Nationalism is a fallacy. But not all Christian Nationalists hide their true intent behind clerical robes. “So if Christian nationalism is something to be scared of, they’re lying to you,” declares Marjorie Taylor Greene. “Let’s demonize patriotism by calling it nationalism and associating that with Hitler. Ah, now let’s call it white nationalism,” sardonically said Rod Martin, one of the founders of the Conservative Baptist Network. “Then we’ll call it Christian nationalist so we’ll make it sound like you are the ayatollah. It is all designed to demonize you.” You see, the modern day Christian Taliban is a myth. If Christian Nationalism quacks like Hitler or the ayatollah…

“Listen long enough to any… left-wing group and you’ll believe [the secular] history of America…That version of history… ,” Jeffress preached, “is a complete myth!… America was founded predominantly… by Christians who wanted to build this foundation, this Christian nation, on the foundation of God’s will,” according to Jeffress. And so, the non-Christian Nationalist delivered a powerful rival liturgy to the Gospel story. The operative word is predominantly. There were fervent proto-evangelicals among the Founding Fathers, but there also were non-orthodox Deists and Unitarians, and a very large faction of non-religious influenced by the Enlightenment.

It’s not in the Constitution!” Charlie Kirk was spouting his own brand of bullshit, this time ranting that “we should have church and state mixed together. Our Founding Fathers believed in that.”  They also agreed on the Constitution’s wording, but somehow left out any reference to “God”.  Jefferson didn’t create “separation between church and state” out of thin air. It didn’t start in 1802 with Jefferson’s Danbury letter. Take for example, the 1797 Barbary Treaty of Peace and Friendship:  “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…” It goes back further, to the Constitution of Virginia of 1776, which stated that “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” As if to make the right more definite, the final draft was changed from the toleration of free exercise of religion to its entitlement

America was not founded as a Christian nation. It was a nation of many Christians of all stripes – including repressed Roman Catholics, with several states at the time of the Constitution requiring a Protestant religious test oath to take office. And yes, there was a sizeable Jewish population in America during the American Revolutionary War, with many communities of free-born men, having been settled as early as the 1650s. “The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic”, according to a Library of Congress official. She cites as evidence the words of William Lancaster, a delegate to the North Carolina Convention, who on July 30, 1788, makes the following declaration: “But let us remember that we form a government for millions not yet in existence…. In the course of four or five hundred years, I do not know how it will work. This is most certain, that Papists may occupy that chair, and Mahometans may take it. I see nothing against it.”

“The storming of the Capitol cannot be understood outside the heresy of Christian nationalism peddled by the likes of Josh Hawley, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, and the blasphemies of the Jericho March”, writes Christianity Today’s Tish Warren. We’re only beginning to see the repercussions of church-state domination that the Founding Fathers were determined to avoid. Even after 130 years, the Puritans, extreme Calvinists who wanted religious liberty for themselves – but not others (Arminians, Jesuits and Quakers in particular) – cast a long shadow of intolerance. Regardless of the nice, ambiguous words they say, evangelicals/Christian Nationalists are trying to coerce a religious dystopia onto modern society. It didn’t work then and was discredited. What makes any rational think it will work now? Especially when their Christian Nationalist lies are so transparent to a majority of Americas who don’t want their dreadful God being imposed on them.

“We must oppose the Christian Taliban. I say this as a Christian.”

Given my brief account of America’s original theocracy, let’s move on to the present day, shall we?

The title of this post is U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s response to remarks made by his House colleague, Lauren Boebert. (Boebert recently won her primary election with 65% of the vote). “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk,” the would-be Constitutional expert/high school drop-out complained. “The church is supposed to direct the government”. We are about to get a very brutal real-world lesson in what it’s like to live in a country that doesn’t have that separation”, writes a constitutional law professor.

“We are a Christian nation, founded by Christians, and YES- we should legislate our faith on you. If you don’t like it, get out,” notes Lauren Witzke, who has endorsed making Trump king for life. (My daughter in Vancouver just applied for Canadian citizenship. It’s tempting to emigrate under her sponsorship. For the time being, I remain, and invite the Witzke-ite Christian Taliban of America to leave if you can’t tolerate a multi-faith, multi-cultural America).

Desires for a new American Theocracy are growing. And they’re not limited to Christian extremists. It pervades government, like Governor DeSantis’ “real history”.  Florida’s civics curriculum borrows heavily from David (Mister- history-which-wasn’t) Barton that it is a “misconception” that “the Founders desired a strict separation of church and state”. We see it in the Supreme Court’s religiously-motivated injection of conservative Christianity into law and governance. We see it in school districts whitewashing chattel slavery by calling it “involuntary relocation”.  Frederick Clarkson observes, “when Christian Right leaders talk about religious liberty, they often really mean theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government,” Writing in 1910, Emma Goldman observed: “The almost limitless capacity of Puritanism for evil is due to its entrenchment behind the State and the law. Pretending to safeguard the people against ‘immorality,’ it has impregnated the machinery of government and added to its usurpation of moral guardianship the legal censorship of our views, feelings, and even of our conduct.” Despite so much myth-making for the City On A Hill, Christian nationalists excise these unwelcome truths in crafting a New Israel origin narrative to propel their Biblical destiny of theocratic dominion.

“Do not fear theocracy,” Eric Metaxas assures. If “maniacal Christians took control of this country, they would make it safe for everybody else to be a part of this country.” The Christian re-monopolization of American spiritual and political power is happening today, and it doesn’t look anything as benign as Metaxas describes. Following Dobbs, Justice Thomas aimed his intrusive sights at contraception, same-sex marriage and other constitutional rights. Like David Barton with his historical eisegesis, Thomas runs roughshod over decades of stare decisis, claiming his predecessors were wrong. (Conveniently, they’re all dead now and unable to defend their rulings). We’ve seen enough to know there is plenty to fear from a Theocracy. We’re at the tip of the iceberg of cruelties.  Like a state’s draconian laws which deny an abortion to a 10 year-old who was raped, just waiting around until the fifth grader to die in childbirth. Because the “Biblical worldview” has decreed births through rape and incest are the “will of God”. The godly society this maniacal judge envisions will be helped along by his revanchism. No Metaxsas, theocracy would not make it safe for everybody else to be a part of this country.

“Insofar as there’s one God, and he has one son, and there is one way to salvation, and one way to the truth,” Nick (Nazi-Nick) Fuentes declared, “then that’s the way that the people running our society and writing the laws need to be and no other way” “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must,” according to pardoned felon Mike Flynn, “we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.” The question then arises, whose Christianity should it be? Evangelicals would propose their brand. But whatever faith constitutes evangelicalism is a question with no definitive answer. Does it mean premillennialism, prosperity gospel, a seven day Creation, Sabbath-keeping, or even abstinence from alcohol? Unlike the Puritans who together fit their doctrine under one post-Anglican Calvinist umbrella, evangelicals comprise a constellation of orthodoxies loosely gathered under the rubric known as Bebbington. A framework so vague that many Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses could qualify as evangelicals. Evangelical sub-tribes are like groups looking at the sky from different planets. Same stars, disagreeing viewpoints. It is fruitless to frame a specifically “true” American identity if founded on the shifting sands of one “true” evangelical Christian identity.

What sort of church do they see imposed? Perhaps we should take a cue from Founding Father, James Madison, who wrote: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Whose church? Who’s in charge? Maybe the Southern Baptists with 6 million members. Maybe the Roman Catholics with 60 million – and all reporting to one Holy Father.

“That there would be as many (or more) Roman Catholics in America than Protestants but they [Founding Fathers] did not set up this nation to prevent it. They intended the nation to be religiously pluralist.” These disparate and rival religious groups have managed a kumbaya work-around in the Christian Right, driven by a unifying political ideology rather than Christian orthodoxy or praxis that proclaims “My Kingdom is not of this world”.

Like the Puritans, the Christian Right began by espousing piety to God and wound up being the monster they preach against. Everyone sees this dangerous game of hypocrisy will end in common disaster, except they themselves. Theocracy is a chimera; look to the Puritans to see how a Utopia consumes others, and then itself. Perhaps we should all revisit Martin Niemoeller’s prophetic words:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionis

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

The Perils of American Christian Theocracy: Then and Now.

During last week, I read the bulletin for the upcoming holiday weekend, and decided to skip church. It reeked of patriotic religion, starting out with “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee”. Don’t get me wrong; I am a patriotic veteran, but Christian Nationalism has overtaken America– and the church is no exception.

If St. Paul could boast, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees”, then I am an American of Americans. My direct ancestors escaped religious persecution in England during the Puritan Great Migration. Within their Puritan circles, they lived the “City On A Hill”. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded as a Christ-optia, essentially a theocracy. The Puritans pursued policies of rigidly policed morality to enforce a spiritually-correct society, guarding the purity of the ordinances of God against “tolerations of divers religions, or of one religion in segregant shapes”.  Religious intolerance made the Puritans the original Christian Taliban.

The Puritans tried, but soon failed, to be a monolithic religious body. Their Guiding Lights held a monopoly on spiritual and political power. The Puritans had a unitary vision: “one godly ruler, one godly church, and one godly path to heaven, with puritan ministers writing the guidebooks.” But they were a fissiparous crowd who disputed who had the correct Biblical world view. It wasn’t long before theocrats saw flaws in the theocracy of others. “It turns out that even puritans were not always sure who was puritan. They were much better at figuring out who was not, but even that could be difficult”.

Doctrinal disagreement soon broke up the godly elect into factions who deemed the others less godly. Amidst the ideological purgings, a great exodus ensued. Rev. John Davenport removed his church to New Haven Colony. Rev. Roger Williams was banished for “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions”, and took his congregation to Rhode Island. Rev. Thomas Hooker led his parish (including my 7th great grandfather) away to Hartford, Connecticut. Longstanding arguments over the “evidences” of conversion eventually split the Massachusetts Puritans in 1662, by way of the Half-Way Covenant. “All sides saw themselves as besieged by satanically inspired enemies, and Massachusetts nearly fell apart.”

Intolerance was the way in which Puritan magistrates and ministers governed the colony.” My forebears sat at the heresy trial of Anne Hutchinson. Believing that God spoke to her by “an immediate voice”, Hutchinson is possibly the first recorded Charismatic in America. My ancestors presided over the death sentences at the Salem Witch trials. (Including my 2nd cousin 8 times removed, minister of Salem from 1680 to 1683 – the only clergyman executed for witchcraft.)  Coerced virtue led to punishments greater and lesser, including criticizing a minister, Sabbath-breaking, or talking during a dry hour-and-a-half sermon.  Repeat pew-sleepers were sentenced to be severely whipped. Worse were in store for “cursed sects of Christian heretics” like Quakers or Baptists who threatened to contaminate the purity of the colony. Intolerance of religious outsiders led them to be arrested, fined, imprisoned, branded, whipped, sold into slavery, or hanged. And from 1633 on, the Puritans bought, sold, and held enslaved Africans. They engaged in a terror campaign against the indigenous Pequot tribe. In one assault they killed 500 Pequot men, women, and children. A remorseless Puritan John Underhill quoted Old Testament verses to justify the slaughter, declaring that “sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents”.

The Puritans left England, persecuted by a state church intertwined with the government – and proceeded to repeat systematic religious intolerance in America. State-established religion and religious persecution go hand-in-hand. Theirs was a “Sweet Land of Liberty” – perhaps for them, but no others. The steady drumbeat of Puritan hyper-Calvinism left many in continuing doubt about their salvation, questioning whether their “works” were of God or the devil. What began as ascetic piety evolved into hypocrisy and appearance of righteousness.

The Puritan theocratic experience offers many forewarnings of what an America would resemble if Christian Rightists were to succeed in enforcing society’s conformance to divine rule. Whether a top-down capture of the 7 Mountains à la Dominionists, or over-stuffing institutions with Christian chiefs via Rushdoony/North Reconstructionism, the likelihood is that Trump or one of his fervent acolytes will take office in 2024. Intolerant Christian Rightists are on a victory roll. The survival of democracy in the near future makes the question urgently problematic. The next post will discuss this modern day Christian Taliban.

Praying and Singing Hymns to God

You’d think by the title that this refers to Acts 16, where Paul and Silas were jailed in Philippi. But it’s about a 27 year-old named Tyler Dinsmoor. “He is in a concrete box, but is holding strong. He has his bible, and is singing Psalms!”

Dinsmoor had regularly been posting anti-LGBTQ+ death threats. “All homosexuals are child-rapists in wait, and all (every single one) should be put to death immediately”. What caught the authorities’ attention was his plan to attend a Pride Parade on the following day, “with the implication that he’s going to do something violent unless someone stops him”.

He was charged with felony civil rights malicious harassment with a hate crimes enhancement. Essentially, crimes motivated by bigotry which threaten reasonable fear of harm. (It so happens that he emblazoned the words “Bible Bigot” on his truck). Dinsmoor, who owns “a small Bible Christian family tannery”, remains in jail under a $1 million bail.

You read the words “Bible Christian” correctly. Dinsmoor is a fervent Christian, attending a church where the pastor preaches that homosexuals should be shot in the back of the head. If he had been able to carry out his fantasies, it would have received “the encouragement of those who share his religious and political views”.  Like the Christian Right-dominated Texas GOP, which just declared that President Biden was not legitimately elected, and that homosexuality is “abnormal”. Closer to home, a Give-Send-Go defense fund was started, claiming his only crime was hurting the feelings of a homosexual. Donations are now up to $27,000, with many Christians expressing sympathy with this God-fearing political prisoner.

Juxtapose this hero-worship – à la the martyred Ashley Babbitt – with the resentment directed towards the enemies of Christian Nationalism. Like at a Michigan local right-to-life organization, where someone busted glass windows and defaced the building with pink spray paint. “That “people that would do such a thing … what a sad state of affairs that groups like this ….can resort to terrorism and hate crimes,” the angry Director stated. I’m not condoning law-breaking, but can’t help noticing how Charisma News and other fishwrap are full of these White Christian victimization pieces.

A few months back, I blogged that evangelical churches have increasingly become nurseries of sedition – not simply against an Administration they hate, but more importantly, against the Jesus of the Gospels. This home-grown surge of Christian extremism is largely fomented by religious leaders – there are thousands and they are interwoven with extremists of all types. These pastors, teacher and “apostles” have long practiced stochastic terrorism from the pulpit are seeing their seeds of incitement come to fruition as real world violence. “We’re a mighty army. They’ve gotta listen. They can’t ignore us,” says Pastor Greg Locke – who was at the Capitol while it was being stormed. Inflammatory speech just hasn’t been enough – it seems the time has come to make people listen to God from a gun barrel. It reminds me of Harry Chapin’s ballad, “Sniper”:

The first words he spoke took the town by surprise.

One got Mrs. Gibbons above her right eye.

It blew her through the window wedged her against the door.

Reality poured from her face, staining the floor.

And evangelicals of all persuasions are praying and singing praise to God

Clear as White and Black

A young black man was on his daily commute one morning recently, when a Miami patrolman pulled him over. Coming to the window, the (white) policeman took his keys away. He informed the motorist that his seatbelt hadn’t been fastened. “This is how you guys get killed out here”, Officer Friendly helpfully pointed out. The story doesn’t include whether the driver left a brown stain on his seat. But it shows how mightily scared he was. In a classic case of driving while black, he had every suspicion to suppose his drive to work would be taking a detour to eternity. Funny how traffic stops for minor violations have resulted in some 600 deaths in the past 5 years – with black victims disproportionately represented.

“We got a guy walking around with a gun that he could hurt a lot of people with, but he’s not breaking the law,” an Oklahoma sheriff remarked. A scruffy young white male had been reported meandering around a strip mall, armed with a loaded AR-15 and a revolver. He walked into an AT&T store, scaring employees and customers, who dialed 911 while running for their lives. The courthouse had already locked its doors when he tried to get in. Local police advised concerned citizens that its perfectly legal in Oklahoma to scare the shit out of normal people. In most places, it is legal provided the gun-nut doesn’t start shooting. He did have a set of brass knuckles and .50 caliber pistol. (Doesn’t everyone?) and those are illegal so he was arrested for that. “Terrified people called 911 again and again on the scary looking dude carrying a small arsenal, but it was all legal until cops found the brass knuckles and the .50 caliber handgun.”

Before you answer the following, think it over carefully:

Would the result be the same if their races were reversed?