Whose Phony Theology?

This morning I heard a news report on “The Today Show”  about the surging poll numbers of GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. He is apparently appealing to Republican voters who like his socially Conservative views, and is ahead of last month’s front-runner, Mitt Romney, even in Romney’s home state of Michigan.

But I don’t write this because of Santorum’s poll numbers. I write this to challenge Mr. Santorum, Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich to be honest politicians, and to win their nomination based on truth and not on sensationalism…AND I challenge news organizations to be honest and accurate as well, seeking truth in reporting and again, not sensational reports that will drive their ratings up.

Peter Alexander did this morning’s report, saying that Santorum is using religion as one of his tools to fight his opponents. We already heard him say that President Obama has a “phony theology,” but Santorum took a jab at the President’s Christianity yesterday, intimating that something may very well be wrong with a man whose pastor was Jeremiah Wright. Said Santorum, “He sat under Pastor Wright for 20 years.”

Enter the now infamous sound bite of Wright saying, “no, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America!” End of clip. As the clip aired, Alexander continued talking, saying that Wright was “forced to resign from his church after making inflammatory remarks.”

My soul fell out of my body. First, the clip…which I will talk about in a minute, but Alexander’s carelessness as a reporter made my blood boil. Pastor Wright did NOT resign; he retired after serving Trinity United Church of Christ for 36 years! In his book, A Sankofa Moment: The History of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Wright writes, “It was during those years between 2001  and 2005  that we began to look earnestly for a pastor to succeed me in leading the flock of God known as Trinity United Church of Christ….We were looking for someone who loved the Lord with all their hearts, their souls and their minds. We did not want anybody coming into the congregation who was playing with the Gospel or playing God’s people, pimping them or trying to get over on them!” (p. 283) The church had a Plan of Succession; his retirement was not new news. Pastor Wright preached his last three sermons at Trinity UCC in February of 2008;  his last Sunday as senior pastor of Trinity UCC was the first Sunday of March, 2008.

The lack of accuracy in Alexander’s reporting is a giant black eye on a news operation which prides itself as being competent and accurate.

But then…that clip. I cringed. There it was again…ten words taken out of context, and done purposely in order to feed into the fear, suspicion …and dislike of President Obama that has never disappeared. From the claim that the president is not American to the charges that he is really a closet Muslim…a non-American, non-Christian, who is in the White House. Santorum is feeding the sharks and he knows it.

That clip came from a sermon, entitled  “Confusing God and Government,” and was actually preached in 2003. In that sermon, Pastor Wright began by asking, “If you were to ask the average Christian, ‘did Jesus cry?’ almost every Christian would quote for you that John 11:35 verse, which most Bible students call the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He goes on to tell the story around that particular verse…but then he begins to talk about why Jesus cried, going to the Gospel of Luke, where on Palm Sunday Luke says Jesus wept over the city; “he cried for his people who did not know the things that make for peace.”

Wright says, “He cried for his people because they were blinded by their culture, they were blinded by their conditions, they were blinded by their circumstance, they were blinded by their oppression…” He described a people who in Jesus’ day were oppressed by the Roman government; he said these people were tired of their oppression…they were blinded by the pain of their situation…”

He explains how people get confused: “Let me help you with something,” he said. “The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while…War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary,” a sentiment spoken by preaching greats including William Sloan Coffin and Martin Luther King Jr.

Wright talked about the people in Jesus’ day who wanted a new king but who were blinded by their circumstances, and “it made Jesus cry because they missed the meaning of his ministry.”  He continues to develop this thought, saying in the sermon that people were “confusing external appearances with external power.  People look for a miracle, Wright said, which is “just a sign,” but “the deeds of power point to a God who is greater than any physical limitation, and a God who can overcome any limiting situation…The people under oppression were confusing God and government.”

As he develops his thoughts, he talks about how some Muslims (and he is careful to say “not all Muslims”) confuse God and government who “condone a law condoning killing any and all who do not believe what they believe. They call it ‘jihad.'” He says we in America do the same thing: “we cannot see how what we are doing is the same al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction our murder and our mayhem.”

“We confuse God and government,” he said. He mentions some of the things America has done in the name of God, including oppressing Native Americans and African Americans…”We believe God approved of African slavery.”  He talks about America’s Constitution which assumed men to be “more equal” than women, and he said, “We confuse God and government; we believe God is on the side of the wealthy.”

The place of the wealthy is forever up for discussion. Jesus, in the New Testament, and God in the Hebrew scriptures admonished the wealthy for not caring enough for the poor.  William Sloan Coffin once said “Our nation is going to have quite a lot to say about how tolerable this planet is going to be. And if it’s as hard for a rich individual to get into the kingdom of God as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, you can imagine what it must be like for a rich nation!”  In other words, the debate about the rights of the rich versus the poor is not new; the chasm between the two has been a subject for prophets and apparently for God from the beginning of time.

In this sermon, Wright makes three points; Governments lie; governments fail, and governments change. He talks about how our government has lied over time “The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack.  Governments lie!  The government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin – they wanted that resolution to get us into the Vietnam War. The government lied about Nelson Mandela and our CIA helped put him into prison and keep him there for 27 years. ..Wright talks about well-documented instances in which the government has lied, but ends that section with “God doesn’t lie.

He then talks about how our government (and others) change. “Long before there was a red, white and blue colonization, the Egyptian government was doing colonization. They colonized parts of the Mediterranean. All colonizers ain’t (sic) white…But while the government of Egypt and Pharaoh ran it, they don’t run a thing today, and why? Because governments change. When the Babylonians carried away the people of promise into exile, the Babylonian government was the baddest government around, but when King Nebuchadnezzar went crazy, his government was replaced by the government of King Belshazzar. King Belshazzar held a great big feast, big banquet, defiled the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem, and a hand appeared.” Here, Pastor Wright describes the writing on the wall translated by Daniel, which said to the king that his government would fail. Governments, Wright said, using the Biblical text, change.

But, he said, “God doesn’t change, quoting Malachi 3:6 which says “…thus says the Lord, and I change not.” God, he repeats, does not change, an affirmation and a comfort to people who need to know that God is a constant, no matter what.

Finally he says governments fail. He talks of how the Roman government fail; the Russian government failed; the British government failed; the Japanese government failed …and the American government failed “when it came to treating her citizens of Indian ancestry fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed; she put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, she failed.”

Said Wright: She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing, “God bless America” No, no, no! God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!”

Governments fail, he says, but God never fails. He asks the congregants to refer to the Bible, where it says people will be cursed for not treating people right; in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, there are extensive lists where Moses explains why people (and nations) will be cursed and why they can and will be blessed. The fall of Jerusalem came about because the people “forsook God,” and the curse was that God allowed the enemies of His own people to topple them. It is not a pleasant message, but it is in the Bible.

I challenge Mr. Santorum to read the sermon, instead of making sneaky comments implying that there is something wrong with the president’s theology because he sat under the teaching of Pastor Wright. One might argue that a theology that allowed for the enslavement of African-Americans, the oppression of women, and the exploitation of workers is phony, too, if the Bible is to be taken into account.

At the end of the day, though there is one God, there are many different theological perspectives. The Rev. Franklin Graham gave a lukewarm acknowledgement that President Obama is a Christian, though he strongly affirmed that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are. When pressed by reporters on “Morning Joe” about his thoughts about the president’s faith, he waffled, criticizing the president’s policies which to him seem to be more concerned with protecting Muslims than Christians in places like Egypt. “We are not protecting the minorities,” he said, intimating that a good policy would be one that protected “the minorities,” which, in Egypt, are the Christians.

Yet, in America, many Christians historically have not been all that concerned with protecting its minorities.  So, which theology is “phony?” Which theology is “real,” in Santorum’s view or in Rev. Graham’s?

Rev. Graham said “all I know is that I am a sinner saved by grace.” That is the correct Christian jargon, but saying the words does not a Christian make, and, conversely, NOT saying those words when asked if one is Christian does NOT mean that one is not. Rev. Graham is right: the measure of one’s Christianity is found in the way one lives one’s life. Rev. Graham seems to have problems and issues with the president’s policies primarily in the Middle East, making him apparently doubt the president’s Christian belief claim.

As for NBC, I hope Peter Alexander corrects his error, and I hope all of the news operations are careful to check their facts before they put reports out that will only feed the fears and insecurity of so many people. I don’t feel sorry for politicians who rip each other apart, because those in politics know what they’re getting into, but the press has a duty to get the facts right and care about the lives of people it disrupts and destroys when it is not careful.

A candid observation ….

Somebody Ought to Tell the Truth!

In a front page article written by  Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff which appeared in The New York Times on February 12, a gentleman was described as being

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Image via Wikipedia

anti big government. He printed tee shirts for his local Tea Party affiliate, and says he doesn’t need or want help from the government.

Yet, the article said, he gets a payment from the government every year, a subsidy for working families called the “earned income tax credit,”  “he has signed his three school age children up to receive free breakfasts,” paid for the by the federal government, and his mother, who had to have hip surgery twice, is on Medicare – again, a federal program.

This kind of situation is not the exception, but, rather, the rule, and I am finding it harder and harder to listen to GOP presidential contenders talk about how they will slash domestic spending because it represents big government. At the end of the day, politicians are not telling people the truth, but, rather, what they want to hear. The people are not clear on what “big government” is, and politicians are allowing their ignorance to remain, because their lack of knowledge is the pot in which raw emotions fester, and politicians know that many an election has been won by stirring the right pot with the right emotions.

Are people really thinking about what would happen if the host of government benefits we all take so for granted suddenly were not there? What WOULD happen to our elderly if Medicare were no more?  The Times article said that “dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in 2009, a 69 percent increase since 2000.” The article said that older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare. So, if we cut domestic spending, how would “the least of these,” in this case, the elderly, get by?

Rick Santorum said that while Jesus wanted people to help poor people, social justice creates lazy Christians. That statement was stunning in and of itself, but it is disturbing and misleading and leads Americans to visualize “the poor” as lazy and probably members of a minority group. Like it or not, there are certain buzz words that get self-righteous Americans stirred up about who “the American taxpayer” is helping…but what is not being discussed or highlighted is that, again according to the Times article  “the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits.” Now it seems that the doling out of government benefits has been more focused on saving the slowly dying middle class.

There is no doubt that the nation’s economy, in fact, the world’s economy, is in horrible shape.  GOP presidential hopefuls who want to beat President Obama cannot be pleased that the economy seems to be getting better, albeit slowly. That fact takes the wind out of their argument that the Obama administration is a “failed presidency,” but they still beat the drum that the biggest reason, or one of the biggest reasons the economy has pitted is because of big government and reckless government spending.

Somebody needs to be bold and tell the truth about what is going on. Rick Santorum looks like a clean-cut, all-American choir boy, and he stands on his Christianity, but Christianity  i.e., the following of the Christ – demands a social conscience and a heart for “the least of these.” Santorum has not voiced the truth that “the least of these” is a group growing larger and larger as the income disparity between rich and poor gets wider and wider.  William Sloan Coffin once said that what the “Christian community needs to do above all else is to raise up men and women of thought and of conscience…” Merely advocating for slashing of needed government programs, at the expense of people who have been the backbone of this country, providing the labor and services that made wealth possible for so many, would seem to be immoral, unethical …and un-Christian.

Santorum is talking a lot of religion lately, going so far as to say President Obama has a “phony theology.” I do not understand that phrase, but what I do know is that the Jesus in the scriptures I read would not condone the wealthy getting more wealthy while more and more people are falling deeper and deeper into financial ruin, with the threat of what little help they have hanging over their heads.

I cannot believe God is pleased with what is going on.

A candid observation.

 

 

What Is a Conservative?

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
Image via Wikipedia

OK. I am confused.

What is a “real” Conservative? And when did the word “Liberal” become a virtual cuss word for those who are on the Right?

I was perplexed when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said last week that he was “severely Conservative.”  I didn’t know what it meant; I am glad that David Frum, in an article posted on the CNN blog, said that what Romney meant to say was that he was, or is, “strongly” Conservative. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/13/opinion/frum-romney-moves)

Michelle Bachmann said she was the “perfect” Conservative, and this week, Sarah Palin intimated that Romney still has to prove he is Conservative enough to be a viable candidate to run against President Obama.

But I am still confused. What is a Conservative, really? What do Conservatives stand for? There seems to be a standard in order for one to call oneself “Conservative.” It’s like the elusive “standard” that exists for being “black.” President Obama has been chided by some for not being “black enough,” and by others for being “too black,” so much so that there is literally nothing else to call him but a Socialist.

In order to be a Conservative, what does one have to stand for? It’s can’t be small government and less government spending, because George W. Bush said he was a Conservative but made the government super huge and spent money like it was going to evaporate. He was “conservative” when it came to interfering with Terri Schiavo…meaning, he was on the bandwagon to make sure life-saving measures were not discontinued…but wait. That couldn’t have been Conservative, could it, when he invited the United States Supreme Court in to make a ruling on the case?

As I have always understood it, Conservatives stand for less government …but that’s not a constant standard, is it? I mean, some Conservatives are mad about “Obamacare,” because they say it’s government intrusion in health care, but isn’t the government already highly involved, so much so that we don’t have the freedom in some cases to choose our own doctors like we used to be able to, and we might be out of luck if we do not get certain medical procedures approved by our insurance companies first? Didn’t the government have something to do with where we are in health care today?

I am not being facetious. I am confused. What is the difference between a “real” Conservative and a Liberal? And what is it about liberalism that makes Conservatives so mad?  Is it because Conservatives think that a government ought not help the poor? Is it the Conservative viewpoint that people are down and out because they want to be and that they are where they are because they are just lazy? Is that what I am hearing underneath some of what Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have said? And is the Conservative view that we should let the elderly of our population kind of wing it when it comes to health care? I know Medicare is expensive, but what I am not sure about is what Conservatives are saying.

I am not trying to be a smart-aleck. I am genuinely confused. The Conservatives, many of them, say they are part of the evangelical population of this country. That is why they are against gay marriage, and want to overturn Roe vs. Wade…but if they are so attached to The Holy Bible, wouldn’t they have seen the literally hundreds of references about the poor and how God’s people are supposed to take care of them?  Liberals have been accused of being without religion, but what kind of religion is it that the Conservatives, a.k.a. the evangelicals, ascribe to?

I am genuinely confused. Is it just me, or is there a problem here? If Romney is “severely” or “strongly” a Conservative, what does that mean? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he said he was a Progressive. So…what do we have here? A new strain of politician? Is Romney a Progressive Conservative? Or a Conservative Progressive? It’s all really hard to understand for a non-sophisticated citizen like myself.

A candid observation …

Such Thing as Racially Coded Language?

I got into a rather lively debate with a (former) Twitter follower of mine.

She had seen the title of my post entitled “Newt Gingrich Owes African-Americans an Apology” and had taken issue. Her response to the tweet announcing the blog post was “no he doesn’t.” She said I was playing “the race card” and that “it doesn’t work.”

Later in the evening, she and I started an exchange. I said that Newt had played the race card by referring to President Obama as “the food stamp president.” Though statistics show that more whites than blacks receive food stamps, what many “hear” when they hear “food stamps” is “black people are getting food stamps” because they are lazy and do not want to work. It’s an underlying thought in this country, and, I argued, Newt knows that very well.

I said that Newt was playing to his base. I also, erroneously, said that he had earlier said that “poor black children” don’t have a work ethic,” and my friend quickly corrected me and said he had only said “poor children.” She was right and I admitted it as such.

But she was angry. She said I was racist and that I was calling HER racist for saying that Newt Gingrich was playing to his base. And she said that people like me are the ones who keep the races divided. She “unfollowed” me.

She is not the only one who would agree with me, and clearly, not every African-American would agree with me. Just this morning, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Roland Martin were talking about this very same thing with former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who vehemently rejects the idea that there is such a thing as racially coded language.

But that’s all right. Back to my little encounter with my Twitter friend, I was sorry that she “unfollowed”  me because I enjoyed tweeting with her. She and I obviously have different ways of seeing things, but that’s good; one learns from talking with people who are different.

But what bothers me is that she really thinks that there is no such thing as racially coded language. She accused me of  “race baiting,” and if bringing up that Newt was playing the race card to appeal to his mostly white, South Carolina audience, then that’s what I was doing.

But it seems a bit naive to really believe that there is no such thing as racially coded language. It has always been done. President Reagan, the GOP iconic hero, did it when he used the phrase “welfare queen.” I am quite sure that the image that most people had, black and white, was that of a black woman with too many kids who refused to work but who kept having children so she could get more money from the government.

It is a despicable image, and an inaccurate one. Yes, there are people of all races who abuse the system, and yes, it is true that if one keeps getting hand-outs, he or she might be less inclined to look for work, but that doesn’t apply to everyone or even to the vast number of people who are on public assistance.

Rick Santorum, at least, was forthright in his comments which were not all that complimentary toward black people.  He said, outright, that he didn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and make their own money…” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/rick-santorum-entitlements-black-people_n_1181212.html)

It was a straight up statement; you didn’t have to guess about what he meant. He later tried to back out of it and said he didn’t say “black” people, but he did. He was standing on the long-held stated and believed myth, again, that “black people” are lazy, that “black people” are the ones who are using and abusing the welfare system. It was insulting, but the language was not racially coded.

Gingrich, on the other hand, did use coded language when he said that President Obama is the “food stamp president.” He was more honest when he said that the “African American community should demand pay checks and not food stamps.” It is still insulting; it is still a statement that upholds and supports a myth that black people are the ones driving the growth of “big government,” and that is just not true. You can read what Gingrich said at (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/newt-gingrich-paychecks-food-stamps_n_1188193.html).

I will probably never re-connect with my former Twitter friend – she won’t have it – but I cannot let this discussion slip into nothingness. She called me a racist for saying that Newt was and is playing the race card and for sticking to my guns. That’s rather like one who has been beaten being blamed for the beating. African-Americans, and many whites, have “been in the storm too long” not to recognize when they are being targeted for someone else’s gain.

Newt Gingrich is a master politician and a very smart man. Trust and  believe that he knew what he was doing when he said President Obama is the “food stamp president” to that roomful of white people in South Carolina. If saying that makes me a racist, then so be it. The truth is the truth.

A candid observation…

Is the Church Failing?

I had a conversation this morning with a friend who is a Conservative and who takes issue whenever I talk about race, on any level; this morning she and I were talking about race and the church.

I mentioned that some 40 Catholic leaders had written a letter asking Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to back off using racial stereotypes as they talk about poverty, and I said that the church has too long been silent, not holding politicians to a moral and ethical standard, even during political campaigns.

I said that the church has allowed racism to simmer, all in the name of Jesus, for far too long.  And I’m not talking just churches in the South. “The Church,” north, south, east and west, Conservative and Liberal, has been culpable.

Well, my friend hit the roof.

It wasn’t so, she said.

I countered; the church, I said, has used the Bible to justify racism and slavery from the time this country got its feet firmly established in American soil.  She charged that that was my opinion …and on and on…

But after we talked, I thought about it. The Church really is and has been too silent when it has come to allowing politicians to do and say what they want, especially as it pertains to race. Hooray for the brave Catholics who wrote the letter asking Gingrich and Santorum to pull back on the heinous language they are using…but where are the other religious leaders, the so-called moral and ethical leaders of this great nation?

Someone said that Gingrich stood to lose the Evangelical vote as details of his first marriage were revealed by his ex-wife. Surely that would have been the case, or should be the case, if the Evangelicals were as bound to Godly morals as they claim, but alas, the Evangelicals, the trumpeters of morality and family values, have been silent…Why? Because the Evangelicals want Barack Obama out of office, so it doesn’t matter, Newt’s marital, or apparent marital, indiscretions.

The Church, the established Church, has been failing in so many ways – saying one thing but doing another. The Church has been responsible for leading too many people away from the Christ instead of toward Him. The Church seems to have a very selective range of issues on which to comment and be vocal about – but racism isn’t one of them!

It’s too bad. One of the reasons racism has flourished in this country for as long as it has is because the Church has failed; it has been silent when it should have been clanging the cymbals proclaiming injustice and vowing to fight it!

Newt Gingrich will probably win the South Carolina primary, because he pandered to a group of people in that state who are still raw with racial resentment. Nobody quite cares about anything else other than their belief that a great wrong was done when America elected an African-American to be president and that it is their civic duty to get him out of the White House.

Church leaders have been largely silent on Newt’s (and Rick Santorum’s) racially coded language. It is not surprising, but it is disappointing.

A candid observation…