Archive for the Category » human rights «

June 04th, 2010 | Author:

What if:

  • Abraham Lincoln, like James Buchanan before him, said of the South, “As sovereign States, they, and they alone, are responsible before God and the world for the slavery existing among them.”
  • Lincoln decided that “preserving the Union” was not worth the cost in blood.
  • Congress legitimized secession and officially recognized the Confederacy.
  • The Confederate States of America still existed today.

United States map of 1861

I know.  This is an odd subject, even for me, but you can blame it on Rand Paul.  Or rather, you can blame it on an article by Sheldon Richman that was stirred by Rand Paul’s comments on the Civil Rights Act:

Why assume that legislation was the only way to stop segregation and today is the only thing preventing resegregation? We can easily imagine scenarios in which private nonviolent action could pressure bigots into changing their racial policies.

But we don’t need to imagine it. We can consult history. Lunch counters throughout the South were integrating years – years! – before the civil rights bill was passed. It happened not out of the goodness of the racists’ hearts – they had to be dragged, metaphorically, kicking and screaming. It was the result of an effective nongovernment social movement.

Starting in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, lunch counters throughout the South began to be desegregated through direct but peaceful confrontation – sit-ins – staged by courageous students and others who refused to accept humiliating second-class citizenship. Four years before the Civil Rights Act passed, lunch counters in downtown Nashville were integrated within four months of the launch of the Nashville Student Movement’s sit-in campaign.

Students were beaten and jailed, but they won the day, Gandhi-style, by shaming the bigots with their simple request to be served like anyone else. The sit-ins then sparked sympathy boycotts of department stores nationwide. The campaign wasn’t easy, but people seized control of their own lives, shook their communities, and sent shockwaves through the country. State and city governments were far slower to respond.

Could not slavery have been abolished using the same methods?  Britain accomplished this without war, largely influenced by a boycott of  sugar.

An anti-sugar pamphlet by William Fox was published in 1791; it ran to 25 editions and sold 70,000 copies in four months. Spurred on by pamphlets and posters, by 1792, about 400,000 people in Britain were boycotting slave-grown sugar. Some people managed without, others used sugar from the East Indies, where it was produced by free labour.

Grocers reported sugar sales dropping by over a third, in several parts of the country, over just a few months. During a two-year period, the sale of sugar from India increased ten-fold (see Adam Hochschild: Bury the chains). James Wright, a Quaker and merchant of Haverhill, Suffolk, advertised in the General Evening Post on March 6th, 1792, to his customers that he would no longer be selling sugar.  He declared:

“…..Being Impressed with a sense of the unparalleled suffering of our fellow creatures, the African slaves in the West India Islands…..with an apprehension, that while I am dealer in that article, which appears to be principal support of the slave trade, I am encouraging slavery, I take this method of  informing my customer that I mean to discontinue selling the article of sugar when I have disposed of the stock  I have on hand, till I can procure it  through channels less contaminated, more unconnected with slavery, less polluted with human blood……”

(A full copy of this article can be read here)

Citizen actions like these could well have pressured the south to ultimately ban slavery at the state level without killing about 618,000 Americans in war.  Compare that to American casualties in WWI (53, 402), WWII (291,557), and Vietnam (47, 424), and then imagine the impact it had on the citizenry.  Look at the economic disruption as well, and it seems that other less-costly solutions to slavery could have been found.

And if they had, and two American governments existed?  We can’t know the outcome, of course, but it seems to me there would be some important advantages.

First, states rights would have been upheld, limiting the role of the federal governments.

Second, dividing the country in two would, by simple mathematics, have reduced the power of those governments.

Third, two governments would have provided some healthy competition, as people decided where they wanted to live.

Fourth, all those confederate rebels could openly fly their flags.  :)

I know this “what if?” is a little off the beaten path, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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May 19th, 2010 | Author:

When I touched on America as a “Christian Nation” in my last Word for Wednesday, Rebecca from Freaky Frugalite left a comment that made me realize that much of the controversy surrounding this issue results from fuzzy terminology.  This post is an attempt to rectify that problem.  [I also want to acknowledge that a pithy comment left by Dave from Brainbiter resulted in the title of this post.]

In my attempt to do away with the fuzzies, I’ll start with some definitions in bold taken from the 1828 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary.  My personal definitions are more  narrow (and blunt), so I’ve included my thoughts on each.

CHRISTIAN, n.

  1. A believer in the religion of Christ. Simply believing doesn’t cut it. Demons also believe. (James 2:19)
  2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. Many hypocrites profess belief in Christ with their lips, but their heart is far away from God. (Matthew 15:8)
  3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. No flesh will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law. (Romans 3:20)
  4. In a general sense, the word Christian includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents. Our first birth is immaterial.  We must be born again of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3-8)

NATION, n.

  1. A body of people inhabiting the same country, or united under the same sovereign or government; as the English nation; the French nation. It often happens that many nations are subject to one government; in which case, the word nation usually denotes a body of people speaking the same language, or a body that has formerly been under a distinct government, but has been conquered, or incorporated with a larger nation. Thus the empire of Russia comprehends many nations, as did formerly the Roman and Persian empires. Nation, as its etymology imports, originally denoted a family or race of men descended from a common progenitor, like tribe, but by emigration, conquest and intermixture of men of different families, this distinction is in most countries lost.
  2. A great number, by way of emphasis. This definition does not apply.
  3. The etymology of “nation” shows the root word comes from the Latin nationem (nom. natio) “nation, stock, race,” literally “that which has been born.”

While the following passages are not the only definitions of a Christian, they contain the elements that are closest to my heart, emphasis added:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:3-8)

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they [the Jews] heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

If being a Christian requires a second birth, a heart-piercing acknowledgment of sin, repentance from those sins, baptism, and a receipt of the indwelling Holy Spirit; and if a nation is comprised of people joined only by geography or government, who may or may not fit this definition of Christian; how can a nation possibly be Christian?   A Christian is an individual who has given their life to Christ.  It’s rare for an entire family to give their lives to Christ.  It stretches the imagination that even a small town would be comprised of all Christians.  An entire nation has never, and will never, be a Christian nation, regardless of the laws that may exist. It’s an oxymoron.

Governments are given the sword for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14) Whenever government steps beyond that narrow mission, it is no longer in God’s will.

By claiming that America is a Christian nation,  we claim that what is done by our government is done in Christ’s name.  On a smaller scale, it’s the same principle that applies to a car with a fish on the back.  If that car cuts someone off, or otherwise drives in a reckless manner, the driver brings shame and reproach on the name of Christ.

When our government tortures people and kills innocent people – like native Americans or those who live over oil fields or other coveted lands – it brings shame and reproach on the name of Christ.

Again, I have no doubt that many of those who founded our country were Christians.  I have no doubt that they did their best to create a government that would please God.  But that did not make us, or our nation,  Christians.

In a previous post on church and state, I concluded this way:

American Christians typically approach government from one of two perspectives. Desiring to help those in need, they use the government to redistribute wealth. Others, motivated to see repentance from sin, use the government to define and enforce moral behavior.

Both positions use the coercion of the state to enforce religious practice. Neither position draws people to Christ, and in fact, interferes with the work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, it allows Christians to avoid their personal obligation to speak the truth with love, help those in need, and preach the gospel to all creation.

If Christians truly desire to draw others to Christ, they will not force society at large to fulfill their responsibilities. Moral laws do not change people, they only create self-justified hypocrites or criminals. Neither do laws save people. God changes people, and God alone, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, can save people.

I believe the real, underlying problem in this controversy is a matter of motivation.

If our goal is to make this world a better place according to what we consider important, which is largely based on dominionism – to raise moral standards, to reduce poverty levels, to educate, to increase longevity – then passing  laws  may accomplish that, although a recent NY Times article by David Brooks points to a conflicting result:

Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They’ve done very well here. Only about 6.7 percent of Swedish-Americans live in poverty. Also a century ago, many Swedes decided to remain in Sweden. They’ve done well there, too. When two economists calculated Swedish poverty rates according to the American standard, they found that 6.7 percent of the Swedes in Sweden were living in poverty.

In other words, you had two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same.

A similar pattern applies to health care. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the U.S. diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not. The result? There was basically no change in the life expectancy gap. Swedes now live 2.7 years longer.

Again, huge policy differences. Not huge outcome differences.

I suspect that if someone could calculate the Christianity of  two different countries, one of which had laws about a National Day of Prayer and many Christian symbols strewn about, and the other which completely ignored religion, the results would be the same.  Governments do not make Christians.  It’s not their job.

If our goal, however, is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15), then government laws are at best irrelevant, and at worst counterproductive.  As Jim from the Chestnut Tree Cafe commented on the previous post, the atmosphere of the palace has always been deadly to the Church. Persecution is the food on which she grows.

We can fight to keep the National Day of Prayer and the other Christian elements contained in our government.  Or we can fight for souls.

God gives each individual the free will to choose to repent and follow Him, or to continue on the path to hell. Government should do the same. The language of the First Amendment in this regard is God-given:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ;

Among the last words attributed to Jesus in the Bible are these, addressed to the church in Laodicea:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  (Revelation 3:15-16)

Government laws, if they do anything, create lukewarm Christians.  What a heart-breaking tragedy.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’  (Luke 13:23-27)

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May 12th, 2010 | Author:

The Word for Wednesday (WFW) is a once-a-week opportunity for Christian bloggers to collectively share what the Lord is working in their hearts. If you’d like to participate, click the WFW tab above.

Note to regular readers: I will resume my End of the Age review of the Olivet Discourse as the Lord leads. Today I’m off on a more topical issue.

The National Day of Prayer

In 1952 Congress, at the request of Billy Graham, established the National Day of Prayer where people were asked to “turn to God in prayer and meditation.”  In 1988, they set the first Thursday in May as “the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.”

On April 15, 2010, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional on this basis:

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.

“In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray,” Crabb wrote.

In her ruling, she stated that the issue would not go into effect until it has been through the appeals process, and Obama dutifully issued his proclamation.

My first response to all the backlash Crabb’s ruling generated was, “So what?” Do we really need – or want – Obama (or Bush or Clinton or ?) to tell us when and what to pray?  Would the lack of a presidential proclamation prevent us from praying?

When I read Crabb’s reasoning, I tended to agree with her.  If the President can call us to pray on a particular day, hosting special events for that purpose, could they not also try to direct us to non-biblical acts?  This, in fact, is already being attempted, as the New Apostolic Reformation of C. Peter Wagner joined forces with the Christian Right  in what was dubbed “A Cry to God:  May Day 2010” at the Lincoln Memorial.  As Herescope documented, this was less than biblical:

One of the most amazing aspects of the May Day event, planned in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial on May 1, 2010, is its Official Program stating the “Prayers of Repentance for the Seven Mountains of Culture.”[3] Many good-intentioned believers are being led into this event because they support its conservative political ideologies and moral overtones. They support Israel and they are against abortion. But do these folks also support the Seven Mountains of Culture Mandate? And are they fully in agreement with the esoteric theology of these spiritual warfare prayers and the Dominionist goals of the NAR leaders of the May Day event?

I’d encourage you to read that article and follow the links it contains, as well as this article and this one.  There is a long-planned co-opting of Christianity being implemented, and discernment is required.

All of this has led me to reflect on the larger issue of America as

A Christian Nation

“America was birthed in prayer and founded on the Bible,” said Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, on Thursday.

A solemn mood prevailed at this year’s National Day of Prayer, as speaker after speaker lamented what they perceive as an attack on our Christian Nation, but … does it really matter?  Can any man-made law make us Christian or prevent us from being Christian?  Can any nation actually be Christian?

Before everybody gets in a dither, let me state that I agree with Dobson’s statement.  I’ve learned a lot from my friend Hercules Mulligan, and I agree that, by and large, the founders of America were Christian and attempted to base our government on God’s law.  But that does not make us a Christian nation.

Jesus told Pilate this:

My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)

Nowhere in scripture did Jesus attempt to change the worldly governments.  Nowhere in scripture did Jesus tell his disciples to change the worldly governments. In fact, history has shown that since Constantine tried to establish the first “Christian nation,” nothing but disaster has resulted.  Every government that has tried to enforce Christian principles wound up killing in Jesus’ name and desecrating His name – and America is no exception.

A Young Soldier

Realnews.com, in a follow-up to the Wikileak Collateral Murder video (which has over 6 million views to date),  has posted Part 1 of an interview with Josh Stieber.  Go here to watch the whole interview or read the transcript.

Josh Stieber enlisted in the army after graduating high school. He was deployed to Baghdad from Feb 07- Apr 08 with the military company shown on the ground in the Collater Murder video. Upon his return from Iraq, Josh was granted conscientious objector status.

So who is this young man?  What was he thinking when he enlisted?  Here’s part of the interview.

STIEBER: I grew up very religiously and very patriotic, in a selective sense that, you know, I only wanted to hear things that I wanted to hear and only things that I thought would make my country look better and make my beliefs look better, and I wasn’t very interested in understanding other perspectives. And the vision I had of my country was that, you know, we were going all throughout the world doing, you know, all this great stuff and helping people in need. And, you know, after 9/11 I was obviously affected by that and wanted to protect the people that I cared about, and, from everyone I trusted, was told that the military would be a good way to do that, and then was also told, you know, there’s this country Iraq that’s getting oppressed by this horrible dictator who’s also a threat to us, and if we can get rid of him, not only will we be keeping ourselves safe, but we’ll also be helping this other country in the process.

JAY: How interwoven were your beliefs in America and what America stands for and your religious beliefs?

STIEBER: They were pretty closely intertwined. I went to a religious high school. And one example is, in a government class that I was in at this religious high school, we read a book called The Faith of George W. Bush. And people like that were held up as, you know, these—these are people that are fighting for God’s will here on Earth. So religion was very interwoven with a sense of nationalism.

So what happened to change his beliefs?

JAY: So you go to Iraq. You join, you go through boot camp, and you’re sent to Iraq, and you’re still more or less the same mindset. Tell us a little bit about boot camp and the kind of training that takes place to prepare you for war. I mean, your religious training is supposed to be about love thy neighbor, and then you’re sent to war. So how do they get you ready for that?

STIEBER: Yeah, I guess that’s where I started to see, maybe, some of these contradictions, just by the kinds of things that we did on a regular basis in basic training, whether it was the cadences that we sang as we were marching around, some that even joked about killing women and children.

JAY: Like what?

STIEBER: One that stands out in my mind is—it goes,

“I went down to the market where all the women shop
I pulled out my machete and I begin to chop
I went down to the park where all the children play
I pulled out my machine gun and I begin to spray.”

JAY: That’s as you’re marching.

STIEBER: Right.

JAY: So this is, like, an authorized chant, you could say.

STIEBER: Yeah. I mean, the training, they focus on the physical aspect, or, you know, they say that’s the challenging part, but then they slip all these psychological things in along with it.

JAY: Well, that’s got to be shocking for you to hear that the first time.

STIEBER: Yeah. And so I started writing home to religious leaders at my church, saying what I’m being asked to do doesn’t really line up with, you know, all these religious beliefs I had. And I would get letters back with explanations that I needed to have more faith in God, or this is just how the military works.

JAY: They would write back and defend a chant like that, that it’s okay to go down where the kids are playing and start to spray? They would defend that?

STIEBER: They would either defend it or say that ends justify the means or say, you know, maybe you personally don’t say chants like that and just march silently, but you still go along with the whole system.

If these are the words taught by a “Christian Nation,” it’s no wonder the Muslims hate America.  And it’s no wonder that they hate Jesus.

I’ve taken some liberties with the following scripture, but based on Matthew 5:43-48 when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, I don’t think He will object.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love for Muslims,
I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge;
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love for Muslims,
I am nothing.
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor,
and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love for Muslims,
it profits me nothing.
Love is patient,
love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own, is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

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April 14th, 2010 | Author:

from AP, aboard a military aircraft:

Gates says the video doesn’t show what happened before or after. He said: “You’re looking at a situation through a soda straw and you have no context or perspective.”

You want perspective, Gates?  Liliana Segura at AlterNet has collected some perspective from people who were there:

On Monday, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez played clips from an interview with Ahlam Abdelhussain, whose husband, Saleh Mutashar, died trying to rescue one of the two Reuters newsman hit by the blasts while his two children were injured. “My husband did nothing wrong,” she says, now a widow.

“How do I feel? What can I say? Why was he shot with his children in the car? They did nothing wrong. He was helping a journalist. What was his crime? What was the crime of our children who are left with no father and no support.”

Saleh’s nephew, Anwar, said:

    He was carrying wounded people during the American attacks. He was trying to help. They believe that someone who was carrying a gun will take his children along with him? Unbelievable. What can we do? God take revenge from the Americans. They destroyed us and destroyed our nations. What is the future of those children? They are orphans.

And here’s a little context from one of the witnesses:

WITNESS 2: [translated] Do we help the wounded or kill them? They killed all the wounded and drove over their bodies. Everyone witnessed it. And the journalist was among those who was injured, and the armored vehicle drove over his body.

For more perspective and context, go here.

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April 09th, 2010 | Author:

from Democracy Now, a reporter who filmed at the scene the next day:

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