Minor Thoughts from me to you

What Even Is a Lectionary?

I’m posting occasional “Reactions to the Daily Lectionary”. What even is a lectionary? Let’s take it from my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

This lectionary provides a three-year series of readings for Sunday starting with the season of Advent, four weeks before Christmas Day. For each Sunday and festival, three readings and a psalm are suggested and include: a Gospel reading, an Old Testament reading, and a New Testament reading. The lectionary is a work of The Consultation on Common Texts, an ecumenical consultation of liturgical scholars and denominational representatives from the United States and Canada, who produce liturgical texts for use in common by North American Christian Churches.

Each year of the Revised Common Lectionary centers on one of the synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel of John is read periodically in all three years and is especially frequent in Year B.

… The daily readings provide a psalm and two Scripture readings for each day between Sundays. The foundational premise of this set of daily readings is their relationship to the Sunday lectionary. The readings are chosen so that the days leading up to Sunday (Thursday through Saturday) prepare for the Sunday readings. The days flowing out from Sunday (Monday through Wednesday) reflect upon the Sunday readings.

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library has some great resources for the Revised Common Lectionary, including calendars that you can subscribe to in Google Calendar, iCal, and Outlook as well as an RSS feed for the daily and weekly readings.

Reacting to the Daily Lectionary

Today's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Semi-continuous: Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Isaiah 9:18-10:4; Acts 7:1-8
Complementary: Psalm 33:12-22; Ecclesiastes 6:1-6; Acts 7:1-8

Part One

A common argument in favor of abortion is that many children would otherwise be born into poverty; to mothers who can’t afford the children that they already have; to teen girls who will be forced to drop out of school and fall into poverty, to mothers who will be forced to give up the careers or the lifestyle that they might otherwise have enjoyed.

Pro-lifers respond that every life is valuable, that someone’s hopes and dreams shouldn’t doom an innocent child to death, and that anyway being born into poverty is better than dying or never living.

Interestingly, the Preacher didn’t agree.

A man may father a hundred children and live many years, but however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered; moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he.

Ecclesiastes 6:3-5

The Preacher argues that life isn’t worth living if you can’t enjoy the good things of life. The Preacher argues that it’s better to be born dead than to go through life in misery and deprivation. The still born child has more rest than the man without good things. And we know that this is true: poverty brings with it fear and stress. And stress alone can cause a host of health problems. A life in poverty can be a miserable life.

Does this mean that the Preacher would have been in favor of abortions, for children likely to be born into poverty? I don’t know. Where is the dividing line between “enjoying life’s good things” and not? Which good things? How much enjoyment? Are we talking being born into crushing poverty in a third-world country? Are we talking about being poor in America? What about being born into a war zone or during an ethnic cleansing?

The Preacher doesn’t answer these questions or provide a detailed set of criteria and guidelines. He’s not interested in telling us what to do; he wants to make us think. This passage makes me pause and consider whether the circumstances matter more than I used to think. And it makes me less certain about my own beliefs and slower to condemn others for their choices.

Part Two

It’s trendy in conservative Christian circles to slam “wokeness” and to declare that it has nothing to do with God, the Gospel, or Christianity. But “wokeness” is just being awake to the injustices of the world. And, say the prophets, you very definitely want to be awake to injustice. Tolerating injustice is bad. Very bad. God doesn’t like it when you tolerate injustice and he tends to react … poorly.

For wickedness burned like a fire,
    consuming briers and thorns;
it kindled the thickets of the forest,
    and they swirled upward in a column of smoke.
Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    the land was burned,
and the people became like fuel for the fire;
    no one spared another.
They gorged on the right but still were hungry,
    and they devoured on the left but were not satisfied;
they devoured the flesh of their own kindred;
Manasseh devoured Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh,
    and together they were against Judah.
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

Time out! That’s all very bad. What wickedness prompted God to become this angry?

Woe to those who make iniquitous decrees,
    who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
to make widows their spoil
    and to plunder orphans!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 9:18-10:4

This was prompted by God’s people being asleep to injustice against the poor, the needy, and orphans. Are you sure—absolutely sure—that you want to crusade against “wokeness”?

Reacting to the Daily Lectionary

Today's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Semi-continuous: Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Isaiah 9:8-17; Romans 9:1-9
Complementary: Psalm 33:12-22; Job 21:1-16; Romans 9:1-9

Much attention is paid to the sufferings of Job. I think the sarcasms of Job get overlooked. That man could roast his “friends”.

Then Job answered:

“Listen carefully to my words,
    and let this be your consolation.
Bear with me, and I will speak;
    then after I have spoken, mock on.

Job 21:1–3

The Three Deaths of Goliath

The Old Testament contains not one, not two, but three different versions of how Goliath of Gath died in battle. I learned this courtesy of Paul Davidson, at his blog “Is That in the Bible?”, writing about The Men Who Killed Goliath.

In fact, the story of Goliath—or some of the major details, at least—likely date from hundreds of years after King David.

An image of a fourth century Greek hoplite, armored, and holding a long javelin.

Historians have noted that Goliath’s description does not match anything that would have been worn by a Philistine or any other ANE warrior during the time of David; rather, his martial getup is very much like that of a Greek hoplite mercenary of the 7th–5th centuries (including the two spears and a sword — see Finkelstein 2002), and his description suggests a Homeric warrior like the heroes of the Iliad. The idea of single combat between two champions to determine the outcome of larger conflict also finds parallels in the Iliad: the duels between Paris and Menelaus, Hector and Ajax, and Nestor and the giant Ereuthalion. (Close similarities between 1 Samuel 17 and the Iliad are pointed out in West 214, 370, and 376.) This makes it further unlikely that the story is anything beyond a creative tale of heroism ascribed to David many, many centuries after he might have lived.

The story that appears last in the text (2 Samuel 21:15–22) is probably the first version that existed. In this one, Elhanan the Bethlehemite kills Goliath.

Story 3

The Philistines went to war again with Israel, and David went down together with his servants. They fought against the Philistines, and David grew weary. Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze and who was fitted out with new weapons,[a] said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall not go out with us to battle any longer, so that you do not quench the lamp of Israel.”

After this a battle took place with the Philistines at Gob; then Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. There was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great size who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; he, too, was descended from the giants. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of David’s brother Shimei killed him. These four were descended from the giants in Gath; they fell by the hands of David and his servants.

You should read Paul’s entire post. I found all of it fascinating. I’m only going to share the bit about how the second and third stories are intermixed with each other, in 1 Samuel 17–18.

One of the versions is completely missing from the Greek Septuagint, which was apparently translated from Hebrew into Greek, based on an earlier version of 1 Samuel. The later Masoretic Text includes the later version, which was apparently edited into the first story later on.

Paul Davidson separated out the version that appeared in the Septuagint and the later details from the Masoretic Text into two separate stories. As you’ll see, they stand on their own as two separate versions of how David met Saul and how he came to fight Goliath.

Story 1

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome to the Lord. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to [Ramah/Harmathaim].

Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skillful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and it will be good for you, and you will feel better.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him.” So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David who is with the sheep.” Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them by his son David to Saul. And David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the [camp/battle line] of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was [six/four] cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze and iron. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not [servants/Hebrews] of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.”

And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God. Shall I not go and smite him and take away today a reproach from Israel?” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this uncircumcised Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the man, the Philistine.

When [the man/Goliath] looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And David said, “No, but worse than a dog.” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.

The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give your carcasses and the carcasses of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone penetrated through the helmet into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.

When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The troops of Israel and Judah rose up with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as [Gai/Gath] and the gates of [Ekron/Ashkelon], so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. The Israelites came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent.

Story 2

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three eldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle; the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

Jesse said to his son David, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.”

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. The Israelites said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.” David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” The people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done for the man who kills him.”

His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.” David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.” He turned away from him toward another and spoke in the same way; and the people answered him again as before.

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him.

The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him.

David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand.

When Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?” Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” The king said, “Inquire whose son the stripling is.” On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.

The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice...

…because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul.

Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife; only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.” For Saul thought, “I will not raise a hand against him; let the Philistines deal with him.” David said to Saul, “Who am I and who are my kinsfolk, my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” But at the time when Saul’s daughter Merab should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife.

So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward.

Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle; and as often as they came out, David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his fame became very great.

Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.”

This entry was tagged. Analysis Bible

Let America Be America Again

Painting of Langston Hughes by artist Winold Reiss, National Portrait Gallery

America is a dream given form. It was built by men who only saw the dream through a glass darkly. They couldn’t see that it would one day apply to someone other than White men with a certain level of wealth. They couldn’t see that it would one day apply to their wives and daughters. Or to the “merciless Indian Savages” that they battled on the frontier. Or even—horrific thought—to their slaves, their slaves’ wives, their slaves’ daughters.

America is a dream given form. It was never a perfect realization of the dream. And we never can fully realize the dream, unless we’re willing to acknowledge the yawning chasm between the dream and the actual nation that the Founders built.

I can celebrate the red, white, and blue knowing of America’s flawed past. That doesn’t sap my fervor. But I can’t join in waving the flag and chanting “U-S-A”, when those with the biggest displays and the most fervor are the ones doing the most to deny the reality behind the myth.

“Making America Great Again” will take us back to a time when we were further away from realizing the dream than we are now. I cannot join their celebrations when doing so endorses their limitations for the country that I love.

When I celebrate Independence Day, I celebrate by both looking back and looking forward. I see America as it was, and I mourn for all of the mistakes that we’ve made. I see America as it could be, fully realized, welcoming and respecting everyone who shares the dream of liberty, equality, and opportunity, regardless of wealth, culture, religion, sexuality, national origin, or education. The dirt-poor, gay Guatemalan who just arrived, given as much preference as the White, middle class Christian, whose family has been here for 200 years.

For this Independence Day, I turn to the poem that’s come to signify patriotism to me. Let America be America again—the land that never has been yet—and yet must be.

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.) Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe. (There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”) _Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?_
_And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?_ I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed! I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years. Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.” The free? Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today. O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where _every_ man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America! O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Love Thy American Neighbor

A congregation of White men and women worships at First Baptist Church in the town of Luverne, Alabama.

This article—and this passage—has lived in my head, since I first read it, nearly 4 years ago. If you’ve talked politics with me, I’ve likely mentioned it at least once.

A Jewish theologian once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus responded by giving his own twist on the Shema.

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

How do American Christians hear, understand, and follow Jesus’s words? Let’s check in with some good, Christian, God-fearing folks from rural Alabama.

God, Trump and the meaning of morality — The Washington Post

Linda nodded. It wasn’t just Muslims that posed a threat, she said, but all kinds of immigrants coming into the country.

“Unpapered people,” Sheila said, adding that she had seen them in the county emergency room and they got treated before her. “And then the Americans are not served.”

Love thy neighbor, she said, meant “love thy American neighbor.”

Welcome the stranger, she said, meant the “legal immigrant stranger.”

“The Bible says, ‘If you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,’ ” Sheila said, quoting Jesus. “But the least of these are Americans, not the ones crossing the border.”

To her, this was a moral threat far greater than any character flaw Trump might have, as was what she called “the racial divide,” which she believed was getting worse. The evidence was all the black people protesting about the police, and all the talk about the legacy of slavery, which Sheila never believed was as bad as people said it was. “Slaves were valued,” she said. “They got housing. They got fed. They got medical care.”

Luke tells of a situation in which another theologian quoted the Shema to Jesus, as the qualification for gaining eternal life. Then he wanted Jesus to praise him for how well he was following this commandment and asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” That’s when Jesus busted out the story of the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.

When Jesus finished telling the story, he asked a question of his own.

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

When it comes to being Jesus’s people, there is no distinction between neighbors and American neighbors. There is no distinction between strangers and “legal immigrant strangers.” These good, Christian, God-fearing folks from rural Alabama don’t know their Bible and don’t know the love that Jesus taught, lived, and died for.

If “they will know that we are Christians by our love”, what are we to make of this rural, Alabama church that only shows love to people like them, and that disdains and fears everyone else? What are we to make of the great mass of American evangelicals who live like them, love like them, worship like them, and believe like them?

Texas GOP convention demonstrates far-right views

Your Republican party, Texas.

Texas GOP convention demonstrates far-right views

A cardboard cutout of Trump-as-Rambo, part of an advertisement from Patriot Mobile.

Thousands of Republican activists meeting in Houston this weekend for the state’s party convention agreed to a resolution that rejects the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and refers to Joe Biden as an illegitimate president.

The delegates also called for the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was passed to end discrimination against Black Americans at the polls.

And less than a month after 19 children and two teachers were shot to death at a Texas elementary school, convention delegates adopted a formal “rebuke” of Sen. John Cornyn (R) for engaging in bipartisan gun control talks. Attendees also loudly booed him when he gave a convention speech Friday when he tried to explain potential legislation.

This entry was tagged. Civil Liberties Guns MAGA Cult Republicans Voting

Confessing My Racism: A Juneteenth Reflection

Juneteenth.

The new American holiday, a celebration of the date when slaves in Texas finally heard the news that they had been freed: June 19, 1865. A commemoration of the fact that it took 89 years from the time that Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” until the time that some men stopped enslaving other men. A chance to reflect that it took another 100 years before all men could stay in the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants, attend the same schools, and vote in the same elections.

For me, it’s a chance to reflect on how the Founding Fathers patted themselves on the back for their love of freedom, even as they systematically took away the freedom of others. As I reflect on their hubris and self-congratulatory delusions, it’s a chance for me to ask if I need to confront any blind spots of my own.

Two years ago, I saw my own racism for the first time. I wrote this essay just three weeks after George Floyd was murdered. I’m publishing it now, to finally acknowledge my own sin and failures. Public confession is good for the soul. Maybe reading this will help you too.

I didn't think I was racist. I was wrong. I have racist ideas that I've learned from the culture around me, and I didn't even realize that I had learned them. This became clear to me, as I read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma.

DiAngelo kicked things off.

Many of us have been taught to believe that there are distinct biological and genetic differences between races. This biology accounts for visual differences such as skin color, hair texture, and eye shape, and traits that we believe we see such as sexuality, athleticism, or mathematical ability. The idea of race as a biological construct makes it easy to believe that many of the divisions we see in society are natural. But race is socially constructed. The differences we see with our eyes—differences such as hair texture and eye color—are superficial and emerged as adaptations to geography. Under the skin, there is no true biological race. The external characteristics that we use to define race are unreliable indicators of genetic variation between any two people.

And then Ken Wytsma reinforced it.

…the concept of humanity’s being divisible into different races has no scientific validity.

…these features that so impress us when we look at one another are extremely superficial. Beneath the skin we are all basically the same—and this is especially true at the genetic level. Genetically speaking, I (with my rather unmixed Dutch heritage) am more similar to a male Maori than I am to any female, including my own mother and daughters. Whatever genetic differences the Maori man and I might have throughout the rest of our twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, they are fewer than the number of gene differences between men (with one X-and one Y-chromosome) and women (who have two X-chromosomes), even when a man and woman are closely related.

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the genetics of humanity is how little diversity it contains in comparison to other populations of creatures, including other primates. The entire human population displays far less genetic diversity than that of chimpanzees, bonobos, or orangutans.

…the number of genetic differences among all Norwegians—or among all Nigerians—is greater than the number of genetic differences that could be used to distinguish between Norwegians and Nigerians. Externally, a Norwegian and a Nigerian look very different; but their respective genomes are quite similar, even within the genes that code for melanin and thereby determine skin color. Such genes differ only by a very few nucleotides, and the adaptive change that led to light skin occurred more than once as humans migrated to northerly latitudes.

Distinguishing among people groups on the basis of race is an artificial, superficial venture with no scientific credibility. Of course, this reality is less important than the perception. Even though race has no anthropological or genetic grounding, our modern world is preoccupied with identifying differences between people groups and basing our behaviors on those perceived differences.

These ideas—that there is no such thing as biological race; that genetic differences between people of the same nationality are greater than the differences that can be used to distinguish between nationalities—knocked me back on my heels. I've absorbed the racist idea that there are innate differences between Black people and White people.

I would have pointed to cultural differences and claimed that they were the result of innate differences. Such as: Black people are more athletically gifted and better at sports than White people are. That Black people are more prone to diseases like sickle cell anemia than White people are. That Black people are more exuberant than White people, more violent than White people, and dance better than White people, all because they are less inhibited than White people.

As soon as I read Robin DiAngelo's and Ken Wytsma's words, it was like a bomb went off in my brain. The differences really, truly, are only melanin deep. At the risk of trivializing identity, it's a mask, a costume, a covering that we are all born with. And we randomly get the lighter version or the darker version. But we are all exactly the same underneath. Exactly.

It's horrifying to realize that all of humanity is exactly the same underneath our skin. It’s horrifying to come to grips with the idea that we Americans have treated millions of people differently because of a highly visible, yet completely surface-level difference. People who are the same as me in every way that matters—all the same potential, abilities, and traits—being systematically enslaved, shut out, disenfranchised, beaten, murdered, slandered, feared, and imprisoned.

I haven’t enslaved, beaten, or murdered anyone because of their perceived race. But feared? Slandered? I have felt more unsafe walking through Black neighborhoods than White neighborhoods, even though I knew nothing about the neighborhood other than the skin differences that I could see.

After reading what DiAngelo and Wytsma wrote, I realized that I’ve been putting people into different buckets based on their “race”. I’ve had a mental category for “Black actors” separate from “actors”, “Black scientists” from “scientists”, “Black musicians” from “musicians”, and “Black writers” from “writers”. When I think about accomplishments, I think about them in terms of those categories. “Tom Cruise is a great actor and Denzel Washington is a great Black actor”, as though they weren’t both American men, of similar ages, doing the same job.

Denzel Washington is not a great Black actor. He’s a great actor. Ray Charles was not a great Black musician. He was a great musician. George Washington Carver was not a great Black scientist; he was a great scientist. Frederick Douglass was not a great Black orator; he was a great orator. If I want to truly give all people the same weight, I need to evaluate people as Americans, not African Americans or Chinese Americans or Indians.

This is my racism: I’ve bought into the lie that skin color indicates deeper genetic differences. And while I never would have admitted it, I separated humanity into “us” and “them” based on those perceived genetic differences. And that let me be less concerned about what happened to “them,” then I was about what happened to me and people like me.

I didn’t want to believe that Americans were treating some people better than others because of perceived race. Whenever I heard stories that seemingly showed racist outcomes, I explained it all away. Instead of believing whoever was writing or speaking, I decided that they must be wrong or mistaken or lying or misrepresenting the situation. I would bring my superior education and knowledge to explain what was really going on. I had an explanation for why everything that seemed racist, really wasn’t.

After George Floyd was murdered, I started listening and reading with an open mind. I realized that I have been wrong. That I was guilty of treating some people as lesser. And I made a commitment to start listening when people told me how racism was affecting their lives. Not listening to argue and deflect, but listening to learn. I’ve spent the last 2 years doing that and it has been an eye-opening experience.

I’m not done yet. I’m going to continue to seek out the stories of the people that I used to ignore, because there is no us and them.

There is only us.

Choose You This Day: Aftermath

The Council was caught off guard by our request and asked if they could talk it over before making a decision.

We waited for two weeks before getting the final answer. They initially thought that we were overreacting to seeing an American flag or two in the sanctuary. Their feelings changed after finding photos of last year’s service. Seeing the photos reminded them of how over the top the display was. Several of the people on the Council had also been uncomfortable when they came into church that Sunday morning.

After looking at the photos, reviewing our written request, and talking it over, the Council came to the same conclusion that we did. They made a decision that future services can acknowledge patriotism, but will be much more restrained. Only one or two flags in the sanctuary. And while we won’t sing patriotic anthems, the Lutheran hymnal does have some approved patriotic hymns that the worship leaders can use.

We didn’t hear the Council’s decision until Sunday, after attending the Memorial Day service. We didn't know what to expect when we walked in, and were pleasantly surprised by what we didn’t see. There was only one flag in the sanctuary and it was tucked into a back corner. We sang a patriotic hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. We had a short video commemorating those who died in uniform. And that was it.

Best of all, the message was based on John 17:20-26 and focused on the need for all Christians to be one, free of divisions, so that the world will know that God sent Jesus to show God’s love to everyone, everywhere.

Choose You This Day

Last year, I walked out of the church on July 4th Sunday. When my wife and I walked into church, we immediately noticed the explosion of flags around the organ and piano. We both did our best to ignore it. She was more successful than I was.

I hit my breaking point when we started singing “My Country, Tis of Thee” and I saw that the background of the slide had a soldier saluting the flag. I walked out and skipped the rest of the service.

For the past year, we’ve been talking, on and off, about that service and how much it disturbed us both. We weren’t sure what to do about it, but we knew that we didn‘t want to go through another service like July 4, 2021. I definitely didn’t want to walk into another patriotic service that I’d just have to walk out of.

We finally decided to do the most obvious thing and talk to church leadership about it. We wrote down our concerns and the reasons for them, then worked with a friend to turn it all into a specific request. We joined the May meeting of the Congregational Council and read it to them.

Our Request

We would like the Council to keep the church free of patriotic symbols and imagery, around July 4th and every other week. Without casting aspersion on those who put up the flags in the past, who almost certainly thought nothing of it, we feel that such symbols and imagery are blasphemous here.

Jesus told Pontius Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world. It’s separate from this world and it’s above every earthly power. Every nation ultimately bows to Jesus. When we allow American flags and imagery to force their way into the church, when we allow patriotic songs to replace religious songs, it’s inarguable that America is intruding on God’s space and demanding our allegiance!

A pastor that I learned from in college referred to Christians as ambassadors for God. That we are the presence of God in our daily lives and should demonstrate God’s first importance everywhere we are. That’s stuck with me ever since. You’re not gonna see the British embassy putting up American flags on July 4. They represent Britain first, last, and always. Christians should take that as a hint.

The Church should be the vanguard of the Kingdom of God, and not aligned with any race, ethnicity, or nationality. The Sanctuary should be a true sanctuary, where all believers regardless of background or national origin or earthly loyalty can worship together free of national divisions.

What Scripture Says

Isaiah welcomed the foreigner to God’s House and said it was “a house of prayer for all peoples”. Jesus said he would gather all the sheep into His flock and “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” He told Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” and “my kingdom is not from here.”

Paul echoed this, multiple times. For him, it was a theme that followers of Christ became something new, something set apart from their original heritage and loyalty.

To the Colossians:

“you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God … you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!”

To the Corinthians:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

To the Galatians:

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

In 1 Peter, the author also says that people who follow Christ have become a separate nation.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

In Closing

For a very long time, I’ve thought of the church as a place where God’s people can worship as one, setting aside our other loyalties for an hour or two. Speaking bluntly, when I walked in last July 4th and I saw our church bathed in patriotic decorations, I felt sick to my stomach. Consciously or not, RLC was betraying its mission and allowing God’s House to be turned into a pep rally for America.

We would like the Council to keep the church free of patriotic symbols and imagery, around Memorial Day, July 4th, and every other week of the year.

While talking to the Council, I paraphrased the Scripture passages that had shaped our thinking. After talking to the them, I emailed the request to everyone and included the unabridged passages.

Isaiah 56:6-8

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar,
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel:
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

John 10:16

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

John 18:35

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Colossians 3:1–17

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

… you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

1 Corinthians 10:31–33

So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage but that of many, so that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Galatians 3:27–29

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

1 Peter 2:4-10

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

This honor, then, is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”

and

“A stone that makes them stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Revelation 5:9–10

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to break its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Up next: How did they respond to our request?

New Prosecutors Are Reopening Old Cases Against Police Officers

New Prosecutors Are Reopening Old Cases Against Police Officers →

Steve Eder and David D. Kirkpatrick writing, for the New York Times, on newly elected prosecutors who have a less chummy relationship with the local police department than their predecessors did.

some prosecutors reviewing old cases were elected with the support of the police unions.

“I don’t define myself as a progressive prosecutor,” said Fani T. Willis, a Democrat who was elected district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., last year with police union backing. “I just define myself as doing what’s right.”

Since taking office in January, she has begun reviewing 50 use-of-force cases and seven death-in-custody cases going back to 2016 that her predecessor had not addressed; she has so far landed indictments in 13 of them. Six officers were indicted in November for a jailhouse death in 2018. They had allegedly shouted that it was “Taser Tuesday” as they tortured and killed Antonio May, 32, arrested for throwing rocks at a building.

“There were too many cases where nothing had been done,” said Ms. Willis, noting her office had also cleared more than 20 officers. “Where there is no courage, nothing happens.”

The System Only Worked Because It Was Pushed

The System Only Worked Because It Was Pushed →

Adam Serwer writing for The Atlantic.

The clip showing Arbery’s death became public a few weeks before the release of the video showing George Floyd being murdered by a police officer. In retrospect, the two share a disturbing connection: The videos contradicted the statements of local authorities that both Floyd and Arbery were responsible for their own deaths. Without the video evidence—and the national protest, outrage, and scrutiny they sparked—neither man’s killers would have seen the inside of a courtroom. It took a series of extraordinary events to force the system to regard their deaths as crimes worth investigating.

If it sounds ridiculous to say that chasing someone down while armed is an act of self-defense, and then to claim you had to shoot the person you were chasing, because they tried to defend themselves, recall that this was precisely the conclusion the local authorities initially reached.

The jury ultimately found the defense’s arguments unpersuasive, and the evidence against the defendants overwhelming. But had it been up to the folks in charge in Glynn County, the jury never would have seen that evidence. To say the system worked in this case is like saying your car made it home—after your entire family had to get out and push it miles down a dirt road.

Republicans Fight Covid Mandates, Then Blame Biden as Cases Rise

Republicans Fight Covid Mandates, Then Blame Biden as Cases Rise →

Jonathan Weisman, writing for the New York Times.

As [Republican House Minority Leader] McCarthy faulted Mr. Biden for failing to stop the virus, he also criticized him for demanding people get vaccinated, even health care workers. Mr. Biden, he said, “fired workers who were working because they wouldn’t comply with his Covid mandates. These were the same people who were heroes a year before.”

Matt Sparks, a spokesman for Mr. McCarthy, said he saw no contradiction in fighting vaccine mandates while faulting the president for his pandemic response. For instance, “natural immunity from those that have recovered from infection” should suffice to meet vaccination requirements, he said.

“The lack of acknowledgment of this fact further erodes the public trust in the vaccine and our public health officials,” he added. (The C.D.C. strongly advises that even those who have recovered from Covid-19 get vaccinated, citing a study out of Kentucky that found that previously infected people were more than twice as likely to get Covid-19 again as fully vaccinated people.)

Illegal Immigration Isn’t an ‘Invasion’

Illegal Immigration Isn’t an ‘Invasion’ →

David Bier writing at Reason.com, making one of my favorite points.

Migration is the exact opposite of an invasion. Nearly all these so-called invaders are coming to serve Americans. This supposed invasion will contribute to the strength and prosperity of the United States, not undermine it. This isn't Santa Anna's soldiers crossing the Rio Grande. It's four kids with their mom reuniting with their dad at a farm outside of Atlanta. They're not coming to blow us up or take our stuff—they're coming to work with us, work for us, and buy our products. They want to be us, not conquer us. And that's the most important point: A crackdown on migration does not vindicate the rights of Americans to be free from foreign attackers. Rather, it is a violation of our rights to associate, contract, and trade with peaceful people born in other countries.

The fact that these actions are so often illegal is lamentable. But Congress could pass a law tomorrow to legalize migration (as it in fact did for the first century of American history). The illegal part of illegal immigration is a problem easily solved by Congress. It does not warrant the suspension of habeas corpus or calling up militias to shoot the "invaders."

The Saltless Christianity of Bethlehem Baptist

Bethlehem Baptist Church, the church that grew to prominence under Pastor John Piper, is convulsing. Jean Hopfensperger has the story and I have a few thoughts.

What’s been happening?

Three pastors have abruptly resigned this summer from Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis, signaling “a painful and confusing moment” at a megachurch that gained national prominence under longtime pastor John Piper.

The pastors cited several reasons for resigning, including how the church’s leadership council has handled race and diversity issues, and what one labeled a “bullying” and “toxic” culture toward those who hold different opinions.

At least one of the pastors said he was disturbed over the council’s refusal to distance the church from remarks about abused women by the incoming president of the church’s college and seminary.

“I believe our leadership culture has taken a turn in an unhealthy direction as we try to navigate conflict and division,” Meyer wrote in his July resignation letter. “Institutional protection can go too far when other viewpoints are unwelcome.”

Former care and counseling pastor Bryan Pickering, who also resigned, went further and claimed there was “domineering leadership, spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.”

interviews and correspondence with the departing pastors and congregation members point to several underlying issues.

One stems from church officials’ response to a “racial harmony” task force in 2019, which analyzed the diversity of the church’s leadership or lack thereof, and made numerous recommendations to recruit and retain members to the council, made up overwhelmingly of white men.

Task force members wanted the 85-page report to be sent to the congregation, but it wasn’t. Some elders charged the report was influenced by Marxism and critical race theory, task force members said. The elders now say the report will be released.

“We believe that in the absence of biblical clarity, ethnic harmony becomes a ‘wax nose’ that we can shape and twist any way we like,” according to a Council of Elders statement. “We simply cannot allow politics or secular culture to define our terms or determine our beliefs.”

Hold up. There is an absence of Biblical clarity on the topic of “ethnic harmony”? I would have thought that Revelation 7 succinctly summarized God’s perspective: “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Likewise, talking about “the sins of racism” or spousal abuse from the pulpit was not welcomed, Pickering said.

I can understand that. When people are hurting and the culture outside of the church is talking about the ways in which people have been hurt, abandoned, and attacked, we absolutely would not want to give anyone the impression that the Bible might have anything relevant to say on the matter. Taking a stand could offend someone. And that someone might be wealthy and influential. Better to keep quiet and preserve our relationships with the powerful.

Another flash point occurred after church members became aware of Bethlehem College and Seminary President Joe Rigney’s appearance on an episode of “Man Rampant,” an Amazon Prime video series hosted by controversial religious figure Doug Wilson. In a discussion about what to do when a woman reports physical abuse to a pastor, Wilson and Rigney stressed it was important not to immediately believe her until they’ve heard the abuser’s side of the story.

Yes! The woman was probably mouthing off to her husband, neglecting her most important responsibilities (such as catering to her husband’s every whim), or voting for the wrong people. Regardless, she likely had it coming and once you’ve heard his side of the story you’ll understand exactly why he was justified in hitting her.

Upset church members introduced a motion at a Council of Elders meeting this year, asking that the full council “make a written, public statement separating the views expressed by Joe Rigney in Man Rampant from the views and teachings of Bethlehem Baptist Church.”

A council member who had given the episode a five-star online review threatened to resign if the motion passed. It was tabled.

Of course it was. Whatever else American evangelical Christians are, they’re moral cowards. It’s more important to coddle the powerful and defer to their feelings than it is to take a stand for truth and righteousness.

Church leaders declined to sanction a seminary professor who had been accused by a dozen students of abusive behavior. An investigation later determined there were no legal violations.

Oh. No legal violations. Professors can act like any kind of asshole that they like as long they don’t actually break the law. A seminary professor certainly has no higher moral or ethical standard that they should live by. All of those fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are for other people.

Stokes attributes some of the tensions and resignations at Bethlehem to the impact of the nation’s climate of polarization.

“You talk about racial issues too much, and some people will say ‘I’m leaving the church,’ “ he said. “You don’t talk enough about racial issues, and people say ‘I’m leaving.’ “

So he admits it: people will leave regardless. The only thing you get to choose is why people will leave and what you’ll stand for. Stokes is on the side of standing quietly by while evil is done, being complicit in that evil, and retaining the good opinion of both the evildoers and those who don’t want to hear about the existence of evil.

I believe Jesus had something to say about this as well.

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Arizona bill targets dangerous drug traffickers

Let’s not pass this bill in Arizona. It harms drug addicts and won’t do anything to prevent people from using illegal narcotics.

Arizona bill targets dangerous drug traffickers

Maria Polletta, reporting for the Arizona Republic.

House Bill 2779 would establish tougher minimum sentences for those caught selling or possessing even small amounts of heroin, fentanyl or fentanyl-like drugs.

Those who sell or share drugs linked to overdose deaths could face up to 25 years in prison under House Bill 2779, a measure aimed at taking down dangerous drug traffickers who knowingly taint or misrepresent their products.

Justice reform advocates argue the bill would more likely punish low-level dealers selling to support their addictions, boosting the state's already swollen prison population rather than public safety.

In addition to creating the crime of “drug trafficking homicide,” HB 2779 would establish tougher minimum sentences for those caught selling or possessing even small amounts of heroin, fentanyl or fentanyl-like drugs.

It also would make those offenders ineligible for probation, early release or virtually any other incentive.

"The idea that these mandatory minimums are going to deter people — that assumes that individuals who engage in illegal behavior are rational actors and they can accurately weigh future consequences in the moment," said Zachary Stout, a former opioid user who now advocates for sentencing and drug policy changes.

"Drug users who are suffering from addiction are not rational," he said. "If the intent is to decrease the number of overdoses and combat the opioid crisis, then this bill is the perfect example of a complete failure of understanding."

This entry was tagged. Arizona Drugs

Kids and Covid: Schools can reopen safely now

I've been as hesitant as anyone else to send children back to school. It seemed like a recipe for disaster—pulling together children from across the community, putting them together all day to spread sickness around, and then sending them back home to infect their families. But the research shows that school can be very safe. We should reopen schools and let every family send their children.

Kids and Covid: Schools can reopen safely now

Benjamin P. Linas, writing at Vox.

When Covid began to spread in the US last year, teachers were right to be worried about schools. We knew almost nothing about the virus’s spread. Operating schools under business-as-usual conditions very well could have led to more infections among teachers, students, and people in the community.

But since then, we have accumulated a massive amount of data about how to keep schools open safely.

First, last spring, we observed the experiences of other countries like Scotland, Singapore, and France, where schools reopened and masks and social distancing seemed to prevent large-scale transmission.

In the US, epidemiologists compared the timing of school closures to changes in Covid incidence. Some studies found that school closures might have reduced the spread of illness, but the findings are complicated because we were also making other major public health changes at the same time. And overall they failed to find a strong link.

Data and patterns also began to emerge about children’s Covid-19 test results and their exposures. Playdates with friends emerged as the common exposure among the infected; time in school did not.

Still, as reassuring as the data were, they were all indirect. The gold standard to learn if schools can open safely is fairly simple: Open schools, measure Covid incidence, and see what happens. Many US school districts have now done this, and we have the data.

First, researchers in North Carolina published results from 11 school districts and over 100,000 students and staff. Schools in those districts employed mandatory masking and six-foot distancing where feasible, but no major capital improvement to HVAC systems or buildings. In the first quarter of this school year, they found the rate of transmission of Covid in schools was dramatically lower (roughly 1/25) than the level of transmission in the community. Among all of the Covid-19 infections observed in school, the state health department’s tracers found 96 percent were acquired in the community, and there were no documented cases of the virus passing from child to adult in schools — zero.

Second, a similar study followed 17 schools in Wisconsin. Like North Carolina, those schools required masks indoors, three-foot distancing with effort to distance farther whenever feasible, and no major capital improvements. Between August 31 and November 29, with over 4,500 students and 650 staff, they found seven cases of Covid transmission to children and also found no cases of Covid transmission to educators in the buildings. Further, these schools eliminated Covid transmission at the same time that the surrounding community saw a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases.

A third important preprint study analyzes data from two schools in Atlanta. This study is small, but it is important because the schools were conducting routine asymptomatic screening of students, teachers, and staff. In Atlanta, 72 percent of the limited number of transmission events in one school were known to be the result of non-compliance with masking. And again here, there were no cases transmitted from students to teachers.

Sadly, at the same time that we are learning definitively that we can open schools safely and essentially prevent Covid transmission, data are emerging about the real damage being done to children by prolonged remote learning, including a rise in the use of pediatric emergency rooms for psychiatric illnesses, increasing anxiety and depression symptoms, losses in learning progress, and large racial disparities in both the availability of in-person instruction, and educational achievement.

At the same time, teachers also need to recognize that full vaccination is not a prerequisite for safe schools, as some educator unions have called for. We did not have a vaccine in North Carolina or Wisconsin when they safely opened schools in August 2020.

We must also not let other demands, such as universal asymptomatic testing or large-scale capital improvements to buildings, stymie the return to in-person learning. Yes, we should be working to implement more screening in schools and improving air exchange, but we can do that in parallel with re-opening. We know now from good data that we can effectively stop Covid-19 at the school doors and get American education back on track without these things. Essentially, all we need to safely reopen schools are mask mandates, reasonable distancing of at least three feet, minor and affordable upgrades to existing HVAC systems, and teachers.

A realistic plan for reopening schools is to immediately begin bringing the youngest learners back to full-time, in-person learning with strict guidance for masking indoors, three-foot minimal distancing with effort to maximize distance as much as possible. Districts can certainly conduct air-exchange surveys in classrooms as an extra precautionary measure and use simple and affordable mitigation strategies for suboptimal conditions, such as upgrading HVAC filters, opening windows, and deploying portable HEPA filters in problem spaces.

This entry was tagged. COVID-19 Education Policy Unions

McConnell’s choice is emblematic of the GOP’s rot

The Republican Party now stands for nothing but Donald Trump. There are no principles, there are no convictions. There is only Trump. They have thrown everything else away in defense of the man.

McConnell’s choice is emblematic of the GOP’s rot

Jonah Goldberg, writing for the Los Angeles Times.

McConnell’s choice is emblematic of the GOP’s rot. Republicans claim to fight for fidelity to the Constitution, traditional morality, law and order, economic liberty, fiscal responsibility, etc. As a conservative, I believe these are things worth fighting for. But most Republicans today don’t see these as principles to stand for, they see them as slogans to campaign on.

That is the only way to reconcile their sloganeering with their slavish support for Donald Trump — a thrice-married, admitted sexual predator who, as president, lavished praise on dictators, imposed tariffs with drunken abandon, tried to steal an election so brazenly he was impeached twice and set in motion a multi-pronged anti-constitutional assault on Congress and democracy that left dead cops in its wake and the impeachment clause of the Constitution a dead letter.

“Courage,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

Again and again, at the moment of highest political reality, the bulk of the Republican Party has chosen Donald Trump — and the voters who dominate the primaries — over all other considerations.

This entry was tagged. Donald Trump January 6 Insurrection MAGA Cult Impeachment Republicans

A year of election misinformation from Trump, visualized

Mr. Trump’s incitement to violence started well before January 6, with a continuous stream of lies.

A year of election misinformation from Trump, visualized

Philip Bump, reporting for The Washington Post.

Before the 2016 election, Trump invested a decent amount of energy on claims that presidential elections were rife with voter fraud. It was transparently an effort to inoculate himself against what seemed to be a likely loss in that year’s presidential race. Then he won — and his claims that voter fraud were rampant were more narrowly tailored to explain why Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes than he did, or so they said.

For the next few years, he’d occasionally return to the subject, waving his hands about fraud whenever he wanted to complain about immigrants, California, Californian immigrants or whatever. But it was last April when his fraud claims took a new, more concrete form: Democrats were using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to expand the use of mail-in ballots — a tool that made casting illegal ballots trivial, or so Trump asserted.

One could (and many did) watch the plan solidify over the next few months. Mail ballots were rife with fraud, Trump claimed over and over, and therefore an election predicated on mail ballots would necessarily be suspect. By April it had become clear that Trump’s opponent in his reelection bid would be Joe Biden, who led Trump by a healthy margin in the polls. So Trump dutifully planted seeds of doubt about what seemed like a probable Biden win.

As the election neared, he repeatedly refused to say that he would accept the outcome if he lost, instead saying that he would only accept the outcome of a free and fair election — something that he assured his followers was impossible, given the circumstances. Then he performatively demanded that no votes should be counted after the night of the election itself, recognizing that mail ballots that heavily favored Biden would only be counted in the hours or days after polls closed.

It was this poisonous snowball of nonsense meant to set the stage for his declaring that Biden hadn’t actually won. And it worked very well.

In the weeks after his loss, Trump repeatedly claimed that the election had been tainted by fraud, without offering any credible evidence. As surely as he’d built up nonsensical claims of imminent wrongdoing before the Nov. 3 election, he assiduously latched on to any claim of fraud that emerged after the election was over, however obviously ridiculous or quickly debunked. Day after day of dishonesty about his loss, of which his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 was only the last.

About an hour after he finished speaking, his supporters — in D.C. at his behest and motivated by Trump to try to interrupt the finalization of the election results occurring in the Capitol — had overrun the seat of legislative power in the United States.

This entry was tagged. Donald Trump Elections January 6 Insurrection MAGA Cult President2020 Impeachment

Trump’s weak impeachment defense will expose the depravity of GOP senators who acquit him

Even more of the case for impeaching Donald Trump. Not only is he guilty, guilty, guilty, but if the Republican Senators acquit him, they’ll be guilty of putting the party—and the man—far above the Constitution that they swore an oath to defend.

Trump’s weak impeachment defense will expose the depravity of GOP senators who acquit him

Greg Sargent, opining in The Washington Post.

The real choice they face is not between sticking with Trump or going against him. Rather, it’s between sticking with Trump or remaining faithful to their oath of office, which requires them to defend the Constitution against those who would undermine or destroy it, and to the oath of impartiality they take as impeachment jurors.

Trump tried to overthrow U.S. democracy to keep himself in power illegitimately, first through corrupt legal efforts, then through nakedly extralegal means, and then by inciting intimidation and violence to disrupt the constitutionally designated process for securing the peaceful conclusion of free and fair elections.

Trump fully intended to subvert the constitutional process designating how our elections unfold, and intended this every step of the way. GOP senators cannot remain “loyal” to Trump without breaking their oaths to execute their public positions faithfully.

The weakness of Trump’s own defense will reveal the true contours of this choice — and demonstrate how his defenders, both on his legal team and in the GOP Senate caucus, will try to bury the inescapable nature of this choice under mounds of obfuscation.

Trump’s laughably weak defense

Trump’s lawyers will first argue that the Senate “lacks jurisdiction” to try Trump, on the grounds that he no longer holds office. This idea has been roundly debunked by lawyers across the political spectrum, including Chuck Cooper, a conservative legal icon.

As Cooper argued, the Constitution provides for a Senate vote not just on removal for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but also for “disqualification” from ever holding office again, which by definition must also apply to those who are no longer in office but might run again later.

But the larger thrust of this “defense” is pernicious in another way.

GOP senators hope to take refuge in the idea that former presidents are exempt to give themselves a rhetorical and political means of dodging a direct vote on whether what Trump actually did constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors.

This has been widely depicted as mere tactical maneuvering. But it’s much worse than that: It’s an active evasion of their own duty as public officials to defend the Constitution. This defense, then, actually unmasks their dereliction of this duty.

Trump incited violent insurrection

Trump’s lawyers will also argue he is not guilty of “incitement of insurrection.” They will say he didn’t “direct anyone” to carry out the attack, as he used the word “peacefully” while haranguing the mob on Jan. 6.

And they will say that because the riots were “preplanned by a small group of criminals,” then Trump cannot have “incited” them.

All this is pure baloney. Trump spent months urging his supporters to mobilize for war over the election results, which he said could not be legitimate if he lost, meaning a struggle to overturn them would inevitably be a righteous cause in their own defense. If some preplanned the attack, they did so at what they understood — correctly — as his direction, as their own language has confirmed.

What’s more, if some preplanned the attack well in advance, many did not, and people in this latter group also attacked the Capitol. They, too, were incited by Trump’s haranguing leading up to and on Jan. 6.

And if Trump intended them to be peaceful, it’s strange that he again whipped up rage at then-Vice President Mike Pence while the mob rampaged into the Capitol looking for Pence and lawmakers who were counting electoral votes. It’s also odd that as the rampage worsened, he refused entreaties to call for the very calm his lawyers claim he wanted to see.

Acquitting Trump means declaring that these known facts do not point to high crimes and misdemeanors.

This entry was tagged. Donald Trump Elections January 6 Insurrection MAGA Cult President2020 Impeachment Republicans