Entitled and Privileged

Kids should have the privilege of going to school without being murdered. The are entitled to that.

In 1968 Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were both assassinated. A serious debate about gun control started that year, and it looked like something was going to happen. In the fifty years since then, nothing has happened. And while nothing has happened one and a half Americans have died from gunshots.

A million and a half! I can’t fathom that number; and I can’t fathom the attitude we all have, “well, there’s nothing we can do.”

I used to think a million murders constitute a genocide. I guess it’s not, because they were not singled out for their ethnicity. A disproportionate number have been poor or minority, but mostly they were random victims.

So we can’t call it genocide, but what can we call it? An atrocity? An outrage? A measure of apathy and impotence?

I know some of my fellow Christians will say, “Well there have been 45 million abortions; and that’s a holocaust.”  I will say two things:

1. I try to be consistently pro-life. I don’t think the supreme court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but there are things we can do to reduce the number of abortions. We can support comprehensive healthcare including pre-natal and post-natal care for mothers and children, better education including sex education, better support for adoption. These things have been proven to reduce the number of abortions.

I understand that some abortions are medically necessary. And I suppose I understand why the court ruled the only one qualified to make the decision is the mother, in consultation with her physician.

You can be pro-life and pro-woman, and pro-child, and nonviolent. You can do practical, positive things to help.

Still, I support the right of anyone to organize, march, speak out, vote, protest, get out in the streets to support causes they consider important. The first amendment is a wonderful thing. After so-called pro-life people murdered a physician in Emporia, I no longer want to be associated with confrontational movements. But I am still pro-life and pro-peace. I am against war, capital punishment, and the murder of our children, the murder of our young men, police brutality, the rejection of refugees, singling out anyone for hate and exclusion.

2. Here is my second point: it is tragic when some women feel they have no choice but to terminate a healthy pregnancy. Sometimes it happens when the developing fetus is capable of feeling pain, of responding to voices, and other human activities.

But there is no comparison between abortion and the holocaust. Fetuses may feel pain, but they don’t feel the terror of being herded into death chambers. Parents may regret the choice of an abortion, but still feel it was they right choice. They don’t watch helplessly while someone else murders children they have come to know and love. They are not deprived of their human agency by a brutal military power.

I hate to have to spell out the obvious. The holocaust and every genocide was forced on people by a military or governmental power. It was an act of state sponsored terrorism for no reason other than hate or political power. Our government upholds the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It does not force anyone to have an abortion.

The murder of children and teenagers, a dozen or so at a time, the massacre we seen in school shootings is an atrocity. It is a part of a larger atrocity. The murder of young black men is an atrocity. The death of children in drive by shootings is an atrocity. And we still accept the lame rationalizations. We should feel entitled to stop it.

A million and a half!

Why are we not out in the streets?

There is something we can do. The supreme court says we can’t ban handguns and congress doesn’t have the will to ban assault rifles.

There is something congress can do. They can’t regulate guns but they can regulate gun owners. They can require rigorous training, background checks, photo ID, proof of citizenship, and licensing. Law enforcement can enforce well-designed laws. Every citizen is a member of the militia. The militia is to be well-regulated.  If you say you cannot regulate gun users, you are denying the constitution.

Congress is addicted to money from the NRA. They will not do anything.  You can guarantee it. But the voters can.

We can get out in the street and demand that congress regulate the citizen militia. And we can fire those who refuse. We can make this election about one pro-life issue: separating deadly weapons from dangerous people. We may have to let some pot smokers out to make room for those who violate reasonable gun-user control laws.


Growing Up Conservative, 2

Here are the rest of my reflections on my Bible college education.

Yes, we were taught a conservative view of the Bible and the Christian faith. We were taught that the “social Gospel” was dangerous. We were taught our primary mission was evangelism, winning people to faith in Jesus so they could go to heaven, rather than building schools and hospitals. We were warned about liberal theologians who were basically atheists that used religious language as metaphors. But we were not taught hate. Overall, my conservative religious education was positive and wholesome, and made me a better person.

Brother Wilson had been the founding professor at Ozark Bible College. He celebrated his fortieth year while we were students there. There was also a new, younger professor, Knofel Staton there. He was known as a dynamic speaker. He spoke nearly every weekend in different churches or conferences throughout the area. Sonja and I both enrolled in his “Introduction to Bible Study Class” our freshman year. It was an amazing class. This was before I had enrolled in the official hermeneutics class, but it was a seminar in historical and contextual interpretation.

Professor Staton’s favorite theme was unity. The church was to be a community of unity. He loved to explain agape, the Greek word for God’s love. Agape is “seeing a need and moving to meet it.” The church is a community of unity, the body of Christ through which his love flows to a hurting world. Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, helping single mothers, sponsoring alcoholics anonymous, fighting racism, all these works of love were as valid as evangelism. He led us through Romans 16 and pointed out all of the women who were active in ministry. He mentioned Deborah in the Old Testament and called the theory that God chose her only because there were no strong men available “poppycock!”

I did a lot of reading beyond course requirements. Whenever I found a good author I ready several books by the same name. One of my professors liked Elton Trueblood. I read his book on Philosophy of Religion in conjunction with a course on the subject. A statement in that book surprised me for its direct and simple logic: “You don’t have to believe anything that is irrational.” Specifically, he was talking about Christian beliefs about hell. The statement struck me. I had somehow believed we have to believe some things that don’t make sense, as a test of faith, or because God is smarter than we are. But here is a Christian thinker who says, No, you don’t have to believe things that don’t make sense.

Along with several of my friends, I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, which emphasized genuine repentance and obedience to the words of Jesus Christ. We didn’t know much of the historical background. We thought obedience meant being faithful in prayer and church attendance, avoiding pornography and alcohol, the traditional sins for conservative Christians. We didn’t realize the book was written in 1937, three years after Hitler seized power, and that for Bonhoeffer, obedience meant resistance to the ideology of Arian Nationalism, white supremacy, the idolatrous worship of a strong leader, and the compromise of the churches in endorsing “German Christianity.” Later I would make a more detailed study of all of Bonhoeffer’s major writings, especially his Letters and Papers from Prison, written while he was paying the personal cost of his following Jesus.

You had to be there in the late 1960s and early 1970s to appreciate Francis Schaeffer. He had a ministry in the Swiss Alps called “L’Abri Fellowship.” Wandering hippies and students on a Wanderjahr and young people needing a few days of detox would crash for a day or a month and think deep thoughts and have deep conversations with Francis and his wife Edith. These vagabond seekers experienced genuine Christian love and heard answers to their deepest questions, while being challenged with new questions. Occasionally Francis would tape record a lecture and put it in an archive. He also collected recordings from other visiting lecturers, such as Os Guinness.

Francis Schaeffer had long hair and wore Lederhosen. His voice was high-pitched and always reminded me of Truman Capote. Friends would gather his recorded lectures and transcribe them into books. And the books were eloquent. Schaeffer critiqued modern literature, philosophy, and theology, along with art and politics, and presented faith in the living God as the alternative to modern despair; He spoke of “The God Who Is There,” as a reality not just a metaphor.

There has often been an element of anti-intellectualism in conservative religion. We valued the positive contributions of Schaeffer’s thought. But he also gave us “permission” (if we needed it–yes, we needed it) to attend to great art and literature and to think serious thoughts.

At the other extreme of intellectual stimulation was a satirical journal called the Wittenberg Door. Reading it helped keep my perspective in balance. The magazine regularly lampooned icons of the evangelical subculture. But it also included serious interviews. I was introduced to Martin Marty, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and many other serious Christian thinkers and activists. A cartoon in the Wittenberg Door characterized what kind of magazine it was: a young man standing at a news stand was surreptitiously looking at its pages hidden under the cover of a Playboy magazine.

Growing up Conservative, part 1

Below is a brief excerpt from a chapter in the book I am writing. It is about my Bible College education:

Naturally, a Bible College is a conservative institution, but not in the way you might think. My professor of hermeneutics challenged us to think for ourselves, to understand the meaning of words in their historical context, in fact to take a historical and contextual approach to the text. It was from professor Seth Wilson (we called him “Brother Wilson) I learned how to read ancient texts.

He would occasionally diverge into politics. I remember him saying Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest traitor the country ever had. I wasn’t sure what he meant, because he didn’t elaborate. Once he mentioned the peace conferences at Yalta where the allies gave Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Otherwise, I assumed it was because he thought Social Security was a slippery slide toward socialism.

Years later I took a university history course on the history and rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. We studied the history and his speeches. I learned that there wasn’t really much choice about which countries the Soviets occupied. They were already there; boots on the ground had settled it. Western Europe and America were exhausted from war and there was no stomach for a new war against communism. I also was exposed to the view that FDR had saved capitalism by mitigating its harshest failings. But it was brother Wilson’s comments that sparked my interest in learning more about President Roosevelt.

There are three features often associated with conservative religion I was never taught at Ozark Bible College. We were never taught racism. The idea that black skin is “the mark of Cain,” was debunked. We were taught that God loves all people equally.

We were never taught that the King James Version of the Bible is the original, or the only, or the best English translation of the Bible. In fact, in hermeneutics class, we had to read the original preface of the translators to the reader, in which the translators responded to criticism that they were presumptuous to revise the Bible. (If you look at the dedication page in the King James Version, it says, “other translations diligently compared and revised.”)

We were taught that we should learn Hebrew and Greek if we really wanted to know the Bible in the original language. Brother Wilson raised some eyebrows when he wrote an essay defending Today’s English Version, or Good News for Modern Man back in the 1960s. We were even taught textual criticism. I learned all about the different manuscripts and the variant readings in them my Freshman year, and was fascinated by it.

We were also spared indoctrination in the dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This is the belief that the Bible contains a blue print of the last days, that there are signs we should look for, and that we should expect the rapture of the church, when people would mysteriously disappear while driving cars and flying airplanes. We were taught that the book of Revelation was written to encourage Christians in the first century who were suffering persecution from the beast, the emperor.