Monday, November 24, 2014

We Were All Strangers.

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

Of all the things that President Obama said in his speech last week, I found this application of Exodus 23:9 to be one of the most poignant aspects of the entire presentation. I thought it was perfect.

In the last several years, I’ve been appalled by many responses of the Conservative Christian Evangelical machine towards the issue of immigration. With all of the ways in which the religious right tries to impose their particular brand of Biblical living within the confines of the Constitution, they seem to want to pretend that the sections of the Bible that give explicit instructions on how we treat immigrants do not exist. It is westernized American Christian hypocrisy at its best.

Why do so many believe that immigrants are only here in this country for a free ride or to have some sort of easy life of no accountability? Because I feel like that is what the argument comes down to...this sense that we don’t want to share the rewards of living in this country if we deem that someone has come here to take advantage of the system (especially if their skin is brown)? Let’s be honest here…when we talk about immigration, internally many people don’t immediately picture a college aged kid from the Ukraine or Lithuania, or Australia. We don’t seem to have a problem with those folks coming here to study, get a degree, or contribute to our economy. But we seem to have a problem with the people south of our border who want to come here to provide a better life for their family, sometimes working two or three jobs only to send that money back to their families in another country…by the way, doing jobs that most of us would never be willing to do, or to seek refuge from dangerous and complex situations in which they are powerless. After all, isn’t this the exact same manner in which many of our ancestors came to this country?

How can people claim to be followers of Christ and yet feel that children sent here to escape horrific violence in their own country should be sent back to those awful situations? How is it that people can be so intolerant towards immigrants but say they believe in the Bible, when it has so many examples of mercy shown to people seeking a safe place to live?

I recently experienced this kind of hypocrisy from a friend who claims to be a Christian. On one hand, she proclaims to be a follower of Christ, but insists that the immigrant children who have entered our country need to be returned to their countries of origin. I do not understand her reasoning on this…how can she claim herself as a follower of a teacher who did not send the marginalized or oppressed away from Him, who said that the world will know His followers by the love they show to others? How can she not see that her attitude is the exact antithesis of a person who follows Christ?

I’ve concluded that she is able to take this position, as others easily do, because they do not personally know someone who has faced that struggle. Their lack of empathy is the direct result of insulating themselves from the issue.

Years ago, I went to Nicaragua with a group from my church. It was the summer of 2001, and Nicaragua was smack in the middle of election season, not to mention that some hundreds of thousands of coffee workers were protesting the loss of their livelihoods. Meanwhile, there was still vast corruption and economic hardship that the country had been struggling to climb out of. Gangs were running rampant, drug use everywhere, child exploitation far and wide. While in that country, my eyes were opened up to some of the complex problems of Central and South America. It is not an easy place to live. Not a day went by when myself and most of the other ladies on this trip were not approached by a young mother, who would plead with us to find a way to take their babies and children with us back to the United States. There were mothers, literally trying to hand us their infants, because they knew that their child would have a better chance to live…the kind of living that you and I take for granted, the kind of living where we don’t fear for our lives every day and with every breath. Their babies and young children actually had a better chance of living past the age of 17 if they could just find a way to get them to the United States. I will never forget that and the desperation I saw in the eyes of those mothers, who were willing to find any way to save their children.

We desperately need immigration reform in our country, for the sake of all of us. And yes, the politics behind the President’s speech last night are multifaceted, but they are only distractions from the actual work that needs to be done. And we need leaders who are willing to do the hard work, regardless of what that means for their future political careers. So, it is incredibly frustrating to already hear demands to sue the President, impeach him, do everything possible just to score political points for the next election and please the base. I hear people on the right say that the President lacks leadership…well, he just took the reins and did something that Congress wouldn’t do. And they can throw their arms in the air and throw a fit for as long as they would like, but at least the President did something, which actually is super similar to policies put in place by both Republican and Democrat Presidential predecessors. So, this isn’t a new thing at all. Stop trying to pretend it is. And maybe there is a better way for us to have comprehensive immigration reform…so let’s explore that, but stop pandering and just sweeping the issue under the rug. That’s not governing, and it certainly isn’t serving the American people, which is what our elected officials are supposed to do.

Here’s your chance, Republicans, to show just how devoted to the pro-life, pro-family, Biblical ideals you claim as the foundation of your political principles. Here’s your chance to ante up and not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

So, to our Republican lawmakers, I’ll simply repeat the best advice you’ve ever been given by the President: “Pass a bill.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yes, I Am A Pro-choice Christian

The first time I recognized that I had a different point of view than pretty much all of my church friends, it was the 2000 election. I had turned 18 and the very first election in which I was able to cast my vote was when George W. Bush was running for President against then Vice President, Al Gore. 


After placing my vote earlier in the week, I was headed off to visit Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. My best friend was attending there and I was going to classes at a local college in Indianapolis, but longed to go to a Christian university to study ministry. So, I took advantage of a trip that our church youth group was going on to take other students interested in attending this particular school. We were listening to election results on the radio in the church van, when the youth pastor’s wife realized that I had voted in this election. She was really excited for me and was glad that I had voted for George Bush…


Except, I did not vote for George Bush. 


When I told her that I did not vote for George Bush, she was shocked, as were all of the other adults in the church van. When they all asked me why, I said it was because he was not pro-choice in regards to women’s reproductive rights.


Not only were the leaders appalled at my decision, but they felt the need to tell me over and over again that it was wrong for me to feel that women should have access to choose to end a pregnancy…did I not think that all life was precious? How could I believe it was okay for a woman to kill a harmless, innocent little baby? To say I was berated would be an understatement. The response from the youth leaders in that van and even from some of the students was straight up harassment. The entire weekend, I heard lecture after lecture about this wrong I had apparently committed. And when I wasn’t being lectured by adults, I was being made fun of by some of the students. Everyone assumed I had just made a misinformed mistake, that I just didn’t know what I was doing. 


But I did. I made that conscious decision when I cast my vote.


What the youth leaders, pastors, and students didn’t know was that I was adopted, and being adopted played a huge role in how I came to feel about a woman’s right to choose.


Now, most Evangelical Christians would still probably assume that since I was adopted, I would still be pro-life instead of pro-choice. Again, this is a false assumption.


My biological parents were very poor and already had two children before I came along. Since my parents had very limited financial resources, they were desperately trying to figure out what they were going to do. It was financially impossible for them to raise a 3rd child. My biological father began to insist my biological mother have an abortion. But my biological mother knew that she had a choice in the matter…


She had a choice. And she pushed back against this idea to end her pregnancy, knowing there must be another way.


Eventually, through a lot of random circumstances, my biological parents met my adoptive parents, and they worked together, which resulted in me being born, and adopted by a couple who could not have a child.


Now, what most people on the pro-life side of this issue believe is that anyone who is not pro-life is some evil, baby-hating, pro-abortion person. And that’s just not true.


I’m not pro-abortion. I think it must be an incredibly horrific experience and difficult decision to make. But I also know that I’m limited in my understanding of choices because I’ve never been in a position to have to make that choice to end another life. I know that when I say that I believe in the Constitution and in the rights of individuals, it means that I would protect the right for people to make intensely personal choices, even if it means I may not agree with their choices. I know that I can’t fully understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of a person who has come to that decision to have an abortion. What I do know is that if I can’t understand someone else’s experience, then I certainly can’t judge them. I certainly have no right to do that or to tell them what they should do. Based on my limited experience in life, I have no right to take away someone else’s rights.


And I believe that if we limit a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, we would do irreversible damage to civilization. Let me make it clear: passing legislation that would make abortion illegal will not stop abortions from happening, just in the way that prohibition did not stop people from consuming alcohol, but instead, created a subversive and dangerous market for what they were seeking, resulting in corruption and death. Making abortion illegal will not solve the problem, it will only mask it from being seen in daylight. 


By allowing a woman to have the right to choose, however, we can create regulations that may help us create opportunities that ultimately help women and children. We can make sure that if a woman has to make that difficult choice, then she will be taken care of by a qualified physician, and not by someone with more nefarious intentions or motivations. We can create education programs that help people understand the circumstances of their decisions and give them alternatives.


It would be na├»ve of us to fully believe that we live in a country where women have equal rights. The truth is that women still face issues of inequality in multiple aspects of life here in the United States. Can you honestly say that if we pass legislation that would absolutely take away a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, that we are the advanced society that we claim to be? What does it say about us as a society if we don’t trust that a woman is capable of choosing what is best for her and her family? If we only mask the problem so that we aren’t forced to see it in the daylight, can we really lay claim to be the greatest democracy in history? 


Being pro-choice is not the antithesis of being pro-life. It is not the enemy. Being pro-choice is acknowledging that women face all kinds of issues in our country, and is a decision to be open to help educate and serve women that desperately need help, no matter if they decide to end a pregnancy or to seek out adoptive services. Being pro-choice is being humble enough to know that I am in no position to pass judgment on others. Being pro-choice is a practice of unconditional love, humility, sacrifice, and being brave enough to confront the difficulties of humanity.   


I fully believe that if I had been conceived prior to Roe vs. Wade, that I would not be alive. If my biological mother had no choice in how to decide whether she would give birth, I believe that she may have sought out an illegal and potentially dangerous method to end her pregnancy. If she did not have the right to choose, she may have felt forced to give birth and raise a child that she could not financially support. The fact that she was able to choose adoption, though, gave her the opportunity to not only help herself, but gave another family a chance to have a baby. Her choice created a space for love and sacrifice and healing to exist where it may not have existed had she been forced to raise me. She chose to find a way to choose life.


I know it goes against the grain of what our American ideals are of what it means to be a Christian, but I’m pro-choice. Being a follower of Christ means that we don’t just sweep issues under the rug so we don’t have to confront them. Being a follower of Christ doesn’t mean that we pass judgment on people because we don’t understand their circumstances. Being a follower of Christ means that we meet people where they are at and love them, even when it is difficult or they do things we may not agree with. It is a harder path to follow. 


So, when I look back on the days following the 2000 election and remember how I was harassed and bullied by people who thought I had made a mistake, I don’t look back with regret. I look back on a situation where I made the first few steps of following a path that was more difficult, required more love and less judgment, and doesn’t exactly sit well with religious folks. And that reassures me that I’m on the right path.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

We Bring Everyone Home...Period.

Imagine if this type of speech was made by the President:


“We had an opportunity today to return Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to the United States. However, we reviewed the circumstances surrounding his capture by the Taliban and determined that since he voluntarily walked off base, we could not justify rescuing this soldier. It matters not that he is an American. It matters not that he volunteered to serve in the military. It matters not that he has been held captive by Taliban forces for 5 years and his health was deteriorating severely. We wish him the best of luck and condolences to his family, who have suffered greatly these many years that he has been captured. Also, his dad has an unusually long beard, so we think he might be a Muslim. So, yeah…no rescue today, folks. Thank you, and God bless America.”


Ridiculous, isn’t it? We all know that if the President of the United States said something like this, the media would go bananas. The reason this scenario sounds ridiculous is because it is exactly ridiculous. But, all of a sudden, there are pundits and armchair politicians, media outlets, and the typical peanut gallery of radical conservatives who believe this is what the President should have said. The very people who claim to have supported this soldier and prayed for his safety and return, despite the circumstances of how he was captured, have now decided he was not worth it.


They’ve deleted their supportive tweets.

They are denying support that they once freely gave on the record, on camera.


This is a new level of low for the political right, who have always prided themselves on being supportive of our military and not leaving any of our soldiers behind. They do not seem to think that this soldier was worth the negotiating of five members of the Taliban who have been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade. According to the voices on the right, these prisoners were more valuable sitting in a prison than an American soldier, suffering at the hands of the Taliban.


They argue that the soldier wandered off base, deliberately deserting his post, and that’s why they can’t justify a prisoner exchange. Why should we break our necks to get to a guy who carelessly wandered off and was captured?


An American soldiers life and value are suddenly conditional. We don’t know the whole story about what led to his capture or why he wandered off base, but according to the right, we shouldn’t even care to find out. We should have left him for our enemies to devour. Instead of at least getting him back here and conducting a proper military investigation, apparently we would rather let the Taliban serve up their version of military justice. And we are so short sighted that we don’t realize that doing nothing hurts us more in the long run.


So, this is how we treat our soldiers and POW’s now? We leave American soldiers to die if we think there was something “off” about the circumstances surrounding their capture?


They also argue that these 5 Taliban prisoners released from Guantanamo are supremely dangerous and criticize the President for releasing them “back to the battlefield.” But I think that’s seriously misguided thinking, on a couple of levels. First, these guys have been out of the fight for over 10 years. Let’s face it, war is different now than it was 10 years ago. Plus, if they were so dangerous, how is it that we managed to catch them? We have this problem where we make these guys out to be a terrorist version of Jack Bauer or some group of X-Men, and it’s just not true. In fact, thinking that these guys are supremely dangerous is kind of giving them exactly what they want…our fear of them is exactly the kind of terror they hope to inflict upon us. So, let’s not give them that perceptual victory, ok?

Second, it’s not like these guys are now free and clear to do whatever they want. There were very specific conditions based on the agreement of their release. Trust me, these guys are having their every move being watched. As an aside, though I am very critical of our military’s use of drones, don’t you think for one second that if we needed to take these guys out, that we could do that in the blink of an eye? Bill Maher said it best: “we didn’t so much set them free as much as we gave them a running start.”


I’m having a hard time fathoming that the political right believes that we should usher in a new era of conditional military procedure, where we don’t always bring all of our people back home, which is why I don’t buy it as a valid response for the right.


There’s something more at work here…and I think it has to do with the party affiliation of the man who sits in the Oval Office, and the fact that there are elections coming in November.


If you’re still operating with the hope that Congress will get something done, you’re living in a different dimension. These people have no concern whatsoever about governing or doing what you or I trusted them to do. They have no regard for lives being affected by their inaction in the here and now. They don’t do their job because they are consumed with keeping their job. And shame on us for letting them.


Shame on us for allowing them to imply that we should let a soldier remain a captive and die because he deserved it for walking off of his base. Shame on us for letting them decide that is how military justice should be served. Shame on us for letting them forget about Iran-Contra, or about all of the Gitmo detainees released under President Bush. Shame on us for allowing Gitmo to still stand.


The two sides we are seeing in this situation with the soldier have nothing to do with what we see at the surface. It’s all about providing that sound clip, that video clip to be used in the million dollar ad buys we will be suffering through all summer and fall until November. It’s all about face time on the Sunday shows and promoting another book or some other product. And if you’re buying what they’re selling on Fox News or Glenn Beck or Alex Jones, then you’re a sucker. You can’t be the party of family, pro-life values, driving around with a yellow ribbon on your vehicle that says “Support Our Troops” and decide that an American military family doesn’t deserve to have their son come back home alive, and at least be able to give us all some answers for why he wandered off of that base.


Keep an eye on the politicians who will continue to argue that we shouldn’t have brought Bowe Bergdahl home…and watch how they will have to defend their talking points as they campaign over these next several months. Then, you will see the true motivations of these folks.


We don’t leave anyone behind, period. And if you think we should or that there are caveats to that mantra, then I hope you never have to face a family who had their loved ones returned home in a flag-draped coffin, or speak with a soldier who has returned home maimed emotionally and physically. Because if you could stand there and argue that we don’t bring everyone home or that there are conditions in which it is ok to let a soldier die, then I would argue that you have lost your soul.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Non-Smoking Gun

This week, Republican leaders in the House revealed that they will be forming yet another committee to investigate the terrorist attacks in Benghazi. This marks the 5th committee that the Republicans have formed since the attacks took place.

Since Fox News has now decided to abandon their lost cause of defending Cliven Bundy in order to save face, they now have to return to their regularly scheduled programming, pushing the idea that there is some kind of scandal behind the attacks that took the lives of 4 Americans. The problem is, neither Fox News or the Republicans that make up the majority of these committees know exactly what the scandal is, or who may be behind it. Despite four previous committees, thousands of documents delivered, numerous subpoenas and testimonies, they still have no evidence of the “smoking gun” they are looking for. 

What is that saying about doing something over and over, getting the same results, yet continuing to do that same thing over and over, expecting different results?

Let’s not forget that the party of “fiscal responsibility” has spent millions upon millions of dollars on these committees that have produced no results.

Let’s not forget that while there is actual work to be done in governing our country, one party has done very little to govern. They have passed no jobs bills, no immigration reform, think little of equal pay for equal work, nor proposed any fixes or alternatives to the Affordable Care Act. Instead of doing the jobs they were elected to do, they would rather spend their time pretending to be in some episode of Law and Order.

Let’s not forget that while Republicans are looking to pin wrongdoing on the Obama administration, it was the House Republicans that voted to cut $296 million from the embassy security budget between 2011 and 2012.

Let’s not forget that while 4 families lost a loved one on that day, Republicans seem to have no problem politicizing their deaths in the hopes to secure their own jobs and use images of the burning embassy to raise some money.

Seriously…right now, the National Republican Congressional Committee are sending out fundraising emails that encourage contributors to become Benghazi Watchdogs by supplying a link for them to donate a minimum of $25, all the way up to $500. On May 2nd, Speaker Boehner tweeted “RT to share the news: The House will vote to establish a new #SelectCommittee on #Benghazi,” which included a photo of the burning embassy in the background. Maybe it's just me, but I find this to be done in very poor taste. 

But what I really feel that we should not forget is that we have thousands of men and women who serve in over 260 embassies and consulates in 180 different countries. These people deserve our respect because they knowingly place their lives on the line every day to truly serve people in some of the most war-torn and chaotic places on the planet. To use them to gain political points is disgusting…to spend the millions of dollars in forming committees so that certain politicians can talk on the Sunday morning shows, and primary conservative media outlets, instead of allocating those funds to actually put resources in place to help secure those men and women serving is revolting.

Also, Republicans seem to have a real problem with remembering history in regards to tragedies that have happened at our embassies over the years.

Since the burning of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and leading up to the attacks in Benghazi, there have been a total of 88 diplomats that have died in service. There have been a variety of causes, such as traffic accidents and disease, but the majority have died as a result of bombings or attacks.

13 died in the attack on the embassy in Beirut in 1983, under President Reagan.
2 died in that same embassy only a year later, under President Reagan.
1 more died in that same year, after a bombing in Oshakati, under President Reagan.
4 Marines were gunned down in San Salvador in 1985, under President Reagan.
9 died in the embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998, under President Clinton.
1 died in the attack in Pakistan in 2002, under President George W. Bush.
1 more died that same year in an attack in Jordan, under President George W. Bush.
9 more people died in attacks between 2004 to 2008, under President George W. Bush.

These tragedies happen, and yes, the details of why often gets lost in the chaos that follows. We know this happens…look at the tragedies that took place in the Newtown school shooting, or the bombings of the Boston Marathon. The first batch of information that follows this kind of chaos is not always the best representative of what took place. Circumstances are usually unclear in the direct aftermath. But buying into conspiracy theories to push results that are self-serving, are not viable ways to find the truth. Yes, perhaps committees need to be formed to find out the facts (we have historical precedents for this, like the 9/11 Commission, the Warren Commission, etc.), but forming more committees just because your party doesn't like the results and the facts that follow an investigation, does not make you a truth-seeker. It makes you a crazy and selfish asshole. And this is what the intellectually bankrupt Republican party has been doing for nearly two years.

Look at what happened to CBS’ Lara Logan, when she bought into the fictional account of the attacks that contractor Dylan Davies told in order to sell his book…perpetuating a conspiracy did not lead to any new truths and she ended up being suspended. She was being hoodwinked so some guy could make a buck off of the death of 4 people.

Frankly, I think the Republicans leading this futile fishing expedition have very little credibility when it comes to foreign policy. Look at the regular contributors on Fox News who constantly talk about this as a conspiracy…these are the same folks who sold us the lie that Saddam Hussein was ready to use weapons of mass destruction, launching us into a war that cost us the lives of thousands of American soldiers, even more lives of the Iraqi people, and cost trillions of dollars. Where are the committees to investigate their talking points?

By looking for a scandal that doesn't exist, we see the true nature of some of the Republicans currently in office. They aren't interested in truth or justice, but they are interested in fame, notoriety, and doing anything to win a vote.

And that is the real scandal.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Evangelical Christianity and the Problem of Crying Wolf

There is an epidemic occurring in the American Conservative Evangelical movement.

A perceived victimization and persecution that many Christians feel has strangled their ability to openly practice their faith. A hypochondria that has seeped into the minds of a faith group that has never once had a minority status since the founding of our nation.

A December 2012 Gallup poll revealed that 77% of our nation’s population considers itself to be Christian.

How is it, then, that Evangelical Christians…the group that called itself the “Moral Majority” in the 1980’s, now considers itself to be persecuted?

The truth is that Christians are outraged because they no longer enjoy the exclusive privilege of legislating a specific faith based agenda with the mores they've been taught. This crazy democratic experiment of our nation is actually working, allowing people of all faiths to take part in our existence, free from the theocratic imperialism our founders fought so bravely to escape. But instead of celebrating this freedom, Evangelicals have been throwing themselves on the floor like petulant children who are upset that they didn't get their way.

I was recently discussing a news item with one of my former college professors, where reportedly, a young girl in a suburb of Orlando was told by a school employee she could not quietly pray over her lunch. This anecdote, to the professor, was proof that Christians in America are being persecuted, despite the giant conflict of interest that he could have easily discovered himself had he not bought into the questionable reporting done by the pundit who broke the story on Fox News. I mean, why question the fact that the father of the little girl who made the claims just happens to be in an executive sales position at the publishing company who is releasing the book that the pundit recently authored? That’s fair and balanced, right? When I pointed this out, his response to me was “They have eyes, but do not see, ears but do not hear.”


This is what I see and hear:
- Christian bookstores
- Christian universities and colleges
- Christian symbols on numerous automobiles, billboards, and business signs
- Christian radio shows, television talk shows, movies, magazines, and internet sites
- A federally recognized Christian holiday…Christmas
- Politicians sworn into office on the Holy Bible
- The Holy Bible used in legal proceedings to swear in witnesses
- Megachurches that pay no taxes
- Pastors of said megachurches living in mansions (I'm pointing at you, Joel Osteen)
- Politicians like Mike Huckabee rallying Christians to eat at Chik-fil-A as a symbol of standing up for your faith (this is about as stereotypical as it gets in America…we show our strength by eating at a fast food restaurant)
- Events like the Value Voters Summit that draws in millions of dollars in donations so politicians can brag about how Christian they are

If you stop and pay attention long enough, you can see that Christianity is all around us, in symbols and even in the expressions we use.

What’s even worse, is that when American Christians cry out that they are being persecuted, it shifts the focus from places in the world where Christians, along with all kinds of other believers, are actually being persecuted.

How many of us saw our religious and some political leaders express outrage about the disciplinary action television network A&E handed down in the aftermath of the controversial remarks that Duck Dynasty’s patriarch, Phil Robertson, made in GQ, but said nothing about the heinous genocide that took place during the same week (and is still taking place) in Central African Republic?

How many pastors and Christian organizations told their followers to stop sponsoring children through World Vision, because the company decided it would no longer discriminate against employing married gay and lesbian workers? It is estimated that over 2,000 kids lost sponsorships due to the fact that Christians were livid that a gay or lesbian person might be helping children through being employed at World Vision. If American Evangelicals are so horribly persecuted, I wonder how they can possibly justify using starving children as a bargaining chip against an organization they have a disagreement with.

I couldn't help but wonder if my former professor was equally as outraged when a county in Tennessee ruled last year that a local Muslim community could not build a mosque?

What about Father Frans van der Lugt, who served the people in Homs, Syria since 1966? Amidst the violence and civil war currently happening in Syria, Father Frans was tragically assassinated this past week.

But American Christians cry “persecution!” when someone wishes them “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” They get riled up when someone calls them out on the idiocy of their colloquial “love the sinner, hate the sin” statements. They nearly have heart attacks when our President speaks in a manner that includes Americans of all belief systems.

I can't help but feel like this is a symptom of a bigger problem. Evangelical Americans have lost their focus and are desperately looking for someone or something to blame.

Though they have eyes, they fail to see that out of their lack of self-awareness, they can only blame this perceived persecution on the selfish, imperial nature in which they have been operating. The only thing that can help them now, is a return to the instructions of their Teacher, and a rejection of the voices and charismatic leaders who profit from their sheep-like followers.