Friday, June 29, 2018

Our Civil War

photo credit: Washington Times
Make no mistake about it: we are a country at war. Not with some foreign power trying to invade us, although one might make an argument that the Russian interference in our election is evidence that we are under an external threat. No, we are at war with ourselves. And unlike the First Civil War, this one has no geographic boundaries, no Missouri Compromise, and it's not based on economies and slavery. It is ideology and our identity as Americans. 

This week's news is a prime example of just how deep this divide has become. On the one hand, we have the supporters of the president who are rejoicing at U.S. Supreme Court rulings that uphold a travel ban on people from Venezuela, North Korea, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya, and Somalia. They are anxiously awaiting the opportunity for the president to nominate another hard-line conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the hopes that they might finally overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, and strip away marriage rights for the lesbians and gays like me, and continue to undermine the Voting Rights Act, which has protected the rights and ballot access to minorities since the 1960s. While there was much rejoicing from Trump voters, those of us on the other side of the political spectrum have been grumbling and growing more and more depressed as we view these same events with alarm and fear of seeing the basic principles of  justice and equality being eroded in our country.

And then there is the flap over the harassment of the president's minions at DC-area restaurants and the dismissal of his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from a farm-to-table eatery in Lexington, Virginia. The self-described conservatives complained that these acts were attacks on people out to enjoy a meal. Almost immediately, media outlets were impaneling focus groups and pundits to talk about civility. I can't help but find it ironic that when the leader of the free world refers to African nations as "shithole countries" and has used his Twitter account to attack individual Americans, there were no panels on TV and radio to hash out what it means to be civil. Negative reaction? Yes. But a whole discourse on civility. No. That's just "Trump being Trump." 

This, to me, is reminiscent of the complaints about NFL football players kneeling in protest about police violence. We, the white fandom of the NFL, become offended by their act of defiance as they use their public status to demand justice for black people who feel under threat of being shot by the police.  We are offended by this and say they must stand for an anthem and a flag that represents a nation where they don't feel safe and if they don't do it, our president says they should be deported. Where is the white outrage over police shootings? Where is it over the assault on the free speech rights of football players who are kneeling for those who cannot stand up for themselves? And, again, why no panel and whole hour-long programs on civility when the offensive speech is the president's?

Yesterday, one of my more politically conservative clients was bemoaning the fact that we can't have disagreements with each other any more without it becoming a personal attack, or a food fight. I agree with her. I don't like where all this has gone. I don't like that business owners are called in to ask a person to leave a restaurant because the wait and cook staff are uncomfortable at this person's presence...or that a Colorado baker maintains his religious beliefs prevent him from baking a wedding cake for a gay couple. The increasing tribalism in America is definitely undermining our ability to be civil with one another to the point where we can't even do commerce with one another. And I would like it to stop. I am sure most of us would because it doesn't feel good to be angry at everyone and everything all the time. 

I also want us to stop separating children from their asylum-seeking parents at the border. I would like for us to come up with an immigration bill that recognizes those currently in the country while establishing a saner way for people to seek naturalization status that doesn't take years. I want us to recognize our culpability in the destabilization of these countries in Central America that make innocent people want to flee and come here. I want us to quit using religion to justify treating people like me as second-class citizens. I want a country where citizens in school, work, church, the mall, the movies, concerts, don't have to fear getting shot. I want us to become innovative about energy, and lessen our carbon footprint so that we can slow the destruction of the planet. I want us to go back to the days where those elected to represent us could talk with each other, reason, disagree, and compromise. And I want a president who believes in the United States and realizes that the president often sets the tone and the mood of the country. I believe the political left and the political right would be more civil with each other if those in positions of leadership would follow the wisdom contained in this prayer from the Episcopal Church's baptismal covenant:

"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons loving your neighbor as yourself? I will with God's help."

We are at war. God, have mercy on us.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bible: A Book, Not a Baton

A child cries as mom is frisked at border in Texas photo by the

Late Thursday night, I saw on Facebook that a friend had tagged me in a post. In it, we were to play a game of quoting the Bible to defend a position. I was puzzled by this, having missed the news in favor of earning a living and rehearsing with my theater company. Luckily, she had included a video clip of Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions smirking and quoting the first few lines from The Letter to the Romans, Chapter 13: 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.--Romans 13:1

This was to justify the administration's policy of separating children from their parents as they cross from Mexico into Texas in search of a better life in the United States free from the gang violence that forced them to flee. Those gangs, by the way, such as MS-13? They began in the Latinx communities in Los Angeles. We deported the gang members back to their countries of origin, and those gang members took their well-honed gang terror to their native lands thus creating this exodus of people running to the U.S. border for safety. Once upon a time, we promised hope to all those "tired and huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Apparently with this administration, hope has an asterisk.

As I pointed out to my friend, and therefore all her friends, the practice of proof texting the Bible (lifting a passage out of context to make a political, social, economic, etc. point) is a really bad idea, especially if you aren't someone who has spent the time studying Scripture and wrestling with its contents. There are those who do that. You can usually find them at seminaries or on college campuses...and--dear me--even sometimes in the pulpit! And what most knowledgeable people will tell you is that the Bible is chock full of passages that are mysteriously slipped in that seemingly have no place; thus making it quite possible that another party added these lines into the script after the fact because that party had a score to settle or some other self-interested idea.  In fact, this line to support the authority of government as "God given" is noted in the Harper-Collins Study Bible as very likely one of those add-ons. Why would Paul stick that in after he just finished a whole statement where he made the case for what makes a good Christian, which comes down to "love God and love your neighbor as yourself"? 

It's fascinating, and very infuriating, that the hacks of this administration will quote Scripture for every part of the Bible except the Gospels. Perhaps they might want to check out what Jesus, who is the Christ where we get the word “Christian,” had to say about how we are to treat the poor, the children, the widows, the prisoners:

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 

Of course, that is a bit wordy, and doesn’t make for a neat 10-second sound bite. It also seems to fly in the face of what this administration believes.

Maybe I should break this down into something a little easier to comprehend: the policy of separating children from their parents and telling mothers that they are taking their kids “to the showers” (history buffs, does that make your skin crawl?!?!) is abhorrent, evil, and un-Christian. It would be “better for us to have a great millstone tied around our necks and be drowned” than to continue with this way of treating traumatized and frightened people coming into our country. (Matthew 18:6)

What would Jesus do? Not what we’re doing!