Alabama Pastors Show Politics Trumps Faith

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You’d think evangelical leaders in Alabama would be brandishing their 10-foot poles in order to distance themselves from the child molesting Republican candidate Roy Moore in the race for the U.S. Senate. You’d be wrong.

David Floyd, for instance, pastor of Mervyn Parkway Baptist Church, rationalized that “all of us have sinned and need a savior” in his statement defending Moore. “I’ve prayed with him. I know his heart.” (“On morality, evangelicals get religion,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 19, 2017) Of course, Floyd was not so forgiving of President Bill Clinton back in 1998 when he told church members that Clinton had to go because of his sexual dalliances. Apparently Floyd is confusing himself with Jesus because he believes he has the right to judge who is morally worthy and who is not.

Moore himself brandished a list of 50 Alabama Christian pastors who still support him despite the growing number of women who say Moore made sexual advances upon them when they were teenagers.

What is happening here? The answer lies in an “end justifies the means” attitude that many Christians took to the polls with them to elect Donald Trump in 2016. Because Trump said all the right things about abortion, he passed the evangelical litmus test for office. Since his election, he has cemented evangelical support by appointing a conservative justice of the Supreme Court and coming out against transgender individuals in the armed forces .

With reference to Moore, evangelicals see him as a man who “hold[s] positions close to ours.” (Tribune) So they give him a pass on behavior that does not even meet legal standards, never mind moral ones. As evangelical professor John Fea states, “What you’re seeing here is rank hypocrisy. These are evangelicals who have decided that the way to win the culture is now uncoupled from character.” (Tribune)

But the hypocrisy goes deeper than that. Evangelical Christians also tend to be politically conservative in other ways, and so this latest instance of propping up a morally corrupt leader serves to advance the conservative agenda on other issues, such as taxes and immigration. Proof of this is something Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas First Baptist Church reminds us.

Said Jeffress, “A watershed moment was 1980. Evangelical Christians chose between a born-again Baptist Sunday school teacher and a twice-married Hollywood actor who had signed the most liberal abortion bill and whose wife practiced astrology. And evangelicals chose Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.” (Tribune)

It’s clear that Roy Moore has no intention of stepping away from the Senate race in Alabama. And although many evangelical leaders there have denounced his candidacy, many others justify their support in this hypocritical manner. Whatever happens in Alabama, this abdication of moral authority will ultimately backfire on religious leaders, especially with the next generation, whose hypocrisy radar is often quite high.

But the American people may ultimately pay too high a price if we continue to choose politics over character in our leaders.

 

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The Art vs. the Artist

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Revelations of sexual misconduct have roiled the entertainment industry, among others, in recent months. The allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and intimidation against producer Harvey Weinstein seemed to have unloosed a dam in Hollywood, and numerous directors, actors, and other entertainers have been accused of using their positions to abuse women.

In light of the accusations, networks have been cancelling TV series and specials, and no doubt the fate of some feature films hangs in the balance. I’m heartened by the change in attitude towards sexual impropriety in the workplace; it’s long overdue. But I wonder how to balance our admiration for the talent and artistry of a person with the ugly reality of his behavior in real life.

For decades there has been debate about such figures as Roman Polanski and Woody Allen and the degree to which we should ostracize their work out of protest at their sexual misdeeds (although in the case of Allen, many people see nothing wrong with his dating and eventually marrying his ex-wife’s adopted daughter. I would not be one of those people.) Heavyweights in Hollywood have always stood up for these men, even though Polanski had to flee the country on a statutory rape charge. But the question is, should we not see Chinatown, The Pianist, or Rosemary’s Baby – or indeed even recognize their greatness as films?

Sometimes the rejection of an artist’s work is based on unambiguous factors. Leni Riefenstahl, for instance, used her directorial talents to create propaganda for Hitler and Nazi Germany. It also doesn’t take much hemming and hawing to denounce D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film that glories in the creation of the Ku Klux Klan. But what about the well-known anti-Semite Richard Wagner? His Nineteenth Century operas and other classical music are renowned works of art. Should we protest any productions of his work today, knowing what we know about his bigotry and xenophobia?

Over the years people have boycotted entertainers for political reasons. In fact, it seems like the entire world of the arts is fraught with politics these days. In fact, recently I had to stop and consider whether someone might be offended if I gave their child a book written by Bill Nye, the Science Guy. But short of objecting to the content of a specific book, movie, or other work of art, I’m not sure I want to let my personal opinion of an artist affect my appreciation of their work.

I don’t have the answers here. It seems to me that works of art should be judged on their own merits. Yet I would be hard pressed to attend a Louis C.K. performance these days. And should I finish binge-watching House of Cards or shun the series in protest over Kevin Spacey’s lame excuses and rationalizations for preying upon young men? Do time and distance make an artist’s work more palatable? I just don’t know.

Still, I am glad to see the cult of celebrity being shattered a bit to allow victims the ability to confront abuse and intimidation. After all, actors, directors, comedians, musicians and other artists are only human. They should be held to the same laws and standards as other humans, famous or not.

Thoughts and Prayers

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prayer-1As the smoke clears from another horrific mass shooting, politicians once again are offering their “thoughts and prayers.” I join many frustrated citizens and people of faith when I say that thoughts and prayers are not enough.

When someone we know is afflicted with a disease, we offer thoughts and prayers; but we also try to help them cure the disease.

When hurricane victims lost everything, we sent our thoughts and prayers; but we also sent food and water.

When we send our soldiers into battle, our thoughts and prayers go with them; but so do munitions, armor, and military strategy.

Thoughts and prayers are good. Thoughts and prayers are compassionate. Thoughts and prayers carry weight with our God.

But thoughts and prayers won’t feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, or make us safer. God asks us to pray, yes. But he also asks us to be His hands and feet in the world. That requires action.

No, thoughts and prayers are not enough to heal the hearts of those who lost a loved one in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And they are not enough to prevent the next mass shooting.

 

 

Paying the Piper

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As yet another horrific act of mass murder by firearms goes by with the usual platitudes and talking points, I am coming to the realization that in many areas of needed reform, an appeal to the humanity of our leaders is sadly misplaced. So I have another angle to help persuade government leaders, institutions, and the American public: the steep cost of failing to change.

In the area of guns, a Johns Hopkins study found that gun violence costs $2.8 billion in medical costs annually. That doesn’t take into account the expense of police and other law enforcement involvement, court costs, and prison expenditures, all of which are borne by us, the taxpayers. Even the health price tag comes back on individual Americans through higher insurance premiums and taxes to pay for victims on Medicaid. The high cost of gun violence could be reduced by expanding background checks, thus keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers, and by requiring owners to complete training in the safe use and storage of firearms, thus preventing the many accidental gun injuries and deaths that occur each year.

Another area in desperate need of reform is policing. Unwarranted shootings of suspects are not only an abrogation of individuals’ civil rights; they become a huge expense for police departments, which must shell out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by victims and their families. Guess who ends up paying those bills?

Even in the business world, the current push to deregulate business and industry can have detrimental effects on our pocketbooks. Questionable investment and banking practices, for instance, nearly brought down the entire economy in 2008. More recently, Wells Fargo Bank employees were found to have created over a million fake accounts for which their customers were charged fees. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created during the Obama Administration to prevent financial institutions from playing fast and loose with other people’s money. But now the Trump Administration has destroyed the ability of citizens to participate in class action lawsuits, the threat of which can prevent banks and other institutions from mismanagement and fraud. Maybe it’s time to go back to the days of hiding our cash under our beds.

And in the area of the environment, our EPA is looking more like the Environmental Pillaging Agency than an agent of protection. Beyond the idealistic goal of keeping our wildernesses wild and pristine, environmental damage is costing us in real dollars and cents. Unsafe drinking water and polluted air cause health problems for ordinary Americans, and those health problems cost money to treat.

So if you’re not moved by the sight of dwindling wetlands, gunshot victims, or grieving families, maybe this will spur you to action: It’s gonna cost you.

 

Houston, We Have a Problem

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I was happy for the Houston Astros this week when they won their first ever World Series. As A Cubs fan, I can relate to years of disappointing seasons and the elation of finally having your team come through. But my happiness is tempered by the behavior of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game Three of the series.

Gurriel, who had just hit a home run off of Japanese national Yu Darvish, laughed and made a slanted eyes gesture at the pitcher while savoring his feat. Witnesses also reported that he used the slur “Chinito,” which is Spanish for “little Chinese person.” While Gurriel apologized and claimed he meant no disrespect for Darvish, the incident hit a bit too close to home for me. You see, I have a Chinese daughter.

When I told my daughter about the incident, she revealed that she too has been on the receiving end of that mean-spirited slanted-eyes gesture. It happened to her at her elementary school when she was just a little kid, and it happened this past summer in Sweden when she and her soccer teammates were enjoying a local amusement park. I was appalled and saddened, yet I knew when we adopted her that she would probably face racism.

I was also disappointed that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred gave Gurriel a five game suspension but allowed him to finish the Series. As Gary Mayeda, National President of the Japanese American Citizens League, said, “It’s like getting punished as a kid, but having your parents say, ‘Well, we’ll punish you next year.'” (abc7.com, Nov. 1, 2017) Ironically, my daughter found the five game suspension a bit harsh.

It’s hard enough being of a different race in a white-dominated society. My daughter has had issues with looking different and trying to meet the Western standard of beauty. She doesn’t need to be reminded of those differences by small-minded people. And Gurriel, who is Cuban himself, should know better than to disparage someone of a minority culture.

I hope the loss of pay does hurt Gurriel enough to remind him of what he’s done. I hope it encourages him to think twice about the way he interacts with other players and with people in his day to day life. He did get a little taste of condemnation when Darvish’s teammate Rich Hill was on the mound in Game 6. He took his time when Gurriel was at bat so that fans had plenty of time to boo the Astros player. (Yahoo!Sports, Nov. 1, 2017)

Darvish himself, though, seemed to be more forgiving. He put out a statement acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and that he hopes Gurriel learns from his. In Darvish’s own words, ” If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger.” (Yahoo!Sports)

So I’m happy for Houston fans. But Gurriel’s thoughtless gestures reminds us we still have a long way to go in race relations in this world.

Costumes and Controversy

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71BQabb5+rL._SL1500_It’s Halloween, so that means time for more skirmishes in the culture wars of the new millennium. Readers of my blog are familiar with my opposition to Indian sports mascots and dressing up in ways that demean racial and ethnic minorities. But even I am shaking my head at some of the clothing choices deemed cultural appropriation these days.

The latest controversy surrounds dressing up like the Disney animated character Moana, from the movie of the same name. Moana is a spunky Pacific Islander whose quest to save her people forms the plot of the 2016 feature. The controversy arose when a blogger wrote about why she wouldn’t allow her white daughter to dress up as Moana for Halloween. It wasn’t right, she reasoned, to appropriate the dress of a non-white culture. But Moana is a fictional character, and wearing an outfit that looks like the one in the movie is hardly demeaning to anyone.

Disney has made a real effort in the past few decades to present heroes and heroines from cultures other than the dominant white Anglo one. Shouldn’t we be encouraging our little girls to admire and emulate characters from other cultures? The blogger even questioned whether allowing her brown-eyed, brunette daughter to go as the ice queen Elsa might be sending her the message that only blonde, blue-eyed women are desirable. That is way over-thinking the process of selecting a Halloween costume, if you ask me.

Even in the realm of ordinary fashion, culture warriors are taking the issue of cultural appropriation to ridiculous extremes. Can we agree that there is a huge difference between dressing in blackface or Indian war paint and wearing hoop earrings? Apparently not, to some. Not long ago, a group of Latina students at Claremont McKenna College protested that white women should not be wearing hoop earrings, which are part of Latina culture. Similar arguments have occurred over white women styling their hair in cornrows.

The term cultural appropriation has taken on a very negative connotation, and I myself have used it to describe demeaning depictions of minorities by whites. But in a way, cultural appropriation is an integral part of the American experience. As we have welcomed immigrants of various races and ethnicities, we have also come to appreciate and incorporate styles, cuisine, music, and art from these various cultures.

On Halloween and every day, we should be respectful of others from varied backgrounds and identities. There are some very clear cut instances of white people trashing the cultures of ethnic and racial minorities. It’s kind of like what has famously been said about pornography: You’ll know it when you see it. A little common sense and sensitivity are called for so that we don’t start to compartmentalize and segregate ourselves into a narrow definition of what constitutes our culture.

 

Hidden v. Overt Racism

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I prefer a Richard Spencer to a Donald Trump. Richard Spencer is the white nationalist whose recent appearance at the University of Florida created a security nightmare for the university and prompted Florida governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. Spencer was basically shouted down by a preponderance of protesters who object to his overt racism.

Spencer’s stated goal is the creation of a “white ethno-state” in America. (“His Kampf,” Graeme Wood, Atlantic Monthly, June, 2017) In his now infamous “Hail Trump” speech, Spencer stated:

To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward … For us, it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man …. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet.

Spencer also supports abortion rights because it will reduce the number of nonwhites in the world, who are, according to him, too stupid to use birth control.

There is nothing subtle or open to interpretation here. Thus, as hateful and disgusting as Spencer and his ideology are, it is easy to counter and criticize them.

On the other hand, our president is (only slightly )more subtle. Trump ridicules Gold Star families, but only when they’re brown. Trump throws paper towels at hurricane victims and minimizes their suffering, but only when they’re brown. Trump calls peaceful protesters “sons of bitches,” but only when they’re brown. In each case, he and his supporters can declare that they are misunderstood or that the media is lying about Trump’s behavior. They can couch his casual racism in vague concepts of patriotism.

I’m not saying that the beliefs of neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer aren’t dangerous. But they are clear cut. We know what we are dealing with and fighting against. Much more difficult is the implied bigotry underlying Donald Trump’s words and actions as president. His hollow embrace of the American flag masks his assault on the American values of liberty and equality for all.