Archive for March, 2010

Glenn Beck is on a crusade against “social justice,” hoping to tar one of the fundamental progressive ideas as that of anti-Semites and totalitarians. Funny thing, though: if his insinuations were true, Moses would be an anti-Semite totalitarian.

Beck defined “social justice” in the following way on today’s show:

Social justice: Forced redistribution of wealth with a hostility toward individual property rights under the guise of charity and/or justice.

He then showed a copy of Father Coughlin’s publication, “Social Justice,” relating that Coughlin was an anti-Semite who attacked capitalism. In prior episodes, Beck tied the phrase “social justice” to Nazi’s and communists. See that? Social justice and anti-Semitism are related!

Mr. Beck, you’ve got a problem, and your problem is named Moses, whom you very helpfully cited today. Good, we’re getting somewhere. Traditionally, the Torah, including Leviticus, are attributed to Moses’ authorship. Now, remember your definition of the “bad” kind of social justice given above, and read this, from Leviticus 25:

The Year of Jubilee

8 You shall count off seven weeks* of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. 14When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. 15When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop-years. 16If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. 17You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

18 You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. 19The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely. 20Should you ask, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ 21I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for three years. 22When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the old crop; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old. 23The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. 24Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.

25 If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next-of-kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. 26If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, 27the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. 28But if there are not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned.

29 If anyone sells a dwelling-house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be for one year. 30If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. 32As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall for ever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. 33Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites—houses sold in a city belonging to them—shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time.

Now, this language sounds a little goofy in the translation, so let me make it simple for you: the Jubilee was intended to be a twice-per-century reset of property distribution. And it was intended to be the law. And, you know, The Law. Being the law, it was not intended to be optional. That’s what it means to be the law. It’s compulsory. It wasn’t some encouragement to spiritual exertion. It was the law, and violating the law had consequences in this world. Specifically, in addition to whatever punishments humans were to mete out for breaking the law, God himself would punish you right now, today, in this life, with physical deprivations so profound that you’d end up eating your children (I’m not making that up. Keep reading in Leviticus.).

The point is, keeping the law wasn’t some optional call for spiritual perfection. It was backed with threat of harm. Meaning, sir, that Jubilee was expected to be, oh, I don’t know, coerced from you, if necessary.

So. If we take your social justice/anti-Semitic anti-capitalism tie seriously, that would make Moses into Father Coughlin…right?

You’re right. That makes no sense. It makes less sense, in fact, than Beck’s thought exercise today:

But let’s say you’re a dope-smokin’ hippie back in the sixties, and you’re thinking, “Gosh, we just can’t destroy this country…how can we do it?”

Right…baked hippies sat around and hatched a plot to destroy a country that culminated in the election of President “The Right War” Barack Obama. Are you kidding? Why that makes as much sense as implying the administration wants to kill you, which you also did on today’s show:

Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet. ‘I want what they have.’ And for those who say that somehow or another I’m distoring the socialist view of social justice, oh my goodness: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy brother [sic]. Holy cow, you’ve broken three commandments, three of them, three commandments all in one principle. That’s amazing.  And for those in the administration that are coming after me on this one, I mean remember you’ve broken three. Let’s not make it four on this one….thou shalt not kill.

There’s so much in this one show to deal with–especially the idea that Jesus didn’t protest Pontius Pilate and the occupation of Palestine–that I’ll just stop here and say, Brother Glenn: read your Bible before pontificating on the faith, please. And you might consider getting some help.

And, fellow Christians–please don’t take your instruction from Glenn Beck.

…no matter how ridiculous he is, some things need a response before one can sleep.

Beck and U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) went on a self-righteous rant about the upcoming vote on health care reform legislation this weekend, possibly on Sunday. Here’s the transcript:

Speaking on the Glenn Beck show, King said a vote on the Sabbath was sacreligious.

“They intend to vote on the Sabbath, during Lent, to take away the liberty that we have right from God,” he said.

Beck agreed.

“Here is a group of people that have so perverted our faith and our hope and our charity, that is a — this is an affront to God,” Beck said.

“But I think it’s absolutely appropriate that these people are trying to put the nail in the coffin on our country on a Sunday — something our founders would have never, ever, ever done. Out of respect for God,” Beck added.

Here’s the audio.

Now, before I go into this, let me say that, in general, I have no problem with an argument that ties one’s faith and understanding of God to politics (you may have noticed). But I do have a problem, like my priest used to say, with stupid Christians. King and Beck might want to flip through their copy of the New Testament. There are some slightly inconvenient passages in there. For example:

He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.’ 13Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

I’m not exactly a fan of the current health care reform legislation. So much was bargained away, or given away for nothing in return. And watching House progressives display their characteristic lack of strategy and backbone was a sight to see, even after the supplemental war funding vote fiascoes of the last year. I certainly don’t cast Democrats in the role of Jesus. But the fake outrage–shouting God’s name from the rafters–over a vote intended to make broken bodies whole on a Sunday…well, Beck and King should think about the role into which they’re casting themselves.

UPDATE: Much has been said already about Glenn Beck’s awful stunt attacking the phrase “social justice” in Christian teaching. I won’t go into the full range of the stupidity here. I’ll just make two observations.

Here’s the video of his little stunt:

Uh, small point, Mr. Beck. If you want to go all “biblical” on us, you’re signing up for a far, far more radical version of property redistribution than that being pushed by the Democratic Party. As part of an ideological movement that loves Leviticus so much, I find it hard to believe you never heard of the year of Jubilee. You know…the twice-a-century reset of wealth and land holdings. This is widely held as being the referent for Jesus’ declared “year of the Lord’s favor” when he begins his public life in the synagogue.

Beck’s assault continued assault on “social justice” degenerated into the sort of name-game hat tricks he’s known for. See here and skip to 1:00 in. (I don’t go in for Lawrence O’Donnell/Keith Olbermann, by the way…this is just the only clip I could find on short notice):

America, I’d like to alert you to another code word:

People’s Republic of China
Democratic Republic of Congo
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Etc., etc….

So what do we think about Republicans? We should think the same thing we thought about them before, because I’ve just made a ridiculous insinuation.

If the President of the United States stood at a podium and said the following, hopefully we’d tell him to go to Hell:

We must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.*

That’s why I have decided it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 additional troops to prop up a government with a record of extrajudicial killings, torture, poor prison conditions, official impunity, restrictions on freedom of the press, restrictions on freedom of religion, violence and societal discrimination against women, restrictions on religious conversions, abuses against minorities, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, and abuse of worker rights.

Let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.**

This is, however, exactly what he’s saying to the American people, according to the State Department’s newly released human rights report on Afghanistan. The bold portion above is excerpted from the description of Afghanistan’s human rights record under the Karzai administration, the government for which the U.S. government is charging American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and the lives of almost a thousand personnel. According to President Obama’s own administration, the government we’re propping up in Afghanistan is a human rights nightmare.

State’s report tells the story of a predator government degrading and abusing its subjects in an atmosphere of impunity. It tells of torture used by government officials, local prison bosses, polices chiefs and tribal leaders, torture that included, but was not limited to:

  • beating by stick, scorching bar, or iron bar;
  • flogging by cable;
  • battering by rod;
  • electric shock;
  • deprivation of sleep, water, and food;
  • abusive language;
  • sexual humiliation; and
  • rape.

These methods are “commonplace among the majority of law enforcement institutions, especially the police.” Torture was used when victims would not confess to a crime, when a bribe was sought, or simply because the torturer held a grudge.

Let us reach for the world that ought to be…

The report depicts an Afghan government preserving a hell for women where police frequently rape female prisoners and do not respond to or prevent violence against them, where the charge of “zina,” the crime of heterosexual sex between unmarried persons, is invoked to arrest women who flee their families, who won’t marry the spouse chosen for them, who report their own rape. Sometimes, these wretched women are even imprisoned as proxies for the males in their families who commit crimes, or, if they are young, given to be married “to a man whose family [a] defendant had wronged.”

…all of our might and moral suasion…

Children also fall into the hands of Afghanistan’s predator government. State reports that children in detention centers are physically abused, threatened, and generally mistreated. They are often sexually assaulted at police checkpoints–the offense that, in the mythology of the Taliban, once led a one-eyed mullah named Omar to begin the march to Kabul.

State’s report is a litany of horrors undertaken largely by the Afghan government, the government on whose behalf American forces are killing and dying today in Afghanistan. This is what we’re purchasing with our trillion dollars and our thousand dead soldiers and with our many thousands of dead Afghans: a festering sore of corruption, predation and abuse, the impunity of men who know they are backed by a massive opium trade and the guns and treasure of the United States of America.

President Obama campaigned on hope and rode a wave of optimism about the future into the White House. Partnering with this government in Afghanistan, though, shows the worst kind of cynicism.

*From President Obama’s West Point Address.
**From President Obama’s Nobel Prize Lecture.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. and Allied forces have killed and injured more civilians than have the insurgents during Operation Moshtarak. Incredibly, the Pentagon continues to insist that this operation "protects the people." AIHRC’s Feb. 23 press release reports [h/t Josh Mull, our new Afghanistan blog fellow]:

"AIHRC is concerned at the loss of life and civilian harm already caused by this operation. AIHRC found that in the first 12 days of Operation Mushtarak 28 civilians, including 13 children, were killed and approximately 70 civilians, including 30 children, were injured.

"Witnesses suggested the majority of the casualties were caused by PGF artillery and rocket-fire."

Late last year, just after the President announced his escalation, I wrote:

The president’s decision to add more troops is a mistake that will result in deep costs which we cannot afford; increased U.S. casualties; and increased civilian casualties as our troop increase further raises the temperature in the conflict.

A separate update from Brookings shows that President Obama’s escalation and subsequent military operations have indeed raised the temperature of the conflict, increasing the level of violence across Afghanistan:

“In terms of raw violence, the situation is at a historic worst level, with early 2010 levels of various types of attacks much higher than even last year at this time. Much of that is due to the recent Marja campaign and, more generally, the deployment of additional U.S. (and Afghan) troops to parts of the country where they have not been present before.”

War does not protect civilians. War doesn’t make us safer. The Afghanistan war needs to end, now.

Had enough? Join us: become a fan of Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook.

Let me tell you something, progressives: the President is calling your bluff, and if you stand there and take it, you can kiss your “Hope” goodbye:

The Obama team – both political and economic wings – seems to feel that their base has nowhere else to go, and all they need to do is drift towards the right in a moderately confused fashion to assure re-election for the president.

As someone who believes that Jesus meant, without equivocation, what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, I am struggling to feel at home in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. After spending more than a year here, it’s clear to me that this diocese has largely made its peace with the sword, rhetorical denials to the contrary.

Case in point: Recently the diocese met for its 161st Diocesan Council. Here’s the graphic posted on the diocesan website.

Diocese of Texas graphic

Note the military uniforms and the U.S. flag on the right of this graphic. I learned from my rector’s post-council sermon that the council invited uniformed representatives of the U.S. military to “post the colors,” a ceremonial presentation of the U.S. flag.

I learned from the blog for the council that one of the activities organized for attendees of the council was a tour of Fort Hood:

“This tour will be a great opportunity to see inside the Nation’s largest military facility and hear about it’s mission from the experts. Members of Fort Hood’s Public Affairs Office will be leading the tour.”

The Bishop spent a great deal of time talking about Christian formation without breathing one word about the imperative to train our children in the path of nonviolence and peace. To be fair, the word “peace” appeared in his address twice, but it was used in an ambiguous way.

Sir Francis Drake, however, was quoted approvingly and liberally and was romanticized by the Bishop, who described him thus:

Sir Francis Drake was an adventurer and a legal pirate, raiding Spanish ships with permission out of Portsmouth. He was a friend of Queen Elizabeth and a strong Anglican.  Optimistic and courageous he withstood storms of every kind as he circumnavigated the world.

Drake was also a slaver and a participant in the massacre of 600 Irish men, women and children who had surrendered to the British at Rathlin Island. These are only two of his most notorious crimes. He was not a romantic “Christian” hero. Drake was a bloody butcher.

The last thing the world needs right now is Christian formation that turns out “strong Anglicans” like Francis Drake.

The diocese’s insistence on paying homage to the U.S. military, the neglect of nonviolent love in Christian formation and the luminous appearance of Francis Drake in the Bishop’s address are symptoms of this particular Christian community’s inability to diagnose and correct our culture’s obsession with violence, domination and those who wield them.

Did you know that Roman soldiers used to honor their standards with sacrifices and prayer? An early Christian walking into the diocesan council meeting would have probably reacted with horror at the sight of Christians welcoming a flag veneration ceremony into a Christian meeting. And if you think this flag ceremony is a totally different animal than a Roman ceremony, well, make sure you reconsider that question the next time you place your hand over your heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. (When was the last time you placed your hand over your heart when you said words in church? Do you do that when you hear the Sermon on the Mount read aloud? Why not?) Sure, there’s no bloody animal sacrifice on the altar of the banner, but then again, there’s no animal sacrifice on the altar of our temples anymore either. In its place we have a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Think about that in the context of a flag ceremony.

A flag ceremony has no place in a Christian gathering. We should pledge allegiance to the Slaughtered Lamb and no other. What happened at the Diocesan Convention, both in terms of the flag ceremony and the integration of military veneration and sightseeing into the itinerary, represents an erasure of prophetic distance required between Christians and the kingdoms of this world. The United States of America is no more a Christian nation than it is a wheel of cheese. Calling any nation that spends more than $700 billion on “defense” each year a “Christian” nation is a category mistake. There is only one Christian nation: the Kingdom of God. That nation transcends all lines drawn on maps and rejects the sword in favor of the cross.

This conflation of the affection one feels for the nation and the love due only to God is frequently the result of the inability of much of the modern church to differentiate between things which a church member perceives as “good.” But our veneration of the relative good in the nation (dare I say “power” or “principality”?) is a function of our fallen nature. It’s a dangerous affection, especially when it is confused with universal values and transcendent good, because it has the potential to transmute our spiritual need to serve the common good into a different form of egoism (nationalism) disguised as selflessness. This is why the call to serve a Kingdom of God / Body of Christ (in which there is no Jew or Greek) is so radical–service to a transcendent absolute good resists the seduction to the well-ornamented viciousness of patriotism.

The early church understood Jesus’ teachings against the use of violence to the extent that a person would be rejected for baptism if they would not give up the use of violence, even in service to the state. Hippolytus’ apostolic tradition (c. 200) includes the following:

A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate who wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If an applicant or a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.

As late as the year 250, Christians like Cyprian still held to this rejection of war and its trappings:

Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder–which is admitted to be a crime in the case of the individual–is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless–but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale!

I would give anything to find a faith community that could maintain this clear moral perspective.

In a diocese where Francis Drake is lauded as a “strong Anglican,” where the warrior profession is paid respect and where the flag of one of the kingdoms of the world has a place of honor in our Christian gatherings, those of us struggling to get our church to take seriously Jesus’ clear, unequivocal teachings on violence and love are unambiguously on the margins.


Note: I know that this blog post could be read as a pointed attack on the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. That is certainly not my intention. These attitudes are widespread among the diocese. I assume few protests were lodged about the flag ceremony or the tours of massive pieces of a massive war machine. Those of us who many would label as “peace activists” are constantly cautioned to go slow, to be diplomatic, to think carefully before we speak to our brothers and sisters, and rare is the instance when those who disagree with us on these issues are urged to do the same. We are constantly subjected to patronizing head-patting in the form of “wouldn’t it be nice if the world worked that way” preaching and commentary. Militaristic, nationalistic features of the diocesan council and included in the Bishop’s address were certainly not new. I mention them here not as unique or particularly egregious examples but as instances of a far larger pattern in our community.