Jan 302017
 

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 29: Demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest on January 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Protestors in Washington and around the country gathered to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring the citizens of Muslim-majority countries Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from traveling to the United States.

He is banning members of the Muslim religion from our country, but I am not of that religion.

He is building a wall to keep out Mexicans, but I am not a Mexican.

He will not allow us to shelter the suffering, homeless, and dying refugees of war, but I am not a refugee.

He intends to torture prisoners, but I will not be one of those tortured.

He may cancel the health insurance of 20 million people, but I have other health insurance.

He will do away with protections for the environment, but I do not have so many years left to live, and future generations will pay for this, not me.

He is moving to further restrict the voting rights of minorities and others who oppose him, but I am a white man from Tennessee and I will still be able to vote.

He will degrade public education, on which most families depend, while funding private education for the well-off. But I already have my education.

He intends to deport some 12 million immigrants, including many who were born and grew up here. But I am not one of those to be deported.

He will reverse the civil rights gains made by lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons, but I am not one of these persons.

He wants to make abortions illegal and even criminal, but I will not be needing an abortion.

He will reduce government benefits for the poor and vulnerable to benefit the wealthy and powerful, like himself. But I am not among the poor and vulnerable.

He wants more people in more places armed with more guns, so the “good guys” can kill the “bad guys.” This will increase our national murder rate even more than it already is. But I live a quiet life and am not likely to be among those murdered.

So, other than a terrible sadness for the plight of others, will he do me no harm?

Well, no harm unless . . .

Unless he is able to take away our freedom of speech, and of the press, and of religion, or from religion if we choose. Unless he can take our rights of travel and free association with others, and of voting and debating public issues, and of equal treatment under just laws. Unless we are left sold out and oppressed, with no truthful information on what is happening, to us and others in the world.

Unless he so divides and abuses and insults and provokes others who are not me, that some equivalent of a second American Civil War occurs. A conflict in which the military forces he now commands will be unleashed against citizens who oppose him, as in Assad’s Syria and Saddam’s Iraq and Franco’s Spain and Amin’s Uganda and Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany.

Unless his constant and unpredictable anger, and belligerence toward other peoples and nations, leads us into nuclear destruction. Which now does not seem all that unlikely.

His view of our America is a dark and gloomy one, a view that sees threats on every side and emergencies he must address where none exist. And now that he has gained this power he sought, my own view has turned dark and gloomy as well. 

If I were a man of power and prominence in the country, and he read these words, I would doubtless be marked for suppression or retribution.

But I am not a man of power or prominence. Just a very worried citizen.


Listen to a reading of this story:


[Thoughts and comments are welcome. Related articles may be found under the categories of “commentary,” “environment,” “guns,” and “religion.” To receive an email notification when new articles are posted here, click “Subscribe” in the menu bar above and enter your email address.]

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Apr 252015
 

Numerous U.S. State legislatures have passed or are considering what are termed "Religious Freedom Bills." These exempt the owner of a business from liability for refusing to do business in cases where the owner has a religious objection. When asked what problem these bills seek to address, the example often given is that of a Christian cake baker who is requested to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

gayweddingcakeIt is assumed that the cake baker will gladly bake a cake for John and Mary, but objects to the wedding of John and Jim, or of Mary and Sally. The cake baker considers these relationships immoral and does not wish to be associated with them. Providing cake-baking services might be construed as giving approval to a sinful act. Apparently, in this person's church, you do not want to become known as a friend of sinners.

"Friend of sinners" . . . I remember that phrase from somewhere. Actually it was a term used against Jesus by his self-righteous critics (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34). Jesus was known to associate with the most despised people of his day: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, adulterers, Samaritans, thieves, Roman occupiers, and street beggars. Jesus was also known to suggest that these friends of his had higher moral standing than his self-righteous critics. Which brings us back to the sinner-avoiding Christian cake baker.

Really? If you are in the cake baking business, you want to pick and choose your customers? You want to focus your moral judgment on each person who comes to the counter and consider if you should be associated with him or her? Maybe you don't want to serve Muslims or Buddhists or Jehovah's Witnesses? You don't want anything to do with sex offenders or former prison inmates? What about "sinful" (your judgment) women who have had abortions? Why not screen for use of contraceptives or foul language or immodest dress habits? When you aim to create a legal protection for moral judgments, the list goes on and on.

In the days of start-up Christianity, believers would not have turned to the State to enforce their morality. They would have baked their cake, or not, and accepted the consequences. Only now, in America, where professed Christians are 85% of the population, do they seek support of the State, affirming that they are, indeed, the State religion and deserving of special treatment. This is historically interesting in that a formally despised religious minority is now exercising its muscle as the religious majority. The persecuted have evolved to become the wielders of power, despite their roots.

I have a dear gay friend who recently married his same-sex partner of many years. As a confirmed heterosexual, I admit that to some confusion of feelings about homosexuality. I was not born to that lifestyle. But I acknowledge that my friend was, and I wish him well with his partner. I feel this is a Christ-like position to take on the matter. I also do not consider my heterosexuality to be morally superior to his. Apparently god creates some of us one way and some the other. I accept this.

That Christian heterosexuals will turn to government legislation to enforce their moral judgments on others is troubling to me.

Why not just bake the damn cake for whoever needs one?

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Apr 252015
 

As a former Southern Baptist myself, I was much interested in President Carter's reaction to recent actions by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is the the largest protestant religious body in the U.S. 

450986231-8aa3bc9064417c9c4b78ddfdb32837aa3eb8e7e0-s800-c15I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

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Mar 032014
 

When my mother died in 1970, my father purchased burial spaces in the Grandview Cemetery of Maryville, Tennessee. Maryville was our home town, and the location of Maryville College, where my father and mother had met as students, and where Dad returned to spend most of his life teaching.

slide02Grandview Cemetery is well named. The “grand view” is its view of the Appalachian mountain range, locally bounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Out town has changed a lot over the years, but the grand view of the Smokies does not change. If you want your body buried in a cemetery, this is a good place.

Besides Mother and Dad, our family included myself and two brothers. My oldest brother is buried in France in a U.S. Military Cemetery. My other brother is buried in Grandview, as is Mother. My father’s ashes were interred in Mother’s grave when he died.

The last time I was in Maryville, I visited Grandview and tried to find these graves. I thought I could do this, but much has been added to the cemetery in recent years, and I never wrote down any locations. I tried to find someone in the cemetery office who could help me, but found no one.

What I did find the other day, while looking for something else, was the original purchase document for these cemetery lots. Included was a map and location information. Dad had paid $1,142 for 6 spaces in Grandview. He had made a down payment of $342 and agreed to make two payments of $400 each over the next six months.

As I glanced over the remainder of this old document, one of the “purchaser agrees to the following” statements stood out. I was stunned. The following was a legal and binding condition of the cemetery lot purchase:

“He, She or They are of the White and/or Caucasian Race and will make no attempt to obtain internment and/or internment rights for any other than of that Race in or on said plot and/or in or on the cemetery.”

I know, of course, that I could break this agreement now and no harm would come to me. I know that likely by this time there have been non-white burials in Grandview Cemetery. I assume that new purchasers of grave sites in this cemetery no longer sign such a statement. So is this just a relic of the past? We are now a multicultural society, and prejudice and discrimination are behind us, right?

Not so fast.

What of Arizona and the other states that today are passing laws allowing businesses to refuse their services to same-sex couples. Is discrimination based on sexual preference any better or worse than basing it on race? How much better is a law allowing a cemetery business to refuse burial sites to same-sex couples than one that does so based on skin color? And this is in 2014, not 1970.

Of course, the discrimination needs to be on “religious grounds” under terms of these laws. The business refusing the service must profess that gayness offends its religious beliefs. (This raises the question of how a business has a religious belief, and whose religious belief it needs to be, but no matter.) In passing these laws, the states say they are upholding the principle of religious liberty, which, they say, is under attack today. Thus do the victimizers portray themselves as the victims.

I can tell you from my personal experience growing up in Maryville that religion was the rationale behind segregated cemetery lots. It was the rational behind separate toilets and signs reading “Colored to the rear” on the White Star Line busses. Preachers preached about the Old Testament “curse of Ham” and used it to justify all types of discrimination against persons of color. They preached that god made black birds and blue birds and red birds, and that these do not inter-breed. They observed that god placed people of different races on different continents and obviously meant for them not to mix.

The days of that preaching is largely gone. But the idea that a business serving the public can discriminate against people based on religion is obviously not.

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Sep 182013
 

I once was pastor of a church in Silver Spring, Maryland. My office window looked out over a large parking lot behind the church. Over the years I worked in that office, I saw many things from that window.

Parking Lot & TruckCouples would arrive in separate cars, park one car in a far corner, look around nervously, then depart together in one car–returning after hours or sometimes days.

Teenagers would come at night to drink and party, leaving trash and urine behind. I often called the county police, but usually to no avail. The kids had police scanners and a mass exodus took place as soon as the police were heard to be on the way.

I once heard a ruckus right below my window and found a man forcibly holding a woman down. A pistol was lying near them on the ground. The man said he was a plainclothes policeman and would I please come and help him. I thought that he could just as well been the criminal of the two. With no way to verify and not being inclined to join a fight, I helped by calling the police.

There was an orthodox Jewish synagogue adjoining this parking lot. Now orthodox Jews are supposed to walk to synagogue, and most did. I would see many of them walking in all kinds of weather. But I also observed some less strict ones who drove and parked in our lot, then walked the rest of the way. One Saturday, I observed one of them hiding behind his car as a group of others passed. He watched until the coast was clear and then emerged.

There were many other interesting sights, but the the following has always been my favorite.

One clear, summer day I noticed a pickup truck parked in the back of the lot. That was nothing unusual, except that there was a man standing behind or around it and now and again there was something bright rising up out of the truck. I kept trying to figure out what it was and had no clue. It went on for a long time and I decided to investigate.

The man with the pickup was from Baltimore. The bright objects I had seen from the distance were homing pigeons being released. The man had brought them in a large cage in the back of the truck. He explained that pigeon racing was his hobby and he was training his pigeons for an upcoming event.

As we talked, he took out and released a new pigeon.  The bird climbed upward in ascending circles and was visible for a long time. The man explained that it was hoping for others to be released and waiting for them to fly up and join it.  But finally the bird headed off in the direction of Baltimore.

The man explained that the nature of pigeons is to gather as a flock and fly together. But he said that if they do that, they will fly at the speed of the slowest pigeon. One bird in the flock might be flying at its best speed, but all the others will not. So he forces them to fly alone, despite their wish to do otherwise. Only by training this way will each bird have a chance to achieve its speed potential.

I thought how flocking together and taking it easy is a human trait as well. Unless you want to be exceptional.

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New Feature

 Posted by at 10:13 am  No Responses »
Feb 082013
 

New featureI have added a new feature which may or may not be of interest. I’ve had some scanning done and have posted text from my books, sermons, and music from years gone by when I was a minister and pastor of Baptist churches. I may later add a section for poetry.

This is all under the new “Publications” tab which you see above. Each of the sections and sub-sections has a brief introduction. The “Sermons” section is just a start for now. I have posted the first of what will eventually be around ten volumes.

I am not attempting to revisit or revise any of these writing, but the task of formatting for the web can be time consuming.

When they see the term “Baptist” most people read “conservative.” This was not always the case. I was a liberal Baptist. One of the last.

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Planned Parenthood

 Posted by at 4:13 am  No Responses »
May 062012
 

When I was a young man and newly married, also being at the same time a poor college student, I did not want or need the burden of another child to raise. Our first had arrived just eleven months after the wedding. I did, however, want to have sex with my wife. The answer, of course, was contraception, and the most obvious solution was “rubbers,” as we called them then.  Continue reading »

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