I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:
Faith, Hope, and Love
Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.
But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope. And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.
Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.
You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.
If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.
None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.
May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).
Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?
Which brings me to my next line of thought.
I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address) and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And guess what?
It really all boils down to a few things:
Liberty and Justice for ALL
Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.
The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.
I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”
The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).
The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.
The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.
I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.
And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.
Liberty and justice for ALL.
I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.
I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.
If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.
End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.
This is a non-stop aching in the gut.
I can’t avoid the news forever, I apparently need to avoid Facebook and Twitter for at least a while.
Trump voters are offended by (and perhaps afraid of) the protests and flags being burned and the president-elect being disparaged.
Some of us who didn’t vote for Trump are frightened that civil rights and civil liberties will be stripped away. We are afraid that democracy as we knew it will be suspended, violated, tortured and dismembered.
Really? Wearing a damn safety-pin is unpatriotic?
Really? We’re persecuting you with words like “deplorable” or accusations of racism, sexism, & xenophobia? We’re the bullies? Not the Klansmen waving confederate flags at Veteran’s day parades? Not those writing Jew, and Nigger, and Faggot on peoples’ homes and cars?
Is it alarmist or reactionary or irrational to wonder if you should flee to Canada? Was it alarmist or reactionary or irrational for Austrians and Belgians and Czechs and Poles to flee Europe in the 1930’s?
I’m a coward. I will sit down and shut up and do my best not to rock the boat. It’s more important to me to get a long with neighbors and family and friends. I live in a homogeneous, rural area, what minorities or LGBT people do I have to stand up for?
But my hero, the mad I empathize for and admire right now is Captain Georg von Trapp, the Austrian naval officer who refused to support or accept an enlistment from NAZI Germany.
MY country was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal. But it seems that our nation has been annexed by a power that believes in mocking the disabled, assaulting women, profiling Blacks, deporting Hispanics, “converting” homosexuals and torturing suspects. This new regime came to power on the fury of uneducated disadvantaged working class whites, but its intended policies will outrageously benefit the wealthiest of the wealthy.
Is this how Langston Hughes felt all his life? That the promises of equality and liberty and justice are all hollow, or at least that they are only for a privileged, privileged few?
God, give me the courage to stand in the conviction of our principles. Grant me the wisdom and self-control and gentleness and the magnanimity to demonstrate and teach and persuade the angry, self-righteous, defensive masses those principles. But if the day ever comes, Lord, grant me the protection and opportunity to spirit my family to safety, like von Trapp did his across the Alps to Switzerland.
My country, ‘ tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty, to thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
I don’t know about you, but this election season it’s been driving me crazy whenever presidential candidates or their supporters accuse each other of ignoring the Constitution or promising to stand for the Constitution in ads and stump speeches but then support proposals or policies which are diametrically opposed to Constitutional principles or worse, flagrantly violate people’s Constitutional rights.
So if you’ve got a minute, here’s a quick review of some of your Constitutional rights as explained by an Eighth grade Civics teacher. Now, if you don’t trust me or come to this blog with your own set of political perceptions, by all means, I urge you to read the amendments for your self- here’s a convenient link to let you do so.
Two quick things before we begin- Let’s face it, people of good conscience are allowed to disagree; keep in mind at all times that individual voters, politicians, their parties, Constitutional law professors and the U.S. Supreme Court all have different interpretations of all of these rights and amendments. Also it’s important to remember that Amendments ARE part of the Constitution. To amend is to alter or change, so when we’re talking about the amendments we’re talking about Constitutional rights, not something separate or different or in addition to the Constitution, this stuff IS the Constitution.
- The 1st Amendment- includes freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly & petition
- Lots of people get confused by the religion part, perhaps because it’s so important or perhaps because everyone seems to not want others to tell them what they should believe but at the same time everyone also seems to want to tell everyone else what they should believe. It’s a control issue. Here’s how it breaks down:
- The “Establishment Clause” says that the government is not allowed to endorse any one religion over another. There is no official religion of America. Taxes don’t pay to to support churches and public schools aren’t supposed to take advantage of their captive audiences to try to convert their students. After eons of religious wars in England and Europe, Americans thought they might give pluralism a try. So in a way, there is freedom from religion.
- The “Free-Exercise Clause” on the other hand says that the government may not prevent you from believing what you believe, how you believe it or exercising your faith whenever, wherever, however. I tell students to feel free to discuss their faith and even to pray, I just can’t initiate or lead the prayer since I’m a public school teacher and just like any other topic, if I try to facilitate the discussion, it’s just going to be to make sure it’s pertinent to what we’re learning about and doesn’t pose a substantial disruption. The establishment clause doesn’t preclude the exercise clause and vice versa.
- Like all the other rights I’m about to talk about, the best way to protect your rights is to protect the rights of others. If as a Lutheran. Methodist or a Catholic, I don’t want Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, 7th day Adventists or Mormons telling me I have to believe everything they believe, I kinda have to allow Jews, Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Muslims, Amish, secularists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, and even Satanists to believe what they want to believe. That’s the hard thing about living in a pluralistic society. As a Christian myself, I tend to lean on Jesus’ parable of the weeds and wheat growing in the same field (see Matthew 13:24-30) to help me with this one. Like so many other things in life, it’s all about control, I don’t want you trying to control me, so I guess I’m better off not trying to control you. If I really believe God is in control, does He really need my help? See, that whole omnipotent thing kinda puts me in my place… anyway-
- Freedom of Speech- does not mean say whatever you want, however you want to whomever you want whenever you want. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your tactlessness and it can’t protect you in a civil suit if you’re accused of slander (deliberately spreading lies about someone in order to hurt their reputation). However, it DOES mean, that you ARE free to speak your mind on political, social, economic, cultural and religious matters without fear of being locked up, exiled, or otherwise punished or persecuted by the government. We ARE allowed to criticize public figures and officials and their positions, policies, and programs. We’re not necessarily allowed to incite violence or bully or harass people.
- BTW FYI over the last couple hundred years the Supreme Court has really expanded “Speech” into “Freedom of Expression,” so yard signs, bumper stickers, hair styles, music, piercings, tattoos, clothing, holiday decorations on your house, yadda yadda yadda pretty much all covered.
- ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM- Campaign finance reform, Political Action Committees (PACs) and Super Paces, & “Dark Money”- in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court declared that money IS speech and that corporations are at least “associations of citizens” so Republican candidate Mitt Romney wasn’t just talking out of his a** (pardon my French) when he told one voter at the Iowa State Fair back in 2012 that “corporations ARE people, my friend.” The problem with this decision is that while at one level it is logical to conclude that campaign contributions are a way of expressing one’s beliefs and therefore protected by the First Amendment, it ought to be glaringly obvious to anyone that some people have a helluva lot more freedom of speech then others making this decision horrifically unfair to the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile state governors like Minnesota’s Scott Walker and others work to revoke collective bargaining rights of public employees and undermine unions so that wealthy investors have power in numbers through corporate investing or interest groups, but most poor, working class and middle class people don’t have the means to pool their resources. Sorry for being so blatantly nonobjective on this one, I hope that even if you disagree with obvious bias, I’ve helped explain the controversy with ‘Citizens United’ a little.
- Freedom of the Press- This is incredibly important not just so that we have the right to publish what we think, feel & believe, but perhaps even more importantly, so that we can have access to a variety of ideas and opinions. Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” One might paraphrase this today to say that the person who only gets their news from one news source (say a TV network) but refuses to listen to any other outlets and doesn’t want to be bothered by looking up anything to read about the issues is pretty much allowing themselves to be brainwashed. Oh, um, sorry, got a little carried away there. Got that subjective momentum going in the last paragraph and it can be hard to turn off. Point is this- in a participatory representative democracy like ours, voters need to be informed in order to make the best decisions. If you have a vast buffet in front of you but all you eat are hot dogs, you’ll end up malnourished.
- PS- Time and technology have probably evolved this right as much as the Supreme Court has. Let’s face it, in 1791 freedom of the press was for publishers who ran printing presses. Today we generally assume that “the Press” is synonymous with the media. But these days all of us are self- publishing every time we blog, micro-blog, comment, post and perhaps even when we text and email.
- Freedom peaceably to assemble- Like speech and press, this has been expanded to mean freedom of association. In other words, it’s not just about attending a protest march or a sit-in. It also means belonging to a union, a political party, a movement, a special interest group, caucus, club, organization or religion. So as a matter of fact, as much as some of us may not like it, Americans DO have the right to be Communist, or Muslim or White supremacist. The Tea Party, the #OccupyWallStreet and the #BlackLivesMatter movements are all covered by this right, but so are the NRA, the AARP, the NAACP, and the 4-H and FFA.
- And finally the right to petition the government for redress of grievances– These words are eighteenth century legal jargon that in plain 21st century English mean to ask the government to help make things right. Petition= to ask or request. Redress=”to correct (something that is unfair or wrong*).” Grievance= feeling like you’ve been treated unfairly. (*see http://www.merriam-webster.com).
- More bias on my part- it’s pretty hard to ask the government to help you if you dismantle that government. I agree to a degree with limited government, but I don’t agree with eliminating it or making it so powerless that it can’t help you. A lot of politicians use fear to get us to vote for them. Not just fear of terrorists, but fear of the government, as if it is an entity unto itself and that entity is our greatest enemy. But WE are our government- thus the words ‘We the People.’ Government itself is an instrument, apparatus, infrastructure- a TOOL for people to collectively work together toward common goals. That’s why I get irritated when politicians tell us that you can’t trust government- they’re saying that they don’t trust US! Don’t they agree with President Lincoln that government is OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people?
- So BEWARE most of the time when people start talking loudly about the Constitution, they actually would be opposed to the Constitution if the Constitutional Convention were held today. Whether it’s to protect corporations & the wealthy from regulation, promote what they see as states rights or personal liberty or justify their latent bigotry- most of them could actually be classified as anti-federalists or even pro confederacy. Maybe they even THINK that they support the United States or the Constitution, but anyone who is opposed to equality, civil rights or social contract theory are actually opposed to the most basic Constitutional principled. It may be hyperbole to accuse them of treason or even of lying- but I think that when they tout their allegiance to and reliance on the Constitution, as Inigo Montoya in the ‘Princess Bride’ might say, “you keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Frankly, if they’re opposed to Constitutional principles, I wish they’d just own that and be honest with themselves and the rest of us about it.
Once again, my “quick” examination has gotten a lot longer than I intended (and this time, WAY more opinionated that I had intended) be that as it may, I hope it’s gotten you thinking about some of the things that politicians claim to be talking about, when they pretend to be upholders of the Constitution. Next time, Amendments 2-26.