Vote Today! No Excuses!


Like I said yesterday, the Republican candidate is a terrifying, unqualified, cruel,  egomaniacal, racist misogynist who’s advocated torturing the families of suspected terrorists and has allegedly sexually assaulted multiple women and allegedly even a couple of young teen girls … And who has bagged about sexually assaulting women when he didn’t realize the microphone was on. 

He’s demonstrated an unprecedented disrespect and disregard for the rule of law and even for the constitution. 

If you’re not a Republican,  step up to defeat him for obvious reasons.

If you are a Republican,  step up to defeat him and force your party leaders to nominates someone sane and qualified in 2020.

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Donald Trump Is Not “Pro-Life!” 

In case you’re thinking about voting for trump because he’s pro-life,  think again. Despite his 11th hour “conversion” to pro-life talking points,  he is certainly the most pro-death candidate in the race.

I’m not the first to make this point. Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy makes this point very well from a consevative perspective, Rachel Held Evans makes it from a progressive perspective, and Shannon Dingle has made it well from a largely non political perspective. 

Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson all oppose increasing restrictions on abortion. They’re “Pro-Choice” as the terms go.

Clinton has repeatedly said that while she does not want to ban abortions, she wants to make them rare, largely through education and contraceptive access that will prevent unwanted pregnancies, and also through an increased social safety net.

Donald Trump has shared the same pro-choice opinion for his entire career, until he realized he needed evangelical votes to win. Since then he’s “seen the light” and worked in some anti-abortion talking points. Few people believe he’s actually going to follow through on any of it.

The American Solidarity Party is strongly pro-life, but they aren’t on many states’ ballots.

The Lancet and the Guttmacher Institute have both found that, worldwide, abortion rates don’t go down when the penalties for abortion go up. 

Instead, the lowest abortion rates are present when a greater social safety net takes away the “desperation abortion,” and where contraception and education about contraception is freely and easily available.

Think about it:  prohibition didn’t work on alcohol in the 1920’s. The drug war hasn’t settled people from doing drugs,  and gun bans don’t stop criminals from getting weapons,  even when the whole country bans them (Mexico, for example). 

Back alley abortions are extremely easy to do, much easier than constructing or smuggling an illegal gun, or even making meth.

A lot of people present the typical abortion as involving some self-involved, cosmopolitan, well-off woman who just can’t be bothered to fit a baby into her busy social schedule, or who doesn’t want to lose her tight abs and gain post-pregnancy stretch marks.

That’s a great talking point for the Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akins of the world, but that’s really all it is. Abortions mostly happen because women are struggling just to survive (and take care of any kids they already have), and don’t think they can take care of another child. In fact, according to The Lancet, married women are the most likely to get an abortion.

Increasing the social safety net takes away that fear factor, and abortion rates adjust downward, naturally. Providing easier access to contraception also reduces abortion, so the Hobby Lobby’s of the world’s can’t really call themselves pro life in any meaningful way. 

During Reagan and Bush 1’s Presidencies, abortion rates began to fall. During Clinton’s presidency, they fell rapidly. During Bush 2’s Presidency, the abortion rate fell, but more slowly. During the Obama Presidency, the abortion rate fell 13%, a faster fall than under any of the Republican Presidents.

So while the abortion rates have been falling overall, there’s no reason to believe they’d fall faster under Trump than under Clinton, and some small evidence to believe the reverse might be true.

So that leads us to other aspects of being “pro-life.”

I mean, if you only care about abortion rates, you’re not really pro-life, just anti-abortion. And what good is that, really?

  • Clinton is certainly less likely to get us into another ground war. To be sure, she’ll use air power liberally (no pun intended), and kill far more people than I’d find acceptable, but Trump will almost certainly do much, much worse things.
  • A former CIA diector has labeled Trump a threat to national security
  • Clinton is less likely to tear families apart through bigoted and impractical mass deportation scenarios (Muslims, Mexicans, or whoever Trump names off next).
  • Oh, and speaking of worse things: Clinton is against torture, while Trump has advocated torturing and killing the families of suspected terrorists. This is unspeakably evil, a literal crime against humanity.
  • Clinton is far more likely to reform our justice system, bringing some reduction in the number of people killed by police and the outrageous percentage of our population that we keep incarcerated (more than any other sizable country, by a huge margin).
  • Clinton is more likely to support policies that will support families and mothers, like paid maternal leave, widespread health insurance, and social safety nets for economically disadvantaged mothers-to-be.
  • Clinton pushed for CHIP, a program that has provided medical care for huge numbers of otherwise uninsured children over the last 19 years.
  • Trump has been accused of sexual assault by several women, and his hateful misogyny is clear. I don’t know if this matters to the pro-life crusaders,  but it matters to me. 

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that some of the third party candidates might be just as pro-life or more so. Stein and Johnson are much more dovish than Clinton. The American Solidarity Party is dovish, pro-safety net,  and anti-abortion in every way. They are also anti-LGBT+ rights and borderline theocratic, so your mileage may vary.

    At any rate, none of them have a viable chance in November.  They didn’t even meet the threshold to be included in the debates. 

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote third-party. Just be realistic about the outcome. 

    Trump or Clinton will be our next President. 

    As far as lives lost and destroyed go, I think there’s really no question. Fewer people – born and unborn alike – will be killed, maimed, and tortured under a Clinton Presidency than under a Trump Presidency. Bottom line.

    And that means Hillary Clinton is as close to pro-life as we’re gonna get this year. 

    All Things Right and Good

    You’re going to reach a point (We all do)

    Where you must decide whether you will be right or good.

    I know, Jesus never found Himself in such a spot

    But he was God made flesh. You and I are not.

    And when I reach that point, I want to say:

    “I don’t know if this is right.

    I don’t know how it fits in with systematic theology

    With moral law, with moral codes

    But I know how to be good.”

    I’ve learned the hard way that right, like rights,

    Can be abused, can be abusive:

    • Right and wrong (who decides?)
    • Legal and illegal (who makes the laws?)
    • Winning the argument
    • Contempt for the loser
    • Insiders and outsiders
    • orthodox and heretics
    • Moral panics
    • “They deserve it.”
    • “They would do the same to us.”

    These are tools of domination. These are acts of violence

    They’re labels and weapons the powerful use to maintain their supremacy

    Be it white or male or hetero/cis.

    It’s all the same. Power. Money. Control.

    The rich men who wield it

    The rough men who enforce it

    The abuse and domination of women

    And the blood of dark-skinned people

    And anyone different in religion, sexuality, or creed

    The enslavement of millions in for-profit prisons

    And the torture of the few with neither trial nor hope

    We can be right.

    We can be in control.

    We can hold the moral high ground

    Or we can be good.

    Or we can love as Jesus loved.

    But we cannot serve both God and mammon.

    Toxic Worship (The Imposters of God, Chapter 1: The Mystery of Idolatry, Part 2)

    Sculpture of a Family

    Photo by J. Lord, Creative Commons

    This is part three of my series on William Stringfellow’s The Imposters of God. You can read my first post on Chapter One and my introduction to the series.

    As you recall, Stringfellow pointed out that an idol is anything we use to define ourselves, to give significance to our lives, other than God (of course). All such things – money, family, church, reputation, country – are doomed to fail us, of course.

    But did you know that so long as we put them in the place of worship, that we are doomed to fail them?

    As Stringfellow put it, “Where idolatrous patriotism is practiced, the vocation of the nation so idolized is destroyed.”

    How far from the lofty ideals of civil rights and democracy have the super-patriots (with their super PATRIOT Acts) taken us?

    I’m old enough to remember when torture and indefinite detention were things the bad guys did, not things two successive openly Christian Presidents would undertake, to the applause of their mostly openly Christian supporters.

    “When the family is idolized, the members of the family are enslaved.” (Stringfellow). How many times have we seen parents living vicariously through their children? Whether Tiger Moms pushing their kids into depression  or washed-up high school quarterbacks and homecoming queens reliving their youth, it never ends well.

    I’m reminded of the controlling mother from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, who’d rather have her son with her in hell than leave him in heaven.

    Even within our churches, the extreme focus on the family has left the unmarried feeling unwanted. It’s made us political animals, white-flighting our way into the “best” schools.

    It’s led us to forget that the Apostles who spread the Gospel to the known world were themselves single, and that they focused not on their families, but on the Gospel.

    “Every idol, therefore, represents a thing or being existing in a state of profound disorientation” (Stringfellow).

    Idolatry ultimately brings death.

    Sometimes literally, as in our persistent worship of war.

    Sometimes figuratively, in the dehumanization of a culture that views everything and everyone as a commodity.

    And sometimes both, as in the dysfunctional relationships and vicious social structures that drive the young to depression and sometimes suicide.

    Perhaps Idolatry is at the heart of the decline of America’s churches. We’ve grown so entangled with the idols of respectability, growth, and politics that we find ourselves reduced to merely a social function. A social function that offers precious little to the constantly-connected Facebook generation.

    What is the answer? I’m not certain. But I know this. We fail, again and again, to keep the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3).

    And to even detect our idols means turning the rusty knife of self-examination on the things we hold dearest. The pain may be akin to amputating a gangrenous limb without anesthetic, but it must be done if we are serious about serving Christ.

     

     

     

     

     

    Means and Ends (Neither Kant nor Machiavelli)

    Kant in black & white, Machiavelli in shades of gray

    Kant in black & white, Machiavelli in shades of gray

    Niccolo Machiavelli famously said, “In judging policies we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed.” The ends justify the means.

    Immanuel Kant argued in favor of the old Latin maxim, “Do what is right, though the world should perish.” The means justify the ends.

    But I don’t believe we can, in good conscience, stand by either maxim. As moral beings, especially as people of faith, we have a responsibility for both our means and our ends. We must balance the rightness of our methods with the most likely outcomes.

    It’s easy to brush off Machiavelli. “The ends justifies the means” sounds like something a movie villain would say.

    Until national security is on the line.

    Until George W. Bush is talking about “enhanced interrogation” and “indefinite detention” (without a trial, of course)

    Until Barrack Obama is talking about (or rather, trying very hard not to talk about) using Predator drones to blow up civilians in nations we aren’t even at war with.

    But as Christians, we can at least try to avoid that one. We can set our feet down and join Kant in defending the old saying, “Do what is right, though the world should perish.”

    But what does that mean? Does that mean being so focused on “biblical” roles in marriage that you treat spousal abuse like it’s a matter of the wife’s submission, as John Piper does below (from his entire demeanor, he either has no concept of what an abusive relationship is really like, or he has no empathy. I think both may be true, given his view of God).

    When we focus on what is “right” according to scripture, and then use that to justify hurting “sinners” (such as denying them their [secular] civil rights, advocating discredited and medically dangerous therapies, or advocating for harsh criminal penalties against them in African countries),  we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

    When we let our idea of “biblical” gender roles blind us to abuse in marriages, in families, and in churches, we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

    Even if we are not blinded, if we ignore or minimize suffering (as John Piper is doing above), we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

    When we use our interpretation of scripture (without the humility to question whether we might be wrong, reading the Bible in translation, 2000+ years later, in a totally different cultural context) as a weapon, or an anesthetic that prevents us from feeling the pain of others, we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

    But we’re not doing what’s right. Not really. And our means, no matter how righteous we may thing they are, are utterly and totally tainted by the pain we cause.

    Our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. That’s not just a redundant restating of Romans 3:23. It isn’t a declaration of Calvin’s “total depravity.” It means that our rightness, our self-justifications, our focus on “doing the right thing” no matter what the cost to others … is just filthy.

    And the world sees this. It’s not the gospel that’s offending them. It’s our warped Kantian-Calvinistic logic, our weaponized righteousness. And it should offend them.

    For God or Country (Wrestling the Angel of Patriotism)

    Eagle and American Flag Photo by Pam "Bubbels" Roth, Creative Commons

    Photo by Pam “Bubbels” Roth, Creative Commons

    Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to be a good patriotic American and a genuine Christian at once.  This isn’t an idle thought, or some kind of “blame America first” catchphrase.  It’s a genuine worry I have.

    I’ve always believed that America is essentially good (though far from perfect) and that patriotism was a good thing.  I still do, for the most part.  But now I wonder if these two things – America and the Kingdom of Heaven – are not competing goods.

    Part of me wants to say “no.”  Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. [Matthew 6:24]  And I’ve already talked about how America is not, and never has been righteous (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  I can’t vote for Romney or Obama, not so long as they both support drone strikes against civilians.  For all the religious political posturing, America seems more like Rome than Jerusalem.

    We do not care for the poor like we should.  The gap between the rich and poor grows.  And the mortgage crisis shows how easily the average person can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous creditors (I was a Realtor a few years back, and let me tell you, that can be an ugly field.  Finding an ethical Realtor and mortgage broker is vital, and not always easy.  I mean, really?  Approving someone for a mortgage that costs half their monthly income?  What ethical planet are you from?)

    Politicians preach about Sodom, but forget what the Sin of Sodom was: Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  That’s right: Sodom’s sin was lack of hospitality, not caring for the poor, living too richly while those around them suffered [Ezekiel 16:49].  Forget homosexuality: that’s America to the core.

    On the Other Hand…

    Part of me wants to say “yes.”  Part of me says that Granddaddy was both.  He fought in World War II.  He started and sustained two small businesses, on of which still employs several people in our hometown, fifty years later (thanks in large part to my Dad, who’s managed it for about 25 years).

    Granddaddy was always patriotic.  He put flags on the graves on Memorial Day.  He was a proud veteran, and he modeled quiet, civic patriotism.  He was also far and away a better Christian than I am.

    He spent a lot of time in prayer (time I either waste online or spend writing about my feelings *smirk*).  He was a Gideon, and active in prison ministry.  Was he perfect?  Of course not.  But he was fundamentally good, and he gave God the glory.

    Was Granddaddy’s America better than the one I live in now?  Nostalgia tempts me to say “yes.”  Certainly, much of his life was lived in simpler times.  The amount of information, the access to information, was less, and even entertainment came in such limited streams that you could stand around drinking coffee and talk about TV shows and actually have people know what you mean, without having to Google it (Honey Boo-Boo?  That sounds like a bee with a scraped knee, but apparently it’s a reality TV show).

    But better?  We’ve been through this (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3).  World War II was a just war if there ever was one, but America still bombed Dresden, killing 25,000 civilians, America firebombed Tokyo, killing at least 100,000 and leaving 1 million homeless, roughly as many as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and more than the bombing of Nagasaki.

    These massive bombing campaigns may or may not have been necessary to win the war, but they led to massive civilian deaths.  Our ongoing drone strikes are less destructive by a couple of orders of magnitude, but they’re also unnecessary and unjustifiable.

    On the home front, racial segregation was an ongoing struggle.  I have a relatively objective account that Granddaddy was about as non-racist as a white man could be at the time and still live in Mississippi (told by a friend who left Mississippi in the 1950’s in protest of the racist atmosphere).  But the atmosphere affected everyone who stayed.

    So, if my grandfather was able to balance love for a deeply flawed nation with faithful service to God, why can’t I?

    Maybe the times really have changed.  Maybe there is no political party I can get behind (drone strikes on civilians are a deal-breaker, as is torture).  Granddaddy voted Republican as long as I can remember, but the party was very different back then.  When he was alive, I voted Republican, and did it with a clear conscience.  This year?  I don’t know who I’ll vote for, but it will be in protest.

    Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.  Maybe loving America has nothing to do with being able to vote for a Presidential candidate in good conscience.  Maybe part of loving America is calling it as it is, not worshiping it as it claims to be.

    Maybe I can only love America correctly if I first love God correctly.  If I turn my loyalties away from my own self (whether self-preservation, self-interest, or just self-introspection) and turn them to God’s Kingdom, maybe I’ll be able to love America like God does – fully aware of its flaws, with no blind jingoism, with no excuses, just grace.