Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Strange Look

A few months ago I noticed some friends driving through the neighborhood with a strangely-out-of-place look on their face. We've all seen it before. The look was of one who had found that coveted wide-open space to live on, that bigger house, that perfect neighborhood with the ideal school. In our culture we call it upward mobility, but they had the look while driving through my neighborhood—the ghetto!

I knew something very unusual must be happening, so I made a strong mental note to call my friends about what was up. I knew they were trying to find a new home, but I had long ago stopped prodding them to consider living in Mills. They're the missional types, which makes them so easy to appreciate. Still for folks like them living in Mills is a big sacrifice.

Lo and behold, two months later they have a house in Mills. They made sure not to tell some of the folks who would be concerned before they bought. They could predict the response. "Please get an alarm!" "Nice fixer upper!" These are responses I understand and can empathize with.

But the look my friends wore didn't resemble these thoughts. Their eyes alone were a brilliant smile. What were they thinking in that moment months ago when I saw them on East Main and Darrow? What the heck was an all-the-wide-open-space-I-could-ever-want look doing in Mills?

When I finally spoke with them my suspicions were confirmed. It was the look of a couple not searching for the perfect life, but a pure life given to God and neighbors. On my friends' face I saw them beholding Jesus among those he spent nearly his entire life with and those he said we must not forget to give our energy loving.

In his book From Brokenness to Community, Jean Vanier writes "Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that man who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked. Wouldn't it be extraordinary if we all discovered that? The face of the world would be changed."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center

When I was in Junior High, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.” So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.

To my friends in the evangelical community, what happened at the headquarters of the Family Research Council was a despicable act of violence that deserves to be condemned without reservation, but please don’t use what happened as a pretext to shore up prejudice against those in the LGBT community—who, by the way, have also condemned this act of violence—or as a pretext to exact vengeance against groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that works to provide a service to society by raising the alarm against hate and extremism.

In a statement to the press, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said,

“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”

He went on to say,

“They have repeatedly and without cause demonized FRC, and have spent years stirring up anger in the homosexual community and directing that anger toward an organization whose only crime is to promote and defend the classic American values of faith, family and freedom.”

Putting aside the logical fallacy that criticism = giving someone a license to shoot, the fact is the Southern Poverty Law Center didn't label the Family Research Council as a hate group because “they disagree with them on policy” or because they “defend the classic American values of faith, family, and freedom.” If that were the case, they would have put Focus on the Family on the hate group list, or the National Organization for Marriage. Both of these groups teach that homosexuality is a sin and lobby against gay marriage.

The stated reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has put the Family Research Council on the hate group list since 2010 is, according to their website

“because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage……We criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is ‘a homosexual problem’”

And because

"An FRC official has said he wanted to ‘export homosexuals from the United States.’ The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”

It’s one thing to say the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and I oppose gay marriage. It’s another thing to say these people are out to get your children! It’s like when Kirk Cameron pegged homosexuals as “destructive to so many of the foundations of Western Civilization” , and then cried foul when the “liberal” media called him out on it. You can’t single out a group of people as a threat to civilization, and then cast yourself in the role of a victim when people suggest that your words are hate speech.

I believe that we in the American evangelical community are guilty of a persecution complex. Which is sad, because I’ve been to countries where New Testament believers are actually persecuted, like the videos my teachers used to show me in Junior High. The believers I've met in these countries often live quiet and peaceful lives, sharing their faith and loving the people that torture them and rat them out to the police. They’re the ones the Apostle Peter talked about, who “do good and suffer” and “take it patiently.” This, according to Peter “is commendable before God.”

New Testament believers living in places that actually persecute religious minorities often suffer for simply being who they are, and their suffering, when taken patiently for following in the footsteps of Christ, who “when reviled, did not revile in return” is commendable before God.

I’m not sure that “persecuted” Christians in America can say the same thing.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Avoiding the R-Word

When Mitt Romney stood before a group of supporters in Israel and declared that cultural superiority and divine providence are the reasons behind the economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians, the corporate-sponsored “liberal” U.S. media called his remark ignorant, insensitive, and a “gaffe, but other than taking the indirect route of quoting Palestinian leaders, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American journalist with the moral fiber to call the remark what it actually was. When it comes to the R-word, the U.S. media bows to the sacred cow of silence. Nobody wants to say the word racist anymore.

True, the word racist is loaded. The word conjures up images of attack dogs, fire hoses, church bombings, guys in creepy robes riding horses in the dead of night torching homes, not to mention Hitler, neo-Nazis, skinheads, the Help. Given the historical baggage associated with the word racist, it’s understandable that in America today, when somebody throws the R-word out to denounce the words of another, the shame more often goes to the accuser, not the accused.

That’s exactly the problem.

Because the word racist is so often associated with its most obvious manifestations, it’s difficult to call into question the racial views of another, even when their words and actions reflect a worldview that says that God favors one group of people over another.

When it comes to Israelis and Palestinians there are, of course, other complicating factors. Jews for centuries have suffered horrific atrocities under the banner of racism. Academic circles endlessly debate whether Zionism is racism, or whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The words Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people are synonymous for many people, making it difficult to criticize one without criticizing the other. To make things even more complicated, the very concept of the Jewish people’s “chosen-ness” comes straight from the Torah, which both Jews and Christians revere as the Word of God.

As complicating as these factors are, at the end of the day we’re left with a socio-political-religious ideology that says that God favors one group of people over another, and when God’s favored people (Israel) happen to exhibit near total military and economic control over the other (Palestinians), it’s entirely appropriate to call into question the moral implications of such an ideology, and to raise the question of whether it might be considered racist.

While Romney was for sure attempting to rake in some cash and shore up the Jewish vote, it’s no secret that any comment that praises Israel and insults Palestinians might be considered a wink and a nod to the supposed “evangelical” base of the Republican Party. The dominant media narrative is that evangelical is synonymous with Christian Zionist. Christian Zionists believe that God obligates them to support the state of Israel—including the expansion of Jewish settlements—because any nation that refuses to do so will be cursed. Palestinians are an invented people that don’t exist in their view, so when their homes and orchards are demolished to pave the way for new settlements, it doesn’t matter because Palestinians (who don’t exist) are trespassers on land that God says belongs to the Jewish people. Christian Zionists oppose a two-state solution and they want Israel to permanently occupy the West Bank and Gaza strip.

This is the ideology that Romney was trying to appease by insulting Palestinians. And make no mistake about it. Romney’s remark was an insult. Romney says that his remarks were mischaracterized, but in what universe does telling an entire people that they’re culturally inferior to another people not an insult?

Sorry Mr. Romney, you can’t blame the media on this one.

As for my evangelical friends that Romney was trying to please, if you’re not at war with the Muslim world, if you believe that following Jesus means challenging racial and religious prejudice, if you believe that loving your neighbor includes practicing nonviolence and combating Islamophobia, if you believe that Jesus calls you to work for the peace, safety, and well-being of all people, without distinction of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, then I invite you to register for the Evangelicals for Peace Summit coming up on September 14th in Washington D.C.

It’s time to reclaim our faith.