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June 24, 2016

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Illusory power’s seduction

Trump

Picture from: The Advocate (http//:www.advocate.com)

Perhaps power is the flame wooing some “evangelical” moths. They can’t help themselves – even when the flame is a bona fide proto-fascist liar, wife dumper, misogynist, strip-club owner, narcissistic megalomaniac, and Muslim and Mexican hater.

Such is my takeaway after sifting through the news of Donald Trump’s newly-appointed evangelical advisory board.  The Donald gushed: “I have such tremendous respect and admiration for this group and I look forward to continuing to talk about the issues important to Evangelicals, and all Americans, and the common sense solutions I will implement when I am President.”

Yeah. Sure.

Several on the board stressed that their membership should not be seen as an endorsement, but surely they could have anticipated lines like this Religion News Report lead: “Evangelical leaders have made their concerns about Donald Trump loud and clear. That is, until yesterday when prominent holdouts announced that they were joining Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.”

A Closer Look

First, notice who is not named. All of evangelicalism’s leading intellects are distinctly absent.  The presidents of Fuller, Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, Dallas, and Asbury theological seminaries aren’t there, nor are the current presidents or executive directors of any evangelical denomination.  Pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren are not there.  Jack Hayford is not there.  No Vineyard pastor is there. There is no representative from the governing board of the National Association of Evangelicals.

To repeat: The alliance representing some 40 evangelical denominations and a slew of churches and individual members is not at the table.

So who is named?  Some of the more famous include:

Richard Land: Southern Evangelical Seminary’s current president and the former head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He wrote this in Charisma News on March 3: “… it must be said, before it is too late, that whatever the problems may be, Donald Trump is not the answer. I fear that the millions of Americans who are putting their trust in Mr. Trump will be bitterly disillusioned if he were to obtain the nation’s highest office.” Land lost a lot of his evangelical mojo in 2012, when he said the Obama administration used the Trayvon Martin case to “gin up the black vote.” An investigation later found he often lifted his commentaries from others without attribution, hedging the ethics title in his commission.  He stepped down.

Why the shift, Dr. Land? How has Trump changed?

James Dobson: The founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, through which he baptized right wing politics in the name of Christ. Dobson resigned as Focus’s president and CEO in 2003 and stepped away from his role as chairman of the board in 2009, citing differences with his successor, Jim Daly (Daly veils his political preferences). Dobson once criticized both Rubio and Trump: After they “announced they would accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, we knew we could not support them.”

Dobson has always found the flame alluring.

Michele Bachmann: The former congresswoman and presidential candidate may be a sincere evangelical, but she is not an evangelical leader. There’s a difference.

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland: Kenneth is one of the architects of the “Health and Wealth Gospel,” which many evangelical denominations – including Pentecostals – have labeled a heresy.  They hosted a conference in January at which Rafael Cruz, father of the presidential candidate, preached. Copeland introduced the elder Cruz with these words: “I believe, with all my heart, that his son is called and anointed to be the next president of the United States.”

Has God changed his mind?

Tony Suarez: The executive vice president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference said this in November: “As Donald Trump once again reveals his true character we are one day closer to this embarrassing reality showing coming to an end. The only thing more embarrassing than this campaign is watching preachers who support Trump and even manipulate scripture to invent false prophecies regarding Trump. He’s not ‘the Trumpet.’”

Suarez has explained his board membership: “I feel that I can best serve the Body of Christ and the Latino community by coming to a table of reason, rather than exchanging rhetoric for rhetoric. For months, we’ve been asking Mr. Trump to not just build a wall, but to build a bridge between his campaign and the Latino community. The formation of the board and his invitation for me to be a part of it gives me hope…Should Hillary Clinton ask me to serve on an advisory board, I will gladly say ‘yes.’ So far, she hasn’t, but Mr. Trump has and he deserves credit for it.”

I don’t question his sincerity, but I would ask: Did you not anticipate how this would be seen? Or did the flame feel so warm and comfortable?

Paula White: Another Health and Wealth advocate and the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida. She co-founded Without Walls International, a Tampa megachurch that grew to 25,000, with her former husband, Randy. The couple separated in 2007. She admitted to an “inappropriate” relationship with faith healer Benny Hinn after her divorce – although she claimed they did not have an affair.

Ralph Reed: Him again.

Enough. See the full list below. Many have been Religious Right advocates for years, which prompted this June 21st tweet from Russell Moore, Land’s replacement at the Southern Baptist Religious Liberty Commission: “If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know.”

Flames Can Feel Good – at first

I understand the lure of the flame. I’ve touched it in my political involvement. Dropping in on senators and congressmen and rubbing shoulders with BCVIPSINW (Big Christian VIPS in Washington) gets heady very quickly. But then you peer into the lives of some BCVIPSINW and you find towering egos and spent marriages. The late David Kuo wrote all about it in his book, Tempting Faith. He talked about his own moral failures – including his divorce and fathering an out-of-wedlock child – while decrying Clinton’s immorality. Later, in the Bush years, he found that Republicans don’t take evangelicals that seriously.

Many evangelicals got burned in the unholy Religious Right. Fortunately, the vast majority refuse to be moths this time.

The full list:

  • Michele Bachmann – Former Congresswoman
  • R. Bernard – Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center
  • Mark Burns – Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center
  • Tim Clinton –President, American Association of Christian Counselors
  • Kenneth and Gloria Copeland – Founders, Kenneth Copeland Ministries
  • James Dobson – Author, Psychologist and Host, My Family Talk
  • Jerry Falwell, Jr. – President, Liberty University
  • Ronnie Floyd – Senior Pastor, Cross Church
  • Jentezen Franklin – Senior Pastor, Free Chapel
  • Jack Graham – Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
  • Harry Jackson – Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
  • Robert Jeffress – Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas
  • David Jeremiah – Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church
  • Richard Land – President, Southern Evangelical Seminary
  • James MacDonald – Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel
  • Johnnie Moore – Author, President of The KAIROS Company
  • Robert Morris – Senior Pastor, Gateway Church
  • Tom Mullins – Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship­
  • Ralph Reed –Founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition
  • James Robison– Founder, Life OUTREACH International
  • Tony Suarez – Executive VicePresident, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
  • Jay Strack – President, Student Leadership University
  • Paula White – Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center
  • Tom Winters – Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.
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June 17, 2016

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While the brash GOP explodes, the quiet Dems sink into oblivion

The earsplitting 2016 GOP presidential calamity is veiling another, slower-moving political meltdown that’s only made the back pages of a few news outlets.  It seems the Democratic Party is shriveling.  A few voices point out that the emperor has no clothes and call the party to shake hands with former constituencies – liberal pro-life voters and roll-up-their-sleeves workers. They have yet to be heard.

donkeyThe facts are somber: While there are still more registered Democrats than Republicans, three quarters of state legislatures and two thirds of all governorships are in GOP hands.  Those are the lowest figures since the Hoover Administration.

Democratic leaders like to think demographics are on their side. They’ll just bide their time and watch the swelling ranks of Latinos and African Americans and Asians grab the electoral helm and bring back the happy days of House and Senate dominance. Their confidence is misplaced. First, minorities often hold more conservative views on marriage and other so-called “family values;” second, they’re often more religious; and, third, they’re often pro-life. And they couldn’t care less about vegan recipes and other trendy items on the white progressive agenda. Who’s to say they’ll stay in the fold – especially if the Republicans recover their moderate-to-liberal wing?

Surely it is time for the Democratic National Committee to take off its blinders and see how it is alienating huge swaths of its former constituency and key parts of the Roosevelt coalition. Kristen Day, executive director for Democrats For Life of America, cited Hillary Clinton’s recent motif and posed a question: “Her theme for the last few days has been to make sure everyone is treated with respect, and no one is dismissed.” For starters, she could hold out an olive branch to one stream in that coalition: “How about the preborn and those in the Democratic Party who support life from womb to tomb?” She tossed in even more sobering statistics to enforce her point: “As the Democratic Party has calcified its position in support of abortion, the party continues to lose races. Democrats have lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers, and 11 governorships.”

Stephen Schneck points out that the former Roosevelt coalition has dissolved:

The biggest problem for the future of the party is the current issue profile.  That profile has shifted in our time from one about the working class and the economically disadvantaged to one that emphasizes the professional classes and the special interests of identity politics.  Over the last decade, that shift has proven to be a devastating liability for the party everywhere except in the bluest of blue Democratic districts.  As a result, increasingly the party’s electoral prospects are relegated to the Northeast and the West Coast.

Schneck asks: “So what should be done?” He answers: “The way forward lies partly in the party’s past and partly in America’s looming future. The way forward also depends in becoming the party of pragmatic governance.”

Dusting off the welcome mat for liberal prolife voters – Catholics embracing their church’s social teaching, for example – could be the entry onto the path toward the coalition’s renewal. Daniel K. Williams wrote about the prolife movement’s forgotten roots inDefenders of the Unborn: The Prolife Movement Before Roe v. Wade. Liberal Democrats often vigorously opposed abortion because they, after all, defended the defenseless (and who can be more defenseless than the unborn child?).

Organizations such as Democrats For Life of America are not so naïve as to think their party will suddenly leap out of the pro-choice camp; they have, however, repeatedly offered platform language that reaches out to the American majority who are queasy about both abortion and criminalizing it. They’re proposing the same language again.  Here it is:

We respect the conscience of each American and recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, such as abortion and the death penalty.  We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions on these and other issues.

However, we can find common ground.  We believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies.  We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available during pregnancy, including the support and resources needed for a successful pregnancy and subsequent adoption or parenthood; access to education, healthcare, and childcare; and appropriate child support.  We envision a new day without financial or societal barriers to bringing a planned or unplanned pregnancy to term.

Such language does not call for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which would be a Pyrrhic victory anyway because such a decision would not end legal abortions (abortion was a state issue before the ruling). Rather, it seeks to assist pregnant mothers so they can bring their pregnancies to term. That’s perfectly in line with Democratic thinking – or, at least, it once was.

Adopting such language would show the world the Democrats take their billing seriously: They’re the “Big Tent” party, the litmus-test free party, the party not just of NARAL and Planned Parenthood but of Robert Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, Thomas Eagleton, and Hubert Humphrey – all Democratic icons who were pro-life.

Such a move could be the first step is retrieving the party from single interests and placing it back in the hands of the “forgotten person,” which is what the Roosevelt coalition was all about.

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June 16, 2016

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Russell Moore slaps down slammer of religious freedom

Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, repeatedly shows he’s a gentleman and a scholar. Watch and listen as he responds to a pastor who, apparently, knows little of his own Baptist history and theology (Baptists have always advocated religious liberty). The question was posed in this form: I […]

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June 16, 2016

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Can we ever run away from politics?

I scoff at myself after each presidential election cycle and vow to be a good little clergyman next time: I will embrace sentiment behind the first line of a March interview with my favorite Catholic priest, Father James Martin, S.J.: “I try to stay as far away from political commentary as possible.” I’ll do it. It’ll […]

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May 3, 2016

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Mr. Self-Sufficient confronts his helplessness

Suddenly, I feel encircled by kind introverts in white smocks. They deliver good news, but I find myself enveloped in a peculiar angst, only relieved upon re-reading the story of a storm and a sleeping Messiah. Strange: prospects of healing spawn listlessness. Such are the irrational vicissitudes of the life dominated by mouth cancer, which […]

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April 30, 2016

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Finding light in a dark tunnel

Who would-a thunk it? A potentially fatal illness has spurred me back to life. I’m more like wax and less like clay — a fact I pondered as I arrived home after my third and final 5-day in-hospital chemotherapy stint for mouth cancer on April 3rd, cue-ball bald and talking like Daffy Duck with a Swiss-German […]

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March 25, 2016

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At the scene on Good Friday

Jesuit Father James Martin takes us on a virtual pilgrimage during Holy Week. This video is Day Five, featuring the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden of Gethsemane. All these videos are found at America Media’s youtube channel.  

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March 21, 2016

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The brats prevail as the GOP becomes the POB

They’re so soaked in shamelessness they don’t even see it: Senate “leaders” are folding their arms like pouting six-year-olds and refusing to unwrap President Obama’s gift. By all accounts, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland would be the justice’s justice. If he’s a radical, then Norman Rockwell was a Soviet mole. But the six-year-old Victorian gentry won’t even meet with the mild-mannered Garland. They’re gambling on a POB White House takeover (you might want to think about folding early, Mitch McConnell; things aren’t looking up). That’s obnoxious.

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March 20, 2016

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Celebrating with post-resurrection eyes

Palm Sunday is a celebration surrounded by clouds and rimmed with light …

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March 3, 2016

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Viewing the madness

I’ve been benched, forced to watch the GOP descent into xenophobic madness through chemotherapy’s haze.  I haven’t possessed the strength to drop in comments until now. Here are three observations, for what they’re worth: First, many point out that the aimless anger conjures images of a different era.  Dick Polman posted this on his Facebook […]

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