Saturday, October 22, 2016

Evangelicals dump Trump

With the US election only two weeks away as I am writing this, I hesitated about writing another post about Donald Trump. We are so offended by him that in our house that we have started referring to him as, "He whose name will not be mentioned." However, I do want to mention this letter from a large number of evangelical leaders which expresses much of what I would want to say in the waning days of the election campaign. Even though I am not an American, I feel strongly that Christians, as well as all people of faith, must speak out strongly against what this man stands for. 

At the beginning of October, a very diverse group of evangelical Christians published a letter condemning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his candidacy. In it they argue that his campaign "affirms racist elements in white culture" and is, therefore, unacceptable to them as Christians.

The letter, which was signed by nearly 80 prominent evangelical leaders, thinkers, authors, and pastors, decries Trump’s attacks on women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and the disabled, saying such vitriol is an affront to the Christian faith. The signatories say they reflect a more diverse coalition of evangelicals than what is often portrayed in the media or has been courted by Trump:
A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of ‘evangelical’ with mostly white, politically conservative, older men" the statement reads. "We are not those evangelicals.

They describe themselves as diverse in ethnicity, gender, age, denomination, churches, and political orientation. They are also growing. They add. "Given the rich diversity within our unity, we call upon the political world to hear all our voices, and for the media to acknowledge that the evangelical community is quite diverse."

They explain: "As evangelical Christians, we believe our hope and allegiance rests in the person of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, and Lord of our lives."  For this reason, they insist they are not partisan, although some people dismiss them that way. That is not fair, as they add:
That is why no politician, party, movement, or nation can ever command our ultimate loyalty. As citizens both of the Kingdom of God and this world, we vote with humility, knowing that our favored candidates always fall short of biblical values. We recognize that despite our unity in Christ, we will inevitably disagree about which political stances come closest to the heart of God for our nation.
But this letter was prompted by the candidacy of Donald Trump. They begin by declaring: "Imperfect elections and flawed candidates often make for complicated and difficult choices for Christians. But sometimes historic moments arise when more is at stake than partisan politics--when the meaning and integrity of our faith hangs in the balance. This is one of those moments."

Trump's campaign, they insist "is the most recent and extreme version of a history of racialized politics that has been pursued and about which white evangelicals, in particular, have been silent." They bemoan that silence and attribute the current political environment to it.

They conclude with the affirmation:"We, undersigned evangelicals, simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and : gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled, no matter how else we choose to vote or not to vote."  And they invite other evangelicals to join them in this declaration.

While the signatories had no shortage of criticism for Trump, they carefully avoided endorsing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That is an indication of their non-partisanship. This letter is directed against Trump, not the Republican party, although Republicans chose him as their candidate. In this election, some Democrats and Independents will also vote for Trump. That is to whom this letter is addressed, not to the parties as such.

Evangelical leaders, like all other voters, should be allowed to voice their political preferences publically. The signers of this declaration did so publically, but in a private capacity and not as a representative of any church.

Churches as institutions, have to tread carefully so that the gospel is not used for political ends. That would be a misuse of the gospel. But there are times when the gospel compels people to action. That is the case now, as these evangelical leaders insist:
Because we believe that racial bigotry has been a cornerstone of this campaign, it is a foundational matter of the gospel for us in this election, and not just another issue. This is not just a social problem, but a fundamental wrong. Racism is America's original sin. Its brazen use to win elections threatens to reverse real progress on racial equity and set America back.
That is bold language. It requires courage to speak so boldly, but sometimes the times demand it. This is what the Barmen Declaration did in 1934. The Theological Declaration of Barmen, to give it its full title, was a document adopted by Christians in Nazi Germany who opposed the German Christian) movement. 

In the view of the delegates to the Synod that met in the German city of Barmen in May 1934, German Christians had corrupted church government by making it subservient to the state and had introduced Nazi ideology that contradicted the Christian gospel into the German Protestant churches.

The Declaration was mostly written by the Reformed theologian Karl Barth but was modified as a result of input from several Lutheran theologians. I do not mean to imply that Trump's campaign should be equated with the Nazis, but rather that the racism that Trump trumpets demands a similar response from Christians today.

Racism and misogyny and the other activities (read, sins) that Trump tries to make respectable have no place in the public square where politics is played, much less in the churches where believers go to hear the gospel. But that same gospel can and, indeed, must also proclaimed in the public square.

Contrary to what some evangelical Christians maintain, religion and politics do mix. Religion influences politics and politics influences religion. Most of us would agree since there are many historical examples that can be adduced to prove their mutual influence. They do mix.

I admit that politics should not play a role in the church and the church as an institution should not interfere in politics. But that does not mean that Christians must desert the public square and avoid politics. That would be foolish. That way politics is left to non-Christians (such a Donald Trump).

Christians, whether individually or as a group, can and should speak out in the public square since that is where politics is done. That is what those who signed this letter have done. They write: 
We see this election as a significant teachable moment for our churches and our nation to bring about long-needed repentance from our racial sin. Out of this belief, we have written this declaration, inviting you to be part of what we have learned from one another and long to see in the churches and the world—a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human lives.

And thus they invite others to join them in their protest: "We invite you to stand with us, join in this declaration, and pass it along to your friends, congregants, pastors, students, and the diverse evangelical church." 

Instead of condemning these leaders, as some have done, you and I should add our signatures to this long and growing list. More than 80 people have signed the published version. Others have done by signing the petition at I invite you to affix your name to this important document before the election. You can do so by using this link just as I did.

If you are an American, you can also cast a vote against Trump by voting for one of the other candidates. If you don't want to vote for Clinton, you can leave that part of the ballot blank. The important thing is this: don't vote for Trump!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ukraine and Turkey: Divided, yet Connected

I have not written any posts for several weeks because of a trip to Ukraine and Turkey. This was for both business and family reasons. It offered me some new insights into the situation of both countries. I visited both Kyiv and Istanbul, as well as a Ukrainian city in the Russian-speaking zone. I have been in both countries before, yet every time much has changed. I did not visit Crimea, but it is very much involved.

Ukraine and Turkey are very close -- one can fly from Kyiv to Istanbul in two hours -- but they are also very far apart. Their histories are closely intertwined, and yet they might as well be living on different planets. The Black Sea, on which these two countries are located, both unites them and also separates them.

There is more. Ukraine belongs to the Orthodox Christian world, while Turkey has been Muslim since 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Yet almost five hundred years before this, at the time of Vladimir the Great, Orthodoxy was chosen as the religion of what is today Russia and Ukraine after Vladimir's emissaries reported that in Constantinople they had been transported into heaven.

Turkey is where the seven churches of Revelation were located. This is where the Christian Church flourished initially. This is the home of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Ecumenical Patriarch still makes his home in Istanbul. I have visited this church several times. But is dwarfed by all the mosques that now tower over the city. It is obvious which religion controls the city. Today Ukraine is Christian and Turkey Muslim.

They are also divided ethnically. Ukrainians are predominantly Slavs and Turks are mostly Turkish. Their languages are not related. Ukraine is itself divided into Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking sectors. The latter constitute about 30% of the population, although nearly everyone learns Russian in school, but that is now changing.

What surprised me during my stay in Ukraine is the response of the Russian-speakers to the annexation of Crimea and the attempt to absorb may of the Russian-speaking areas. These people, almost unanimously, have sided with Ukraine.

Ukrainian nationalism is at an all-time high. Ukrainian flags are everywhere and the names of cities and town have been changed to their Ukrainian form. Signs on the streets are in Ukrainian and English, while the use of Russian has been reduced.

In Crimea, which was Ukrainian until Russia annexed it 2014, there is a sizable Tatar community who speak a language that is related to Turkish. These Tatars do not like the Russians. There are historical reasons for their animosity. The Crimea plays a crucial role in this history, which is worth examining in some detail.

The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation at the time of the Crimean Khanate, which was a Turkic-speaking Muslim state that was among the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the beginning of the 18th century. The Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, now make up 12 percent of the population of Crimea.

The Crimean Tatars mostly adopted Islam in the 14th century and thereafter Crimea became one of the centers of Islamic civilization. The Khanate was officially a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire with great autonomy after 1448. The Tatars ruled the Black Sea peninsula until the Russians conquered it in the 18th century.

The Russo-Turkish War (1768–74) resulted in the defeat of the Ottomans by the Russians, and according to the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774) signed after the war, Crimea became independent and Ottomans renounced their political right to protect the Crimean Khanate. After a period of political unrest in Crimea, Russia violated the treaty and annexed the Crimean Khanate in 1783.

A treaty signed between the Russian and Ottoman Empires on April 19, 1783 transferred Crimea from Ottoman to Russian control The treaty promised that if Crimea ever became independent or was transferred to a third party, it should fall under the control of the Ottomans once more. The Turkish government chose not to pursue such a claim in 1991 when Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union.

This claim was made by the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, which argued that if the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced its independence, then it falls under Turkish rule. However, the first article to actually make the claim regarding the 1783 treaty came from Ceylan Ozbudak, a television presenter and political analyst based in Istanbul, on March 1, 2014, who wrote for Al Arabiya,

She used that claim as the backdrop for her opinions on what steps the current Turkish government should take in mediating the dispute between Russia and Crimea. Unfortunately, the treaty did not, contrary to these claims, transfer Crimea to Russian control, nor did it promise that it should go to the Ottomans if Crimea  became independent.

In fact, the treaty actually guarantees the independence of Crimea and says nothing of its possible transfer to Ottoman rule. This claim is an example of sloppy journalism. Sources should always be carefully checked. Yet many Turks, including those who are well-versed in Turkish politics, still believe this, probably because Turks want t believe it.

The Crimean Tatars do have more than one bone to pick with Russia. In May 1944, shortly after Soviet troops drove German forces from Crimea, Josef Stalin accused the Tatars of collaborating with the enemy and ordered their deportation. About 250,000 Tatars were shipped in freight trains to Central Asia, where more than 40 percent died of hunger and disease.

Many Tatars later returned to Crimea in the years before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to Crimea becoming part of an independent Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned against the Crimean Tatars "becoming pawns" in disputes between countries, in particular between Russia and Ukraine.
Though Russia has control over the peninsula, its sovereignty remains disputed as Ukraine and the majority of the international community consider the annexation illegal. A range of international sanctions remain in place against Russia and a number of named individuals as a result of the events of 2014.
In March 2014, following the ousting of the Ukrainian president in the Ukrainian revolution and the subsequent takeover of the region by pro-Russian separatists and Russian special forces, local authorities held a referendum on "reunification with Russia", the official result of which was a large majority in support. The Tatars, understandably, did not agree.

The Russian Federation then officially annexed Crimea and now administers it as two federal subjects: the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. Ukraine does not recognize the annexation and, backed by most of the international community, continues to assert its right over the peninsula.

With so much both uniting Ukraine and Turkey as well as dividing it, it is no wonder that Crimea continues the focal point of these disputes. There are many reasons why Turkey sides with Ukraine, in spite of the latter's many ties with its Slavic and Orthodox neighbor and the enormous differences there are between Turkey and Ukraine.

Yet there is much that continues to tie these two countries, much of it revolving around Crimea. By visiting Ukraine and Turkey, I have gained a deeper insight into these two countries and their relationship to each other, especially because of Crimea.

Religion and politics are intertwined in the relationship between Ukraine and Turkey. Turkey may be cozying up to Russia at present, but its historical ties are with Ukraine. They are not married to each other, but could be, if history were the gauge. Another lesson I learned is that Crimea should become independent again. That is one way to resolve the problem raised by the Russian annexation.

Ukraine and Turkey are divided, but there is much that connects them.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mother Theresa: Sinner or Saint?

Mother Theresa was canonized by Pope Francis at a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of people on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. About 1,500 homeless people from all over Italy attended. The ceremony was also streamed online on the Vatican channel. She is now officially known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

In the Catholic Church,the title "Saint" denotes a person who has been formally canonized, that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church and is therefore believed to be in heaven, A "saint" is anyone in heaven, whether recognized on earth or not. The Catholic Church teaches that it does not "make" or "create" saints, but rather recognizes them upon proof of their "holiness" or likeness to God

Formal canonization is a lengthy process, often of many years or even centuries, The first stage in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life by an expert. After this, the official report on the candidate is submitted to the bishop of the pertinent diocese and more study is undertaken. The information is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See for evaluation at the level of the universal Church.

If the application is approved, the candidate may be granted the title "Venerable". Further investigation may lead to the candidate's beatification with the title "Blessed". Next, and at a minimum, proof of two important miracles obtained from God through the intercession of the candidate are required for formal canonization as a saint. These miracles must be posthumous.

Finally, after all of these procedures are complete, the Pope may canonize the candidate as a saint for veneration by the universal Church. For Mother Theresa all these steps, including the two miracles, were fulfilled, and thus she was canonized.

Canonization of Saint Theresa of Calcuta on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, on 26 August 1910. Her family was of Albanian descent. At the age of twelve, she felt strongly the call of God. She knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months' training in Dublin she was sent to India, where on 24 May 1931 she took her initial vows as a nun.

The suffering and poverty she glimpsed in Calcutta made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums there.

On 7 October 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, The Missionaries of Charity, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965, the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.

The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees.

Mother Teresa's work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world. She has received numerous  awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding. She also received the Balzan Prize and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given instead to the poor in India, that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. 

When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." Building on this theme in her Nobel Lecture, she said: "Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove."
Mother Teresa died on 5 September 1997.  The Holy See then began the process that would lead towards canonization. Her postulator, the person who guides a cause for beatification or canonization through the judicial processes, has said, "We didn’t have to prove that she was perfect or never made a mistake.," but he did have to prove that Teresa was of heroic virtue.

A saint is still a sinner,  as Martin Luther affirmed when he penned the famous Latin phrase: "Simul Iustus et Peccator." By this he meant that while a Christian is legally declared to be righteous in the sight of God on the basis of Christ’s perfect work, they will continue to commit sin in this life. Until they are glorified, Christians are both saints and sinners.

In traditional Christian iconography, saints are often depicted with halos, a symbol of holiness; note how Judas Iscariot at the forefront is the only apostle without a halo.

The same is true of Mother (now Saint) Teresa. According to some of her critics, her clinics have  received millions of dollars in donations, yet their conditions were criticized for a shortage of medical care, systematic diagnosis, and necessary nutrition. They charged that "Mother Teresa believed the sick must suffer like Christ on the cross."

One of Teresa's most outspoken critics was Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in a 2003 article, "This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction." He has also accused her of accepting contributions from dictators.

Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly 50 years until the end of her life, during which "she felt no presence of God whatsoever, neither in her heart or in the Eucharist." 

Her postulator reported that Mother Teresa expressed grave doubts about God's existence and pain over her lack of faith: "Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul."

He thought that some might misinterpret her meaning, but for him her faith that God was working through her remained undiminished, and that while she pined for the lost sentiment of closeness with God, she did not question his existence. He compared her comments to the 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross, who coined the term the "Dark Night of the Soul." According to him, other saints have had similar experiences of spiritual dryness, .

That believers are both saints and sinners, as acknowledged by Luther, is widely affirmed in most Christian denominations. Protestants typically use the word "saint" to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar to how the Apostle Paul in his letters addresses the recipients as "saints" or holy people.

All Christians need to be aware that they are at the same time both saints and sinners. That knowledge keeps them humble and consciously dependent upon God’s grace. If they refuse to identify themselves as sinners as well as saints, they risk the danger of deceiving themselves about their sins. That is part of the paradox of the Christian life.

Someone who fails to see this is likely to end up blind to their sins and embrace a form of self-righteousness, but they may also tragically break down in a state of spiritual depression when the presence of sin in their life becomes apparent despite their best efforts to live the Christian life.

For whatever reason, Mother Therese experienced depression much of her life. Yet she lived an amazing and productive life. "Simul Iustus et Peccator" is what she experienced in a very personal way. She is both saint and sinner, as are all Christians.

Should Christians vote for Trump? Part Two: Jesus, Trump and Poverty

This is the second of a series on why Christians (and other people of faith) should not vote for Donald Trump.

In the first part of this series I contrasted the humility of Jesus with that of Trump. Who would you vote for, I asked: Jesus or Trump? I stated there that these two men couldn’t be more different; they are polar opposites from each other, and thus I wondered how they can have so many worshipers in common; that is beyond belief.

One is the epitome of humility while the other is an arrogant and narcissistic fool. Unfortunately, many of Trumps supporters overlook his failings because they feel he is one of them. They identify with him. But how can they do that when the difference between them is like day and night?

But there many more areas where these two men differ. For that, I want to return to Luke 14, where the story is told of a dinner at the house of a Pharisee that Jesus attended. In the first part of the story, he had criticized the Jewish leaders for their arrogance in choosing the best seats at the dinner table.

But Jesus wasn't finished yet with his dinner-time lesson. He also criticized his host who had invited him and the other Jewish leaders for inviting only their friends, relatives, and other rich people to their dinners. He told them off for not inviting the poor and the disabled, who need a dinner. Besides, they can't return the favor.

What he told them is the gospel: it is good news for the poor. The poor are the ones who ought to be invited. They are the ones who deserve an invitation and not those rich, arrogant fools who think they are better than anyone else. “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

Is this the Jesus we can expect when Trump is president?

Psalm 122: 9 contrasts two very different attitudes to the poor. On the one hand, there are those of whom the psalmist says, "They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor." But of the wicked, the psalmist says, "The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing."

The poor were excluded from this dinner. The disabled had also been excluded by the Jewish leaders. However, in Jesus' kingdom, as I have explained in a previous post, the poor and those who are disabled will receive special attention. The kingdom of Jesus is an up-side-down kingdom where different values are observed. There is no room in that kingdom for those who do not welcome the poor and the disabled. Jesus here is not only giving a lesson on humility but also on hospitality.

Right after these two lessons in Luke 14, Jesus taught a parable about a great banquet to which many people have been invited. However, some people gave excuses because they did not want to attend. Jesus himself is the one who has issued the invitation to this great eschatological banquet. Many have been invited, but a special invitation is reserved for the poor and disabled.

Only those who are arrogant and unconcerned about the poor and disabled are excluded -- or better, they have excluded themselves. They claim they are too busy to come. That sounds a lot like Donald Trump, doesn't it? What would his excuse be? I am too busy running for the presidency? Anyway, Trump is interested only in money! He  doesn't have time for God.

I am telling this biblical story because this post is intended especially for those in the US who claim to be followers of Jesus but are intent on voting for Trump. To them, I say this: You must choose one or the other of these two; you cannot serve both at the same time.

On the issue of the poor, Trump's record is poor. He has affirmed his support for the poor on many occasions: He has stated: "In fact, actually, the people I resonate best with are poor people and people that are really blue collar. That seems to be a base that I have. I have a tremendous base. Those are the people that like me. …I think the people that like me the least are the rich people."

Indeed, the poor do love Trump, but he doesn't reciprocate. Incredibly, he has told a newspaper that he thinks poor people, the people want to vote for him, are morons, His policies are intended to help the rich, not the middle class, much less the poor, in spite of what he says about loving the poor.

Trump has been called the wealthy poor boy. He is fabulously wealthy; He owns homes in Manhattan; Palm Beach; upstate New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Rancho Palos Verdes, California; as well as hotels, apartment buildings and resorts all over the planet. He even has his own fleet of planes, all bearing the Trump label. But he is not an advocate for the poor.

Yet he is poor: he doesn't realize his need for God. He attributes his wealth to the American work ethic. He regards himself as self-made man (with a little help from his daddy). Thus he is critical of welfare and extols the value of work:
That's what I find so morally offensive about welfare dependency: it robs people of the chance to improve. Work gives every day a sense of purpose. A job well done provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. I love to work. In fact, I like working so much that I seldom take vacations. Because I work so hard, I've been privileged to create jobs for tens of thousands of people. And on my hit show "The Apprentice", I get to work with people from all works of life. I'm known for my famous line, "You're fired!" But the truth is, I don't like firing people. Sometimes you have to do it, but it's never fun or easy. One of my favorite parts of business is seeing how work transforms people into better, more confident, more competent individuals. It's inspiring and beautiful to watch.

Both Trump and Hilary Clinton have this in common: both promise to help Americans find jobs, but neither has said much about helping people while they are not working. The US has the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to them. It’s not at all unusual for people running for president not to talk about poverty, but that does not excuse Trump from not siding openly with the poor. Sadly, Clinton is no better.

In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan, gives a voice and presence in the public square to the poor of America. He helps to explain why in the poorest parts of  West Virginia you can see nothing but TRUMP signs. Vance explains that these people -- his people -- are struggling, but laments the fact that not a single political candidate speaks to those struggles. Not even Trump.

Trump uses the poor just as he does other groups. They support him, but that support is not deserved if measured by what he has done for them: Zero! Nada! In fact, he has consistently made their situation worse and continues to do so.

Trump has filed for bankruptcy four times, which makes him the top filer in recent decades. All of them involved hotels and casinos and all were Chapter 11 restructurings, which lets a company stay in business while shedding debt it owes to banks, employees, and suppliers. He makes no apologies for having much of his debt wiped ou. "These lenders aren't babies," he says,"These are total killers,"  He should look at himself in the mirror, then he will see a morally-bankrupt person who does not deserve to become president.

His bankruptcy is also illustrated by his refusal to pay suppliers and workers on numerous occasions. That is how he treats the poor who work for him. According to Forbes, his trade policies threaten to make the poor even poorer. Indeed, in that event, all Americans will become poorer. Trump doesn't care, as long as he can continue to make money.

Who has demonstrated more concern for the poor: Jesus or Trump? What a question! When Jesus began his ministry, he told his listeners that he has been appointed to preach good news to the poor. He demonstrated his love for them by sacrificing himself on the cross.

In contrast, Trump is a narcissistic egoist who has never demonstrated any genuine concern for the poor, except as part of a staged political ploy. The man is a hypocrite! Some people have even compared him with the Anti-Christ. That might be a bit unfair, but he is an evil man who no person of faith should support.

Whom will you choose? You cannot serve both of them at the same time. You must either follow Jesus and reject Trump at the ballot box, or you may vote for Trump, but then you will be denying Jesus. That is how stark the choice is. You cannot serve both God and money. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians think they can, but they are wrong.

If you truly love God, you must also love the poor. That is what God commands all believers. Therefore, there is only one choice you can make on Election Day. To do anything else would be blasphemous. Don't join Trump in his blasphemy and evil deeds!

Instead, vote for the poor. If only the name of Jesus would be on the ballot, that would make voting so much easier. But this year you can still vote for the poor by not voting for Trump.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Should Christans vote for Trump? Part One: Jesus, Trump, and Humility

I want to begin a new series of posts asking the question: Should Christiansvote for Donald Trump? The idea came out of a sermon that I recently delivered. There I did not make the comparison directly, but it was implied. Here I want to make it explicitly. I am a Canadian and thus cannot vote in the US, but I am troubled that so many American fellow believers support Trump. My contention is that one cannot be a Christian and at the same time support a man whose behavior is so contrary to the Christian faith. 

Jesus or Trump? These two men couldn’t be more different. They are polar opposites from each other. How they can have so many worshipers in common is beyond belief. According to many  polls, three-fourths of Evangelicals (who belong to many Christian denominations) want Donald Trump to become the next president. They love him!

However, Trump is someone who has been divorced several times, mocks the disabled, denigrates women, engages in juvenile name-calling, disparages Mexicans and Muslims, encourages Russia to hack the emails of Americans, and -- most notably -- has devoted his life to the accumulation of money. How can so many Christians vote for him?

As the election date draws closer, I want to do what I can to persuade them otherwise. I also want to encourage those who despair when they witness his egregious behavior. Today I want to contrast Trump and Jesus. That is not a fair comparison, of course, since Jesus is incomparably greater than Trump, no matter what the latter thinks of himself.

I want to contrast them in terms of humility. In future posts, I want to raise other areas where they differ greatly and thus force Christians, especially Evangelicals, to re-examine their support for Trump.

One is the epitome of humility while the other is an arrogant and narcissistic fool. Unfortunately, many of Trumps supporters overlook his failings because they feel he is one of them. They identify with him. But how can they do that when the difference between them is like day and night?

The gospel writer Luke, in chapter 14,  tells the story of Jesus attending a dinner at the house of a Jewish leader. Jesus noticed how each of the guests had picked the best places at the dinner table. They thought they were the most important and therefore they deserved the place of honor. 

Jesus reprimanded them for this attitude. He may have been thinking of Proverbs 25:6-7: "Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble."

Jesus condemned the pride and arrogance of the Jewish leaders, as is clear from the next verses where he says those who had sought the most important place would be told to move to a lower place much further from the host. Imagine what the other guests must have thought of Jesus' remark. They must have been highly offended. 

Jesus chose this dinner as the place to teach a lesson to these stuffed shirts. I can think of many people today who would be equally offended. Trump, in particular, would probably have said to Jesus, “You are fired!” There are more like him, however, in every walk of life. However, they do not make the sort of leaders people should try to emulate.

Jesus did not always observe the norms of society. He broke the rules, if necessary, so that he could usher in his kingdom. That kingdom is a new creation, one that is very different from the kingdom of the world that we see all around us. So much so that his kingdom has been called the up-side-down kingdom. 

In that kingdom there is no place for those who are proud and arrogant. The kingdom of Jesus is reserved for those who are truly humble. Humility is the chief entrance requirement. Without this as passport one cannot enter.

The Jewish leaders did not understand that. Nor does Trump. He wants to set up his own kingdom. His is a kingdom of this world. It has totally different values. Trump claims to be a Christian, but his arrogant behavior indicates he is from from the kingdom of Jesus.

The apocryphal book of Sirach describes pride and its consequences very well. Listen to these words from Sirach 10:12-18, which is there for our edification:
The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely. The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place. The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth. He removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth. Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.

What is humility? The dictionary is not helpful. There it is defined as the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” The Greek word tapeinophrosýnē is used several times in the New Testament  where it often interpreted as having a modest opinion of oneself.” But that is not correct either.

Humility is not a denial of our talents and gifts but is our recognition of them. It expresses our desire to live up to our worth and do something even greater. It is in the service to others that the greatest form of humility is demonstrated. In the Old Testament, Moses especially is cited for his humility. See Numbers 12: "And Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face of the earth."

True humility involves submitting oneself totally to God. It means recognizing the virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one's own, and giving due honor and obedience to them.

It also means recognizing the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, therefore, not reaching for what is beyond one's grasp. In the up-side-down kingdom that Jesus ushered in, humility does not mean self-effacement, but putting God first.

Humility is the opposite of pride. As C.S.Lewis famously put it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” 

Jesus is presented as the prime example of humility in Philippians 2:1-11:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In Luke, Jesus prophesied what would happen when people humble themselves and when they don't:: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus practiced true humility! He submitted himself totally, just as Jesus did.

Such submission, as Islam recognizes as well in its name, is the essence of humility. Those who are truly humble, submit themselves to God and they so so by serving others. I just can't see Trump doing that!

Mother Theresa, whom many people would acknowledge as a truly humble person and even a saint, has described several ways that people can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one's self. To mind one's own business. Not to want to manage other people's affairs. To avoid curiosity. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To accept insults and injuries. To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one's dignity. To choose always the hardest.
On this scale, Trump would fail miserably. He would fail even more miserably when compared to Jesus. Trump's character, as displayed in his speeches and lifestyle, contradicts the humility that Jesus displayed. personally and that he demands of his followers.

My question is: how can anyone support a person whose arrogance has become proverbial? Trump's behavior is the antithesis of that of Jesus. How can people who consider themselves Christians follow Trump rather than Jesus? One cannot serve both of them!

There are many good people of faith in the US who will band together in November to defeat Trump and his divisive agenda. The list is long. It includes both Christians and non-Christians. There are also many humanists, atheists, and agnostics, not to forget the one-fourth of those who label themselves as Evangelicals.

Even some of the last named group, who together probably consider themselves among the most ardent followers of Jesus, may yet desert Trump at the last minute. Would that everyone would desert him! That is my hope and fervent prayer!

Please join me in spreading this message. Christians (and indeed all people of faith) should not vote for Trump. He does not deserve to become the next American president.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bigots, Mosques, and Burkinis

The poster says everything we need to know about those who published it: they are bigots. Bigots are people who are utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.  There are many such people all over the world. In this poster, they blame Muslims for every act of terrorism; they equate Islam and terrorism. This is Islamophobia.

Their intolerance is on display on a daily basis. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have accused each other of being bigots, but that epithet belongs properly only to one of them, arch-bigot  Trump. Almost every word that spews out of his mouth smacks of bigotry, whether directed against women, Mexicans, Afro-Americans, veterans, or Muslims, Muslims are demonized the most.

Islamophobia is increasingly rampant in many countries to judge from recent news reports. Muslim groups seeking to build mosques to accommodate their growing numbers of followers are encountering vehement opposition in communities across the US and elsewhere in the world. Trump'has now moved Islamophobia into the mainstream.

By linking Trump’s and the "alt-right" movement, Clinton says that he is "taking hate groups mainstream." This fringe movement is rampant with conspiracies and hate. Trumps attention has now offered the alt-right a new level of credibility as well as a valuable opportunity for fund-raising and recruiting.

Although Trump has publicly kept his distance from the alt-right, his critics have accused him of offering subtle cues to invite its support. The alt-right claims to endorse the preservation of white culture in the US. Its views are widely seen as white supremacist and anti-Semitic..In plain words, they are bigots. 

However, their bigotry is no longer hidden but is now openly displayed. Trumps rejection of political correctness and his tacit endorsement of alt-right has made bigotry respectable. Islamophobia can now be openly displayed and those who claim that 9/11 has taught them everything they need to know about Islam can haul out their signs again.

In the wake of perceived terrorist attacks in Europe and the US, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked. Attacks on mosques have become more frequent, and existing and proposed mosque sites have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts. There have also been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

Mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking, and noise levels, but those concerns are often pretexts and mask anti-Muslim sentiments. Bigotry is the real reason.

Government officials in some areas of the US have yielded to this religious bigotry by treating mosques and Islamic centers differently than other proposed houses of worship and denying zoning permits. Even where local governments strongly support religious freedom, private citizens nevertheless often seek to intimidate Muslims into forgoing the exercise of this freedom.

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US. The Pew Forum estimates that there are 3.3 million Muslims living in the US in 2016. But the most common figure that the US government uses is about six million. While specific figures may be debated, what cannot be disputed is the phenomenal growth of Islam. Since about 1990 the number of registered Islamic centers and mosques has tripled to more than 2,500.

Islamic Center of America, largest mosque in US in Dearborn MI

In France, there are currently 2,200 mosques, but that number needs to double within the nest few years, according to Muslim leaders. However, they believe local authorities in France are blocking applications to open or build mosques and prayer-rooms.

The demand for more mosques is unlikely to find favor with the French government, still struggling to work out common strategies with Muslim leaders to combat radicalization in France after a spate of shootings, starting with the one at Charlie Hebdo. The government is also concerned about a rise in support for the far-Right Front National.

In France as well, burkinis have been banned on beaches in several municipalities. Burkinis are designed in accord with Islamic traditions of modest dress. The suit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet, while still being light enough to enable swimming. It resembles a full-length wet suit with a built-in hood.

Those who support tthe burkini bans cite as reasons the observance of secularism, risks to public order and, sometimes directly, security, underscoring how sensibilities have quickened with France in a state of emergency living under what has been termed an "extremely high" terror threat.

Beneath the clash over how to dress, or undress, on the beaches of France simmers an issue that for decades has divided the nation, and grown more complex in this time of terrorism. At least a dozen towns have banned burkini swimwear. This is the latest skirmish in a long-running duel between some members of France's large Muslim population and the secular establishment.

The highest French administrative court has just ruled against the burkini bans, but that will not stop this war. The burkini has refueled the debate over the French principle of "laicite," or secularism. This debate is unlikely to go away.  And Muslims, who feel they lost ground over this controversial issue, aren't likely to forget.

Today, enshrined in the French constitution, secularism is still being defined, debated and clarified by politicians and experts. Some Muslims and non-Muslims alike maintain that the purpose of secularism is being thwarted and the principle transformed into an instrument to regulate the behavior of Muslims.

Modest swimwear and caps are used not only by some Muslims, but also by some orthodox Jews and conservative Christians. The original burkini was designed in 2004 by an Australian-Lebanese woman who wanted clothes for modest females to play sports. She says she created the garment to give women freedom, not to take it away.

While some women cover up because of religious teachings or men tell them to, others do so because of their own idea of modesty. Burkinis aren’t threats to the freedom of women;, but the laws that ban them are. At least the French court has sided with the women, even if many French people still support the ban.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Why is there so much hatred in the US?

Why is there so much hatred in the US? I don't mean hatred of the US, which is a well-known and often described issue, bur in it. During this US election period, which still has some months to go, I have rarely witnessed so much hatred directed against certain politicians, in particular, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, as well as certain ethnic and religious groups. This comes especially from supporters of Donald Trump.

This is public hatred, not just private. We all have things we hate and despise, but most of the time we don't publicize them. Public expressions of hatred against people are frowned upon. But what is currently happening in the US is excessive and indeed borders on hate speech, which is illegal. In the US, however, the First Amendment trumps (pun intended) any hate laws.

These people do not merely dislike certain people, they hate them. I happen to dislike both Clinton and Trump, but I do not hate them. These people, however, become apoplectic with hate. Their hatred of both Clinton and Obama can be described as irrational. They may be rational people most of the time, but not when it comes to these two Democrats whom they blame for everything that is wrong with America today.

One reason why there is such irrational hatred targeted toward anyone is because it makes people feel better. If your life sucks, it's easier to be a victim and say the President is making your life hard than to admit you just suck at life or made bad decisions.

Two days after Obama was re-elected, a fourth-grade boy asked Obama, "Why do people hate you? They’re supposed to love you. And God is love." "First of all," he told the boy, "I did get elected president, so not everybody hates me. What is true is if you were watching TV lately, it seems like everybody’s just getting mad all the time. And. you know, I think that you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt."

"And then," continued the President, "I think they’re worried about their own lives. A lot of people are losing their jobs right now. A lot of people are losing their health care or they’ve lost their homes to foreclosure, and they’re feeling frustrated. And when you’re president of the United States, you know, you’ve got to deal with all of that."

Obama touched on two important reasons for the hatred of some people, but his response doesn't address the irrational nature of their attitude to Obama and the woman who wants to replace him as president. There are other, perhaps more fundamental reasons for their seemingly irrational behavior. 

The problem lies in the polarized political system that prevails in the US. There are only two main parties and, under the first past the post system (FPP), each must curry favor with their core base, whether right or left (whatever those terms mean at any particular time).

 A system of proportional representation (PR) , in contrast, would allow for politicians to address the concerns of a wide spectrum of voters instead of forcing them to move to the extremes as under FPP.  PR is now being actively considered in Canada, although it is not clear that the federal government will adopt it since FPP produces more majorities. while FP often results in coalition governments.

But the main reason is that Republicans and Democrats live in different worlds. They watch different TV networks, listen to different radio programs and access different media. Never the twain shall meet. Both of these worlds are known for the lies they propagate. Truth is a slippery commodity, as Trump illustrates on an almost daily basis. Each side accuses the other of  lies and distortions, although one side seems to specialize in this dubious art. Just look at the survey above.

The two sides transcend the boundaries of the two main parties. Republicans and Democrats can be found on both sides, with the former predominating on one side -- the side that is infamous today for stretching the truth. Trump is the exemplar of this art, but that is another story for another time.

The worlds that these two sides represent differ as much as day does from night. The media on both sides paint diametrically opposite views of what is happening. Thus it is no wonder that the two sides are unable to communicate. with each other. They don;t speak the same language.  For example, one side describes the Obamas as one of the most wonderful and gracious couples ever to inhabit the White House, while the other side portrays them as the exact opposite.  Which is true?

Racism is the elephant in the room.  Many Americans are still not able to accept the reality of a black couple residing in the house that their slave-ancestors helped to build. These people cannot get their heads around a black person occupying the highest office in the land. They hate the Obamas and everything connected with them.

Race is the primary division for them. That is why American cities today have a black center and white suburbs. It is the opposite of an Oreo cookie. Until such racism is eliminated or at least controlled, black/white violence will remain an integral part of American life for many years to come. 

Hatred of groups such as blacks is perhaps even more widespread that that of individuals since it is often covert and sometimes unacknowledged. Islamophobia belongs in this category. So does homophobia and other similar phobias. Many people are unaware of their hatred of certain groups until Trump and others stoke their fears by presenting these groups as threats. The result is hate.

Many of the same people hate Hilary. She represents the elite in America who have deprived them of their jobs, their homes, their future as well as that of their children. They are hopeless, and thus they look for a scapegoat to bear the blame. 

Hilary fits the bill perfectly. She comes from a privileged background and is married to a former president who signed NAFTA, the trade agreement between Canada, the US, and Mexico, that many of them hold responsible for their miserable condition. They are angry and filled with hate for her and all Democrats.

The media trumpets their spiteful hatred. Having fed them lies and more lies, the media are now the vehicle for their self-proclaimed savior: Trump. He has fostered their anger and contributed to their hatred by encouraging them to use violence if necessary to derail Hilary's run for the White House and accession to the presidency.

Such hatred is not an entirely new phenomenon in the US. In the 1860s, Lincoln was so hated that half of the country announced they wanted out of the Union and fought a deadly civil war that ended with the nation intact, but Lincoln martyred. 

Nixon, Clinton, and George W. Bush have all received their share of derision. But the hatred that some Americans currently spew out is unnerving. How is such hatred possible? We can understand the intense hatred 150 or so years ago, when slavery was the issue. But today there is no similar issue. 
Not even abortion qualifies, since those who are opposed to abortion cannot justify such hatred in the name of protecting the unborn and still remain consistent in advocating the sacredness of life. But hatred can blind people who can hate nearly everything all in the name of love (as Newt does). Many Americans do that.

Hatred, however generated, is not justifiable. No major religion preaches hatred. Instead, their message is always love. Love alone can atone for all the hatred that is being spewed out on a daily basis. The fourth-grade boy who asked Obama, "Why do people hate you?" said correctly, " They’re supposed to love you. And God is love." 

I am reminded of the late Jack Layton, the noted Canadian politician, who penned these fine lines: "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."  Martin Luther King Jr. expressed similar sentiments about the primacy of love.

Love does drive out hate. That is the appropriate response to the hatred we continue to witness every day. We must set an example of love, not hatred. Love is the message the world needs to hear, not the hate-provoking rantings of Donald Trump. Love will change the world, not hate. Contrary to Trump, love will make America great again, not hate.

Why is there so much hatred in the US? There are many answers, but there is only one way to respond to hatred: love! Love of those in authority, love of groups, love of the other, and even love for those who spew hatred.  Love does change the world!