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Beware of Presidents Waving Bibles

The President of the United States holding up a Bible in front of a church, as he did moments ago in Washington, DC, may be the most disgusting and cynically manipulative thing I’ve seen in a long time.
What an unspeakable desecration of that sacred book. The President must take us for fools.

It’s time for serious Christians to stop allowing our faith, centered on the cross of Jesus Christ and calling for radical change of heart, to be used any more to endorse a particular political party or a particular strongman’s agenda.

The evangelical church in America must reclaim its moral and spiritual independence now, or it is going to be irrepairably discredited for generations to come.

The clearest evidence of genuine Christianity is that it speaks courageously and prophetically to all imperfect leaders and all political parties. It commends them when they do right, and calls them out when then don’t. A morally and spiritually strong church will call everyone alike to higher ideals of truth, decency, self-discipline and compassion. It never surrenders its spiritual freedom to one side or the other. It has only one leader.

For Jesus’s sake, fellow evangelicals, stop getting played. If you are offended or still unconvinced, read some history of European politics and the European churches in the 1930s and 1940s. If we don’t maintain our spiritual independence, what goes round could come around again.

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Dishonorable Evangelical Leaders

For a long time, the prevailing assumption in evangelical circles has been that you don’t call out your own. Evangelicals are the good guys, and you don’t criticize a brother. Such reticence to hold our own self-styled leaders responsible for what they say on behalf of our movement demands reconsideration.

The reputations of evangelical Christianity, and more seriously, the Christian faith itself, are being severely damaged–one fears, irrepairably–by the frequently fatuous, grossly untrue, and downright anti-Christian statements made, and attitudes espoused, by our so-called evangelical spokespersons.

Here is another example that has just gone viral. During a very recent interview, 88-year old Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), ventured to comment on the horrific torture and murder (and most likely, dismemberment) of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist, inside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul last week. The whole world is aghast at the brazen evil of the crime.

But Robertson calmly mused: “You’ve got a 100 billion dollars of arms sales . . . we’ve got to have some Arab allies . . . you don’t blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I’m sorry.”

And there you have it. What is most important? Arms sales. Political alliances. An evangelical minister of considerable influence weighing in on the relative value of an eternal soul. As late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel remarked with irony: Why would any Christian think that the death of one person should ever be a big deal?” Robertson exudes the kind of crass calculus we would expect of a ruthless leader, of a Caiaphas perhaps (see John 11:50), but surely not a pro-life follower of Jesus Christ.

Plain and simple, Pat Robertson does not speak for thoughtful, sincere evangelicals. He and those who parrot him have drifted from the tradition. He speaks only for himself and his fan base. It is unfortunate that the media, instinctively drawn to the loudest voices, do not always understand how little Robertson speaks for the rest of us. Or, for that matter, for real Christianity.

I am not calling Pat Robertson out with any malice. But if as evangelicals we are unwilling to censor ourselves, who will?

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The Supreme Court and America’s Moral Leadership

As a Canadian, I have always had the highest admiration for America, this mighty, upbeat and freedom-loving neighbor to my own country. And for the past twenty-two years (and three consecutive Green Cards), it’s been my privilege to live in this great country and to enjoy, even as an alien, a generous measure of its bounty and benefits.

In so many ways America has been and remains a beacon to the world. Through the years, this nation’s positive influence has been extended even more by the example that it has set than by the military power it has flexed. And one of the enviable foundation stones for the American way of life has been the United States Supreme Court. Its lofty front pillars, echoing ancient architectural ideals, serve as reassuring symbols of stability and even-handed judgments.

The Supreme Court is indeed the very pinnacle of the American judiciary. It is serenely accountable only to constitution and law, and thereby stands above the partisanship, corruption and injustice that embroil so many other nations of the world and now encroach upon certain other respected institutions of the United States. The Court’s integrity, and the trust that the public must be able to place in its decisions going forward, are absolutely indispensable to the continuing unity and civility of this amazing democracy.

This is why, of course, we must view the current hearings about the nomination of Judge Kavanagh to the Supreme Court as a decisive moment for America. Emotions and partisanship are running high. The scene is awash in expressions of moral outrage by both sides.

But so much more is actually at stake. Members of both political parties must be willing, therefore, to subsume their personal and party ambitions beneath the needs of the high court itself. Those who sit for life upon this lofty bench must be, and be perceived as being, entirely above the faintest hints of partisanship, suspicion or reproach. Every true patriot knows this. Only a very few judges will ever be able to meet its highest of all standards of temperament, competence, character and credibility. Yet holding to such standards, in the face of the fiercest pressures to compromise, is certainly one of the keys to keeping America strong.

Therefore, if even the faintest odor of doubt attaches to any candidate for this highest of all judicial offices, it is right for patriots to ask him or her honorably to step down for the sake of the Supreme Court’s credibility, and ultimately for the good of the whole country. By this standard even many good people will be disqualified. But there will be others in the land ready and able to step up to take their place. America is still the most richly resourced country on earth, and that includes its unparalleled resources of human leadership capital. Has this supply chain of great leaders been exhausted? Is America no longer able to demand the very best? The final verdict that is about to be given on an appointment to the Supreme Court will help decide the future of the United States of America and its role as a global moral leader.

I, for one, am cheering America on.

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My Bright Abyss

DSCN4959As Earth Day recedes in our rear-view mirrors for another year, I remain impressed and troubled by the following statement by American poet Christian Wiman, in his new book My Bright Abyss (2013). And thanks to daughter Sarah, by the way, for bringing this remarkable volume to my attention:

“What is poetry’s role when the world is burning? Encroaching environmental disaster and the relentless wars around the world have had, it seems, a paralyzing, sterilizing effect on much American poetry. It is less the magnitude of the crises than our apparent immunity to them, this death on which we all thrive, that is spinning our best energies into esoteric language games, or complacent retreats into nostalgias of form or subject matter, or shrill denunciations of a culture whose privileges we are not ready to renounce—or, more accurately, do not even know how to renounce. There is some fury of clarity, some galvanizing combination of hope and lament, that is much needed now, but it sometimes seems that we—and I use the plural seriously, I don’t exempt myself—are anxiously waiting for the devastation to reach our very streets, as it one day will, it most certainly will” (p. 52).

The anxious paralysis of which he speaks is surely not confined to poets.

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50th Anniversary of Vatican II

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II, the most recent and arguably among the most radical of the so-called “ecumenical” councils of the Roman Catholic Church. Now is an appropriate moment to assess the impact of the Council five decades on, and to reflect on its implications for historically-testy Roman Catholic-evangelical Protestant relations.

Eventually Vatican II generated 16 authoritative documents, each voted on by the Council and circulated by the Pope. By introducing so many radical changes to the Catholic church, and pointing in so many promising new directions, it has given everyone hope for a new beginning in the long-standing quest for greater harmony and fellowship among Christians everywhere. A few years ago Mark Noll, perhaps our top evangelical church historian, and a member of the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, coauthored a book entitled Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Roman Catholicism (2005). It is a hopeful reminder that we should never regard any church’s convictions or dispositions as etched in stone. We are all on journeys and we are all still moving toward the light.

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The Exploitation of Billy Graham

My previous blog was a warning against mixing pulpits and politics. I feel even more strongly so this week. A few days ago an aged Billy Graham allegedly came out in support of (Mormon) presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, calling all Christians (read evangelicals) to vote for him in the upcoming election. There are so many things wrong about this. Frankly, it just doesn’t sound like something the Billy Graham we have come to know and admire would do or say, especially in this final season of his very long life. I’m guessing that the 93-year old evangelist and his reputation are being exploited by right-wing politicos and certain key family members. Whatever is really going on in the backrooms, it is further proof of the Republican captivity of the contemporary evangelical church.
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Pulpits and Politics Don’t Mix

The fifth annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is coming up again this weekend. It’s organized by (mostly conservative evangelical) Christian pastors concerned that their rights to free speech from the pulpit (and, they would say, freedom of religion) may be at risk from an intrusive government and a dubious amendment back in 1954 to a pivotal section of the federal tax code.

The specific legislation in question, 501(c)(3) states that tax-exempt organizations (like churches) are prohibited from “participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization supporting these pastors, is trying to goad the government into attempting to act on this legislation. They are gunning for a showdown on freedom of religion. I confess to very mixed feelings.
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Go Green, $ave Green

I’ve got a great new book to recommend to you, but first I have to set it up. Patience, please! Here we go. We know our planet is in peril. The growing human population of the earth, combined with the consumerist habits of this ever-increasing population, means that our current way of life is unsustainable. Either we change direction or we are all going over the cliff. This assessment, while not pretty, is beyond dispute among rational people.

Against this backdrop, Christians are finally beginning to pay attention.  More of us are thinking about the environment, and wondering whether we have an obligation to do something about its ominous degradation. This is indeed worth considering carefully. After all, Christianity is the world’s largest religion. The inferences we twenty-first century Christians draw from the wellsprings of our faith will have an enormous effect, constructive or destructive, on how the global environmental crisis will play out.
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Sad for Alberta




Tar Sands


Alberta is just one of Canada’s ten provinces, but it has always held a special place in the national mythology. I am grateful that I was among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who escaped from drab Toronto, and eventually found my way to this great province. That’s why I’m so sad about what’s happening there today. I am speaking, of course, of the moral and environmental disaster of the Alberta tar sands.

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Why the Keystone Pipeline Is a Bad Idea


The Keystone XL Pipeline is part of an ambitious plan to bring down from Alberta, Canada massive amounts of liquified tar to be refined into fuel to supply America’s appetite for energy. Like many Americans and Canadians, I am opposed to the Keystone Pipeline project. Like brushing your teeth with bleach, it is a bad idea.

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