Monthly Archives: August 2009

A Lion in a Den of Daniels: Ted Kennedy On Faith, Tolerance & Religion in America

In 1983 the late Sen. Edward Kennedy visited Liberty Baptist College (Liberty University) at the invitation of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority. Talk about being a lion in a den of Daniels! There, before the student body, Kennedy made what is considered by historians to be one of the most important speeches on religion in the public arena.

No matter what one may have felt about the late Senator as a politician, one must admit that as a leader he was an intelligent and deeply principled man who loved his country. I would encourage every believer to read the entire text of the speech. But here are a few excerpts.

“…I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance and truth in America. I know we begin with certain disagreements; I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain. But I also hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ, that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility, that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. After all, in the New Testament, even the Disciples had to be taught to look first to the beam in their own eyes, and only then to the mote in their neighbor’s eyes.

“I am mindful of that counsel. I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?…”

“…The founders of our nation had long and bitter experience with the state, as both the agent and the adversary of particular religious views. In colonial Maryland, Catholics paid a double land tax, and in Pennsylvania they had to list their names on a public roll — an ominous precursor of the first Nazi laws against the Jews. And Jews in turn faced discrimination in all of the thirteen original Colonies. Massachusetts exiled Roger Williams and his congregation for contending that civil government had no right to enforce the Ten Commandments. Virginia harassed Baptist teachers, and also established a religious test for public service, writing into the law that no “popish followers” could hold any office.

“But during the Revolution, Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists all rallied to the cause and fought valiantly for the American commonwealth — for John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill.” Afterwards, when the Constitution was ratified and then amended, the framers gave freedom for all religion, and from any established religion, the very first place in the Bill of Rights….”

“…The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible. As President Eisenhower warned in 1953, “Don’t join the book burners…the right to say ideas, the right to record them, and the right to have them accessible to others is unquestioned — or this isn’t America.” And if that right is denied, at some future day the torch can be turned against any other book or any other belief. Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority….”

“…But there are other questions which are inherently public in nature, which we must decide together as a nation, and where religion and religious values can and should speak to our common conscience. The issue of nuclear war is a compelling example. It is a moral issue; it will be decided by government, not by each individual; and to give any effect to the moral values of their creed, people of faith must speak directly about public policy. The Catholic bishops and the Reverend Billy Graham have every right to stand for the nuclear freeze, and Dr. Falwell has every right to stand against it.

“There must be standards for the exercise of such leadership, so that the obligations of belief will not be debased into an opportunity for mere political advantage. But to take a stand at all when a question is both properly public and truly moral is to stand in a long and honored tradition. Many of the great evangelists of the 1800s were in the forefront of the abolitionist movement. In our own time, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin challenged the morality of the war in Vietnam. Pope John XXIII renewed the Gospel’s call to social justice. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the greatest prophet of this century, awakened our nation and its conscience to the evil of racial segregation….”

“…First, we must respect the integrity of religion itself.

“People of conscience should be careful how they deal in the word of their Lord. In our own history, religion has been falsely invoked to sanction prejudice — even slavery — to condemn labor unions and public spending for the poor. I believe that the prophecy, ”The poor you have always with you” is an indictment, not a commandment. And I respectfully suggest that God has taken no position on the Department of Education — and that a balanced budget constitutional amendment is a matter of economic analysis, and not heavenly appeals….”

“…Second, we must respect the independent judgments of conscience.

“Those who proclaim moral and religious values can offer counsel, but they should not casually treat a position on a public issue as a test of fealty to faith. Just as I disagree with the Catholic bishops on tuition tax credits — which I oppose — so other Catholics can and do disagree with the hierarchy, on the basis of honest conviction, on the question of the nuclear freeze.

“Thus, the controversy about the Moral Majority arises not only from its views, but from its name — which, in the minds of many, seems to imply that only one set of public policies is moral and only one majority can possibly be right. Similarly, people are and should be perplexed when the religious lobbying group Christian Voice publishes a morality index of congressional voting records, which judges the morality of senators by their attitude toward Zimbabwe and Taiwan….”

“…Third, in applying religious values, we must respect the integrity of public debate.

“In that debate, faith is no substitute for facts. Critics may oppose the nuclear freeze for what they regard as moral reasons. They have every right to argue that any negotiation with the Soviets is wrong, or that any accommodation with them sanctions their crimes, or that no agreement can be good enough and therefore all agreements only increase the chance of war. I do not believe that, but it surely does not violate the standard of fair public debate to say it. What does violate that standard, what the opponents of the nuclear freeze have no right to do, is to assume that they are infallible, and so any argument against the freeze will do, whether it is false or true….”

“…Fourth, and finally, we must respect the motives of those who exercise their right to disagree.

“We sorely test our ability to live together if we readily question each other’s integrity. It may be harder to restrain our feelings when moral principles are at stake, for they go to the deepest wellsprings of our being. But the more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side….”

“…I could multiply the instances of name-calling, sometimes on both sides. Dr. Falwell is not a “warmonger.” And “liberal clergymen” are not, as the Moral Majority suggested in a recent letter, equivalent to “Soviet sympathizers.” The critics of official prayer in public schools are not “Pharisees”; many of them are both civil libertarians and believers, who think that families should pray more at home with their children, and attend church and synagogue more faithfully. And people are not sexist because they stand against abortion, and they are not murderers because they believe in free choice. Nor does it help anyone’s cause to shout such epithets, or to try and shout a speaker down — which is what happened last April when Dr. Falwell was hissed and heckled at Harvard. So I am doubly grateful for your courtesy here this evening. That was not Harvard’s finest hour, but I am happy to say that the loudest applause from the Harvard audience came in defense of Dr. Falwell’s right to speak.

“In short, I hope for an America where neither “fundamentalist” nor “humanist” will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of goodwill look at life and into their own souls.

“I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt — or religious belief.

“I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.

“I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity….”

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When Fear, Not Law, Is King

This is so repugnant to me as a Christian, I don’t know how to categorize it. Today, my own Congressman, the illustrious Peter King, the ranking GOP member on the House Committee on Homeland Security and member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, was interviewed by Politico’s Ben Smith about Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to investigate CIA interrogators. “”It’s bull****,” blasted King in that measured, professional way that so becomes his office. “It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on.”

For those who wish to read the full interview

For those who don’t (and I don’t blame you), I’ll give a few oh so quotable excerpts:

“It’s a total breach of faith, and either the president is intentionally caving to the left wing of his party or he’s lost control of his administration.” I find it fascinating that Mr. King has been in Washington for so long and yet seems totally unaware that the office of Attorney General is not a political tool. It is to be free of political pressures. But that’s okay. Seems Messrs. Bush and Obama forgot that too.

“You’re talking about threatening to kill a guy, threatening to attack his family, threatening to use an electric drill on him — but never doing it….When Holder was talking about being ‘shocked’ [before the report’s release], I thought they were going to have cutting guys’ fingers off or something — or that they actually used the power drill.”
Uhh… I guess these quotes stand by themselves.

”Why is it OK to waterboard someone, which causes physical pain, but not threaten someone and not cause pain?” Psst! Actually, Congressman, both are torture and both are illegal.

When asked if interrogators had violated the law, King said he didn’t believe the Geneva Convention “applies to terrorists.” Really? Then could you please explain to the Supreme Court why they were wrong in their 2006 decision in Hamdam v. Rumsfeld, ruling that Common Article 3 of Geneva applies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda? Or why the U.S. War Crimes Act is incorrect in making it a felony to inflict “prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from . . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering. . . .”?

King added that the line between permitted and outlawed interrogation policies in the Bush years was “a distinction without a difference.” Now, Mr. King, that’s the first truthful thing you’ve said!

In conclusion, Congressman, let me quote one of your own heroes:

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called “universal jurisdiction.” Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution. –Ronald Reagan, May 20, 1988 (submitting the Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification)

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law. –Convention Against Torture, Article II/IV, signed by President Ronald Reagan

Wow, by King’s definition, Reagan must have been a closet tool of the radical Left.

(Thanks again to Mr. Greenwald for his Aug 24 & 25 blogs.)


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It’s Up to Us

In the Sidney Lumet film The Verdict (1982), Paul Newman plays an alcoholic, down-on-his-luck lawyer, Frank Galvin, who gets the case of a lifetime, an open and shut suit of malpractice. But from the beginning nothing goes his way. Someone keeps buying off his witnesses, the defense attorney is the “prince of darkness,” the judge merely a “bag man for the boys downtown,” and even Galvin’s girlfriend turns out to be working for the enemy. Someone has stacked the deck. Things look so bad, at the last minute he tries to cop a deal to settle the case out of court, but that boat sailed long ago. At last, he finds the witness he’s been searching for and puts her on the stand. She tells the jury what really happened in that operating room, a story of gross negligence and an even more monstrous cover-up. But the corrupt judge won’t allow this new testimony to stand and has it stricken from the record. This is the final blow. His last weapon broken in his hand, Galvin has nothing left. In his final summation to the jury, all he can do is appeal to their indignant sense of justice:

“You know, so much of the time we’re just lost. We say, ‘Please, God, tell us what is right; tell us what is true.’ And there is no justice: the rich win, the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead… a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims… and we become victims. We become… we become weak. We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs. We doubt our institutions. And we doubt the law. But today you are the law. You ARE the law. Not some book… not the lawyers… not the, a marble statue… or the trappings of the court. See those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are… they are, in fact, a prayer: a fervent and a frightened prayer. In my religion, they say, ‘Act as if ye had faith… and faith will be given to you.’ IF… if we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves. And ACT with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.”

Something in that speech moves the hearts of the jury to reject the judge’s attempt to throw dust in their eyes and all that they’ve been so carefully instructed to disregard, and to act on behalf of Justice. The doctor and hospital are found to be negligent, and the patient’s family awarded an astronomical and punitive sum. Suddenly, this dark and brooding film becomes the classic story of the underdog who takes on the Goliath of power, corruption and greed, and wins—amazingly, unbelievably, he wins. But Galvin and his client are not the only winners. It is society, the people who really win. Casting off the chains of apathy forged by generations of impotent rage, they at last stand together as one man to chase the bully out of town and take back “the system.”

But this is just a movie. Things like this don’t happen in real life, do they? I mean we all know that politicians lie and lie and line their pockets all the while. The big guys always win; the small fry get pummeled, and justice can be bought by the highest bidder. Well, we say, why doesn’t God do something? But he is asking us the same question.

“The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene….” (Isa.59:15,16)

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” (Ezek.22:30)

You see, health care reform is not merely a partisan issue. At least, it shouldn’t be. A public option for the uninsured is not a Democratic or Republican ideal. It is a moral one. As God’s people we are called by Christ to stand up for the little guy; conservative, moderate or liberal, we are commanded to defend the weak against the strong, to denounce the powers of greed and privilege that prey upon the poor and disenfranchised, to attack the bastions of injustice with the weapons God has entrusted to us: with prayer, sweat, and the Word of God.

We must not give up; we must not grow tired or cynical in the cause of justice. If the church spoke with one voice, it would shake the earth. If the church returned to her true calling, as an instrument of reform, not a lapdog for the status quo, the principalities and powers that arrogantly hold sway over this nation would tremble. As Jesus prophesied about his church, the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. Do we believe that?

If so, then keep speaking out. Tell your elected officials, your neighbors and friends why you are for health care reform that is based on truly biblical values, such as equality, compassion and brotherly love (not the American gospel of unbridled greed, free market capitalism, self-reliance and social Darwinism that has replaced the commands of Christ in the hearts of so many).

Puritan Governor Jonathan Winthrop put it eloquently in his 1620 sermon “A Model of Christian Charitie,” a treasure of Americana often quoted but rarely read or understood:

“Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck [God’s judgment], and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, do love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.”

This is what it means, Winthrop said, to be a “city upon a hill,” an example to all nations. And we will be an example, one way or another. Which will it be? It’s up to us.

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us….So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”


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The Church: Champion of the Status Quo

It pains me to say this, but it seems the more I study, speak out and press into biblical issues of social justice, the less I feel I have in common with my fellow American Christians. I have to say I feel deeply disenchanted with the church in America. Disgusted would be a better word. Nauseated a still better one.

Sure, there are many Christians who are deeply involved in the fight for social justice, but it seems a pathetically small percentage. There is a growing number who express concern over such issues, but far fewer whose concern turns to action. No, the loudest voices always seem to belong to the selfish, the greedy and ignorant, those pernicious purveyors of bigotry and putrescence, those enemies of human progress and liberty who burned Hus to a crisp, persecuted Galileo, and loosed dogs on little black girls. Sadly, history too often demonstrates that if the status quo had a human shape, it would look very much like the church.

If the tragic moral and political deterioration of the past 8 years weren’t enough, I fear that once again, the American church has lost an historic moment. Instead of seizing an opportunity to find at last our prophetic voice, to be in the vanguard to help 46 million of our countrymen to quality health care and a better life, we use our pulpits either to say nothing at all or to incite lynch mobs carrying torches and pitchforks. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty in this health care bill for both sides not to like; perhaps it should be scrapped and begun again. That is not the issue. The issue is how a national debate became a slugfest and how the church, which should have been the conscience of the nation and an advocate for the poor, either stood idly by and watched, or goaded the pugilists and passed out the brass knuckles.

What is it about progress that so offends us? Why does lifting the downtrodden or sharing our bread with the hungry always smell of Bolshevism? If Jesus Christ himself were to appear to the church in this country, I dare say we would not care much for him. We would probably not even like him at all but would brand him a pinko and kick him to the curb (along with the Pro-choicers, gay rights advocates, and moderate Republicans).

The church in America does not need the Bible. We have our prophets. They are Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. They tell us exactly what we want to hear; they feed our hunger for hatred and intolerance –and without any of that frou-frou poetry that’s in the Bible, but in good old Anglo-Saxon prose. They remind us it’s not we who have to change, as those America-hating liberals claim; it’s Those People out there who are the problem.

As a student of history, I have always wondered how the church in Germany could have stood by and allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power—and not only to stand by but to give him a leg up and call him Master and Savior. After the past 8 years I no longer have to wonder. I see how it was done. Many parts of German society had to be bullied into supporting such a man, but the church slavered over him like a dog its master’s hand because he told them exactly what they wanted to hear. He appealed not to the better angels of their nature, but to bigotry and plain old-fashioned fear. As Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel explain in their book Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust:

“…There were many enthusiastic supporters of National Socialism in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. Conversely, there were few church figures who exhibited a stance, by word or deed, in opposition to the regime. Carl Amery, a Catholic reflecting back upon what he labels the “capitulation” of the Catholic church to the Nazi regime, describes a “milieu Catholicism” that made this capitulation possible. Milieu Catholics believed in discipline, punctuality, cleanliness, and respect for authority; and the Nazi Party advocated all of these traditional virtues. The Catholic and Protestant churches both fervently opposed godless communism, and Hitler professed himself the most powerful anticommunist in Germany. Christians tended to be stridently antimodern, rejecting the modern tendencies toward urban, secular culture that had begun to permeate Germany in the 1920s. They did not like the fast lifestyle of the roaring twenties or the open, democratic practices of Weimar Germany, which advocated freedom of speech and belief and practiced tolerance toward the culturally diverse.

“…Hitler attracted Christians by criticizing the liberalism of democratic government and by advocating a tougher, law-and-order approach to German criminals. He opposed pornography, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, and the “obscenity” of modern art, and he awarded bronze, silver, and gold medals to women who produced four, six, and eight children, thus encouraging them to remain in their traditional role in the home. This appeal to traditional values, coupled with the militaristic nationalism that Hitler offered in response to the national humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, made National Socialism an attractive option to many, even most Christians in Germany.”

It’s ironic that opponents to health care reform call the President a Fascist, because in actuality Hitler would clean up in today’s America. You’d probably see him on all the Christian talk-shows, and as long as he did not let slip any anti-Israeli rhetoric, and submitted to an extreme make-over (Americans like their candidates clean-shaven), he’d certainly be on the ballot for 2012 (that is, if Rush Limbaugh hasn’t managed to keep all that weight off).


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Q&A: Balancing Civil Obedience & Disobedience

Q: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Ro 13:3,4).

Paul wrote this when Nero was emperor. So all the Christians who were tortured and murdered by Nero had nothing to fear from him? What about all the Christians who have been martyred over the century? All they had to do was do right and they would be commended by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot? These butchers were God’s servants to do good? I’m having real trouble with this.

A: Great question, thanks. Paul is of course speaking in general terms. Vv.3-4 are generally true. Government in general is ordained by God to establish order and prevent anarchy, just as he has established the human family with a hierarchy to defend and nurture children, etc. Even a corrupt government is better than none (even in Stalin’s Russia, people still had to stop at red lights and murderers were prosecuted– even though Stalin himself was the worst offender). However, that does not mean that any specific government is always good or that it cannot overstep its boundaries and become utterly corrupt. Just like the human family, even the best government is tainted by the sin of a fallen world.

There is a tension in the New Testament between the idea of being a “good citizen” for the sake of the gospel (Ro 13:7) and “obeying God not man” (Ac 5:29) Paul wrote Romans in the 50s A.D., before Nero’s utter deterioration (the fire at Rome and Nero’s subsequent persecution of Christians was in AD 64). Revelation, written in the 90s during the persecutions of Domitian, when conditions for Christians had deteriorated significantly, shows this tension dramatically.

Bottom line, we are to obey government in as much as it asks us to do things that are right, or at least not against God’s law (such as paying taxes), but no believer is expected to obey an unjust law (such as when the Roman government required us to worship the emperor). “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”– Jesus understood that tension very well. The Bible is filled with commands for God’s people to confront corruption, greed and injustice wherever it festers but to do so in a way that is respectful, peaceful and humble. The concept of civil disobedience is a completely biblical one. The apostles were “civilly disobedient” when they were ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching the gospel (Ac 4-5).

Now, regarding the Bible’s saying things that are “generally” true, consider the book of Proverbs. It contains wisdom sayings that are usually true, but aren’t there many exceptions? For example, God blesses those who live righteously. But what of the suffering of the righteous? Job and Ecclesiastes deal with the problem of unjust suffering and help to balance this. Compare Prov. 4:6-9 and Eccles 9:11. We need to balance Scripture with Scripture.

True, one should begin to study any passage within its own context first, but there are a few safeguards that help provide balance (otherwise, we’d have millions of cults), one of which is to understand any passage within the whole counsel of Scripture, and another is not to build essential doctrines based on only one passage. See how Eph 2:8,9 & Jas 2:24 at first seem to contradict each other, but really balance each other out.

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Bedtime for Bibi

Looks like the pressure is getting to Bibi. Last week the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu as saying that Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama’s top advisers, were “self-hating Jews.” The Likud leader later denied having made the statement.

Apparently, the President’s firmer hand with our Middle Eastern ally is beginning to show. Obama has been openly critical in recent months of ever-expanding Israeli settlements, which he sees as a primary roadblock to peace, a stance Netanyahu has angrily rejected. Last week the U.S. joined the U.N. in condemning a series of particularly egregious evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
And there are rumors that Washington would like the Israeli government to give Bibi the heave-ho.

In using such epithets as “self-hating Jew,” the Likud government is resorting to a ploy from the Hard Right Zionist Playbook: If a Gentile criticizes your actions, he is an anti-semite; if he’s a Jew, he must be the self-hating variety—since it cannot be that your actions are wrong. By the same standard, the following would also be considered self-hating Jews: Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha, etc.

Most of the American media is cowed by such tactics. That’s why we hear so little criticism of Israel here. But unlike the U.S., Israel itself still has something called “freedom of the press.” So ironically, if you want a more balanced view, you need to fly to Tel Aviv.

In case anyone has a doubt, there is a vast difference between criticizing the policies of a bullying and unrestrained Israeli government and making anti-Semitic statements that show disrespect for all Jews as a race. The former is free speech; the latter is hate speech. Modern-day Israel is a secular state; it is not the kingdom of God on earth, and it’s certainly not above criticism. One can also disagree with Israeli policies without being “anti-Israeli,” just as we can criticize the actions of our own government without necessarily being labeled “anti-American.” “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” says Proverbs.

The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel (1948) states clearly and proudly:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

One other, more pragmatic observation. If I were Bibi, I would think Mr. Emanuel would be the last person I would go out of my way to tick off. He doesn’t seem like the forgiving type.


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Uncle Walter, Where Are You?

In the ongoing tribute to the late Walter Cronkite, journalists and historians have credited him with having single-handedly fashioned a series of seemingly unconnected and obscure scandals into the cohesive narrative known as “Watergate.” It is true that back in 1972, while the Washington Post had for some time been printing story after story of crimes and cover-ups, it was the CBS anchor who recognized in these convoluted tales a national epic that needed to be told. And so for two evenings, Uncle Walter took the pieces of a puzzle and put them together—and in a way that the Murphys in his home town of St. Jo could understand, including charts and other graphics, explaining why the story was significant politically, constitutionally. While Barbara Walters may argue that no single journalist should ever have that much power, Cronkite did it because no one else was, at least not on a national level.

Today, almost 40 years later, we have a series of stories or scandals that need that Cronkite touch. An economic crisis, bank bailouts and other corporate welfare, the blockage of health care reform, a Honduran coup, two foreign wars, executive bonuses, global warming, free trade and globalization, Israeli aggression, etc., etc. These may seem like unconnected issues, but the truth is they are as well connected as any Locust Valley debutante.

The bigger narrative is really one of the oldest in human history. Each of these crises, at its most basic, has a common thread running through it: a form of class warfare. Not the kind of warfare in which both sides are equally matched and each goes at the other like two pit bulls in a ring. Instead, the rich have declared war on the poor and are trampling them underfoot with uncommon savagery, not because they must, but because they can.

Take the war in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires. For all its seeming justifications, at its core this so-called “war on terror” continues to be waged simply because we do not hear the cries of the poor. We do not hear because we do not want to hear. It is like the homeowner who is awakened in the night by the burglar alarm. So incensed is he at being disturbed from his slumber, he snips the wires to the alarm so that he can get back to sleep, never considering that a burglar may have broken in.

9-11, for all its diabolical cruelty, was a warning to America, a wake-up call. And did we take heed? Don’t be silly. The Muslim world is crying out for us to stop our oppression and our support for oppressors, to quit our global bullying, to get us off their backs once and for all. But we’re so arrogant, so obsessed with vengeance and power, we cannot hear that cry. After all, it’s the terrorists who need to stop, not us. Aren’t we the good guys?

When you oppress the poor, you become an enemy of God. And God can and does use evil to judge evil. If we would just stop, truly “humble ourselves and pray and turn from our wicked ways,” the Almighty would turn this futility into victory. Instead, we are bent on winning a carnival game of Pop Goes the Weasel. You know the game: the weasel’s head keeps popping up here or there, and you try to guess where he’ll pop up next and then WHAM! But no matter how skillful the player or quick his reflexes, the weasel always wins. Perhaps if we did really take the message to heart, then all those thousands who died on that gruesome day might not have died in vain. I’m sorry. I’m a fiscal conservative; I hate waste. Repentance is so much cheaper than war (although it may not make quite so much for GE, General Dynamics, and Dyncorp).

The battle over health care reform, too, can be seen from this perspective, a struggle between the haves and the have-nots. People screaming out for relief; others, content with their healthcare because they can afford it, shout, “We don’t need this,” while the insurance companies spend millions to purchase lawmakers and create media spots that spook the hell out of us so they can continue their uncontested reign of greed. Where’s the compassion? Where’s the church?

“Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD (Psalm 12:5). Fasten your seat belts, America; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


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