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Tag: religion

How To Keep The Faith When Religion And Politics Divide Us

In a recent phone conversation — a catch-up during COVID isolation — a longtime friend talked of a memory that seemed especially relevant these days. A fellow cradle Catholic, whom I met at a Catholic university, she recalled how startled she was on entering my childhood parish for my decades-ago wedding and finding herself surrounded by statues of the saints and Christ on the cross, familiar to her but so very different. The faces and hands and pierced feet were painted black, so unlike anything she had experienced growing up.

It stopped her, until she realized how appropriate the scene was. Of course, these representations would be reimagined in the image of those who gathered and worshipped in this particular holy place, located in the heart of West Baltimore.

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Among The Republicans, Debauchery And Blasphemy Reign

Since Nov. 8, 2016, I have stumbled about in a country I do not recognize — a mean and narrow place where toddlers are snatched from their mothers’ arms as they try desperately to find sanctuary, where NATO is denounced but Russia is courted, where the president mocks children, the dead and the disabled to the rapturous cheers of his cult following. The recent impeachment proceedings have left me more profoundly confused.

President Donald Trump has so remade the Republican Party that it, too, is unrecognizable — a clown car of lapdogs whose use of the English language would likely startle even George Orwell. Up is not merely down; gravity no longer exists. Neither do facts.

Trumpists have resorted not only to distortions and fabrications but also to nonsensical demands to show their loyalty to dear leader. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) offered the sole amendment to the articles of impeachment in the House Rules Committee, insisting that Trump’s behavior was no different from that of President Barack Obama. If Trump is to be impeached, Byrne argued, so Obama should have been, as well.

Previously, Byrne, who once seemed sensible, had been at the front of the rump parade that tried to disrupt impeachment testimony by storming a meeting room. He is now seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in a crowded field of Alabama notables, so, apparently, there is no ploy too contrived or stunt too silly to show his fealty to Trump.

On Wednesday, as Congress impeached Trump on two counts, the president’s GOP defenders stood in the well of the House of Representatives to lie, prevaricate and even blaspheme. If the president is looking for a congressman on whom to confer the award for most sickeningly sycophantic, that would likely go to Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who mustered the gall to compare Trump to Jesus Christ.

“Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, keep this in mind,” Loudermilk exhorted. “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats afforded this president in this process.”

There is much that is wrong about that analogy — biblically, constitutionally and, not least, theologically. And it serves as yet another reminder of the speed with which Trumpists have trashed democratic traditions and cheapened civic and religious institutions.

Still, I am taken aback by the collapse of even the appearance of morality among religious fundamentalists. I have never taken their “Christianity” seriously; white Christian fundamentalists have always embraced white supremacy over Christ’s precepts about loving all humankind. Yet, I never expected that they would rapturously embrace the debauchery of Donald Trump.

More astounding has been the revelation that so many of the nation’s powerful leaders don’t believe in the democracy they were sworn to serve. They don’t believe that patriotism requires putting nation over party; they don’t believe that we are a nation of laws; they don’t believe in the separation of powers envisioned by the founders; they don’t care that a foreign adversary intervened in a U.S. election, possibly tipping the scales.

Men such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Attorney General William Barr believe that their tribe should rule — absolutely and in perpetuity. If that brings the United States perilously close to the banana republics they once derided, that’s OK. After decades in which they shouted about the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution, it turns out they don’t believe anything they preached.

Vladimir Putin is certainly pleased. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) repeated a key bit of Russian disinformation on the floor of the House Wednesday, insisting that the impeachment inquiry aimed to stop the investigation “into the corruption of Ukraine interference in the U.S. election in 2016.” That’s a lie that Russia has planted, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Putin, one of the president’s most crucial supporters, has already rolled out the same disinformation machinery he put to work to boost Trump’s campaign in 2016. Endorsing Trump’s re-election, Putin said: “I don’t think Trump will be voted out of power on made-up charges. Democrats lost the last election, and now they want to win by other means.”

I am a stranger in a strange land.

Evangelical Magazine Urges Trump’s Removal

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli of Christianity Today — a prominent evangelical magazine — took a bold step Thursday by publishing an editorial calling for the removal of President Donald Trump, who was impeached just a day before.

Galli affirmed some of the Republican talking points about impeachment, saying that “Democrats have had it out for him from day one,” that the motives of the impeachers should be treated with suspicion, and that Trump wasn’t treated fairly enough in the House of Representatives’ inquiry.

And yet, he said the facts of the case against Trump are “unambiguous.”

“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” wrote Galli. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

Many evangelical Christians have been fervent in their support of Trump, despite all his wrongdoing and patent unfitness. Galli’s piece acknowledged that there are things Trump has done as president that evangelical Christians should be happy about. But that’s not enough to keep him in office.

“President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people,” he explained. “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”

Trump, Galli argued, has “dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration.”

The piece also pointed out that in 1998, Christianity Today called for President Bill Clinton’s removal, and the revelations from the House demand the same for Trump. It also offered this admonition for Christians who still back Trump:

Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

Oddly, it didn’t offer the words that should be most reassuring for an evangelical Christian fearing the president’s removal: If Trump is gone, Mike Pence is next in line.

Church Nativity Scene Shows Jesus As Caged Refugee

A Methodist church in Claremont, California, displays a nativity scene outside the church with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in separate cages, CNN reported Monday. The infant Jesus, alone in his cage, is wrapped in a foil blanket like those given to children at detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The nativity display draws attention to Donald Trump’s policy of separating families — even those seeking asylum — at the border.

“What if this family sought refuge in our country today?” Karen Clark Ristine, senior minister of the church, wrote on Facebook about the nativity scene. “Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus no older than two taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years,” she added.

In the Bible, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with a young infant Jesus to escape a threat of violence from King Herod.

“We don’t see it as political; we see it as theological,” Ristine told the Los Angeles Times. Members of her church have “seen how these asylum seekers have been greeted and treated,” she added. “We wanted the Holy Family to stand in for those nameless people because they also were refugees.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the congresswoman representing Claremont, said she was proud of the congregation for putting together such a powerful display.

“I’ve been to the immigrant children prison camps at the border, and I know the harm caused by this policy of family separation,” Chu said in an email. “This scene does a remarkable job of recreating the feeling of loneliness and fear created by the Trump administration. I’m proud to represent a congregation like Claremont United Methodist which is doing so much to highlight the plight of today’s refugees with this powerful nativity scene.”

The Trump administration has been roundly criticized for implementing a family separation policy targeting families crossing the southern border. More than 5,400 children have been separated from their family since 2017, according to the ACLU. As Ristine noted, many of the families were fleeing violence and looking for a safe place to be.

Doctors and lawyers visiting children ripped away from their parents have described truly horrible conditions at detention centers.

“The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities,” Dr. Lucio Sevier, a board-certified physician, wrote in a medical declaration. “To deny parents the ability to wash their infant’s bottles is unconscionable and could be considered intentional mental and emotional abuse.”

An investigation by Trump’s own administration found “separated children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress than did children who were not separated.” Some of the children separated from their family were survivors of kidnap or rape, while others had “witnessed the rape or murder of family members or were fleeing threats against their own lives.”

Despite a 2018 court order prohibiting the Trump administration from continuing its family separation policy, the ACLU filed court documents in July 2019 alleging family separation was continuing to happen.

“It is shocking that the Trump administration continues to take babies from their parents,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NPR.

It’s the second year in a row churches have used nativity scenes to draw attention to the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

In 2018, the Saint Susanna Parish in Dedham, Massachusetts, displayed baby Jesus in a cage in its nativity scene. That same year, an Austin couple also displayed Jesus in a cage in their front yard, with Mary and Joseph standing to one side, and a quote from the Statue of Liberty on the other: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”

In Claremont, the Holy Family is reunited in a nativity scene inside the church. As of October, more than 350 children separated by the Trump administration are still waiting to be reunited with their families.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Photo Credit: Rev. Karen Clark Risitne via American Independent

Right-Wing Evangelical Leaders Furious Over Trump’s Syria Debacle

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump has been wildly popular among far-right white fundamentalist evangelicals such as Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson and Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. From the Russia investigation to the Stormy Daniels sex scandal, white evangelicals have been unwavering in their support of Trump. But journalist Amir Tibon, in a report for Haaretz, stresses that Trump has finally done something that has infuriated evangelicals like Graham and Robertson: withdrawing U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and abandoning the Kurdish allies that have helped the United States in its battle against the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria).

The Syria debacle, Tibon reports, marks “the first time since Trump entered the White House in 2017 that he had to endure such a strong level of criticism from evangelical leaders.” Those evangelicals, Tibon notes, were unfazed by “the Stormy Daniels affair” and his “racist attacks on black members of Congress” as well as Trump’s “attempts to recruit foreign governments to aid his 2020 reelection campaign.” But Robertson and Graham haven’t been shy about lambasting Trump for withdrawing U.S. troops from northeastern Syria.

Robertson asserted, “the president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen.” And on October 9, Graham tweeted, “the Kurds are the ones who have been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria. Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance.”

Tibon notes that Mike Allen, one of Trump’s evangelical advisers, has also criticized the withdrawal and said of Kurdish forces, “America never had stronger supporters in the region.” In an October 8 article for CBN News, Allen wrote that Trump was “opening the door for” an “all-out assault against the Kurds.”

An aide to a Republican senator, interviewed anonymously, told Haaretz that it remains to be seen whether or not the Syria withdrawal will do any long-term damage to Trump’s relationship with his hardcore base.

“There’s a possibility the Turkish attack leads to horrifying pictures conquering the news cycle, and Trump gets a ton of criticism for it,” the aide told Haaretz. “But it’s also possible this story is forgotten in two weeks, and we’re back to fighting the Democrats over impeachment — and the party unites around him.”

Activist Joel Rosenberg told Haaretz, “it’s hard to make a case that this will have any political consequences for the president in the immediate future, but it’s worth noting that this is the first time such criticism has been leveled at him from the evangelical community. I don’t think it would be wise to just ignore it.”