Sunday, February 23, 2020

Pro-Life, Anti-Trump

In my dialogue with evangelical friends, I have come to the conclusion that there is one reason above all others for the evangelical support for President Trump. That is the issue of abortion. The importance of that one issue trumps (pun intended) all others and justifies their support for a man who in his personal conduct and language is the antithesis of everything the gospel stands for. The potential saving of millions of lives of unborn children is worth it for these Christians.

I am pro-life. I have been consistently pro-life for fifty years. I was pro-life before the famous Roe v. Wade case. I was pro-life before the anti-abortion movement was called pro-life and before evangelicals hopped on the bandwagon with the Moral Majority in 1979. I was pro-life before I was a Christian or a pastor. I have participated in pro-life events and supported pro-life ministries. I understand the values of the pro-life movement.

My opposition to abortion began with my commitment to nonviolence. I came to my pro-life stance from reading the works of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and adopting their philosophy of nonviolence. Gandhi specifically names abortion as an act of violence. King never specifically addressed the issue of abortion, as far as I know, but he was a consistent champion of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, which Gandhi called ahimsa. I see abortion as violence against the most vulnerable, powerless, and voiceless among us.

It is because I am pro-life that I will not vote for Donald Trump. I will not support a man whom I see as anti-life. As late as 1999 he described himself as “very pro-choice” and “pro-choice in every respect.” It is clear to me that the only reason he has recently flip-flopped on the issue is to recruit the support of evangelicals. He knew he could not get their votes without changing his position. But he doesn’t believe it. He is not pro-life. He never has been.

My evangelical friends point to his appointment of pro-life justices to the Supreme Court as evidence that he is supporting the pro-life agenda, regardless of what is in his heart. I say that appointing these judges will not change anything, and he knows it. To try to outlaw abortion by appointing activist judges who will “legislate from the bench” is a lost cause. It will never happen.

Christians cannot successfully outlaw abortion through the Supreme Court any more than Christians could outlaw alcohol during Prohibition a hundred years ago. Neither can we outlaw tobacco or guns or automobile accidents or war or anything else that kills people. The parallels to Prohibition are very apparent. Those who are ignorant of the history of the 1920’s are doomed to repeat it in the 2020’s.

Stacking the Supreme Court with anti-abortion men in order to impose our standard of Christian morality on American society is a fantasy that will not work. It would be like trying to criminalize adultery or Sabbath-breaking or taking the Lord’s name in vain - which are three of God’s Top Ten, by the way.

If Christians cannot – or are not willing to - enforce the Ten Commandments through legislation, why should we criminalize abortion, which is never mentioned in Scripture? Evangelicals do not even consider the violation of these commandments as disqualifying a man for president! Not to mention the command against bearing false witness.

Even if the Court did somehow succeed in reversing Roe v. Wade, we could never enforce it. It would not stop abortions any more than we have been able to stop illicit drugs by criminalizing them. It would only fill our prisons with mothers and doctors, and we already have the highest incarceration rates in the world. It would only result in more deaths, including those of pregnant women.

The best strategy for those of us who are truly pro-life is to save as many lives as possible by making sure that abortion is “safe, legal, and rare.” Because I am pro-life and pro-religious liberty, I will not impose my morality on others by criminalizing abortion. My wife and I have a saying that we have often voiced to each other during my forty years in ministry: you can’t make people do what is right. The most we can do is to be a testimony and example of what is right.

Trump is not pro-life. That is evident by all his other policies. Pro-life means that you try to save the lives of children after they are born as much as before they are born. Reelecting Trump will not save one child. In fact it will cost more children their lives. It will insure that more children are poor and die early because they are hungry and homeless. It will ensure that more children are gunned down in our schools and on our streets because our president will not take a stand against the NRA. It will ensure that more children die in camps at our southern border and in repressive countries beyond our borders.

It will keep the US at the bottom of the list of developed nations when it comes to infant mortality. If Trump really cared about saving the lives of infants then he would make lowering our nation’s infant mortality rate a priority of his administration. He would do whatever is necessary to guarantee the healthcare necessary to save the lives of children and pregnant women. But he doesn’t because he is not pro-life! At the most is he pro-birth, which is not the same thing.

Being pro-life means spending more on programs that save lives than on weapons that take lives. Being pro-life means being against the death penalty, political assassinations, and endless wars like in Afghanistan. It means caring for the life of our planet and the environment, which is what keeps the human species alive. That is what it means to be pro-life.

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote against life and against children. Our presidential election in November is a choice between life and death. As the scriptures say, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life so that you and your children may live.”

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Uncarved Block

The Tao Te Ching mentions the concept of the “uncarved block” several times. Like a sculptor contemplating a block of wood before work has begun on it, we are to contemplate our original nature before time and space, genetics and upbringing, worked on us. Zen has the concept of one’s original face. A Zen koan says, “Contemplate your original face before you were born” or “Imagine your face before your parents were born.” Christian scripture has the concept of our primordial nature that was known by God and chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world.”

When I was a young man working in my grandfather’s hardware store, an old-timer remarked to me, “I knew you before you were a glint in your father’s eye.” At the time I chuckled at the thought, but it has always stuck with me. I have often applied it to my Heavenly Father. I was known before I was. My individual earthly identity composed of body and mind is simply a passing phenomenon. It is not my essential nature. It is a wave in the ocean, a whirl in a stream, a breeze in the trees.

I practice a daily spiritual discipline of meditation. One of my most common meditations is to simply rest in my true nature without thoughts. My true nature is what I was before I was conceived in my mother’s womb. It is who I was before there were humans, before life evolved on earth, before our solar system was formed, before the Big Bang banged the universe into existence. That is who – or better yet – what I am. That is who I am after I die, after the elements of my body return to the earth and my psyche dies with my brain. That is what I am now.

“I am who I am,” is the divine revelation that Moses received on the slope of Mount Horeb. That understanding changed his life and the course of Near Eastern religion. This revelation gave birth to the people of Israel and was forever was imprinted on Western religious understanding of divine identity. In India this revelation took the form of the statement: “That thou art,” which is at the heart of the Upanishads. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the psalm of the Sons of Korah commands us, “Be still and know that I am God.”

It is the same truth. We are. But we are not who we think we are. We are not what we think. It is not about thinking at all. Not about doctrines or theology or religion. It is not about feeling or willing or acting. I am. I am who I am. We are who we are. We are what we have always been. We are the uncarved block, the original face, which we were before the foundation of the world. I am what I am, what I was, what I will be, what I am now. Before and beyond time, I am.

This awareness is accessible in quiet meditation. It is not a “spiritual experience” that is turned on or off. It is more basic than that. It is the foundation of all experience. It is direct perception. It is awareness. There is neither subject nor object in this reality. Consciousness. Being. It is that from which individual awareness emerges. This is who we are. All of us together. This is the One before and beyond the many. This is the uncarved block. That thou art.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Why Evangelicals Love Trump

I woke up Sunday at four o’clock in the morning and could not go back to sleep. I had received a revelation. For years I have been trying to figure out why evangelicals support President Trump. The standard answer, which I had come to accept, is that he advances their social agenda. They are willing to overlook the many unseemly qualities of the man in exchange for appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, supporting gun rights, the nation of Israel, and the right of Christians to pray in schools, say “Merry Christmas,” and refuse to do business with homosexuals.

Then early on the Lord’s Day I realized there is a much deeper reason, a spiritual reason, that evangelicals love Trump. Evangelicals love Trump because he reminds them of their God! Trump is the earthly image of evangelicals’ understanding of their heavenly Lord. When you look at the unlikely relationship between white Evangelicalism and the president in this light, then it all makes sense.

Trump see himself as wielding unbridled power. That is why he admires strongmen like Putin and Kim Jong Un. Indeed evangelicals have compared Trump to the Persian king Cyrus, whom the Book of Isaiah labels “the Anointed One” (Messiah or Christ). Trump demands unquestioned allegiance and obedience from his followers – just like God. He is above all human laws and authority – just like God. He rewards and punishes his subjects based solely on their loyalty to him – just like God.

He and his followers believe that everything that comes out of his mouth must be true, and they will manipulate the facts in order to fit his latest Twitter pronouncement. His word is Truth, as infallible as any Word of God. He does not repent or need forgiveness because everything he does is “perfect.” 

Like God, he has a chosen people – Israel and evangelical Christians – who are the only ones who really matter.  All others are enemies and outsiders. As Jesus said, “Those who are not with us are against us.” Democrats and other liberals are dangerous threats to the wellbeing of our holy nation. God’s people need to be protected from their evil designs by whatever means necessary.

On inauguration day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, preached a sermon at a private service to the Trump and Pence families at Saint John’s Episcopal Church. In the message he favorably compared the president to Nehemiah. 

In the Bible Nehemiah built a wall around Jerusalem to protect God’s chosen people from the “ungodly” indigenous people of 5th century BC Palestine. Nehemiah also forbade intermarriage in order to preserve the purity of his race and religion. Israel today has built a wall to protect them from Palestinians. Trump is building a wall to protect America from an army of Hispanic “rapists, murderers, and drug dealers” invading our southern border.

Trump’s and Israel’s walls are echoes of the walled city of the heavenly Jerusalem built by God, of which the Book of Revelation says, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life…. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” 

When evangelicals look at Trump they see a man like Cyrus and Nehemiah - appointed by God for this hour in American history. That is why they do not challenge him when he declares on national television that he is “the Chosen One.” For them he is. Christian politicians and preachers line up to defend their billionaire messiah. He is the personification of the self-esteem, self-help and prosperity gospels which have infiltrated the theology of conservative churches in recent decades.

His devout followers do not flinch when he brags of sexually assaulting women and pays off a porn star to keep her quiet. Their God likewise keeps women silent and in their place – useful only for childbirth and maintaining the home for their husbands. Trump’s newfound support for the “Pro-Life” movement serves the purpose of keeping women subservient. Even their bodies are not theirs. Welcome to Gilead. Females should not dare to challenge or supplant the authority of males, for as the apostle Paul says:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

In the evangelical and Trumpian worlds women – starting with Eve - are the cause of all sorts of problems, especially women of color. That is why Trump reserves his harshest verbal abuse and name-calling for them. They are the enemy – unless, of course they submit to him as God tells them to do. For the Bible tells us that earthly rulers such as he are appointed by God.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Likewise the Scriptures say, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

So now it is all clear. When evangelicals look at Trump they see a personification of biblical and godly values. They see a champion of their form of Christianity, a man’s man chosen by the Lord to bring the nation back to godly values. “Make America Great Again!” and “Keep America Great,” which means keep Trump in the White House. A defeat for Trump can be nothing less than a defeat for God.

When I look at Trump, I see something very different. I see a demagogue (or demigod) who is the exact opposite of everything that Jesus stood for, and yet claims the same devotion from his followers as Christ has. I see a messianic imposter who has put himself in the place of God. Like the “little horn” of the Book of Daniel, he speaks “arrogant and boastful words.”

I pray that Christians will see Trump for what is really is and will withdraw their support. That is what the (former) editors of the two largest evangelical magazines – the Christian Post and Christianity Today – urged. More and more evangelicals are waking up to the truth. President Trump is not our messiah. He is neither a godly nor moral man. He is an imposter “who deceives if possible even the elect.” Wake up, church, and serve the true and living God!

Monday, February 3, 2020

A Different Rhythm

Recently I spent some time by the seashore. Don’t hate me for it, but I exited the frozen north to spend a few weeks in the milder clime of Florida. I needed to thaw out and feel my toes again. Plus the added sunlight helps my mental health. (I wonder if I can write this trip off on my taxes as healthcare.) Anyway, we rented a place near the ocean for a month. It happens to be called Moontide.  It has a different kind of rhythm than my New Hampshire inland residence.

Seaside living is governed by the tides. At least our particular stretch of shoreline is. The beach near us is not very wide. So when the tide comes in, we cannot walk the beach with the snowbirds and other water fowl. If we go for a walk anytime near high tide, I find myself scampering from the waves, hugging the seawalls, and praying that my only pair of decent shoes will not become soaked with seawater.  Shoes are never quite the same after taking a dip in the ocean.

So our walks on the beach are governed by the tides, which means that we walk at low tide or thereabouts. Tides are not like the rhythm of the sun. Tides do not rise and fall at roughly the same time each day. They have the aggravating habit of migrating by an hour or so daily. Regular morning constitutionals become noontide walks or afternoon strolls.

Furthermore the ocean is constantly changing. It changes colors throughout the day. It has emotions. Mother Nature has her moods, as does Father Sky, Sister Wind and Brother Water. I find myself searching for the words St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

The rhythms of nature, including Sister Death (which is amply on display on a beach) puts life into perspective.  It just so happens that I am rereading the Tao Te Ching this month with a study group at our church. It is just what I need. The Tao, which we Christians refer to as the Word or the Christ (the eternal Logos which was incarnated in Jesus), is abundantly expressed in the flow of the tides and the crashing of the waves.

The ocean seems to be breathing in and out, like my breath during meditation. Sometimes the rain forests are called the lungs of the world, and that may be a more apt metaphor, but the ocean seems to be breathing as well. Or maybe the oceans – along with all other watercourses - are the circulatory system of the earth bringing life to every inch of the planet. With every wave I can hear the heart of the world beating.

In any case, it does not take long for my body and mind to get into the rhythm of the earth. That is what spirituality is all about - getting in sync with God as expressed in God’s creation. We Christians call it walking with Christ – getting in step with Jesus - whom we say is the human incarnation of God in creation. To be a Jesus follower means to live in harmony with the One who is one with God. In the process we become united with God.

It is a different rhythm than the discordant beat of human society, which seems so out of touch with God and Nature. Of course the Divine rhythm is present in New Hampshire as well, with its dramatically changing seasons. But sometimes it helps to get out of one’s regular environment and into another in order to perceive God more clearly. I do not mind exchanging the rhythm of snow shoveling for the rhythm of the tides. In them I hear the heartbeat of God.