Thursday, 4 July 2019

America's Unfinished Revolution: A Reflection for the 4th of July






Hey friends, my apologies for being a really infrequent blogger of late.


To all American friends, Happy Independence Day to you all. I won’t lie to you- you all know me too well; I think that America has hard times ahead as it attempts to ride out and resist the worst impulses of a bad President and the rot of nativism, populism and plutocracy.

In the shadow of it all, it is so easy to lose sight of the historic and radical origins of this day; to be so sickened by over-ripened hubris and faux patriotism of the day that you might just abandon it all to the 'America First' fanatics.

I refuse to roll over so easily. 

Why? Because I'm a revolutionary, and this is my day... 

I grew up in the New York/New Jersey area, so the Revolutionary period was all around me. My parents’ house was built in 1775; the area is filled with historical sights dating to the 1700’s; I took several school field trips to Washington’s Headquarters, Jockey Hollow and other sites.

But the American Revolution should not be confused with the War of Independence, though of course they historically overlap;

The War of Independence was fought between 1775 and 1783; the Revolution goes far beyond that.

The American Revolution was- and is- a collection of ideas, a new and completely untried set of beliefs about humanity, power, politics, and national culture.

How would one sum up the American Revolution of Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Paine?

Individual rights instead of group rights;

A Bill of Rights that explicitly lays them out;

Implacable hostility to monarchy or absolutism in any form;

The rule of law;

Equality before the law;

Separation of Powers;

Separation of the power of the State and the practice of religion;

*All* of that is worth celebrating and *should* be celebrated; not through jingo-ism or cod patriotism, but by demanding that that Revolution be made permanent.

The American Revolution continued long after the War of Independence ended; if it hadn’t, the great experiment in North American democracy would have ended centuries ago.

Needless to say, the rights and roles of women at the beginning of America were largely either ignored or left impossibly vague by the founders;

Native Americans were explicitly referred to in the Declaration of Independence as ‘merciless Indian savages’;   

African-Americans were either (at worst) property or (at best) fifth-class free citizens;

I could go on; The American Revolution has been shot through with racism, class warfare, and white privilege.

But…

A great strength of the American Revolution- and one that should never be overlooked- has been its flexibility and its historic ability to encompass the struggle to make it more encompassing than it originally was. 

It includes the built-in mechanism of the right to disagree, to dissent, to freely and explicitly point out when it’s not working or not working for everybody.

It gives you the right to say, ‘what about me?’ ‘What about us?’

The freedom to speech and expression in the US Constitution is not simply the freedom to praise the nation, its institutions and its leadership (for that reason alone it outstrips the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban Revolutions); the American Revolution carries the promise that you may declare your nation unjust, deficient, uncaring, one-sided, in need of reform.

Thus, the struggle for women’s suffrage was a battle of the Revolution;

The anti-slavery movement, up to and including Black Lives Matter, is a battle of the Revolution;

The Stonewall Uprising was a battle of the Revolution;

Standing Rock was a battle of the Revolution;

When we demand the end to detention camps and the separation of families at the southern border;

When we demand that identical processes exist if one wants to build a mosque or a church;

When we demand that treaties be honoured and that the US government keep its word;

When we demand that every person- regardless of who they are- have the same chance of surviving a routine encounter with a cop;

This is all the American Revolution, and each 4 July is always a day for Americans, if they so desire, to re-focus, re-center, and to remember their Revolution- imperfect, unfinished, yes; but ongoing and (hopefully) permanent... 

and worth defending... 




Monday, 15 April 2019

Empathy: Doing Theology in a Hard-Hearted Situation







We’ve entered into Holy Week, the most significant time on the Christian liturgical calendar. But before I talk about it, I suppose I’d better talk first about the week before.

The week before saw President Trump begin what seemed to be a comprehensive overhaul of this immigration policy by making sweeping changes to his immigration strategy.

Kirstjen Nielsen, head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), resigned after enduring criticism from the President, as did Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting head Don Vitiello.

‘Ron's a good man’, Trump is quoted as saying, ‘but we're going in a tougher direction. We want to go in a tougher direction.’

Nielsen had likewise been regularly criticized by the President for not being aggressive enough.

Considering that both of these people have been overseeing this administration’s chaotic, cruel fiasco of separating migrant parents- legal or illegal- from their children, then deporting large numbers of the parents without their children, then not documenting the children’s whereabouts, and then announcing it might take upwards of two years to reunite them, one can only shudder and wonder what the President means when he talks of a ‘tougher direction’.

The President is in a quandary and is striking out like a hysterical child. Using cruelty as a deterrent hasn’t worked; people are still fleeing poverty and rampant violence in Central America. Now what?

‘Get crueler’ seems to be the answer…

We’re seeing a massive human migration. A crisis of the magnitude that the US is currently enduring at the southern border require levels of leadership, strategic thinking, purpose, authority, and vision that the President has never given any indication of having.

The President keeps threatening to seal the border, but walls and locks won’t solve the problem of people fleeing poverty and violence and asking for asylum. It’d be like locking the doors of a hospital during a flu epidemic in the hopes that people will stop getting sick.

He’s threatened to cut off aid to the Central American nations the people are fleeing from… denying funds to programmes that are working to alleviate poverty and address criminal violence. I am not making this up.

‘The system is full’, the President said on a recent trip to the border’, ‘we can’t take you anymore. Whether it’s asylum. Whether it’s anything you want. It’s illegal immigration.’

So… it’s clear that the President doesn’t know the difference- or refuses to make a distinction- between an illegal act (crossing the US border without a valid entry visa) and a legal act (presenting one’s self at the US border and asking for asylum).

He doesn’t know the difference between a criminal and a victim… and it’s becoming clear that anyone who tries to explain the difference to him is sacked.

All of this shows- in the President, much of his administration and his supporters- a lack of empathy, and for a bunch of people who bluster about how Christian they and their version of America are, that's a problem. 

Empathy is markedly different from sympathy, which is feeling pity or sorrow for another’s misfortune.

Empathy involves the ability to understand the feelings of another, to feel what they must be feeling, to be able to place yourself in their experience.

What must it be like to live without security, without safety, to have no options?

What must it be like to have to flee, to flee terror and violence, to grab what you have and run?

Most Americans- and certainly the majority of white, middle-class Americans- have never had to flee- they’ve never fled poverty, disease, war, or a nightmarish combination of all of three.

The radio, television, or word of mouth has never broadcast to them, ‘we are coming, and if you are still in the city by morning, we will kill you, you and your families.’

Most Americans have never had an armed group show up at their door, shoot the husband, rape the wife, and steal the TV.

Worse, many Americans have utter contempt for those people who have had to flee.

‘Why don’t they improve their own country? Why don’t they stand and fight? I would! Why do they expect help from me? Go home and take care of yourself!’

I and my colleagues who have done post-conflict work in places like Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans… we can introduce you to people who have been forced to flee. We can tell you their stories- of torture, rape, the death of their children, siblings, or entire families;

Of losing your home, of ending up in another part of the world;

Of not being welcome;

Of being shown no empathy…

The God of the Bible is an empathetic God.

‘I have certainly seen the oppression of my people… I have heard their cries of distress… Yes, I am aware of their suffering’ (Exodus 3:7);
‘When (Jesus) saw the crowds… he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:16);
‘You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book’ (Psalm 56:8).

Holy Week is the culmination of Jesus’s incarnation, the ultimate cosmic action of empathy on the part of God- to become the sufferer, the hungry, the oppressed, the fleeing…

There is no way to be a Christian without identifying Christ in one’s neighbour, particularly that neighbour who is suffering or in need.

Once again, we are brought face to face with the true nature of the Gospel- radical, revolutionary, transformative.

By fostering a theology of empathy, we align ourselves with God’s heart for justice and the inherent worth of every human being that we see throughout the biblical text culminating in the incarnation of Jesus- becoming human to save and empower humanity.

Biblically, the antithesis of a theology of empathy is hard-heartedness:

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up ill for yourself on the last day when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5)
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18)

A Gospel of empathy and compassion stands as the antithesis of the mindsets behind the current rise of far-right, nativist, and nationalist movements around the globe, and acts as a theological resistance to it. In fostering it, we expose the current rise of small-minded and cruel actions of  (to name but a few) Trump at the southern border, Netanyahu in the Palestinian territories, China’s growing racist repression of ethnic Uigers, and the targeting of Muslims after 9-11 up to the present day.

All of these oppressors, repressors, and marginalizers rely on relentless ‘other-ing’, rejecting a common humanity, and focusing on ‘us’, ‘our’ needs, ‘our’ agenda, ‘our’ culture and the zero-sum idea that a gain for ‘them’ is a loss for ‘us’…

In Christ’s incarnation, God becomes wholly ‘other’, the ultimate action of empathy.

Christ made himself human, and not simply human but crucially, in our historical and political context, he made himself a migrant at the southern border;

A Palestinian in the occupied territories and Gaza;

A Uiger in China;

A demonized Muslim ;

A bullied transgender young person;

A refugee in a European city…

If we cannot summon empathy for these situations and turn that empathy into action, we do not know Christ and our Christianity is nothing but a nativist cult.

Let this Holy Week be a long reflection on a theology of empathy, and may that reflection become resistance…

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Leaving Lapidation (or, how to love God without stoning people to death...)







Do you know what 'lapidation' is? Neither did I.

But a whole lot of people in the Southeast Asian country of Brunei are terrified that their about to find out...


Let me back up for a moment; 

Five years ago I wrote a piece for the Feast of St. Stephen (26 December).

Since Stephen is described in the biblical text as a young man stoned to death for holding different religious beliefs than the majority (Acts of the Apostles 7), I used the day to reflect on the global issues of torture, prisoner abuse, and cruel and unusual methods of capital punishment.  

The news that Brunei has become the latest nation to declare that it will use stoning as a method of execution for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality brings the issue back to critical importance once again. 

It’d be difficult to think of a more brutal way to execute someone than by throwing rocks at them until they succumb to blunt trauma. Yet stoning (or, if you want the fancy name, ‘lapidation’) is a legal method of execution in 14 countries, and an extrajudicial method in several others. 

In practice, the practical process of stoning someone to death usually involves burying a man upright up to his chest (or a woman up to her shoulders). Islamic law dictates the stones be of a size not so large as one or two strikes would result in death, but not so small that the stoning would take an undue amount of time. Preferred stones are therefore about the size of a hand; the process can take up to 20 minutes.

Although the countries and legal systems which utilize stoning are predominantly Muslim, this is by no means simply an issue within Islam. Several extremist Christian groups in the US and elsewhere, as well as individual clergy, laypeople, and politicians (posting or commenting on social media where, bizarrely, they seem to think no one can hear them) have expressed their desire to reinstate stoning as a 'biblical' punishment for a raft of crimes. 

Needless to say, actual pro-stoning Christians are rare. But in browsing around the internet for Christian views on stoning, it appears that, because stoning is mentioned in the Bible- as a divinely-inspired method of execution, no less- few Christians seem willing to completely rule it out.

One site called ‘Got Questions’ put it this way:

Stoning is a horrible way to die. That particular manner of execution must have been a strong deterrent against committing the sins deemed offensive enough to merit stoning. God cares very much about the purity of His people. The strict punishment for sin during the time of the Law helped deter people from adopting the impure practices of their pagan neighbors and rebelling against God. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and Israel was given a stern commandment to stay pure: “You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 17:7) 

That a Christian commentator could, after the 20th century’s totalitarian horrors of genocide, mass deportation, and ethnic cleansing, so blithely write about the need to ‘purge’ and ‘purify’  almost perfectly encapsulates the type of theology Walter Wink bluntly dismissed (in 1973, no less) as ‘bankrupt’:

I use ‘bankrupt’ in the exact sense of the term. A business which goes bankrupt is not valueless, nor incapable of producing useful products. It still has an inventory of expensive parts, a large capital outlay, a team of trained personnel, a certain reputation, and usually, until the day bankruptcy is declared, a facade which appeared to most to be relatively healthy. The one thing wrong — and the only thing — is that it is no longer able to accomplish its avowed purpose for existence: to make money. It is in this precise sense that one can speak of the historical critical method generally... It is bankrupt solely because it is incapable of achieving what most of its practitioners considered its purpose to be: so to interpret the Scriptures that the past becomes alive and illumines our present with new possibilities for personal and social transformation.

Another site called ‘What Christians Want To know’ put it like this:

To look back at the Mosaic Laws and to ask why God allowed certain things is to make ourselves the judge of God and I won’t go there. These seem harsh to our thinking but in a society where there were no civil police forces that patrolled the nation of Israel, God had to institute His laws as a device to check or prohibit crime from ever happening. The severe punishment of stoning was instituted for this nation to deter crime and was intended to prevent it from becoming rampant and keep the entire nation from self-destructing or imploding upon itself. If we don’t understand something in the Bible or what God taught, we must simply trust the Creator Who has every right to govern in the way that is best to Him for who can question God. I can’t. 

So… God instituted stoning because there were no police? By that logic, why didn’t God just institute police rather than stoning? Plus, stoning people to death was ‘to deter crime’ and ‘keep the entire nation from self-destructing’? Does the author honestly think that is a proper prescription for crime prevention and national security, then or now? Are we to assume the author thinks it’s still an effective method of doing both?

He or she doesn’t explicitly answer that, falling back instead on the weak exegetical trope whenever coming across something horrific in the biblical text and not wanting to question it for fear that this entails throwing out the entire Bible as a whole:

‘Oh well, God must have known what he was doing’…

Theology can do better. When people are being cruelly murdered for being who they are- being who God created them to be- it must do better. 

When Jesus was confronted with a woman that Jewish law deemed worthy of stoning, he transformed the entire issue, refusing to confirm the sentence and instead forcing the crowd to reflect on who could possibly think themselves able to commit such an act;

‘Let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone’;

If you, being the person you know yourself to be, could inflict this on another, throw…

Many over the years have mused about what Jesus was writing in the dirt when confronted by the mob wanting to stone the woman to death.  

We’ll never know, of course.

I hope it was ‘don’t stone people to death, ever.’

Please support Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in their efforts to ban torture, cruel and unusual punishments, and the death penalty worldwide. 

Holy St. Stephen, pray for us...





Friday, 29 March 2019

'Weaponized' Prayer: How to Disarm How We Talk to God (and each other...)






This week, the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives had a moment of history, as it swore in its first female African-American Muslim legislator, Movita  Johnson-Harrell (D) of Philadelphia. 

There are enough historic milestones there for that to be newsworthy alone. But as so often happens in America, it wasn’t a black person’s achievement that was the primary story, but a white person’s reaction to it.

Invited to give the ceremonial opening prayer was (according to her Facbook page) ‘very conservative’ Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R) who stepped to the mic and prayed thus (Note: transcribed from a You Tube clip, this is as faithful a transcript as I could manage of the prayer, which was improvised on the spot, so my punctuation might be sketchy):

Let’s pray: Jesus, I thank you for this privilege, Lord, of letting me pray, God, that I, Jesus, am your ambassador here today, standing here representing you, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Great I Am, the one who’s coming back again, the one who came, died, and rose again on the third day, and I’m so privileged to stand here today, so thank you for this honour, Jesus, God, for those who came before us like George Washington at Valley Forge, and Abraham Lincoln who sought after you at Gettysburg, Jesus, and the Founding Fathers at Independence Hall, Jesus, that sought after you and fasted and prayed for this nation to be founded on your principles and your words and your truths.
God, forgive us. Jesus, we’ve lost sight of you. We’ve forgotten you, God, in our country, and we’re asking you to forgive us, Jesus, that your promise in your word says that ‘If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek your face and turn from their wicked ways’ that you’ll heal our land. Jesus you are our only hope. God, I pray for our leaders Speaker (Mike) Turzai, Leader Cutler, Governor Wolf, President Trump. Lord, thank you that he stands beside Israel unequivocally, Lord.
Thank you that, Jesus, that we’re blessed because we stand by Israel, and we ask for the peace of Jerusalem as your word says, God. We ask that we not be overcome by evil and that we overcome evil with good in this land once again. I claim all these things in the powerful, mighty name of Jesus, the one who at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Many have criticized the prayer, calling it offensive and divisive.  By the last line, there were loud grumblings from the assembled audience, and House Speaker Mike Turzai was gently touching Borowicz’ elbow, gently urging her to finish up. She then exited the chamber in protest of a Muslim being sworn in as a lawmaker.

Johnson-Harrell herself said she felt the prayer ‘blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders’. 

Borowicz defended herself by saying ‘That's how I pray every day. . . . I don't apologize ever for praying.’

That’s a bit of a dodge, as no one was criticizing her for praying; the criticism she faced had to do with what she prayed given the place and the occasion.

To be honest, I don’t doubt that that is the way she prays; I spent over half my life in the Evangelical Christian subculture and can confidently tell you that this is the way that many Evangelical Americans pray.

That said, it’s a problematic way to pray.  

This was an almost textbook example of a 'weaponized' prayer, a prayer meant to publicly advance a religious and political ideology, and addressed to Johnson-Harrell as much as to God.

By using a specifically modern Evangelical understanding of the Founding Fathers; by making the explicit implication that America had fallen from such a pristine Christian foundation; by framing the occasion as a moment of national failure and needing God’s forgiveness; and by implicitly stating that American unwavering political support for the state of Israel was a mark of national religious righteousness, all seemed designed to send the message- and certainly send it to Johnson-Harrell- that this was no celebration.

A Muslim might indeed be elected to sit in that chamber, but it would never be fully ‘hers’…

This was a Christian place, the prayer seemed designed to make clear. Christians created it, Christians owned it.

Plus, by naming God, the ‘Lord’, and Jesus nearly two dozen times in just under two minutes, Borowicz’ prayer almost seems to be an incantation, invoking the name of God as some form of talisman, a protection against the presence- and the religious faith- of a dangerous ‘other’.

Again, this was a Christian making it plain that her beliefs, understanding, and terminology for God were good, right, and correct.

This is nothing less than a supremacist position- ‘Christian supremacy’. Other faiths might be tolerated, but they will never be afforded equality. They must know their place and not presume to seek after white American Evangelical Christianity’s unique and privileged public position.

This is a form of Christianity that has never figured out how to live together well with any faith other than their own and (at a stretch) Judaism. They adhere to a zero-sum approach that sees ‘respect for’ as ‘surrender to’.

From my years living, working, and worshiping in the Evangelical Christian subculture, I’ve sat through hundreds of prayers like the one Borowicz gave. It was never pleasant. Prayer was designed to declare, to chide, to correct, and to advance agendas.

Prayers were often said for elected officials. Prayers for Republicans were filled with enthusiastic thanks given to God for their honour, wisdom, and courage; Democrats got earnest prayers for their salvation and hopes they’d abandon wickedness and turn to God.

Prayers for Evangelical leaders and organizations were full of thanks, blessing and hopes that they’d thrive and grow; prayers for Catholics focused on turning from dead religion to a living, vibrant faith.

Left-leaning Catholics like me always knew where we stood…

So I have two interrelated questions: First, how do we ‘decommission’ our weaponized prayers? And secondly, how do we live together well in a public space with our brothers and sisters who hold to different faiths?

Firstly, we can simply pray as Jesus in the biblical text told us to pray.

Jesus could be a fairly cryptic and opaque communicator; on any number of occasions, the Gospels describe people as being confused or offended by his teachings, if not just plain bewildered. It is for this reason that, when he gives a straightforward answer or, better still, a plain directive, it’s a good idea to take special notice… and on the subject of prayer, he does so.

When his disciples ask him to teach them to pray, he says ‘Pray then in this way’ (Matt. 6:9); ‘When you pray, say’ (Luke 11:2)…

The Lord’s Prayer, the ‘Our Father’, was what he gave us.

Praise to God, for his Kingdom to be established, food for today, forgiveness when we fall short, and strength for the journey.

That’s all. So little, yet everything…

If Jesus warned us, ‘do not practice your piety before others to be seen by them’ (Matt. 6:1), then the prayer he actually gave to his followers seems the perfect preventive.

But, I hear many argue- perhaps Borowicz herself?- how will God know what he needs to be doing, who he needs to be blessing, and who needs stopping if we don’t tell him so?

None of that is our concern.

How will others know our opinions of them and our agendas for them if we don’t cloak them in holy rhetoric? 

Speak for yourself… and let God speak for himself.

 Secondly, we can follow Jesus’ example in our approach to faiths other than our own.

Jesus lived his life and had his ministry in one of the most multicultural spots on Earth of that time- the eastern Mediterranean. A dizzying array of cultures, ethnicities, philosophies and religions- pagan, monotheist, polytheist, gnostic- jostled and interacted on a daily basis.

With that in mind, and with the inordinate amount of effort certain Christians take in trying to rein in, discredit, and marginalize other faiths, it’s interesting to notice that the Gospel writers felt no need to record Jesus giving an opinion or passing judgement on any other faith or philosophy.

We never find out his opinions on Zeus, Aries, Mithra, Plato, or Aristotle.

In fact, the only faith that he seems interested in critiquing is his own, arguing with the Pharisee movement, condemning Jewish legal scholars, and taking direct action against Temple practices.

If the biblical authors saw no need to record Jesus criticizing and condemning other faiths, then we can safely assume that there’s no real reason for us to do so either.

This would be seen as a huge sea change for many Christians. 

It takes extraordinary humility and radical faith to pray the Lord’s Prayer and nothing else, just as it would take great courage to simply live with and interact with good will toward non-Christian faith communities. 

What I see in Borowicz prayer is fear- of what she doesn’t understand, of what she thinks is dangerous, of what she sees as a slippery slope toward her own marginalization, her own loss of status, her own loss of power…

… and yet, the biblical text is filled with dozens of instructions to ‘fear not’. Trust God. Do what is right. Live at peace with your neighbours, regardless of their faith or lack of it.

Pray without ceasing…

As Jesus taught us.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Lie of America's National Emergency







America is nearly a week into the National Emergency declared by the President on 15 February. 

It is an odd National Emergency; I never thought a National Emergency by President Trump would be so mundane. But even by his standards, it’s a bit of a let-down.

Given his endless, overheated rhetoric about the scale of the danger posed by the southern border’s supposedly weak security, coupled with his love for the ostentatious, I had wondered if we’d see tanks on the White House lawn, sandbag emplacements on the Capitol steps, special instructions given to the citizens…

… but in the end, all the President gave us was a very long and rambling speech (needless to say, no fourscore and seven years, no dates living in infamy, no asking not what your country can do for you) before leaving to play golf.

I don’t think anyone who reads me regularly will be surprised I think the President’s national emergency- like the President himself- is a fraud. No facts surrounding the issues of immigration, national security, drug enforcement, or refugee asylum point to more physically-reinforced infrastructure as a positive or even necessary solution.

It’s for that reason that I’ve posited that Trump’s wall is an idol- a manifestation of fear, lack of trust, misplaced identity and cruelty, the antithesis of the God  of love, life, and liberation.

Now, please don’t think for a minute that I don’t believe there is an actual national emergency unfolding in America; there is. And once again, I think a theological lens helps us bring it into focus.
You can theologically critique Trump from any number of directions- his disdain for the poor; his disdain for the refugee and the stranger; his almost pristine narcissism; his arrogance, and all of those critiques would be entirely credible. But there is one issue that I believe underpins them all.

Ask yourself: what is the most condemned action in the biblical text?

What sin is proscribed more often than any other?

Is it the rather awkward issue of all these homosexuals that God just keeps manufacturing much to the disgust of so many in the Church? Oddly, no.

Murder? Nope.

Sex before marriage? Not even close.

Profanity? Hell, no.

By a huge margin, the most proscribed sin in the Biblical text is lying.

Various nonpartisan, credible fact checking services report that the President lies anywhere from 70% to 90% of the time. We’re not talking about finessed facts, spin, or half-truths; we’re talking about patent falsehoods;

Events that didn’t happen;

Conversations that didn’t take place;

Statistics that are completely false;

Invasions, attacks, wars, peace agreements that no one has ever heard of;

Successful results to problems that didn’t occur, and egregious problems concocted to cover up inconvenient successes;

Lie after lie after lie after lie, day after day, night after night, tweet after tweet…

I am not, nor have I ever been, na├»ve about the nature of politics. The US- and many other nations- have had leaders in the past who have withheld information- for security reasons, for political reasons, for strategic reasons, and even for criminal reasons. Whatever your country or nationality, we’ve all had leaders who have lied before.

It’s not right, it’s not pleasant, it should be condemned, and the guilty parties held to account…

But that said, I think it’s safe to say that America has never had, in its history, a President who seems un-moored from any commitment to reality itself, who simply announces what he wishes to be true without any care for whether or not it is.

With this man, and presumably for those who work with, support and enable him, verifiable truth simply has no value.

That, I believe (and I think a welter of biblical texts backs me up), is the national emergency.

When a person in power resorts to a private reality, they effectively lose the ability to govern. When objective facts regarding any number of national issues are placed before them, and they say, in effect’ ‘I don’t accept that this is true; in fact, the opposite is true’, any understanding of leadership falls away.

In a politically specific way, any semblance of healthy democracy becomes unworkable; more generally, profitable human interaction ceases to function. 

Of course Christian faith understands lying to be a sin, but it’s always important to understand that sin is more than an ethical shortcoming. The reason that lying carries the theological weight that it does is because of the way it relates to the character of God. In I John we read:

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Lying is the antithesis of God, who is whole, perfect… ‘light’. God cannot cease to be God, nor can he deny reality for reality emanates from God. A liar does both; a liar attempts to be other than he or she is and distorts reality for their own ends.

Truth requires humility, introspection, and self-understanding as a human trying to live in the truth- the reality of God- understands that they fall short. But, as the text expresses, Forgiveness follows repentance- repentance being the outward, active expression of humility and self-understanding.

In Jesus’s encounter with Pilate in John 18 he says:

‘In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’
 ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. 

Jesus declared himself ‘the truth’, insomuch as the purpose of the incarnation was not for him to disseminate teachings or devise an ethical structure, but to be the the image of the invisible and indivisible God. Pilate accepts neither Jesus nor God, not by denying Jesus’s goodness- in fact he acknowledges Jesus’s innocence and the injustice of his trial- but by sarcastically calling truth itself into question.

The liar does exactly the same thing, and by doing so becomes an atheist, anti-christ. Just as there is no lying in God, there is, as it were, no ‘God’ in the lie.

America’s ‘national emergency’ is not along the southern border; it’s at the heart of government, in the way that lying- as well as open contempt for objective truth itself- has become the default communication for the wealthy and the powerful.

It is the duty of the people of God to declare the truth and take action in the light of truth embodied in the person of Jesus- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless…

We do this, not because the wealthy and powerful are unaware of the truth, but to bear witness that truth exists and is an intrinsic good.

Anything less is, well, just a lie…