Archive for September, 2009

Signs of the Times

September 23, 2009

There is a web site created by Glenn Beck that is called The 9-12 Project. (For those who don’t know, Glenn Beck is a conservative commentator on Fox News who is famous for being a Christian and for being the guy who said that President Obama hates white people during one of his shows). The stated goal of Beck’s “Project” is “to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. ” So where were we on that day? Apparently we were in a mythic America where no one was “obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties” but rather we were “united as Americans, standing together to protect the values and principles of the greatest nation ever created.”

When you think of 9-11, what do you think of? I flashed on an image of businessmen running panicked towards the camera while a massive cloud of gray smoke filled the street behind them. I remember the image of firemen walking resolutely towards the danger, faces covered with white dust masks, stepping over debris, the sky completely fogged over with particulates. I think of the image of Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest who ministered to firefighters, and who died when the south tower collapsed, his body being lovingly carried from the rubble. And I think of an image of an impromptu prayer circle formed by workers, firefighters, paramedics, and State Department employees as they stood next to the devastation.

When I think of 9-12-2001, I remember a country that prayed to God, that rallied around a President, that put the needs of others first, that reconsidered what it means to love your country. There was a spirit of unity in the air as we temporarily cast aside our differences to stand together and face a common enemy.

So let’s see where Glenn Beck and I agree about the “place we were on September 12, 2001.” Praying to God. Check. Love your country. Check. Putting the needs of others first? Hmmm. Glenn Beck thinks that when God is the center of your life, you should have compassion on some folks but not others, and it is up to you to judge who is deserving of your charity. (See the 9 Principles on The 9-12 Project web site). So who would Jesus have compassion on? I know, the deserving!

Let’s continue checking. Rally around the President? Wait, isn’t Glenn Beck rallying against the President? Stand together to face an external enemy? But Glenn says that the enemy is the Obama administration, that the enemy is internal, that the enemy is any elected official that seeks to destroy Glenn Beck’s way of life. It turns out that Glenn Beck and I were in two different Americas on the twelfth of September in the year 2001.

So, where is Glenn Beck’s 9-12 Project really taking us? What is our destination? All we have to do is examine the signs along the way. They’ll tell us where we are going. So, here’s my examination of signage that appeared at the 9-12/Tea Party March on Washington on September 12, 2009. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/42448313@N03/sets/72157622224474669/).

As we enter into the land of the 9-12 Project, the first signs I see speak of a people who get all their information from a single news organization. Apparently Fox News is God’s Tru TV. Some examples:

One sign read, “God bless Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Greta Van Susteren, Mark Levin, Monica Crowley.” Another one said simply, “Thank you, Glenn Beck.” Then there was “MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Obama’s news czars AKA The 5 Stooges.” And this one, “If you can see this, you must be watching Fox News.” But my favorite sign in this category was carried by a man wearing a T-shirt that said, “Christian, American, Heterosexual, Pro-gun, Conservative. Any questions?” His sign read, “Fox News, 21st Century Paul Revere.” 

Signage check. Fox News as an objective source of information so that we can make rational decisions concerning important issues facing Americans? Scary wrong. In fact, Fox News viewers overwhelmingly believe the four biggest lies about healthcare reform that are currently circulating: that the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; that reform would lead to a government takeover of the health system; that the plans would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions; and that the plans will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly. (http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/08/19/2036015.aspx). Fox viewers believe these lies in part due to the biased commentators that fill so many of Fox’s airtime slots. On a 2 day period in August, Fox News guests that were opposed to healthcare reform outnumbered supporters and neutral observers by a 6 to 1 ratio (http://thinkprogress.org/2009/08/13/report-fox-health-coverage/).

Fox’s objectivity has been frequently questioned by media critics. And with good reason. Fox News heavily promoted the 9-12 rally. Then, when on the scene, a Fox News channel producer was captured on video urging the protestors to cheer louder so that the crowds behind the on-air commentator would appear more angry and enthusiastic. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/19/fox-news-producer-caught_n_292529.html). After it was over, Fox News even took out a full page ad criticizing the other network’s coverage of the event. (For CNN’s rebuttal, see this: http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200909180056). So many Christians I know are quick to point out the dreaded liberal bias of the mass media. The antidote to this perceived “problem” is not to swallow propaganda from a blatantly biased right-wing news organization.

Let’s continue our journey into 9-12 Project territory and take a look at another group of signs. These three signs all have one thing in common. President Obama is pictured in white face with exaggerated lipstick markings making him look like the Joker in the movie “The Dark Knight.”

What a diabolical image. First, it tries to associate the freely elected President of the United States with an anti-social, psychopathic terrorist bent on subverting society and forcing a violent descent into anarchy through random acts of violence. Second, and more subtly, it is a reversal of the despicable tradition of blackface in American theatre.

In minstrelsy or blackface, white performers would blacken their faces with grease paint and exaggerate their lips to caricature African Americans. The typical stereotypes portrayed were buffoonish, lazy, superstitious, cowardly, and lascivious characters, who stole, lied pathologically, and mangled the English language. In this role reversal, a black man, President Obama, is shown in whiteface, the imagery suggesting that he is pretending to be a white man (one of us?) when in his heart of hearts, he’s really just an anti-social, anarchist, terrorist, killer.

The captions on these signs match the extreme imagery. First up, “Unamerican cap and traitor”. (Apparently the cap and trade system for carbon dioxide emissions is really a terrorist plot disguised as environmental legislation). Next up, in a nod to Joe Wilson, we have, “”Stop lying! I don’t want your debt. Obama Bin Laden.” (Apparently this sign maker still believes that Obama is a secret Muslim). But the craziest caption is, “Stop him now, before it’s too late. It’s not about Obamacare, it’s about power! When we smell the burning flesh from the ovens, it will be too late for us all. Socialism.”

This position is so extreme that it boggles the mind. This idiot would have us believe that healthcare reform is really just a grab for power by a would-be fascist dictator who if not stopped will one day carry out a Hitlerian final solution plan to destroy Glenn Beck’s America. It is just not possible for any semi-rational person to conflate President Obama and Adolf Hitler. There are simply no similarities. To do so desecrates the memories of all the Jewish victims of Nazi evil. And it goes beyond Joe Wilson’s racist disrespect into psychotic conspiracy land.

Speaking of psychotic conspiracy land, let’s look at a third group of signs, all evidence of a total break from reality that hints at extreme right-wing violence. The captions on one of these signs read, “We came unarmed this time.” (Good thing the rally wasn’t held in Arizona). The next read, “Revolution: Montana armed and ready.” Then came, “Oust the Marxist usurper!…his czars and thugs! Honduras did it!”

But the scariest sign to me is this one, “I repeat, Sir, we must fight. An appeal to arms and to the God of Host [sic] is all that is left to us.” That caption is echoed by a T-shirt for sale at the rally. It depicts Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” and over it the phrase, “An appeal to heaven.” It’s bad enough that some of these crazies are hinting that they’re ready for armed revolution. It worse that they do so thinking that God would bless their insanity.

And there we have it. In Glenn Beck’s 9-12 Project America, good Christians get their news from a biased right-wing media outlet that sponsors fake grass-roots rallies against a black man who is not really one of us but has illegitimately usurped the position of highest power in our political system and is plotting to take dictatorial control of all of our institutions and destroy all good, white, patriotic, heterosexual, pro-gun, Christian, Americans. Any questions?

I have one. How in the name of Jesus did Christians get associated with this lunacy? I truly feel ashamed to call myself a Christian when I read the signs at the 9-12 Project/Tea Party rally. When did Yahweh start to support racism, lying, hatred, and the violent overthrow of the democratically elected American President? Would Jesus have been at that rally holding up one of these signs?

My advice to 9-12 Project supporters is this. Stop watching Fox News and start thinking for yourself. The America that you want to bring back is an America that is filled with intolerance, racism, and the violent repression of ethnic and religious minorities. And based on the photos at the 9-12/Tea Party rally, it’s 99.9% white. God will never bless that kind of America.

Timothy

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Wilson’s Folly

September 11, 2009

We’ve all heard sermons admonishing us to either behave or dress appropriately in church. One of the illustrations I’ve heard numerous times goes something like this. “If the President of the United States appeared here on the platform how would you receive him? Would you dress in your nicest church clothes? Would you pay attention to his message and not chit-chat or text while he’s speaking? After all, he’s the President and out of respect you’d be on your best behavior, wouldn’t you? Well, someone more important than the President is here. His name is Jesus.” And so the exhortation goes. If you’re willing to pay that kind of respect to the President, how much more respect should you pay to Jesus?

Based upon the wisdom of this sermon illustration, I’m thinking that many of our Republican congressman and senators only pay lip service to loving Jesus. After all, they openly disrespect the President and if they can’t even behave civilly and respectfully while he’s standing in front of them and speaking before a joint session of Congress, what hope does Jesus, who is far away in heaven, have of getting their respect?

As examples I offer up Representative Eric Cantor from Virginia, the Republican Whip. While Obama was speaking about the relatively low cost of passing healthcare reform in comparison to the cost of the war in Iraq and the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans passed at the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term in office, Cantor could be seen typing into his Blackberry. Then there’s Representative John Shimkus, Republican congressman from southwestern Illinois. Shimkus was photographed walking out on Obama’s speech a few minutes before it finished.

But the award for the most disrespect shown to the President of the United States while addressing a joint session of Congress goes to Representative Joe Wilson, Republican congressman from South Carolina. During a part of the address where Obama asserted that the healthcare reforms proposed would not cover undocumented aliens, Wilson shouted, “You lie,” in a voice loud enough to be heard around the world.

When I heard it I was stunned. Our President had actually been heckled and called a liar to his face by one of our elected officials during a solemn occasion. Wow! I read that the last time George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress he had approval ratings in the mid-20’s. Three-quarters of the population disapproved of the job he was doing. Did anyone walk out on his address? Are there videos of people typing into Blackberry’s while he spoke? Was he heckled and called a liar? Obama’s approval rating at the time of this speech stood at 51%. That’s twice as high as George W. Bush’s at the time of his last address to a joint session of Congress. Bush was treated with the respect that he deserved from being our President. Obama was not extended the same respect even though he holds the same office. Why is that?

A spokesman for Eric Cantor said that he was typing notes, not sending text messages. I can believe that. It looked disrespectful, but maybe it is a sign that Cantor is a very studious fellow. Congressman Shimkus explained that he was frustrated. That’s a juvenile excuse for juvenile behavior. Wilson issued an apology for his behavior stating that his emotions got the best of him. Another juvenile excuse for juvenile behavior?

It is interesting that Congressman Wilson lost his composure when the topic of undocumented workers and healthcare reform came up. The President said that the proposed exchange for those without health insurance would not cover undocumented workers. Wilson shouted, “You lie.” But, Obama was not lying. Even CNN, which is a right-of-center news organization, agrees that HR 3200 would not cover “illegal immigrants.” See http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/08/27/cnn-truth-squad-will-health-bill-pay-for-illegal-immigrants-an-update/ for their take on the issue.

Why would a dispute on the coverage of undocumented workers by a healthcare reform bill cause Wilson’s blood to boil over like that? Why couldn’t he just listen to the speech respectfully and then use the public platform of his office to lobby for his views like so many others have done for so many years? Why is it that our first African-American President was not given the same deference given to all of the White Presidents before him?

It is interesting that Joe Wilson has reportedly been a member of both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. See http://www.ourcampaigns.com/CandidateDetail.html?CandidateID=2083 for more information. Now the SCV is an interesting organization. Because of changes that have occurred over the last decade, the SCV has made the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups. In fact, their chaplain once attacked “racial interbreeding” as ungodly and described slavery as biblically sanctioned. Please see http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?pid=1027 for the full story.

Most have forgotten this already, but Joe Wilson made the news back in the late 1990’s when as a state senator, he was one of 7 people who voted against removing the Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina state house. Wilson called the Confederate heritage “very honorable” in a BBC interview at the time (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/503579.stm).

A final example. Joe Wilson has stated that he would open his Congressional office to people participating in the 09.12.09 Tea Party movement’s March on Washington. On that web site, which I refuse to link, look it up yourself, there is a “bronze” sponsor listed by the name of the National Association of Rural Landowners. Their web site (www.narlo.org) contains links to videos that outline their beliefs. I watched one in horror. “The Coming Civil War” can be seen on YouTube here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5Ewwmikc9Q). Basically, the video makes the claim that if any portion of Obama’s mandate is passed, whether it be environmental legislation, healthcare reform, immigration reform, economic reform, anything at all, then groups such as NARLO will first cause states to secede from the Union and then will carry out a violent revolution to overthrow the federal government. But guess what happens before the secessions? There will be individual acts of terrorism directed against the federal government and against illegal aliens.

Let’s summarize. Joe Wilson was at one time a member of a hate group. He voted to fly the Confederate battle flag over the state house of South Carolina. He maintains an open door policy for members of right-wing extremist groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the federal government. No wonder his emotions got the best of him. It must be extremely irritating to him to have to listen to an African-American President characterize as a lie something that Wilson is claiming to be truth.

What should be the evangelical response to this whole thing? First, we should call on Representative Wilson to resign. An apology is not good enough. In Christ there is no racial or gender distinctions. We’re all children of God and all should be accorded the dignity and the respect due them by the fact that we are all made in the very image of God. In the Old Testament God expressly judged Israel in part by its treatment of the poor, the widows, and the aliens that sojourned among them. Wilson’s attitudes towards ethnic minorities and undocumented workers makes him unfit to hold public office.

Second, it’s time for evangelicals to stop supporting the Tea Party movement and repent of supporting their activities. The fact that they have welcomed right-wing extremist organizations like NARLO into the fold is proof that their ideologies are incompatible with Biblical principles and calls into question their base motivations.

Timothy

Why Am I Blogging?

September 11, 2009

I’m going to start off by protecting my privacy just a bit and I won’t say too much about my biography. At least not at first. I’ve never blogged before and I’m just kind of feeling my way through the process. Nevertheless, a few details shall be provided that I hope will place subsequent entries in context.

I’m 48 years old. I work with computers. I play percussion with my church worship team. I’m a white guy married to a beautiful Hispanic woman and we are expecting our first child in late December/early January. I’m an evangelical Christian who voted for Obama and I’ve been feeling rather alienated from so many of my fellow evangelicals because of my political beliefs.

So why am I blogging? First, I love movies and music and would like to share my thoughts on works of art that stir my soul and make me feel alive. Besides, I’ve always wanted to write film and music criticism. So why not?

The other thing that I’m going to be blogging about is my belief that an unholy alliance between evangelical Christians and the Republican party is causing the church and our nation great harm. It’s time for a divorce. God is not one to say that the ends justify the means. It is not acceptable for Christians to align themselves with a political party that embraces xenophobia, that has racist tendencies, that foments violence, and that uses ideological speech (lies) to spread fear and loathing. 

I guess that I’m going to try to explain why I’ve left the Republican party behind me and become a strong supporter of President Obama, even though many of my fellow evangelicals believe that it’s not possible to be both a Christian and a Democrat. I believe that it is and if you occasionally read my blogs entries you’ll discover why I believe the way I do.

May our future conversations be civil and enlightening and precious!

Timothy