Never “Great Again”

One extremely painful aspect of last week (though nothing compared to the pain of separated families) is that many of us realized that people we thought we knew are not the people we thought we knew. When you discover that people you thought you knew are okay with separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, it is not like you can just say “okay, I can bracket that off and still be their friends.” When people you thought you knew accept brown babies and brown children in detention camps, it changes everything. How do you have high school reunions with people who accept ripping children away from their parents and putting them in detention camps? How do you sit in the pews with persons who are glad that our president is “fulfilling his promises and finally doing what needs to be done”? How can you share Thanksgiving meals with persons who seem to be thankful that children are being separated from their parents and who are thankful for a president who lies relentlessly about immigrants and refugees and who refers to immigrants as “animals” who are “infesting” our country? We thought we knew you, but we didn’t really know you. Now we know you, and it changes everything.

We cannot pretend, however, that the evil of the past few weeks has arisen in a vacuum. It is part of a long history of cruelty, oppression, and racism in our country. The separation of families and detention of children are perhaps causing many people to be more fully aware of a reality that has long been known by persons of color and women: America can never be “great again” because we have never been great.

Those who are enthralled with the mantra of “Make America Great Again” have taken us far down the path of making America openly and sadistically cruel again for the sake of clinging to the very white supremacy and racism that has kept us from ever being great in the first place. America has an enduring myth of greatness, but true greatness can never be built with the materials of conquest, slavery, domination, suffering, and exploitation of people and the planet that is constructed on a foundation of gross and violent injustice.

After the European conquest, America was never great for the indigenous people who were killed by the millions through genocide, displaced from their lands, separated from their families, and whose culture and people were systematically exterminated in America’s search for greatness built on violent injustice. America will never be “great again” for our indigenous sisters and brothers unless we are speaking of a greatness experienced before European contact before America was even known by that name.

America was never great for the people of African descent who were shipped here in chains, many dying on the journey, sold into slavery, separated from their families, raped by their evil slaveholders, and tortured and killed if they resisted or sought their freedom. Even after America fought a civil war and ended the institution of slavery, the law of the land still enabled the systematic oppression of African Americans through economic exploitation, incarceration, widespread and frequent lynching, and state sponsored and enforced inequality. America can never be “great again” for our African American sisters and brothers because for them it was never great.

America was never great for women who were basically treated as the property of men for much of American history, who could not even vote until 1921, who even today get paid less than men for the same work, who are exploited by men in positions of power, and who endure sexual harassment and assault and having their genitalia grabbed by a man who still becomes President of the United States even after being publicly exposed for bragging about it. America can never be “great again” for women, especially women of color, because for them it was never great.

Today persons who are LGBTQ+ are just beginning to share equal rights under the law that those who want to make America “great again” would like to see stripped away. For most of American history, persons who are LGBTQ+ have been discriminated against, bullied, shunned, mocked, and often attacked violently. America can never be “great again” for our siblings who are LGBTQ+ because for them America has never been great.

For most of American history, those who were white Protestant Christians have experienced a favored status within our society. Up until recently, Roman Catholics were often openly discriminated against by the Protestant majority. Other racial and religious minorities have been more or less tolerated depending on time and place, but we are a country that turned away ships of Jewish refugees during WWII, that put Japanese Americans in internment camps, that exploits the cheap labor of immigrants, and that elected a president who called for a ban on all Muslims and ignores violent actions of non-Muslims while beating the drum of Islamophobia by highlighting any violent act committed by a person who is Muslim. America will never be “great again” for persons who are from racial or religious minority groups or for persons who have no religion at all because for them it was never great.

In the context of American history, the evil that we have seen in the past few weeks is not an isolated incident, but rather another strand of violent injustice woven into the cruel tapestry of what America has been and continues to be. Yes, we have had some great moments in our history – we ended slavery, women gained the vote and other significant rights, civil rights legislation was passed, marriage equality was made the law of the land, and we even helped the world defeat fascism, which is ironic given that our current president and his followers are supporting the 21st Century offspring of 20th Century fascism across Europe and the United States. We have had some great moments, but we have never truly been great. For the most part we haven’t even been good.

In a time when we once again are actively building our society on a foundation of violent injustice based in hate and fear, when we are horrified by friends and neighbors supporting holding children in detention centers at our borders; it may be helpful to remember that other countries have made it through periods of intense injustice and found ways to survive and work for reconciliation, and we will likely need to learn from their experiences. It will not be easy, and it will take collective reflection and repentance. Our friends in South Africa will have something to teach us in relation to coming to terms with our truth in order to move towards some type of reconciliation.

I hope will get to a point where that will be possible some day, but it will never be possible as long as our current president is in office, and it will not happen by simply forgetting that millions of Americans support a regime that dehumanizes entire groups of people and uses the instruments of hate and fear to gain, maintain, and expand its power. Reconciliation will only be possible if we can face the truth of what we have become and the truth of what we are doing, and our president has no concern with the truth. His presidency is the Big Lie. Hopefully there will come a day of reconciliation for our country, but when millions of people are willing to support a president who separates children of all ages from their parents and puts them in cages, the focus now must be on resistance.

America can never be “great again,” but if we do not resist the current evil in our land, we may very well become openly cruel, unjust, and even genocidal again. We can never be “great again,” but if all good and decent persons work together, perhaps someday we can hope to finally be good.

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When Will We Ever Learn?

Here in the United States, we have been reminded in the last couple of weeks that resistance to evil is a moral imperative and can be at least partially effective. We have also learned that about 27% of our country and 55% of Republicans are okay with separating children of all ages from their parents at our borders and putting the children in detention centers. One wonders what line of immorality would have to be crossed before the 27% of us who are okay with children in detention camps would disagree with the actions of our president. Whatever that line may be, if there is one, it apparently has not been crossed for the 27% who support separating families.

Perhaps even more grim for our country is the fact that even though 27% say they support the president’s policy of ripping children away from their families at our borders, the current president’s overall approval rating has not declined, and in the case of one poll, the Gallup Poll, the president’s approval rating was higher than it has been at any other point in time during his presidency at 45%, and this was at the height of the public attention on our president violating international law and international standards on human rights at our borders. So we know that only 27% of Americans approve of brown babies in cages, but a full 45% will still support a president who created such policies that led to the creation of “tender age” detention camps with “orchestras” of crying and wailing children. Good for them for disagreeing with the president about the tortuous treatment of children and families, but one still must wonder what line of immorality this president will have to cross before this 45% of all Americans will withdraw their approval of our current president. Whatever that line may be, if there is one, it apparently has not been crossed for the 45% who still support a president who separates families, refers to immigrants as “animals” and claims Democrats want immigrants to “infest our country.”

The president’s approval rating is not much less overall than it was when he was elected President of the United States of America. If you are a Democrat or a progressive or even moderate independent who does not believe the Republicans can win in 2018 and that our current president can win in 2020, it is time to wake up. 45% of the American people are willing to tell someone on the phone that they approve of a president who belongs in the International Criminal Court at the Hague rather than sitting in the Oval Office. Who knows how many more support him who are unwilling to admit this fact to a stranger on the phone?

All that is needed for Republicans to win in 2018 and for our current president to win in 2020 is for Democrats and progressive and moderate independents to allow themselves to be divided like they were in 2016, and I still see too many Clinton and Sanders supporters going after each other on social media and elsewhere to be confident this division will not happen again, though I hope with my whole being that it will not. If it does happen again, and this Republican Party and this president triumph in 2018 and 2020, we may look back on babies in cages as being mild in comparison to what the future may hold.

We have learned a lot about ourselves and what kind of country we are in the last few years and especially in the last few weeks, but if those of us who don’t think families should be separated, who don’t think immigrants and refugees are infesting our country, and who don’t support gross human rights violations allow ourselves to be divided in 2018 and 2020, we may end up asking ourselves, “When will we ever learn?”

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The Abuse of Romans 13 to Abuse People

History is littered with horrific persons and horrific regimes who used twisted interpretations of Romans 13 as religious cover for their evil actions. Misinterpretations of Romans 13 have been a crutch for tyrant monarchs, purveyors of human bondage, and fascist dictators.

Southern slaveholders misused Romans 13 to justify using and abusing human beings as property. Romans 13 was used to make slaveholders falsely feel their evil actions were within God’s will and as an attempt to make persons in slavery feel that it was God’s will for them to remain in slavery. Simply put, it was gross abuse of humans supported by gross abuse of the Bible.

Hitler and the Nazis misused Romans 13 to neutralize and manipulate Christians to support a government involved in atrocities that Christians should have been resisting with all of their might. German Christians who opposed this evil were persecuted, imprisoned, and in some cases executed for not submitting to Hitler’s rule that the Nazis claimed was ordained by God. Tragically, only a minority of Christians in Nazi Germany resisted the horrific evil of Hitler at a time when resistance might have kept him from absolute power. Tens of millions of people died in concentration camps and in war because self-identified Christians submitted to this genocidal tyrant.

And now in 2018, in the United States, a country that has rejected and ended slavery through a Civil War that sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Americans, a country that sacrificed hundreds of thousands of its young to bring the downfall of Nazism, in this same America, our president’s Attorney General and his Press Secretary are once again abusing Romans 13 as a way to argue that people should submit to our government that is separating children from parents at our borders and putting the children in detention camps. It is God’s will for us to obey the law they say just as slaveholders and Nazis have argued in the past.

In their abuse of Romans 13 to abuse people, Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conveniently leave out the section of Romans 13 that if read and taken to heart would lead all loving and just persons to resist the evil of separating children from their parents.

Romans 13: 8-10, the passage immediately following the passage abused by Session and Sanders reads:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (New Revised Standard Version)

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” This includes our immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeking neighbors; and it certainly includes the innocent children being held in detention camps across our southern border.

Evil people have used the Bible to justify evil things for centuries. It is not the Bible that is evil; it is the people who use it to justify evil things who are evil.

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The Moral Culpability of the United Methodist Church

Some of the most well-known United Methodist Christians in the United States are responsible for some of the greatest moral atrocities committed by the United States in the 21st Century, yet the denomination seems to be more concerned about excluding persons who are LGBTQ+ from ministry and excluding ministers who perform same gender weddings than it is about addressing real atrocities. This observation is not meant to diminish the important work that many individual United Methodists and the United Methodist Church as whole have done for social, economic, and ecological justice in the world, but our denomination’s obsession with excluding others based on sexual and gender orientation has weakened our denominational response to issues that actually create real harm to human and ecological communities.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the first all United Methodist president/vice president ticket in U.S. history, were responsible for using torture and starting an unnecessary war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Before, during, and after the Bush/Cheney Administration, the United Methodist Church held trials and expelled ministers who are gay and lesbian and ministers who performed union services and married same gender couples, but the United Methodist Church did very little to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for torture and war crimes in violation of international law and the United Methodist Social Principles. Not only did the United Methodist Church do very little to hold Bush and Cheney accountable, it actually celebrated their administration by hosting Bush’s presidential library at one of the premier United Methodist universities in the country, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

Today, another prominent United Methodist Christian leader is promoting and implementing horrific practices in violation of human rights, international law, and the United Methodist Social Principles. Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, United Methodist Sunday School teacher from Alabama and past lay delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, is leading the implementation of the despicable and criminal act of separating children from their parents at our borders and putting these children in what amount to cages in detention centers at multiple locations. Mothers and fathers are weeping for their children, and children are experiencing trauma with lasting consequences because of the actions of the United Methodist Jeff Sessions.

The United Methodist Church spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on church trials and sanctions for ministers who are gay and lesbian and for ministers who perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian people, but there are no trials and sanctions for United Methodist U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents who use torture and start unjust wars, and there are no trials and sanctions for U.S. Attorney General Sunday School teachers who rip children away from their parents and put the children in cages in detention centers.

In listening to our United Methodist Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions talk about what we are doing with immigrant children at our southern border, he seems to have no reservations at all about locking up and separating people of color from their families, yet apparently he still gets to teach United Methodist Sunday School classes.

Attorney General Sessions, when you teach your United Methodist Sunday School classes, do you teach that Jesus should have been separated from Mary and Joseph and put into a detention center by the Egyptian authorities because they tried to smuggle a child across the border?

The conservative organizations within the United Methodist Church that work to continue the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ have little to nothing to say about torture, unjust wars, and immigrant and refugee children in detention camps, but they have so much to say about keeping the United Methodist Clergy pure from persons who are LGBTQ+ or those who might perform their wedding ceremonies.

What is the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Wesleyan Covenant Association” doing to keep children from being separated from their parents at our southern border? What statements are they making? What actions are they taking? What tables are they turning over? Or are they just so fixated on excluding persons who are LGBTQ+ from the church that they don’t have the time or energy to engage other issues?

What good news does the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Good News Movement” of the United Methodist Church have for the immigrant and refugee children who have been separated from their parents by our government at our southern border? Will this be a topic in between articles calling for the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ in the pages of the next Good News Magazine? Will the Good News Movement focus any time and energy to reunite these children with their parents and stop this horrific violation of human rights?

And then there is the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Confessing Movement” within the United Methodist Church. You don’t get to call yourselves the “confessing movement” if you are silent in the face of our government ripping children away from their parents and putting them in cells in detention centers that a sitting U.S. Senator has to wait two weeks to inspect. You just don’t.

If we are not talking in our United Methodist churches about what we can do to stop children from being separated from their parents at our southern border and not actually taking action to stop it because of concerns about the conflict it might cause in our churches, then maybe we need to ask ourselves whether our churches should even exist if they continue to accept these horrific violations of human rights.

Prominent United Methodist Christians are responsible for some of the most horrific actions by the United States in the 21st Century, yet we are spending millions of dollars on a special General Conference of the United Methodist Church to address our differences concerning how persons who are LGBTQ+ are to be included, or not, in the life and ministry of our denomination, the likely result of which could be continued exclusion, more trials, and more sanctions for our LGBTQ+ siblings and those who perform weddings for them.

In the meantime Bush and Cheney have their library at Southern Methodist University, and Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions can continue to teach Sunday School at his United Methodist Church in Alabama while millions continue to suffer in Iraq and beyond and refugee and immigrant children are separated from their parents in detention centers at our southern border, and we as a United Methodist Church are morally culpable for their actions through our inaction.

Yes, as a denomination we have made statements and passed resolutions against torture and against separating children from their parents at our borders; but we save our trials, sanctions, and actual punishments for those persons who are LGBTQ+ and those who perform their weddings.

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Outraged by the Outrage

Guillermo Arias/Getty Images

I will never forget when in the aftermath of the revelation of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma sanctimoniously declared in May of 2004 that he was “outraged by the outrage” being shown by persons who were denouncing the torture and abuse. It was one of the most pathetically immoral utterances in recent memory by a U.S. Senator – expressing outrage that people were actually outraged by U.S. soldiers being encouraged to torture and abuse persons even to the point of death and in clear violation of international law and all sense of human decency, and all Senator Inhofe could do was muster outrage at the outrage. Inhofe’s response was the epitome of misplaced outrage, and I was outraged by his outrage!

Today, 14 years later, in the midst of the most blatantly racist U.S. presidential administration of my lifetime (and that is saying a lot because Nixon was horrifically racist), we find ourselves with example after example of misplaced outrage in the midst of many valid reasons for outrage.

A recent Harvard study provides evidence that nearly 5000 lives were cut short in Puerto Rico owing to the inadequate response to Hurricane Maria by the president and his administration, yet people want to get upset about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest injustices experienced by people of color? Really? We should be outraged by their outrage!

We are ripping children away from their parents at our southern border and putting them in detention centers that we won’t even allow a sitting U.S. Senator to go inside unless the Senator waits two weeks, and people are getting upset about NFL players taking a knee to protest injustices experienced by people of color? We should be outraged by their outrage!

The United Nations is rightly calling out the United States for our violation of human rights when we separate children from their parents at our border. What little moral authority we may have had in the past is being destroyed by the cruelty and criminality of the president, his administration, and the Republican Party: and what is the response by our U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley? She expresses outrage over the U.N. Human Rights Council’s hypocrisy. We should be outraged by her outrage!

More than anything else, this presidential administration is racism cloaked in patriotism and religion, and 87% of Republicans approve. If this presidential administration is consistent about anything, it is racism. Even the administration’s rollback of environmental regulations by the most corrupt EPA Administrator in the agency’s history is racist in that it will have a disproportionately negative effect on persons of color.

Corporate powers have accepted the president’s blatant racism in exchange for tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks that satiate their greed but do great damage to people and the planet. They accept the blatant corruption of this presidency in exchange for being able to exploit and extract profit from the environment and workers, with little attention to the harm that is created unless it encroaches upon their own backyards. You won’t find lead in their water. You won’t find chemical and petroleum facilities in their neighborhoods; but people of color, whose lives matter just as much as theirs, will continue to suffer. Yet these corporate powers are primarily silent in the face of this president’s racism as long as it does not affect their bottom line, and if they do speak out, we have seen the president use the power of his office to try and punish them economically. For those who have spoken out, we should be thankful; but for those who have not, we should be outraged by their lack of outrage!

In our day, there is much about which to be outraged, but the current president’s dog whistle faux outrage directed at people of color who are crying out for justice is not only misplaced outrage, it is simply racist and evil – two words that pretty much sum up what our current president is; and if we are not outraged by that, then we are not only not great, we are not even good.

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Reality Check – Why elections will likely be the only way to remove our current president from office

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Why elections will likely be the only way to remove our current president from office:

The House of Representatives will never impeach the president before 2018. No matter what Mueller brings forward, the vast majority of the president’s base, which is the House of Representatives’ base, will stand by the president; and members of the House of Representatives have proven themselves time and time again to be unwilling to go against their base.

Even if the House becomes controlled in 2018 by Democrats, it takes 2/3 of the Senate to convict the president. The Senate will likely never get to the 67 votes needed to convict. This is primarily owing to the fact McConnell and others see this administration as the opportunity of a generation to stack the courts in their favor. An impeachment and conviction of their president would so weaken the support of their base that winning the presidency in 2020 would be almost impossible.

The president’s base, fundamentalist white Christians, will never turn on the president for at least the following reasons – (1) abortion, (2) Israel, (3) Immigration, (4) Islamophobia, (5) guns, (6) resistance to LGBTQ+ rights, (7) many of them think this president is part of God’s plan to bring the end times (yes, they really do believe this), and (8) turning on the president would be an admission on the part of fundamentalists and their leaders that they were wrong about God’s plan (don’t count on that ever happening).

The most realistic, yet still hopeful, scenario I see would be the following: If the Democrats can take over at least the House of Representatives, then they can check the president’s legislative agenda. Better yet, if Democrats can take the Senate in addition to the House, they can check the president’s judicial agenda and not allow him one more SCOTUS appointment and keep radical right wing judges off of the lower courts. Then the Democrats must unite around whomever they choose to be their presidential candidate in 2020 and bring this current presidency to an end. Any Democrat or progressive Independent who starts down the “I will never vote for the lesser of two evils” path must be reminded that even if one grants that both candidates are evil, allowing the greater of two evils to win, is allowing more evil to come into being. Given the choice between lesser and greater evil, choosing the lesser is the only truly responsible choice. Hopefully, the example of the current administration has taught us this lesson clearly.

Does the current president deserve to be impeached and convicted? I believe the full body of the evidence that Mueller will be bring forward, if he is allowed to bring it forward, will lead to a resounding yes in response to this question. The reality, however, is that the chances of either happening are extremely slim, and our hopes for impeachment and conviction, as valid as they may be, cannot take the place of organization, strategy, and enthusiasm for 2018 and 2020. The well being of our republic, the world’s people, and the planet depend on staying focused on 2018 and 2020 like never before. Mueller’s findings will not likely lead to impeachment and conviction, but they very well could be motivation needed for progressives to vote in record numbers to bring this presidency to an end.

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Foster Care or Whatever

jkelly-960White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – J. Scott Applewhite/AP

I have watched the majority of white people who identify themselves as Christian in the United States continue to support the current president through his infidelity and hush money pay offs, through his praise of murderous dictators as “strong leaders,” through his attacks on the Department of Justice, through his relentless lying about almost everything, though his inciting of violence towards people of color at his political rallies, through his brazenly bragging about his sexual assault of women, through his dehumanizing of immigrants and vilification of Muslims, through his campaign’s dozens of contacts with Russians, through his corrupt use of his office for personal and family financial gain, through his attempts to use governmental organizations including even the U.S. Postal Service to punish his political enemies, through his denigration of the press, and through his multiple expressions of racism. Trump is worse than Nixon, and that is saying something as Nixon was truly horrible, but the majority of white Christians continue to solidly support a president who is a clear and present danger to our republic and the world.

Now I hear many people who identify themselves as Christians in the United States expressing support for the president implementing his plans to separate children from their parents when families are apprehended while attempting to enter the United States at our southern border. Whether one is Christian or not, the support of such a plan is not simply misguided, it is evil, and it is antithetical to the way of Jesus that so many Trump supporters claim to follow. What Bible are these so-called Christians reading or not reading as the case may be? What warped vision of Jesus do they have that justifies their support for separating children from their parents at the border? What do they not understand about the teachings of their tradition that call for caring for and treating the stranger as the native among us? What leads them to support or simply ignore the comments of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who says the practice of separating children from their parents is not cruel and the children will be put in “foster care or whatever”?

The so-called Christian supporters of Trump who agree with his policy of separating children from their parents at the border are the same people who say things like “there is a war against Christmas” and “Christianity is under attack.” Let me take this opportunity to remind them that the child Jesus whom they celebrate at Christmas was said to have escaped the murderous violence of a “strong leader” called Herod when his parents took him and fled to Egypt. If Egypt had been following Trump’s dictate to separate children from their parents at the border, perhaps Jesus would have been separated from Joseph and Mary and “put in foster care or whatever,” but I guess if one adheres to the logic of Trump, Sessions, and Kelly, then that is what Joseph and Mary would deserve for trying to smuggle a child illegally over the border. With views like this, perhaps these Christian supporters of Trump are right that Christianity is under attack – by them.

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