The War on Christmas

Jesus Image

As those of us who are Christians enter into the Christmas season, I respectfully request that fundamentalist Christians cease with their “war on Christmas” rhetoric. I also really don’t want to hear their “let’s put Christ back into Christmas” mantra either.

To declare that there is a “war on Christmas” or that we need to “put Christ back into Christmas” requires that we have some sense of who Jesus was and what the core values were that he stood for in his life and through his death. This understanding seems to be of little concern to the fundamentalist Christians who have declared such a “war on Christmas” exists and who proclaim that “Christ needs to be put back into Christmas.”

For there to be a war on Christmas means that there is something happening in our society that is at war with the way of Jesus. in this sense, I actually agree with fundamentalist Christians in America that there is war on Christmas and that we need to put Christ back into Christmas; but the war on Christmas is being waged primarily by fundamentalist Christians themselves rather than the non-Christian others whom fundamentalists so readily condemn.

There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians use the Christmas story to justify child molestation. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians reject the migrant and refugee.

There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians embrace Herod-like authoritarianism rather than the way of love and justice that so often comes to us through a child. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians reject people of other cultural backgrounds and faiths instead of accepting the gifts of those who come from afar.

There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians want to build walls of separation rather than bridges of community. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians celebrate corrupt wealth and power instead of looking out for the poor, the sick, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the lost.

There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians put their faith in the instruments of war rather than the ways of peace. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians support torture and execution.

There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians support policies and practices that harm the Beloved Community of all creation and threaten the future of human civilization. Christ needs to be put back in Christmas when fundamentalist Christians refuse to support the civil rights of all persons. Yes, there is a war on Christmas, and yes, we need to put Christ back into Christmas.

This Christmas season, as we reflect on the very real war that fundamentalist Christians are waging on Christmas and on the way of Jesus in this world, may we all remember that Jesus was a Middle Eastern person whose family spent his early years as a refugee, a person who called on his followers to work for justice and to be peacemakers, who lifted up people of other faiths as examples of God’s love and justice in the world (the Samaritan), who called on us all to care for the most vulnerable, who taught us to love our neighbors and our enemies, and who was tortured and executed by the governing authorities. If we are to end the war on Christmas, we must follow this way of love and justice, this way of peace and sacrifice. If we are to put Christ back into Christmas we must once again open our hearts to the Middle Eastern refugee.

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From Fundamentalism to Fascism

Roy Moore

Religion possesses immense power to renew the human spirit or to imprison it.

I was a fundamentalist Christian from about age 14 to age 19. The church was my most important community of my teenage years, and the people there made me feel welcomed, loved, and important. Though I do remember an appeal to feelings of guilt sometimes being used in ways that when I look back now seems coercive, the Christian fundamentalism of my teenage years did not seem to be mean-spirited or hateful. The people in my religious community were kind persons, and I believe they wanted the very best for me and each other. I loved them, and I still do. Although I believe much differently than most of them probably do today, I am still thankful for them and for the love in community I experienced with them.

The fundamentalist beliefs of the religious community of my teens seemed to be held sincerely, and the members of the community expressed genuine concern for the salvation of others who were not Christian. This concern for the salvation of others is understandable given the fear and belief that non-Christians were lost and would be lost eternally without Christ. It was within this fundamentalist context and while sharing these beliefs of concern for the salvation of others that I experienced a sense of calling at the age of 16 to become a minister, and I am United Methodist minister to this day.

During my college years, experiences of the closed doors of judgmental attitudes of this fundamentalist perspective, heart-opening friendships with persons of other religions and with persons of no religion, and the mind-opening experience of a liberal arts education turned me away from fundamentalism to a more ecumenical, open, non-judgmental, and inclusive view of my Christian faith. I still cherished the love and community that I experienced in the church of my teenage years, but I no longer believed that love and community needed to be coupled with exclusion and judgment – especially the exclusion and judgment of LGBTQ+ persons and persons who might have another orientation to religion than Christianity

At age 51, I have been ecumenical and progressive for many more years than the fundamentalism of my youth. The transition was not easy, and I know that it may have been disturbing to many who probably sincerely fear for my soul or who think that I lost my faith, but I am happy for the transformation I experienced. I truly believe it has helped me become more of the person I hope to be in the world, but I still love the people of my home church who loved me and still do, though their love may now be mixed with what I imagine is genuine concern.

My experience of religious fundamentalism as a youth and my love for the persons who were a part of that community have made it even more difficult to watch how persons from a fundamentalist perspective are being manipulated by political and economic forces that have very little to do with the way of Jesus in this world. Large factions within the Republican Party have used and manipulated the sincerity and the passion of fundamentalist Christians to get them to do things I don’t think I ever dreamed I would see them doing.

I never thought I would see the day when Christian fundamentalists would support a president who brags about sexual assault, who lies relentlessly, and who surrounds himself with people from organized crime. I never thought I would see the day when fundamentalist Christians would be chanting “build the wall,” rejecting refugees, and supporting Muslim bans. I never thought I would see the day when Christian fundamentalists would become one of the strongest forces against environmental protections and regulations for our health and safety. I never thought I would see the day when fundamentalist Christians would use scriptures to defend people who have been accused of child molestation. And, I hoped that Christian fundamentalists would not continue to harden their hearts and harm people through their anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and practices.

Christian fundamentalist extremism is being used by people like Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., and many others to tear apart the very social fabric of our country in an attempt to create some kind of theocratic Christian state; and it seems this movement will justify almost anything to pursue its causes. In its embrace of authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and practices;  it resembles something more and more like a fascist movement than a religion of love and justice. If this is left unchecked, we will experience continued and increasing violence and injustice, much of which will be done in the name of religion.

Our current situation is tragic on many levels, but one of the saddest things for me is that in the name of Christianity, fundamentalist extremism is taking people farther and farther from the loving and just ways of Jesus in this world and is dividing us through fear and hate rather than uniting us in Beloved Community. Religion is being used to imprison and manipulate rather than renew the human spirit to care for people and the planet,  and I believe that would make Jesus weep.

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#DOSOMETHING! is the primal cry of a spoiled rich kid who has never been held accountable for any of his actions.

When Trump was eligible for the draft during the Vietnam War, he said DO SOMETHING, and he was given a diagnosis of bone spurs and received a fifth deferment from the draft after four deferments for being a student.

When Trump needed money as a young man, he asked his father to DO SOMETHING, and the loan money came flowing in.

When Trump and his father were in violation of the Fair Housing Act, he told his lawyers to DO SOMETHING, and they negotiated the signing of a consent decree with no admission of guilt. 

When Trump bankrupted his businesses, he said DO SOMETHING, and the loans from foreign banks came in to save him.

When contractors sued Trump because he did not pay them, he said DO SOMETHING, and his lawyers tied things up in court while contractors lost money and their livelihoods.

When Trump needed cash, he said DO SOMETHING, and Russian oligarchs purchased his properties at prices far above their actual value.

When students were defrauded by his fake university and sued for damages, Trump said DO SOMETHING, and his lawyers came to his rescue with a post election settlement.

When Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault and when 16 women accused him of sexual harassment or assault, he said DO SOMETHING, and the GOP and white evangelical Christian leaders protected him and vouched for him.

When Trump wanted more info about the Clinton campaign and the DNC to be made public, he publicly told the Russians to DO SOMETHING, and Wikileaks released the DNC and Podesta emails.

When Trump wanted FBI Director Comey fired, he said DO SOMETHING, and Rosenstein wrote up a letter of justification.

Now Mueller is beginning to file charges in the Russia Investigation, and on the eve of indictments being made public, Trump cries out in a Twitter storm of desperation for people to DO SOMETHING! His propagandists are on the attack against Mueller. Will the GOP Congress come to the aid of this spoiled rich kid yet again and continue to enable his lifelong misdeeds? Given Trump’s life experience, he has no reason to believe they won’t. Someone has always done something for Trump when he says DO SOMETHING!

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Oklahoma is Our Land, Not Only Oil Land

capitol oil

The fossil fuel industry led budget crisis in Oklahoma represents a new low in the industry’s willingness to allow an entire state to become a sacrifice zone for fossil fuel interests. Typically sacrifice zones in Oklahoma and in the United States in general are limited to a poor neighborhood (my dad’s neighborhood in Ponca City contaminated by the local refinery), a rural town or area (the ghost town of Picher, OK contaminated by lead mines and Bokoshe, OK contaminated by coal ash), or ecosystems of various sizes (the Illinois river watershed contaminated by the poultry industry). But now with fossil fuel induced seismicity and a fossil fuel induced state funding meltdown, the entire state of Oklahoma is quickly becoming a sacrifice zone; and the poor, the mentally ill, and others who are the most vulnerable among us are literally experiencing their lives to be in danger.

How much are the Oklahoma fossil fuel companies willing to sacrifice the well being of people and the land for the sake of their profits? Apparently a lot! Our schools are on a slide to becoming the worst in the country, with 400 teachers a month leaving our state to make on average $20,000 more in other states. Schools in many Oklahoma districts are open only four days a week. Thousands of teaching positions across the state are unfilled. Class sizes are much too large for consistently effective learning to take place. Care for the mentally ill is being decimated with a recent announcement that all state funded outpatient services will be eliminated given current projected cuts. Monitoring of the environment is becoming more and more limited. With current practices and lack of funding, the sacrifice zone that is Oklahoma is destined to become even more uneducated, unsafe, polluted, unjust, addicted, violent, and deadly.

All the while our oil and gas companies enjoy the lowest gross production tax rates in the country, and their executives are not only unscathed, they are actually prospering at levels completely incommensurate with the prosperity of the state as a whole. In their Nichols Hills homes, their glistening high rise offices, and their restaurants in the sky looking down on their kingdom, the distance from the people below has apparently led them to simply not care about what their political and economic agendas are doing to the most vulnerable of our neighbors, much less our land and its future generations.

Leaders of Oklahoma’s fossil fuel industry have betrayed their fellow citizens, and we just keep voting their puppets into political power. At what point will enough Oklahomans see that if present practices persist any longer, Oklahoma’s human and ecological communities will increasingly become a sacrifice zone. Our neighbors in Kansas finally recognized how their scheme of more and more tax cuts was destroying their state’s services and infrastructure. How much longer do Oklahomans need?

When will a political revolution for a flourishing Oklahoma begin? For the sake of all the people of the state, we cannot afford to wait any longer. More and more of our state is being sacrificed by the day. Our brother Woody Guthrie reminds us all that “this land is our land,” and such an affirmation necessitates that we treat our land and the people within it with care, respect, compassion, and justice. We better begin acting right now like this land is our land, not only oil land, and the “our’ must include the most vulnerable among us. Otherwise, we will become more and more the land of the lost.

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Rules for Protests for People of Color in the United States of America

Clara Luper Diner

Sometimes when I hear white people talking about where and when people of color should protest, I am thinking maybe they want there to be “Rules for Protests for People of Color in the United States” that would go something like this:

You shall not protest on a bus, your protests shall not make a fuss

You shall not protest on the street, you shall not go where people meet

And when you protest in a town, where many white folk are around

Your protests there would sure be finer if they were not in a diner

You shall not protest at the malls, you shall not gather in the halls

You shall not protest on the highways or even block the smaller byways

You shall not protest on a ridge or do your marching on a bridge

You must protest where you belong, far away from every throng

And if you kneel upon the field, our eyes from football we shall shield

For you are there to entertain and not to protest or complain

And if you must protest at all, wear a ribbon, but keep it small

For those who fill a broadcast seat, you’ll be suspended if you tweet

You will follow all these rules in our churches and our schools

And if you don’t then we will fight to keep your protests out of sight.

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Choosing Caesar over Jesus

Take a Knee

The response of the majority of white Christian Americans* to the trumped up outrage about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the unjust treatment of people of color in our country has reinforced my view that the religion of the majority of White Christian Americans has more in common with the imperial state religion of the pre-Christian Roman Empire than it does with the religion of Jesus.

Trump/Pence are like Emperors in their Coliseums, insisting the gladiators submit to their rules or they will turn the crowds against them. It is not surprising that they would be upset by people disobeying the rules in their Coliseums. Professional sports are used by people like Trump as propaganda for their state religion of unquestioning patriotism, and they get upset when players and commentators don’t stay on script. And apparently nothing outrages Trump and Pence more than people of color and women not doing as they are told. Trump has been relentless in his calls for players and sports commentators to face professional consequences for their opposition to him, and through a series of tweet storms he has directly called for them to be disciplined or fired.

And what of the response of the majority of White American Christians? They have acted more like the Romans enforcing imperial religion than like the early Christians who refused to submit to it. In stark contrast to the majority of White Christian Americans, early Christians were executed for refusing to participate in acts of civil religion being enforced by the state.

The fact that such large numbers of White Christian Americans are supportive of enforcing symbolic acts of patriotism shows that we just don’t get Jesus. Christianity has been used to protect white privilege and to support nationalism for so long that we have forgotten who Jesus was – a person who was killed unjustly and brutally by imperial powers that were forcing an oppressed group of people to perform acts of patriotism to Rome. Jesus has much more in common with those kneeling in solidarity with the oppressed than with those who would force them to stand or face consequences.

Will the majority of white Christian Americans ever quit letting Trump, Pence, and Franklin Graham play them like a fiddle with their anthem outrage? No one dishonors the flag or national anthem more than the one who attempts to use them to divide the country for which they stand. Attempting to force others to express symbolic acts of patriotism is not patriotic, and it is certainly not Christian. It is, however, something fascists do.

Restricting nonviolent free speech and nonviolent freedom of expression that do no harm is not patriotic or Christian. Forced acts of patriotism make our country less and less like the America of our highest ideals and more and more like the many authoritarian countries that people flee for the chance of experiencing greater freedom and justice. Let this sink in: we now live in a country where the “leader” wants to force all of us to stand and make patriotic signs with our right hands or face the consequences. Sound familiar?

White Christian Americans, Trump/Pence are putting us all through a loyalty test right now, and most of us are siding with Caesar over Jesus. Now is the time for us all to take a knee in solidarity with people of color and all other persons who experience injustice in our country.

* For polls indicating the views of the majority of white Americans on the protests. see here, here, here, and here. Given that the majority of white Americans self-identify as Christian, and given the significant support of Trump among white Christians, the assertion that the majority of white American Christians disapprove of the protests is well-founded.
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The Trump “University” of Healthcare Insurance Systems 

In his desperation to erase any progress made by President Obama and to please his religious base, Trump has now declared that he will no longer enforce the Affordable Care Act mandate that requires employer based healthcare insurance to include free birth control. Under Trump’s new rules, both non-profit organizations and for profit companies will be allowed to opt out of providing free birth control for their women employees based on religious and/or moral reasons.

Trump’s attacks against and sabotage of Obamacare in general and his most recent decision to allow cutting free birth control for women in particular, should lead us to reflect on the fact that private for-profit healthcare insurance is one of the biggest scams ever committed against the American people (yes, even bigger, much bigger, than Trump University).

Private for-profit medical insurance creates unnecessary costs in the healthcare system by building in profit for the insurance companies. The private for-profit healthcare insurance industry is a lucrative business, bringing billions of dollars in profits for insurance companies and making their CEOs members of the upper echelon of the 1%. Insurance companies spend millions of dollars on lobbying and political contributions to protect their for-profit interests.

In addition to bringing unneeded costs into the healthcare system, private for-profit healthcare insurance unnecessarily ties healthcare insurance to employment, with employers having significant control over the coverage of their employees. Employees become locked into jobs they might otherwise leave, but they fear the loss of insurance subsidies from their employer, and they literally fear for their lives that they may lose their jobs and lose the ability to afford coverage in the private insurance market.

If you don’t recognize this, you either have never been sick enough to lose your job and your insurance, you have never been close to someone who has had this experience, or you are so wealthy and so lack in empathy that you simply do not care. The mental and physical suffering, financial loss, and the stress this puts on individuals and families are heartbreaking. It is also the reason why bankruptcy related to inability to pay medical costs is such a problem in the United States while nearly non-existent as a problem in other wealthy counties.

In contrast to our current deeply flawed system, the Medicare for All proposals being put forward by some Democratic Senators would provide the greatest equality of opportunity for people to have access to quality healthcare and would therefore contribute to a more just and more healthy society.

The rest of the industrialized world gets this, and they literally shake their heads in amazement that we don’t. Despite what we hear from the Republican propaganda machine, the vast majority of people in other wealthy countries would never trade their healthcare systems for what we currently have in the United States. In fact, the thought of doing so is laughable to them. It would be something akin to trading in a degree from a good college or university for a degree from Trump “University.” One works well for you, and the other is a sham that only really works well for the people who make money from the system.

Over time, the persons scammed by Trump University recognized what was being done to them, and they won a settlement for damages. The American people need to recognize what is being done to us through our deeply flawed private for-profit healthcare insurance system and settle for nothing less than Medicare for All.

In his move to allow employers to remove free birth control for women in their insurance plans, Trump is playing to those who say they are concerned about religious freedom. However, there is a very simple way to ensure that employers don’t have to go against their religious beliefs in the kind of healthcare insurance they provide their employees – end employer based healthcare insurance and create Medicare for All.

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