Gun violence is a pro-life issue

Among the most pressing questions facing our country right now is whether or not the right for everyday citizens to own military-grade weaponry with high capacity magazine clips is more important than the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for America’s children.

This is a pro-life issue.

Throughout history, blood sacrifices in various cultures have been made in the name of a supposed greater good. Sometimes this has even included child sacrifice.

When we as modern people look back on these problematic practices, we view them with the horror they deserve. Yet when similar things take place in our day and time, we frequently fail to see them for what they truly are.

Right now, much of the propaganda we hear in defense of military-grade weaponry is predicated on the idea that the right to own military-grade killing machines is more valuable than the lives of precious children whose spilled blood continues to cry out from the ground.

In the name of a bastardized and idolic interpretation of the Second Amendment, we are told this is the greater good to which we must bow; the blood sacrifice of these children is the price to pay to preserve our addiction to military-grade weaponry.

Yet it’s this addiction that provides a false sense of security. It’s this addiction that leads us to bow at the altar of death. It’s this addiction that makes us monstrous.

While we rightly condemn the actions of mass shooters, we fail to remedy the conditions that make mass shootings possible. Which makes us complicit until we do something about it.

Those of us who identify as pro-life must care every bit as much about preserving the lives of children after they are born as before they are born.

As things stand, the conventional yet epistemologically, empirically, and morally flawed view propagated by those worshipping military-grade weaponry is that the right to own military grade killing machines preserves rather than destroys life.

However, the opposite is true: military-grade weaponry among the populace destroys many more lives than it saves, including the destruction of the fundamental right of schoolchildren to live. This is wrong.

A person hellbent on acting maliciously can murder far more people with military-grade weaponry than with a knife.

Nations that promote responsible gun ownership (by keeping the massive proliferation of military-grade weaponry in check) have drastically fewer deaths from mass shootings than the U.S.

If you say that changing the law is unnecessary because criminals will always find ways to break the law, then you are arguing against the purpose of having any laws.

Until we believe that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for America’s children is more important than the right to own military-grade weaponry, then we continue to serve the gods of death.

Let us join the chorus of so many brave young people leading the way and say, Never Again.

This article originally appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.

Preaching as Resistance: Voices of Hope, Justice, and Solidarity

I’m excited to officially announce that Preaching as Resistance is now available to pre-order (it will be released Oct. 2). Here’s the description from the back cover:

As nationalism, patriarchy, and alt-right fear-mongering threaten our troubled nation, the pulpit has again become a subversive space of sacred resistance. In this provocative and powerful collection of sermons from diverse pastors across America, hear the brave and urgent voice of Christians calling for radical change rooted in love, solidarity, and justice. Preaching as Resistance resists, confronts, and troubles the dangerous structures of authoritarianism and oppression crashing in from all sides – and shows how leaders can proclaim the transformation, possibility, and hope stirring in the gospel of Christ.

From big-steeple churches in big cities to rural congregations in red states, preaching as resistance is practiced in a wide variety of social contexts and preaching styles, inspiring and equipping listeners to respond to the call of justice. In these challenging times when Christianity is so often misrepresented, misunderstood, and misused for unjust agendas, take heart and find your own voice in this collection of resistance sermons from everyday pastors across the country.

I’m honored to collaborate with the following contributors. I can’t thank them enough for the making this book possible.

  • Emily Bowen-Marler
  • Amy Butler
  • Jeff Chu
  • Aric Clark
  • Wil Gafney
  • Sarah Trone Garriott
  • Richard Gehring
  • Molly Housh Gordon
  • Cassandra Gould
  • Robyn Henderson-Espinoza
  • Anna Holloway
  • Jesse Jackson
  • Sandhya Jha
  • Jin S. Kim
  • Kenji Kuramitsu
  • José F. Morales
  • Gary Peluso-Verdend
  • Alton B. Pollard III
  • Micki Pulleyking
  • Susan Russell
  • Leah D. Schade
  • Darryl Schafer
  • Austin Crenshaw Shelley
  • David Swinton
  • Laura Jean Truman
  • Richard Voelz
  • Alexis James Waggoner
  • Lori Walke
  • Michael W. Waters
  • Erin Wathen
  • Layton E. Williams
  • Brian Zahnd
EPUB and EPDF versions will also be available in October from your preferred e-book vendor. Pre-order

20 reasons why I left the Religious Right

20. It confuses “speaking the truth in love” with “I have the absolute truth and if you don’t agree with my way of thinking you’re eternally damned.” Its version of love rarely includes the practice of listening to the other.

19. It disrespects women — not as a bug in the system, but as a feature.

18. It disrespects LGBTQ+ persons — not as a bug in the system, but as a feature.

17. It interprets the Bible and Christianity through the lens of white privilege rooted in white imperialism, which in turn reinforces white supremacy.

16. It disguises cruelty and bigotry for love.

15. It claims to take the Bible seriously but only reads bits and pieces designed to support preexisting assumptions.

14. It confuses Christian nationalism with the gospel of Christ.

13. It frequently lacks the fruits of the Spirit described by Paul.

12. It glorifies violence, including redemptive violence and abuse. It has more in common with the NRA than the Christ.

11. Every time it appeals to natural theology (e.g., God’s design of the world, especially as related to gender roles, gender identity, and sexual orientation), the “natural order” invoked conveniently reflects the prejudices of the ones doing the invoking.

10. It’s anti-science.

9. Its emphasis on a hyper-individualized salvation in the afterlife portends to nihilism in this life.

8. It doesn’t take the Bible seriously, mostly because it fails to acknowledge basic principles related to history, context, and interpretation.

7. The call for social justice and righteousness at the heart of Jesus’ ministry is secondary at best, which makes a mockery not only of Jesus’ life but also the over two thousand verses of scripture that highlight economic justice and righteousness.

6. It doesn’t trust the experiences of women.

5. It doesn’t trust the experiences of LGBTQ+ persons.

4. It doesn’t trust the experiences of people of color.

3. Its propensity to mansplain is off the charts.

2. It valorizes leaders who prize violence, patriarchy, cis-hetero-normativity, white supremacy, discrimination, revenge, and retribution.

1. Instead of honoring the spirit of the reformers — who protested authoritarian structures of oppression — it dishonors the spirit of the reformers by constantly propping up authoritarian structures of oppression.

* This list was compiled with a few friends; I’m not the sole author. We are just tired of the misogyny, homophobia, and racism so often supported by what we are loosely describing here as the Religious Right. It is a violent and nefarious approach to doing theology that needs to repent and reform. And too many of the characteristics in this list also find a haven in white expressions of progressive theology too, which needs to be held accountable as well. I previously published a modified version of this list last year in the wake of a post on John Piper’s blog.

Why Gun Laws in the U.S. Should Be Changed Immediately

Gun laws in the United States of America should be changed immediately:

Fact 1: Every year far more innocent people in the U.S. are unintentionally killed by an accident with a gun than are criminals killed by a “good guy with a gun.” [So the self-defense argument doesn’t work unless for some strange reason one wishes to also argue that more deaths by gun violence is preferable to fewer deaths by gun violence.]

Fact 2: Where there are higher rates of gun ownership in the U.S., there are higher rates of gun violence in the U.S. There is a direct and disproportionate correlation between gun ownership and gun fatalities.

Fact 3: Nations with tighter gun restrictions have drastically fewer gun fatalities in comparison to the U.S.

Fact 4: If you say that changing the law is unnecessary because criminals will always find ways to break the law, then you are de facto arguing against the purpose of having any laws.

Fact 5: A person hellbent on acting maliciously can murder far more people with certain types of guns than with, say, a knife. [This seems so obvious to point out, but, for example, there’s a reason it’s wrong to build bombs –> they are designed to kill large quantities of people at once. As are many types of guns.]

Truth: We may think (or feel) that having guns makes us more safe, but that is an illusion. Owning guns makes us far less safe. Nonetheless, our fears have led us to build a golden calf out of guns. But like all idols, they cannot save.

Truth: Our nation is enamored with the myth of redemptive violence, from which we need to be saved.

Truth: If one thinks the founding documents of our country are not subject to revision or contextual and constructive critique, then (1) one has to continue to support some pretty outlandish things, such as the 3/5ths compromise and (2) one doesn’t think it’s possible to progress further or to be open to new insights and perspectives, which is at once both tragic and myopic.

Truth: We have the responsibility to politicize tragedies so they don’t keep happening over and over and over again. Not to do so is to give them our tacit approval, which should be unconscionable.

Why my viral video about LGBTQ rights was wrong

Five years ago today, my world was turned upside down. To my great surprise, the legendary actor and civil rights hero George Takei shared a speech I gave on LGBTQ rights and the next thing I knew, I was being contacted by representatives from the Ellen Show, the Today Show, and virtually every major media outlet in the U.S. Heck, even a book agent wanted to speak with me! My fifteen minutes of fame had begun.

 

But now, over five million views later, I realize what I said about LGBTQ rights was wrong.

 

Maybe you’ve seen the speech. It’s the one where the pastor “flips the script” and pretends he has the wrong notes while speaking to his city council about a local ordinance designed to add protections for LGBTQ persons. I thought I was really clever when I took sermons from southern preachers who supported slavery and segregation (see here and here) and substituted the words they used that referred to discrimination against people of color with words referring to discrimination against LGBTQ persons. If you haven’t seen it, here’s how it worked (the bracketed portions are the substitutions I made):

 

Any accurate reading of the Bible should make it clear that [gay rights] is an abomination against the “plain truth of the word of God.” As one Bible believing preacher warns us, “Man, in overstepping the boundary lines God has drawn [by making special rights for gays and lesbians], has taken another step in the direction of inviting the Judgment of Almighty God upon our land. This step of [gay rights] is but another stepping stone toward the gross immorality and lawlessness that will be characteristic of the last days.”

This [ordinance] represents a “denial of all that we believe in, and no one should force it on us.”

“Outside government agents are endeavoring to disturb God’s established order…This disturbing movement is not of God. It is not in line with the Bible….Do not let people lead you astray.

These religious liberals are the worst representatives of our country…They do not believe the Bible any longer; …they are leading the people astray … and they are leading [gay Christians] astray. But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent, orthodox Christian can read the Word of God and know that what is happening is not of God…

When you run into conflict with God’s established order, you have trouble. You do not produce harmony. You produce destruction and trouble, and [our city] is in the greatest danger it has ever been in in its history…The reason is that we have gotten away from the Bible of our forefathers.

 

Then my speech turned to the “big reveal”:

 

You see, “The right of segregation… [uh, hold on….the right of segregation] is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

Oh wait, I’m sorry, I brought the wrong notes. I borrowed my argument from the wrong century. It turns out what I’ve been reading to you are quotes from white preachers from times like the 1950s and 60s in support of things like racial segregation and interacial marriage. All I have done is taken out phrases like “racial integration” and substituted them with phrases like “gay rights.”

I guess the arguments I’ve been hearing around Springfield lately sounded so similar to these that I got them confused. I hope you won’t make the same mistake. I hope you’ll stand on the right side of history.”

 

I figured that when people realized that the exact same religious arguments once used to support segregation were now being used to support discrimination against LGBTQ persons, they would realize how morally corrupt such an approach was. It would be obvious, for all to see.

 

But here’s where I was wrong. It’s taken the ascendancy of Trump — and the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for him — to show me that the problem with discrimination in America is not related to the kinds of hypocrisies I had hoped my viral video would expose. Instead, discrimination in America is about maintaining power structures that privilege authority, domination, and control above all else. 

 

After all, the root of the problem of slavery and segregation is related to the desire for historic power structures in the United States to stay in place (i.e., for straight-cis-white-men to have the power). And the exact same thing is true regarding LGBTQ rights today.

 

That’s why my speech didn’t reveal the kind of hypocrisy I thought was at the center of the religious right. Instead, the past five years — especially the Trump era — have further revealed what has been the common denominator present in the religious right all along, then and now: the desire for straight-cis-white-men to exert power, control and dominance over every other group. This explains the continued racism that is still clearly at the heart of the religious right, as well as its continued assault on women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, etc.

 

I thought my viral speech would expose the hypocrisy of the religious right. But I’ve learned that their desire for power, dominance, authority and control is just as strong today as it ever was. That’s the common thread that holds the discrimination and policies of the religious right together. It turns out they haven’t been hypocritical, but perfectly consistent. I’m the one who was fooled.

 

trump falwell

 

On Patriotism and Protest

What does it mean to truly love America? To be a patriot? To honor our country?

In both basic and profound forms, it must include giving one’s heart to the ideals that are evoked in the promise of America: ideals of democracy and dignity, freedom and equality, liberty and justice. It includes tirelessly striving for these ideals, with the audacity to believe that the promise of America extends not just to some of its citizens, but to all of its citizens.

Loving America includes honoring America. And the best way to honor America — to love the promise of America — is by honoring the ideals for which America stands — ideals which people have lived and died for — which includes doing all one can to honor the memory of those who died by making sure what they died for — the ideals that truly make America great — are put into practice (to make sure they’re concrete realities and not just ideological concepts).

Anytime our country falls short of the ideals for which it stands, patriots have the responsibility to tirelessly strive so that the promise of America (liberty and justice for all, as the pledge teaches) matches the reality of America. If one doesn’t strive for the realization of democracy and dignity, freedom and equality, liberty and justice, then one just pays lip service to the promise of America. When this is the case, sayings like the pledge become nothing more than empty words, devoid of meaning.

William Sloane Coffin once said there are three kinds of patriots: two bad, one good. “The bad are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.”

As such, those who love and care about their country have the responsibility to call attention to the ways it falls short of its promise. Not because they don’t honor or love the ideals of democracy and dignity, freedom and equality, or liberty and justice, but precisely because they honor and love them so much that they won’t rest until they’re realized. This idea of patriotism is nicely summarized in “America the Beautiful,” penned by Katherine Lee Bates in 1893:

“America, America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”

The dream of America has always been a dream in process. Langston Hughes, one of Missouri’s most famous writers (he was born in Joplin in 1902), reflected on the experiences of being black in America, and how the America described in popular folklore as the land of freedom and opportunity was never the America of his experiences. But he still dreamed of the America that could be, the America rooted in the ideals of democracy and dignity, freedom and equality, liberty and justice. In “Let America Be America Again,” he writes:

“O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath–

America will be!”

More than fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, because he too believed in the promise of America:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ . . . Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

It was precisely because King loved and cared for the ideals of America that he held America accountable for falling short of its ideals. This is part of the cost — and demand — of true patriotism (as opposed to cheap sentiment).

Contrary to popular belief (and let’s recall that in 1966, only 15% of whites thought “demonstrations by Negroes” were appropriate), NFL players who take a knee to protest racism are working out of a patriotic tradition that holds America accountable for its actions, even and especially when it falls short of its ideals. They’re not protesting the flag or the troops, as they’ve stated time and again, but instead are honoring the ideals to which the flag points (it’s not just a piece of cloth), and for which many have died.

As soon as any of the protesting players say they’re taking a knee in protest of those in the military or in protest of the promise of America, then I will no longer support their reasons for taking a knee.

Relatedly, as soon as President Trump apologizes for calling a POW war hero a loser and for belittling a Gold Star family, whose son died in service to our country, then I will consider that President Trump’s desire for players to stand truly is about honoring the military — because his actions show exceptionally low regard for the military. And when Roger Goodell stops requiring the military to pay millions of dollars to the NFL for “military appreciation events,” then I’ll believe his interest in having players stand is to honor the military as well. Otherwise it’s just a cheap symbolic gesture.

If a person is naive enough to think (along with Mike Ditka) that oppression hasn’t existed in America for the last 100 years, or that slavery wasn’t the central reason the Civil War was waged, or that unarmed black men in America aren’t killed by the police at a disproportionately high rate, then there’s nothing this article can do to convince them otherwise.

But if we’re at least willing to acknowledge that the long history of racism in America is a problem yet to be solved, and that the promise of liberty and justice for all is a goal yet to be achieved, then perhaps you’ll understand — if not appreciate — why some players take a knee in protest against racism. I for one admire their courage and their conviction. Not because they disrespect the ideals of America and those willing to give their life for it, but because they believe in them so much.

Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, and the true meaning of patriotism

Over the years I’ve written a lot about symbolic gestures. These are activities or rituals we take part in that make us feel good by providing the illusion that we care about the things we say we care about, when in fact our everyday actions suggest otherwise. These are all around us all of the time. A classic example is a business that pays super low wages to its employees and denies them benefits at every turn (thus trapping them in poverty), yet publicly donates $10K to charity and frames that check on the wall of the business, as if that represents their true values and interests. Or think about the “Please Gamble Responsibly” sticker on the slot machines at the casino. The machines are programmed to addict you to slots, but the sticker makes it sound like the casino doesn’t want you to be irresponsible with the very machines designed to make you irresponsible in the first place (HT to my fav show “Adam Ruins Everything” for the latter example).

This is now on full display with Trump et al.’s criticism of Colin Kaepernick, calling him (as well as other NFL players who kneel during the anthem) “sons of bitches.” To be sure, Trump (et al.) would say they stand for the national anthem because they believe in all of the values that the flag symbolizes. It makes them feel patriotic for standing and expressing their commitment to the principles of this nation. They would say they are standing for democracy, for the idea that “all men are created equal,” for the pledge’s love of “liberty and justice for all,” etc.

Yet at the very same time, Trump’s administration works to actively undermine all of these things. While he stands in patriotic support of these principles — which provides him with the feel good illusion that he’s patriotic — he actively undermines the pursuit of these principles and values. As such, it’s a classically hollow and vacuous symbolic gesture.

What’s more, his “sons of bitches” rhetoric — which is disturbing on many levels — serves to dehumanize the very people who are actively displaying a true commitment to the principles and values that are supposed to be at the heart of the country but frequently are not: the idea of liberty and justice for all and that all people in the U.S. should be treated fairly and equally, including especially black and brown bodies that (because of America’s original sin of racism) have frequently and disproportionately been subjected to police brutality (which is what originally started the anthem protests), which undercuts democracy and liberty and justice for all in an institutionalized and violent form. As such, these commitments by Kap et al. are made not out of a disdain for democracy or for what the country should be, but precisely the opposite: because of an abiding love and commitment for all that is promised in the name of democracy and what the country should be. They’re protesting not because they disrespect the values that are supposed to be at the heart of our country and our democracy (or the troops, as they’ve publicly stated time and again), but because they believe in democracy and justice and equality so much, including the idea that police should not disproportionately shoot and kill black and brown persons, much less with such glaring impunity.

Here we see that Kaepernick et al. are actually the ones expressing a much deeper form of patriotism than are those who simply cheapen the moment of standing for the anthem as a symbolic gesture that provides the illusion that they stand for patriotic principles of equality and justice when in fact their everyday actions and policies undercut these values and suggest they prefer white supremacy and police brutality to equality and justice.

Our civic commitments should be to the best of the values enshrined in our democracy, not to symbolic gestures that make us think we care about these things when in fact we do not. That’s why I will stand (or kneel) with Kap.

#MoralClarity