Drawing the Line Between Caesar and Christ 
Sunday, February 12, 2006, 02:29 PM - Caesar and Christ
A group of religious leaders has sent a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation of two large churches in Ohio that they say are improperly campaigning on behalf of a conservative Republican running for governor.

In their complaint, the clergy members contend that the two Columbus-area churches, Fairfield Christian Church and the World Harvest Church, which were widely credited with getting out the Ohio vote for President Bush in 2004, have allowed their facilities to be used by Republican organizations, promoted the candidate, J. Kenneth Blackwell, among their members and otherwise violated prohibitions on political activity by tax-exempt groups.

They are asking the I.R.S. to examine whether the churches' tax exemptions should be revoked and are requesting that Mark W. Everson, the federal tax commissioner, seek an injunction to stop what they consider improper activities.

-- From The New York Times, January 16, 2006.

Pastor Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church charges that Liberal preachers [are] trying to silence him (Columbus Dispatch, January 21, via Newsdesk.org):
:The Rev. Rod Parsley challenged critics to identify themselves.

Vehemently denying that he plays partisan politics from the pulpit, the Rev. Rod Parsley said yesterday that he would not be silenced from preaching about moral issues by liberal ministers who this week filed a complaint against him with the Internal Revenue Service.

Parsley, in a news conference at his sprawling World Harvest Church complex in southern Columbus, labeled the complaining pastors as the "anonymous 31" and called on them to reveal their identities.

"The anonymous 31 have chosen to speak behind the masks of personal and political agendas, media manipulation and intimidation, and we simply will not be silenced by those tactics of fear," Parsley said.
Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ Seminarian sympathetic to the investigation request, offers a warning in Ohio Restoration Project: How The Republicans Misuse God For Political Gain (Chuck Curry Blog, January 27):
Groups like the Ohio Restoration Project are dangerous for many reasons:

1. They confuse the Gospel teachings with the Republican Platform.

2. They create a sense that to be a good pastor you must be a patriotic one (and they define patriotic as being in complete compliance with their own narrow views). The only loyalty a pastor should be concerned with is their loyalty to God. A minister cannot serve both church and state.

3. They seem to have no respect for the US Constitution or the other laws our land.

Those other brave religious leaders in Ohio who are working to put a stop to these crimes should be applauded for their efforts. Americans cannot afford to stand silent as the Religious Right works to replace our democracy with a theocracy where only their views are valued. Democracy and respect for pluralism are ideals worth standing up for.
For a reaction from a politically active conservative evangelical, see
Christian Left Attacks Christian Right (Dane Bramage, January 30):
Well I expected the left to try and impede the Republican grassroots machine. I didn’t expect it to come from so-called brothers and sisters. I participated in the Bush re-election campaign and one of the things I was asked was to have a voter registration drive in my church. I was not asked to tell the congregation to vote for Bush or anybody in particular. I was asked to get people who were not already registered to do so. So the claims of partisanship because of voter registration are pure crap. As for biased material, why don’t the liberals abide by their own rules? When I go to the polls in the Catholic church around the corner, democrat volunteers are there passing out materials in the parking lot. I am always given voting “instructions” with a sample ballot. Always the democrat candidate was selected and the liberal issues chosen as “examples”. Surely they can’t complain about the practice they themselves employ.

As for recommending a conservative candidate, who do they think a conservative church would promote? If they are like my church then the pastors probably don’t say “Vote for this guy or that guy”. They will tell you to vote period. Political issues can be viewed in light of scripture as to being right and wrong but whether we vote for or against is still left to the individual. Unfortunately the leftist mind set is convinced that conservative Christians are mindless bumpkins who live only to do the will of the pastor and therefore no mention of current events or politics must be made on church grounds or the thought-controlled masses will march off lemming-like to the polls to vote Republican. If the moonbat Christians spent less time in their tax codes and more time in their Bibles they would realize that Jesus taught about current events and politics too, emphasizing their importance to Christians.
Don Don's Lounge reprints Sound Off, Moderate Christians, by Robyn E. Blumner, Times Perspective Columnist (February 5):
If you want to see the culmination of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's dream - the church as party headquarters - go to Ohio. There, two preachers, the Rev. Russell Johnson of Fairfield Christian Church and the Rev. Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church, are diligently working to build an army of conservative Christian voters who will dominate the Republican Party, then Ohio government, then Washington.

Johnson, who calls those to his left "secular jihadists" and condemns public schools for not teaching that Hitler was "an avid evolutionist," has founded the Ohio Restoration Project. Its mission is to enlist 2,000 religious leaders as "Patriot Pastors" who will sign up hundreds of thousands of new voters and mobilize an activist corps within their flocks.

The goal is to capitalize on the 2004 election success that had regular churchgoers in Ohio who identified themselves as white evangelical or born-again voting for George W. Bush over John Kerry by an astounding 97 percent to 3 percent ratio.

Parsley, an Ohio televangelist with a megachurch of 10,000 weekly worshipers, has launched Reformation Ohio, an organization with similar goals.

While they expect their efforts to pay off with multiple election victories, in the short term Johnson and Parsley want to elect Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell governor in November. Blackwell is an African-American Christian conservative who led a successful ballot initiative in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage.

Johnson and Parsley say their institutions do not endorse candidates. But they have engaged in transparent electioneering on behalf of Blackwell - exclusively featuring him at events and in educational materials.

The details of Johnson's and Parsley's political activities are exhaustively laid out in a complaint filed with the IRS and signed, not by the ACLU or People for the American Way, but by dozens of religious leaders. Initially, 31 pastors of Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and other, mainly Protestant, denominations signed the letter that says the tax-exempt status of Johnson's and Parsley's churches and affiliated organizations should be revoked. Since then, at least two dozen more have asked to be included.

The pastors say when they told their congregations about joining the complaint, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Here is the countervailing force. If the Christian Right is going to turn its followers into Republican Party operatives and its churches into political war rooms, then the moderate Christian community has to push back.

Slowly, it's starting to happen.
Pastor Rich Nathan of the Vineyard Church of Columbus questions the spritual wisdom of filing the complaint in his February congregational letter, A “Non-Political” Approach to Politics (Pastor Nathan published a similar column in the February 3 Columbus Dispatch):
As a Christian pastor, I was deeply troubled that a group of pastors would choose to sue other pastors. What, I wondered, is their view of the Body of Christ? What is their understanding of 1 Corinthians 6.1 in which the apostle Paul says:

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?

As a Christian pastor, I have also been troubled by the continued over-identification of the challenged churches (in this case) with far right Republican politics. Where, I have wondered, is there a place for a thoughtful Christian Democrat in these churches? How does a non-Christian who has contrary political leanings hear the gospel without being thoroughly turned off? Do these churches really want to align themselves with politicians who may have mixed motives or unbiblical perspectives on various issues? Do we really have only two options – the option offered by the political left or the option offered by the political right?
Pastor Eric Williams of North Congregational United Church of Christ, one of thirty-one clergy who signed the IRS complaint, responds to Pastor Nathan and explains why Churches entangled in partisan politics lose their prophetic voice. (Columbus Dispatch, February 10):
I interpret St. Paul’s advice to the church in Corinth differently than Pastor Nathan. The historical situation that this congregation was facing suggests that Paul was talking about court cases involving property ("dispute with another" and "be cheated"). The Roman government permitted Jews (and Christians) to apply their own laws in local property matters. This is very different from judging those who violate Roman law (Romans 13:3-4). Paul advised that everyone must obey the laws of the state or experience its judgment.

In signing the letter of complaint I joined 30 colleagues who shared a common concern. We came together from various faith traditions, differing theological perspectives and individual life experiences to ask that the laws of our nation be enforced.

We think that the two churches and pastors named in the complaint are violating federal laws. I don’t object to their speaking out about religious values or political issues. This kind of public dialogue informs and enhances everyone’s ability to live together in community. I do object to their endorsing a political candidate. . . .

I am very concerned that many conservative evangelical churches and religious leaders in the United States have entered into a Faustian bargain to gain political power and legislative influence. By espousing an ideology of self-righteousness they have undermined the credibility of their moral witness in society today.
Complete text of the Letter and Complaint to IRS Commissioner Everson (Word document)

You Think You Know Who You Are? 
Sunday, February 12, 2006, 12:51 AM - Faith and Film
. . . You have no idea." - Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) to his ex-partner Officer Hanson (Ryan Philippe), in the film Crash

Roger Ebert's review of Crash

Review of Crash on HollywoodJesus.com

Sunday, February 12, 2006, 12:38 AM - Not to Fight with Beasts as Men
Reprinted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

Tuesday afternoon a week ago (June 7 [2005]), my colleague Hasan Jeffries stopped by my office and asked if I'd seen the film Crash. Actually, "stopped by" is too mild a way to phrase it. Hasan is a fairly charismatic guy under the most ordinary circumstances, and on this occasion he was as animated as I've ever seen him. I told him I'd been meaning to see the movie since reading critic Roger Ebert's review back in May, but had not yet gotten around to it. "You have got to see this movie," Hasan said.

So that evening I did, and the next day Hasan and I met over lunch to discuss it.

"Crash," explains Ebert in his review, "tells interlocking stories of whites, blacks, Latinos, Koreans, Iranians, cops and criminals, the rich and the poor, the powerful and powerless, all defined in one way or another by racism. All are victims of it, and all are guilty of it. Sometimes, yes, they rise above it, although it is never that simple. Their negative impulses may be instinctive, their positive impulses may be dangerous, and who knows what the other person is thinking?" Hasan and I liked the film as a film, but we were most attracted to its ability to act as a catalyst for dialogue about racism. Yet Crash can be seen just as readily as a commentary on the ways in which we imprison ourselves behind walls of anger and how hard it is to escape those walls. I know that I myself have been, throughout my life, an intensely angry person, though I have tried very hard to control it and feel deeply chagrined and ashamed whenever I lose my temper. That's not just my personal struggle, however. It's the world's struggle. And the study of military history has much to do with understanding that.

Anger is everywhere. You never know when you'll encounter it. Last Friday (June 10) my significant other and I went out for a beer at a nearby bar called Caddo's. It affects a country-and-western atmosphere and is pretty laid back. (I think that for all my life I will be in the academy but not of it. I'm always most comfortable in what might be called working-class environments, and one of my favorite country songs is Aaron Tippin's "Working Man's PhD". Even though, strictly speaking, the song is sort of contemptuous of people with actual PhDs.)

We weren't there long. I spent most of the time chatting with a guitarist over a Corona beer and my SO, I belatedly discovered, spent a few hapless moments fending off a rather incompetent pass by one of the clientele. We had to be up early in the morning to drive out to Indiana so we left around 12:30 a.m. I backed my car out of its parking space and paused as a car two or three spaces away also began pulling out. For a couple of seconds it was no big deal; I figured he'd see me and pause to let me by before completing his maneuver. But then I realized he was getting closer and closer to my car and then he just hit me. Tapped me is more like it. No big deal. Here's a photo of the damage. You can click for a larger image; indeed, you may have to; otherwise you may not be able to make out the damage. . . .

I got out of the car to do the routine exchange of insurance information. The other driver got of his car and started into one of those what-the-hell-were-you-doing-there-and-it's-all-your-fault routines.

"We're not going to do that," I said, mildly--emphasis on mildly because I could see that this guy was belligerent and probably drunk. "We're going to exchange insurance information as the law requires."

He said that he didn't have the information on him but that had coverage with State Farm, so it was OK, and anyway there wasn't any real damage, and so on.

I said, "One of two things is going to happen here. Either we are going to exchange information or I am going to call the police."

He told me I could just call the police, then, since he had no insurance information and no intention of sticking around at the scene to undergo a potential sobriety test. I called out the number of his license plate to my SO and she wrote it down. The guy got back into his car. I walked around to the passenger's side and asked him to reconsider, which may sound nuts on my part except that as soon as I refused to get caught up in the moment and insisted on keeping things businesslike, he calmed right down. In response to my request for him to reconsider, he told me candidly that he already had several DUIs (Driving Under the Influence) and preferred to be cited for leaving the scene of an accident. "Good luck," I said quietly--no sarcasm, I really meant it, because he obviously had problems and there wasn't anything I could do but hope that he got home okay.

I called in the accident report. The officer who came told me that ordinarily the police do not respond to accidents on private property, so the dumbest thing the guy could possibly have done was to leave the scene. That made him the subject of a criminal investigation--though the officer told me not to hold my breath for any quick resolution. He ran the plate number. Information about the person to whom the plate was registered came up on a computer screen in the middle of the cop's dashboard--the technology these days is amazing. He asked if the photo of the person looked like the guy with whom I'd spoken. I said it did. He said the guy was driving under a suspended license and, sure enough, had three DUIs.

So that was that. The next morning I took a few photos of the damage and then my SO and I headed off for Indiana. Claypool, Indiana, to be exact. Population 308 and falling, 97 percent white, median age 31.5 years, median household income $33,833, median house value $62,500. Not much goes on in Claypool, Indiana. Someone had recently tried to have a cockfight, and two roosters had been driven up from Kentucky for that purpose. No one seems to have explained the point of a cockfight to the roosters, however, and when thrown into the ring they just sort of regarded one another with a sort of isn't-this-odd incredulity. The organizer of the cockfight, disgusted and disappointed, simply turned them loose into the neighborhood, where they are now known as Lunch and Dinner, respectively. I saw them several times during my visit. Mahatma Gandhi was more belligerent than the two of them combined.

My SO has a friend living in Claypool and we were in her father's yard chatting when just beyond a row of hedges we heard a truck slam on its brakes, tires squealing, and then a voice screaming at the top of his lungs. We couldn't make out exactly what was said except that it involved a threat to kill whoever the screamer was talking to. Apparently the screamer felt that he had in some way been disrespected.

One of my conceits, which will probably get me slugged one day, is that I can defuse pretty much any hostile situation. I have a great belief in the power of remaining calm. It seems to evoke calm from the other person, almost despite themselves. So I walked around the row of hedges and saw that the screamer was a man in his mid-twenties who had stopped his pickup truck in the middle of the road. He had gotten out of his truck to berate--wait for it--a boy who could have been no more than twelve. Having gotten things off his chest, he was stalking back to his truck.

A small puppy followed him on the theory that, since in his young life he had gotten only petting and tummy tickles from human beings, this guy offered another fat opportunity for a little loving. The puppy got under the truck right about where the rear tire would crush him as soon as the screamer put the truck in gear. A little girl desperately ran out to the truck and begged the screamer not to drive away. "Aw, he'll be all right," the screamer said. The little girl grabbed the puppy and ran away just as the screamer threw the truck into gear and accelerated away. This time I did not get the license plate.

This time I could barely believe what I'd just seen.

I walked over to the group of kids that included the little girl and the twelve-year old boy. I asked what that had been all about. The boy, obviously shaken, had no idea. He'd simply been waving to trucks and cars as they went by and the screamer seemed to interpret this as some sort of mortal insult. (When I tell this story I am sometimes asked if I believe that the kid was really just waving hi. In fact I do. It was consistent with what I'd seen of the little group before and the kid showed none of the little signs that betray prevarication. But the main thing I say is, So what? What could possibly justify a grown man to do something like that? Why is the screamer getting the benefit of the doubt here?)

In a previous and for some reason slightly controversial entry, I suggested that military historians had something relevant to say about bullies. I now told the kids that I was a military historian who had active duty officers among my students. I said I liked to think about things like what had just happened as if they were military problems to be solved. I was the readier to address this particular "military problem" because the kids told me--and after a few more hours in Claypool and the nearby town of Pierceton, I heartily believed it--that around here some people engaged in this sort of random hostility all the time.

I stood where the boy had stood. I waved to an imaginary truck. I imagined the truck screeching to a halt. I imagined the driver storming toward me. I imagined what sort of man could be filled with so much rage, and concluded that it was most likely a man who had been beaten down by life. Maybe he'd lost his job. Maybe his girl friend had dumped him. Most probably, given the depressed area, he felt that life had given him a raw deal. He got so little respect that when a kid waved hello to him, he interpreted it as more disrespect. And although he might have to take it from adults, he wasn't going to take it from some damned twelve-year old twerp.

I said to the kids, "A basic rule in war is that, unless you have a very good reason, you do not give the enemy what he wants. A guy like this wants to pick a fight. He wants an excuse to be mad. He needs to be mad. How about if you said something like, 'Hey, mister, I really like your truck. What kind is it?' And so on."

One of the kids pointed out that maybe the guy would think this was sarcasm. I thought the kid was exactly right. I tried again.

"How about if you say, 'Mister, you scare me.'" That instantly struck me as the right answer. He comes raging up, expecting the satisfaction of a confrontation, and gets instead to see himself as what he is, a scary man bullying a small kid. I notice that the door to a house is a few feet away. "How about if you run inside the house," I continue.

It all makes sense, but I know it also sounds like running away. If this is going to work, the kids have to have a sense of empowerment. "You say this happens a lot?" I ask. They nod.

"Then here's what you do. Write down the make and model of the vehicle and the color. Write down whatever you can about the driver. If you can, write down the license plate number." They note that they have no pen and paper. "You say this happens a lot," I say, "so keep pen and paper handy. And then call the police."

My talking to them like this seems to have calmed them all down. Better yet, they're starting to think of this as a problem to be solved. They don't feel helpless. I leave them a business card. It's just a stunt. I want them to feel like they really have just had a consultation with an actual military historian. I say before I go, "Remember, don't give your enemy what he wants. If he wants a fight, deny him that. Get him onto your ground, not his. Can you imagine what a weak man that driver was to think he had to pick on kids half his age? He wanted a fight on those terms. Get him into a fight with the police instead."

They like that idea. The twelve-year old and I shake hands. I walk away. I feel good that I've been able to help--and yet somewhere down deep, I feel a rage, an odd kinship with the screamer in the pickup truck.

Long Time No See 
Friday, February 10, 2006, 02:39 AM - General
Sorry to have been away for so long. Between my regular life and my other blog, there hasn't been time to maintain this one. I have begun teaching the Faith and Film class I outlined in an early entry. It's been a nice experience. I may eventually even scrounge some time to write about it. In the meantime, just know that I haven't dropped off the planet.

Crimes and Misdemeanors