August 2014

The Usual Suspects* joined this week with a host of Roman Catholic pacifists to issue a fatwacalling on President Obama to stop opposing genocide, rape, slavery, and murder in Iraq:

As religious communities, leaders, and academics, we write to express our deep concern over the recent escalation of U.S. military action in Iraq. While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.

We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians. However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not “necessary” to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the “suicide of humanity.”

The disregard for human life found in this statement is extraordinary even by the standards of the Christian left. Incapable as they are of understanding the kind of evil that ISIS embodies, or the kind of danger they pose to the Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds of northern Iraq (not to mention the countless people they’ve slaughtered in Syria), these people dismiss “short term displacement of the adversary’s violence” as if it were of no consequence, when in fact it could easily mean the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of people. There is something genuinely despicable about safe and comfortable Westerners dismissing the deadly peril of terrified people on the ground while they play their abstract academic game of “Who Wants to Be Secretary of State.”

Of course, being the kind of deep thinkers for whom the real world of blood and death is just an annoying, fleeting image on a TV screen, they are full of suggestions for how to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq:

There are better, more effective, more healthy and more humanizing ways to protect civilians and to engage this conflict. Using an alternative frame, here are some “just peace” ways the United States and others can not only help save lives in Iraq and the region, but also begin to transform the conflict and break the cycle of violent intervention. To begin, the United States should take the following steps:

Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.

Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence. Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.

Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq. Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel-back some of the persons joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with influence on key actors in the Islamic State.

Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full participation in the process.

Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties. For example, experts have suggested strategies such as parallel institutions, dispersed disruptions, and economic non-cooperation.

Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council. For example, disrupting the Islamic State’s $3 million/day oil revenue from the underground market would go a long way toward blunting violence.

Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.

Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. U.S. arms and military assistance to the government forces and ethnic militias in Iraq, in addition to arming Syrian rebel groups, have only fueled the carnage, in part due to weapons intended for one group being taken and used by others. All armed parties have been accused of committing gross violations of human rights. Along with Russia, work with key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to take independent initiatives and meaningful steps towards an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict.

Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level. Deep sectarian and ethnic divisions have long been exacerbated by various factors, including the U.S. military intervention in 2003. Sustainable peace will require peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts from the ground up.

I could critique each of these ideas, but there’s no need to deal with them one by one. They are all based on the same willful ignorance of the nature of the enemy and the nature of the current conflict. The fact is that Islamic fundamentalism is the third great totalitarian challenge to Western civilization in the last hundred years, and ISIS is only the latest and most brutal version of it. What the signatories of this statement refuse to understand is that Islamic fundamentalists do not want reconciliation with civilization, do not want a “place at the table” (as another eyes-wide-shut academic put it recently), do not want to live in peace with their neighbors, do not want an “inclusive” Iraqi government or more economic development. They want total control over aspect of life. They want everyone to either convert or die. They want complete submission to their insane god. They want war, suffering, pain, and death inflicted on all who do not hold to their views. And they are willing to do pretty much anything, no matter how barbaric, to achieve their goals.

The best thing that can be said about this statement is that it will be paid no attention whatsoever outside of the black hole that is mainline Protestant and Catholic left leadership, except perhaps in some segments of that other bastion of hyper-unrealism, the academy. The worst thing that can be said about it? Your tithes and offerings–if you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, or the Quakers–may well be helping to keep the titles behind the names of these enemies of human flourishing.

*You know who I mean: Gradye Parsons of the PCUSA, the new head of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, the American Friends Service Committee (headed by the appropriately named Shan Cretin), the Global Ministries agency of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, the head of the Church of the Brethren, and the execrable Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite. Oddly enough, no participation from the Episcopal Church, Mennonite Church, or ELCA.

PS–I should add here that I was surprised that the National Council of Churches didn’t sign on to this, since it is currently being led by the man who’s name would have been on it but for having moved from the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society to the NCC. But as it happens, James Winkler and friends manage to echo the language of this revolting statement in one of their own on the NCC web site:

While the NCC commends the US Administration’s desire to end this aggression, it is hesitant to endorse the military campaign underway that is intended to do so. As NCC president and general secretary, Jim Winkler, said, “There is no true military solution to resolving the crisis in Iraq. But as it is necessary to halt the assault of ISIS on the Iraqi people, and to help the displaced return to their ancestral villages, it would be better for the United Nations to undertake this task. The world community is horrified by this violence; the world community must share the burden of ending it.”

Even with the present need to end this particularly insidious extremist aggression, moving forward the continual reliance on military action as the default solution to conflict must be called into question, and alternative, more far-reaching solutions to the vicious cycle of violence must be found. As we reflected on the war in Iraq eight years ago, “we believe that freedom, along with genuine security, is based in God, and is served by the recognition of humanity’s interdependence, and by working with partners to bring about community, development, and reconciliation for all.”

This entry in the growing list of anti-Semite-friendly statements by mainline Protestants comes to us in the form of a letter to the editor of the New York Times. In it, Yale University Episcopal chaplain Bruce Shipman declares that Jews in Europe who are alarmed by growing violence against their community have no one to thank but their co-religionists in Israel for being so mean to the people who are trying to destroy that country:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

Lipstadt’s original article is here.

Daniel Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy, where I first saw this, responds:

Next on Rev. Shipman’s bucket list: blaming women who dress provocatively for rape, blaming blacks for racism because of high crime rates, and blaming gays for homophobia for being “flamboyant.”

The interesting thing about the anti-Semitic attacks in Europe is that they are not, by and large, being directed against Israeli citizens, or Israeli embassies, or Israeli businesses. They are being directed against German Jews, French Jews, British Jews, and so on. Why are their attackers choosing those targets? Because they don’t distinguish between Israelis and Jews at large. And the attackers are also quite explicit about their aims. Like the alien in Independence Day, when Israel or European Jews ask what they should do, their attackers say, “Die.”

It may or may not be Shipman’s intention, but his letter essentially says that Israel, and the world’s Jews, should give the anti-Semites what they want. That way they will get a few moments of peace before the savages find another excuse to demand the destruction of the object of their hate. Shipman and his ilk are enablers, if not supporters, of that hate.

Apparently the poobahs at the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) are rolling in so much dough, and have so much free time on their hands, that they’ve decided to take on one of the great threats to the First Amendment of our times: restaurant discounts for church bulletins. Fox News’s Todd Starnes reports:

Stevbully-1en Rose loves Jesus and pepperoni pizza.

But when the Searcy, Arkansas restaurateur decided to mix church and cheese it gave a group of out-of-town atheists a bad case of indigestion.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is threatening to sue Steven after he offered a discount to customers who bring in a church bulletin. They said Bailey’s Pizza is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Um, actually, no he’s not. And if he was, it would only demonstrate the need to amend the Act.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” FFRF spokesperson Elizabeth Cavell told television station KTHV.

That’s correct, and that’s what Bailey’s is doing. See, the restaurant doesn’t check to see if you’ve been to church, or are a member of a church, or are a Christian. All they ask in return for the discount is that you bring in a church bulletin, which can be obtained in lots of ways other than actually attending a church service. I’d be willing to bet that if Cavell were to look up Searcy on a map and haul her herself into town, lots of people would be glad to give her a bulletin and not even ask her to look at any of the churches in town, much less visit one. Poor dear probably gets the vapors just by driving through the shadow of a steeple.

The trouble started a few weeks ago when someone posted a Facebook photo of the sign promoting the discount.

“It was from a guy whose Facebook name is Bong Hits for Jesus,” Steven told me. “It said, ‘good luck with the discrimination lawsuit.’”

Steven said he didn’t consider the post to be a credible threat—seeing how the Facebook user’s name is “Bong Hits for Jesus.”

Two weeks later, he received the letter from the Wisconsin-based atheist group. They said that if he did not stop offering a church discount, they would “take appropriate steps.”

The bullies at the FFRF make these kinds of threats because they know that they people they are pushing around don’t have the financial resources to fight them. I suspect, however, that if Mr. Rose were to contact the Alliance for Freedom or the Becket Fund, they be happy to do a little pushback on his behalf pro bono.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of starting an organization called Freedom From the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFFFRF). Anybody with me?

Behold the triumph of left-wing, anti-Israel ideology over common sense or even decency in this news from the liberal organization J Street via the Washington Free Beacon:

The liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street accused Israel of “fanning growing flames of anti-Semitism” by waging a military campaign to stop Hamas terrorists from firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

J Street, which has said little about the conflict in recent weeks, released a statement Friday afternoon after Hamas resumed attacks on Israel moments after a temporary 72-hour ceasefire had expired.

J Street decided that now is the time to “put forward some hard truths” about Israel as it fights to defend its citizens from terrorism.

“Failure to solve this conflict is eating away at support for Israel around the world, damaging the country’s legitimacy and, in some cases, fanning growing flames of anti-Semitism,” J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a posting on the group’s website.

So let me get this straight. Israel is “fanning growing flames of anti-Semitism” by defending itself against the daily attacks coming from the Gaza Strip, launched by an organization dedicated to the eradication of Israel as a state and Jews as a people from the Levant. Israel is fanning those flames.

The moral and political obtuseness of blaming Israel for the acts of anti-Semites (which is to say people who will use any excuse to vent their hate) defies belief. It’s like saying African-Americans “fanned the flames of white racism” because they took advantage of the Emancipation Proclamation rather than supinely remaining slaves.

The government of Communist China has evidently decided that if it can’t stop Christianity from growing by leaps and bounds, it would be better to deform it. According to the South China Morning Post:

China will construct a “Chinese Christian theology” suitable for the country, state media reported on Thursday, as both the number of believers and tensions with the authorities are on the rise.

“Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country’s religious policy,” the paper quoted Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, as saying.

“The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.”

Peter Weber of The Week adds:

Wang didn’t elaborate on this new “Chinese Christian theology,” but the Three-Self Patriotic Movement’s Gu Mengfei explained that the year-old Chinese push to promote correct Christian theology encourages pastors and laypeople alike to extract moral teachings in line with Biblical times and with other religious faiths. “This will encourage more believers to make contributions to the country’s harmonious social progress, cultural prosperity, and economic development,” Gu added.

Rumor has it that Beijing is going to consult with Katherine Jefforts-Schori and Gradye Parsons, well-known experts in subverting Protestant churches to the cultural and political Zeitgeist, in order to formulate this new “Chinese Christian theology.”

global-warming-hoaxNational Public Radio has discovered that there are evangelicals joining the global warming climate instabilityclimate change movement. New York’s WNYC profiled one of them this week:

Brandan Robertson is the Founder of The Revangelical Movement and a representative of the growing number of those in the religious right who also see environmentalism as a religious and civic priority.

“Many conservative Christians pegged the issues around climate change as something that only liberals did or something that was actually opposed to the Christian message,” says Robertson. “This was mainly because conservative Evangelicals and Catholics tended to have a human-centered view that saw the Earth as an object that humans have been given to dominate and exploit for our own benefit. When it was all used up, Jesus would return, destroy the world, and take Christians to heaven. That is, of course, an oversimplification.”

No, it’s a falsehood and a straw man, but thank you for playing. I have literally never heard of any Christian who believes what Robertson just said “many” “conservative Evangelicals and Catholics” believe. None. And I’ve certainly never heard any make a public argument that even remotely resembles what he attributes to them.

You see, Brandon, there’s this idea called “stewardship” that pre-dates the emerging church and the revangelical movement and Brian McLaren and Sojourners and whatever other late 20th-early 21st century fads you want to glom on to. (I know that’s hard to believe, what with Christianity being this brand-new thing that Millenials are creating out of whole cloth and all, but it’s true.) And it isn’t just about tithing, Brandon. Believe it or not, it actually spoke to the responsibility that human beings have to care for their environment, because the environment we live in was created by God and is a gift of God. I’m sure it blows your mind to think that any generation before yours could have come up with such a cutting-edge, world-defying, nature-embracing notion, but hey, Copernicus didn’t discover heliocentrism until the Clinton administration, right?

Robertson says that a new wave of conservative Christians and religious organizations have begun taking leadership roles, adding that the views of climate change denialists are inadequate, destructive, and even “unbiblical” in some senses.

Well, if there was such a thing as a “climate change denier,” they would be “unbiblical” in the sense of being completely irrational. Brandon, no one–not even the Koch brothers–deny that climate changes. It changes with some frequency, geologically speaking. It changes for a variety of reasons that are all connected with the extraordinary complexity of a Sun-Earth-biosphere system that we are only beginning to understand (human limitedness being another biblical idea). Virtually no one denies that human beings contribute to that change, since we are important players in the biosphere part of the equation. What is disputed is how much of a role–determinative, primary, significant, secondary, tertiary, insignificant, infinitesimal–human beings play. Once again, you’re playing fast and loose with the truth.

Nowadays, Robertson says that environmental conservation is more in line with the Christian faith, adding that statistics show that the new generation of younger Evangelicals are changing politically.

“For instance, on June 2nd when the EPA released a proposal to reduce carbon pollution, many conservative Christians saw that as a no-brainer,” he says. “Yes, [President Obama’s] proposal had a price tag of $150 billion, but the price tag that will cost if we don’t get to work on these issues is far higher. As we look at Jesus and examine our Bibles, we’re becoming increasingly less concerned with personal wealth and economic growth, and more concerned with caring for our whole planet. It seems to us like the more Christ-like thing to do.”

“No-brainer.” I wonder if Brandon has any clue what that expression means. The EPA wants to issue an enormously costly, politically controversial, economically damaging, and scientifically dubious set of regulations, and he’s ready to swallow it whole without any thought at all, simply because it comes wrapped up with a pretty green bow. That’s not Christian faith at work. That’s another kind of religion, and one of the most empty-headed, credulous religions imaginable. It is a religion that assumes (as Brandon never would about what Christians believe) that all the questions have been answered, that there is no more evidence to discover or examine, that all contrary evidence has been debunked, and that anyone who now disagrees is “unbiblical” and even unChristian, greedy and rapacious rather than caring and compassionate.

Well guess what, Brandon? Science doesn’t work that way. And neither does Christianity.