Don’t Feed the Ego of the Ruler

Recently, a pastor of a large church on the mainland — the Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church (SBC) of Dallas, Texas — wrote this to the Christian Broadcast Network News:

“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”

The passage to which he refers is Romans 13:1-7. I’ll include it in full at the close. He’s given us a very shallow reading of the text, and considered absolutely none of its context. In Romans 8, for example, the apostle Paul (the writer) notes that there are other powers in the world that are clearly unauthorized by God. Paul urges people to bless those who persecute them in Romans 12, maintaining a theme found elsewhere in the letter that suggests the Christian community in the imperial capital was under stress. Lots of stress.

Dr. Jeffress also ignores the context of Paul’s life and death. He was executed by the rulers whose “God-given authority” Paul so blithely commends in Romans 13. Does Dr. Jeffress really mean to say that Roman persecution of the early Church, which claimed the lives of so many of its earliest leaders, was God-driven? Does he mean to imply that their arrests, detentions, and executions were the result of their “bad conduct”?

Dr. Jeffress, were he to look, could find abundant Biblical examples of good conduct being rewarded with bad treatment at the hands of authorities. The people of Israel enslaved by Egypt… The prophet Elijah pursued by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel… The prophet Jeremiah imprisoned by King Zedekiah… Jesus…

Paul was simply wrong. Authority is no indicator of God’s favor, endorsement, or direction. As I read this text, I actually hear Paul trying to restrain a burgeoning movement toward violent rebellion. He’s attempting to restrain a violent response to an increasingly violent persecution by the governing authorities. Governing authorities, I note once more for Dr. Jeffress’ sake, that took his own life unjustly.

But truthfully, I didn’t need to do much Biblical research to know that Dr. Jeffress was wrong, because his public statement giving Divine approval to authority applies both to the U.S. President and to the Supreme Leader of North Korea.

Most troubling for a servant of Christ, the public statement serves only to inflate the ego of the President. It provides no new information about the situation. It gives no moral guidance. It offers no alternatives to death and destruction.

Dr. Jeffress, Jesus is not about inflating the ego of rulers.

Dr. Jeffress, Jesus is not about uncritical moral decision-making.

Dr. Jeffress, Jesus is not about death and destruction.

Hear me when I say this:

If you are feeding the ego of the ruler, and you are not feeding the ruler with wisdom, then you are a stranger to the heart and mind of Christ.

I’ll say it again:

If you are feeding the ego of the ruler, and you are not feeding the ruler with wisdom, then you are a stranger to the heart and mind of Christ.

Dr. Jeffress: Repent.

Ego without Wisdom

Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Another Day that Should Live in Infamy

internmentIt’s called Remembrance Day. I only became aware of it a couple of years ago. And, I shamefacedly confess, I am all too subject to forget it. To forget Remembrance Day is not just a terribly irony – it’s a social, moral, and spiritual travesty.

On February 19, 1942, President Frankly Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the United States without due process of law. Today is the 75th anniversary of that order, and it is a day that should live in infamy.

The irony that the US should imprison citizens in concentration camps – Roosevelt’s word – and condemn Germany for it, is chilling, to say the least. Mercifully, Americans did not seek a “final solution” and begin wholesale murder as the Germans did, but that comes as cold comfort.

Today, the scandal receives little attention. Actor George Takei and a number of theatrical professionals brought the story to Broadway in 2012 in the musical Allegiance, which I saw in a wonderful stage-to-film event a couple months ago. Congress voted restitution payments to survivors in 1988, and included a formal apology in the legislation. The most recent reference I’ve heard to it in national news, however, was author Carl Higbie’s assertion that Order 9066 provided a legal framework for a registry of Muslims.

His Fox News interviewer, Megyn Kelly, was horrified. But it is true that the federal courts upheld Order 9066 during the war – though these decisions were reversed in the 1980s when newly discovered documents revealed that evidence had been withheld, and false evidence presented, during the legal proceedings of the 1940s.

I will not forget.

I may forget the date – I’m not good with dates – but I will not forget the injustice, the suffering, and the evil. Why?

I will remember because many of the parents and grandparents of the people I serve endured the unjust suspicion, prejudice, and oppression of the US military during the Second World War. Two of the people at whose funerals I have officiated were forced into internment camps. And I know members of East Hawai’i’s Muslim community, and they know the history.

They wonder if they are next.

I will remember in order that no one will be next. 

Today in worship, we joined in a litany for Remembrance Day. Written by Ellen Godbey Carson of Church of the Crossroads UCC in Honolulu, it concludes with these words:

Loving God, help us be your hands in the world.
Give us the courage to stand up, speak out,
and protect the dignity and rights of all of your children.
Help us learn to celebrate our differences rather than fear them.
Help us learn to love the whole of Your diverse creation!

Photo by Russell Lee.

Wisdom found on Kilauea

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An ‘apapane

Yesterday, as promised, I took myself to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and specifically to the summit area of Kilauea, to hike through groves of ohi’a and sandalwood, and refresh myself with reality and truth.

Walking down a trail to the serenade of songbirds, and later looking down into the furnace that is Halema’uma’u Crater, and hiking back to my car through the dark woods (poor planning, that), I thought about things I’d learned:

Birds sing their songs. If they don’t sing, they don’t live – the next generation doesn’t happen. They sing different songs. They sing to exist.

We must sing our songs.

What you don’t see is still there. Reality exists whether I see it – or you see it – or not.

Look closely. Don’t assume we’ve seen all there is to see.

Going up is more work than going down. Going down you’re more apt to fall.

Let’s be careful about going down. Let’s summon up our strength to go up.

Beauty grows at the edge of devastation.

Let’s appreciate truth and beauty where we find it.

Steam fogs your glasses, making it even harder to see the holes at the side of the trail (which are also steam vents).

Heated words may distract us from truth. We need to look for the realities they hide, and focus on them lest they trip us up – and never fail to name the heated words for what they are.

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Marcher’s eye view of the Women’s March in Hilo

Now today – today I marched.

Not as far as I hiked yesterday, I grant you. Hilo has a small downtown! But I marched because our new President has already made clear that not all citizens’ rights will be respected, and not all people’s worth will be considered. He has already taken steps to hamstring the Affordable Care Act, without presenting a replacement plan. Millions could lose access to insurance, and those who are now protected from being denied coverage because of their health now face a terrible risk of losing their insurance again.

Today both he and his press secretary repeatedly asserted an untruth. They would accept no evidence to the contrary; they would brook no contradiction. And it is a lie. The crowds at the inauguration today were significantly smaller than those eight years ago.

Women – people of color, both men and women – non-Christians – Christians who refuse to praise the President – journalists who do their jobs with diligence and integrity: These people have all faced the President’s ire.

And so I marched. To face the ire. To declare the truth. And most of all:

To sing my song.

What I’m Doing on Inauguration Day

20160908-pmp1_-9What should I do on Inauguration Day?

I thought and thought about this question. It was not an easy or comfortable debate. Close to my core is a deep love for the democratic forms of this country. The fact that we change policy through the application of the vote, and not through the advances of armies, makes this nation precious to me more than the coincidence of my birth into it. I value the peaceful transfer of power (a phrase I’ve heard several times this past week). I honor it.

Does that mean I need to watch it?

Yes, it would be virtuous of me as a citizen to celebrate the peaceful transfer of power. Yes, it would be virtuous of me as a political creature (i.e., human being) to listen carefully to his words, and assess my appropriate response of support or resistance to particular policies or proposals. Yes, I probably should watch the inauguration.

I don’t want to.

It could be sour grapes. It could be a petulant reaction to a political disappointment.

It could be solidarity. As a candidate, the man who will be inaugurated tomorrow insulted broad swathes of human beings in ways I thought should doom his candidacy. His political senses are better than mine; he won the office. But he left great numbers of people in great anxiety that their economic well-being, their physical health, and their liberties were at risk. They’ve called for a boycott of his inauguration, and as I believe that they should retain their economic well-being, their physical health, and their liberties, I would be proud to stand in solidarity.

Yet I think that will probably wait for another day (most likely the next day, if I can get to the Hilo edition of the Women’s March on time).

Because in truth, I just don’t care to be lied to. I need to spend the day with some truth.

“All politicians lie,” I hear you say, and as generalizations go, this one has more to support it than most. The man who will take the oath of office tomorrow, however, gets caught in falsehoods all the time and it makes no difference to him. He contradicts himself on matters of fact, on assertions of causation, and on predictions of policy with no apparent concern.

He never apologizes. He never says, “I had that wrong, and now I’ve come to a new conclusion.” He simply says the new thing, denies he ever said the old thing (for heaven’s sake, hasn’t a reality television star heard of recordings?) and moves on.

To me, that means that there’s no point to what he says tomorrow. His views on those topics could change by Sunday – or the end of the day Friday. Or they could be the guiding principles for his decisions for months. Who knows? I don’t. I wonder if he does…

Originally, I’d planned to simply say, “I’m working; I don’t have time to watch the inauguration. Oh. Darn,” and go on. I’ve found myself with a day off, however, after working over the weekend. So. Now I’ve had to make the choice.

As it happens, I’ve got a gathering to go to for lunch, but when it’s over, I’ll point my car toward the summit of Kilauea and drive. Rather than listen to lies, I’ll spend the afternoon in contemplation of Truth.

Truth that human beings are, after all, very small creatures on a very powerful planet.

Truth that the world is building itself, and reshaping itself, and reforming itself. It has done so before; it will do so again.

Truth that the world is also fragile. The ground can open in great rifts; the air can be poisoned; the water can blast forth in gushes of steam to scald all those about. It can be molded, and molded badly, by human hands.

Truth that I, though small, and frequently reshaped, and sharing the fragility of my home, can also choose.

Who knows? I may learn some new Truths up there.

With this Truth, I will stand to watch the orange glow from the crater, with its promise, and its peril, and its power.

Why Choose?

I can never really choose between the ocean and the mountain for grandeur. Some people can. I can’t.

Living in Hilo, I don’t have to. So, why choose?

The photos and video were taken on December 26, 2016, at Whittington Beach Park in Naalehu and on the Kilauea summit.

Christmas Eve 2016

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Photo of a mosaic in the Greek Catholic Church and monastery of the Basilian Friars in Warsaw by Loraine – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9656226

We have heard the stories. We have sung the songs. We have lit the candles. We have shared Christmas greetings. We have shared Christmas treats.

Now comes the silence which comes so rarely in this busy technological world. Gradually, the excited children will succumb to the fatigue excitement brings. The wide-eyed stares of anticipation will relax into dreams, whether there is snow outside to cushion the anticipated sleigh or not. Ears tuned to the clatter of reindeer will be disappointed, once again, to find that the miracle happened while they slumbered and could not warn their owners that the moment had arrived.

Two thousand years ago, there must have been such a moment. I doubt it lasted long, babies being babies, but there must have been a moment when the exhausted newly-christened mother dreamed, and when the wondering father slumbered, and when the infant made only the soft snuffling sounds that reassure anxious parents that their child breathes.

In that moment, God could appreciate the miracle new-wrought in Bethlehem, and make whatever cosmic sound we imitate with a contented sigh. The miracle new-wrought, alive, and growing.

Have a blessed Christmas.