Revisting the Formula for Healing the Nation

While growing up in suburban Baltimore, my mom, in her attempts to instill a sense of God’s ways in me, would often note that God does things in His own time and in His own ways.  The underlying message was that we can trust God to act on our behalf, but don ‘t expect Him to do it in the way we want Him to do it.  That’s a hard lesson to learn because we, in our human, linear reasoning, feel that we know the best way for doing things.  The problem, among others we have, is that we don’t have God’s perspective, and frankly we’re not that patient. Some time later, after reading scripture and listening to hundreds of anecdotes and testimonies by other believers, it became clear that the God who would use a prostitute in Jericho, Balaam’s ass, a terrorist named Paul, and a slew of other less-than-stellar personalities to affect His will, has a way of doing things that we humans, believers included, would never subscribe to.  Fortunately, God is not bound by our reasoning and strict “moral” guidelines.  As the scripture says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways,” declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In that scripture there lies a maxim that most people just don’t get.  Tragically, most Christians haven’t integrated into their lives either, and for that reason, the nation is seriously, at risk. When, according to the biblical account detailing the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, God provided a clear, unambiguous, instruction to follow if the land, crops, and people came under a curse from straying from His ways.  It seems pretty clear that God tied the righteous standing of His people to the earthly conditions of the nation.  He further provided an opportunity for redemption, if only His people would return to Him.  The scripture that exhibits this prescription is found in II Chronicles 7:13-15.  Most Christians are familiar with it, but most of those who use it to advance a political agenda rarely get the simplicity and potency of the message.

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”

Unfortunately, although many politically active and interested Christians quote this scripture to promote the way the nation can return to God, there are so many that quickly start pointing to those outside the faith as the focus of this scripture.  In other words, they have shifted the blame and responsibility for national moral decline on unbelievers, while the scripture plainly points to the spiritual condition of the Church.  Instead of directing attention toward the condition of the Church, issues like abortion, gay marriage, and socialism become the primary issues on the scale.  Some will argue the point, but all one has to do is look at the letters to the Churches of Asia Minor found in the Book of Revelation.  God wasn’t warning some nation about their moral condition, but instead, focused squarely on those who called themselves by His name.  But even before the birth of the Church, Jesus spoke to his disciples about how important the integrity and holiness of his followers were to the overall condition and survivability of the nation.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:13-16

So here’s the deal.  There are plenty of texts in scripture that describes the condition of the world. Generally, the world is full of sin, death, injustice, hate, and rottenness.  People are self-centered, liars, and desperately wicked.  Of course there’s more, but I think you’ve got the picture.  Now Jesus spoke these words to a bunch of uneducated, nontheologians who had been under his tutelage and would eventually turn the world upside-down.  In this passage, Jesus made it clear that his follow’s spiritual condition was critical to the preservation of the world and to reflecting His glory in the world.  Consider this commentary:

There are two broad approaches to seeking to shape values in society. At times the Christian community may feel it needs to confront a particular value, decision or priority adopted by the community.  But the Christian community is also able to influence values day in, day out through bringing a distinctively Christian approach to the people we come across as we go about our daily lives. This is what we mean by being “salt and light” in the world (Mt 5:13,14), where by living distinctively Christian lifestyles we seek to influence those around us, and through this the values, decisions and priorities adopted by our communities.


Jesus challenges us to be salt and light – to influence the world, and to be seen to be doing so.  You might like to spend some time reflecting on this passage :
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Mt 5:13-16

1. You are the salt of the earth. ·By beginning with You, Jesus emphasises to the disciples that they have both the calling and the responsibility to be influencers in the world.   Salt is a number of effects :
twiddle.gif (853 bytes)as a seasoning agent, it improves the taste of the food that it comes into contact with, and so as we come into contact with society our Christian values should improve the nature of that society.
twiddle.gif (853 bytes)salt makes people thirsty – and as Christians we seek to create a thirst in people’s lives that can only be satisfied by Jesus, who said : “if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me  me and drink” (Jn 7:37)
twiddle.gif (853 bytes)Salt is used to thaw ice on roads : so it can have the effect of warming hearts that have hardened against the gospel – over time the saltiness of Christians can bring people to know Jesus Christ.
twiddle.gif (853 bytes)as a preservative, salt gives food an improved length of life. Ultimately, with enough salt, those who do know Jesus, and acknowledge Him as Lord and Saviour will have eternal life.

2. Salt which loses its saltiness is useless. · Jesus’ teaching is challenging.  There is little room for those who are Christians, but who have lost their saltiness, or their “edge”.  Without the testimony of lives lived out with integrity and consistency with the principles that Christians claim to follow, the testimony of our lips is useless.  But be clear : this does not require us to be perfect : knowing our sinfulness, and knowing our need to confess it and be cleansed of it is a vital part of the Christian gospel. Then, as v16 says, “let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

3. You are like light for the world. · Light shines on dark things and exposes what is there. This is a call to the church to challenge evil within our society, however uncomfortable this may be. Having humility and servanthood within our character does not make us toothless and wishy-washy. The light that we bring, is not our own light – it is not who we are in ourselves, but rather the light of God shining through our lives as the Holy Spirit works through them. This doesn’t mean that we have to refer to God in every other sentence, but when the opportunity arises, we can share with another person the light that God has given us.

4. Don’t hide your light. · We hide our light when we stay silent in the face of discussion which is contrary to that which we believe. We hide our light when we fail to accept and conform with behaviours that are not in line with Jesus’ teaching. We hide our light when we don’t care for the needs of others, and walk by on the other side : since we have missed an opportunity to let the light of Jesus’ compassion shine out in acts of kindness.  If we let the light of the Holy Spirit at work in us shine through, then we bring glory to God, and there can be no greater joy than being able to give glory to the Father as we go through our daily lives.

Sermon on the Mount

Now, as I pointed out in the first paragraph, God’s ways of doing things usually doesn’t jive with man’s way, that includes those in the Church.  It’s ironic that so many of those who claim a relationship with Christ, easily reject the “foolishness” of God and continue to think in a fashion no differently than the world who doesn’t even know Him.  Romans 12:1-2 informs us that things are to be different when we are “in Christ.”

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Here we see the caveat that warns Christians not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be changed in our way of thinking.  This text brings us full-circle to the place where in our hunger and desire to be like Christ, we start by having the “mind of Christ.”  To do so, involves renouncing the thinking of the world.  According to Phillipians 2:1-11, we see the contrast to worldly thinking.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:   Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What we see here is plain language that yokes the act of glorifying God with humbling oneself and having a servant’s heart.  This is consistent with the call to “humble oneself” before God. Without humility, God cannot exalt His Church in the eyes of the world.  When the Church is seen as arrogant, (as it often appears in the political marketplace)  not only does the world reject that contemptuousness and arrogance, but God does not support it as well.  The mechanics of worldy politics promote contention, factionalism, and a partisan spirit.  This is the polar-opposite of holiness, the opposite of God’s nature.  Christians need to remember the warning the apostle Paul gave regarding such attitudes.  In Galations 5:19-21 it says:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

What most people see in this scripture is the sins of sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, and drunkenness.  They seem like they’re in bold print.  Sadly, what is hardly noticed, and often ignored during the political seasons are those other sins, like – hatred, discord, factions, dissensions, and the like.  The scripture is pretty clear, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Did you hear that?  They who hate their political opponents, create dissensions and factions along political lines are not living a life reflecting the nature of Christ.  I can’t believe how often I’ve seen believers, including pastors, come out of church and within a short time, are saying some of the most outrageous and slanderous things about those on the opposite side of their political views.  Name calling, something we tell our children not to do, is often a sport among Christians.  I wonder if they would do the same if Jesus, who gave his life for those they were slandering, would be sitting in the room with them?  Most Christians would probably hold their tongues.  I sometimes wonder how many children growing up in Christian homes hear their parents slandering political and cultural rivals,have their faith undermined by parents who promote the Christian tenet of loving one’s enemy, yet see something totally different in practice.  It’s no wonder so many children of professed believers leave the faith.  It’s no mystery.  They don’t see anything that reflects the nature of Christ, only talk.  While ministering and teaching children in a Christian high school, this dichotomy was often raised as a problem that truly undermined the integrity of  “Christian education.”

Fortunately, God always gives us a way to return to Him.  He wants us to come back to Him.  Like the father waiting for his prodigal son, God is waiting for us to return, with the heart of a servant. Try reading II Chronicles 7:14 again.  The words, “IF” and “THEN” are matters of cause and effect.  God promises that if we do one thing, He will do another relative to it.  If we don’t, He won’t.  It doesn’t matter who is president, congressman, or judge.  God’s rule trumps man’s devices.  As the scripture says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.”  This is a blueprint that has to start in the House of God.  No nation will ever be righteous if the Church is corrupted by being conformed to the world.

So where do we begin?  How do we change our thinking and take on the nature of a servant?  Well once again, the Word of God is not silent.  In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 we read these words which reflect the formula for praoctively changing ourselves and the world.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior,  who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.  For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.  He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.

Consider what Matthew Henry said regarding this passage:

2:1-7 The disciples of Christ must be praying people; all, without distinction of nation, sect, rank, or party. Our duty as Christians, is summed up in two words; godliness, that is, the right worshipping of God; and honesty, that is, good conduct toward all men. These must go together: we are not truly honest, if we are not godly, and do not render to God his due; and we are not truly godly, if not honest. What is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, we should abound in. There is one Mediator, and that Mediator gave himself a ransom for all. And this appointment has been made for the benefit of the Jews and the Gentiles of every nation; that all who are willing may come in this way, to the mercy-seat of a pardoning God, to seek reconciliation with him. Sin had made a quarrel between us and God; Jesus Christ is the Mediator who makes peace. He is a ransom that was to be known in due time. In the Old Testament times, his sufferings, and the glory that should follow, were spoken of as things to be revealed in the last times. Those who are saved must come to the knowledge of the truth, for that is God’s appointed way to save sinners: if we do not know the truth, we cannot be ruled by it.

What is important to see in all of this is that God’s heart is toward reconciliation and the ministry he has given to his children is the same.  Being involved in political conflict puts one in peril of falling into the trap of being ungracious and imitating the “Accuser” instead of the “Advocate.”  If one follows the charge of I Timothy 2:1-6, they will find themselves conforming to the mark of a true Christian, loving one’s enemies.

On election day in America, many Christians see those who they voted against win the election.  For many, it is a moment of despair and anxiety.  Some ironically see it as a judgment on the nation.  Perhaps that’s true, but if it is, and the Bible gives us any direction, it is time for Christians to understand that in God’s economy, “judgment begins in the House of God.”  The fact is, the condition of the nation is a reflection of the condition of the church.  If we want to see a change in the world, we need to see a change in us.

Back in 1996, I decided to proactively act upon 1 Timothy 2:1-6.  I began to pray earnestly for Bill Clinton and other politicians I voted against.  In a short time, God began to flood my heart with love for these people, their families, and their staffs.  Even though it opened wonderful opportunities to minister directly to a few of these folks, what was amazing is what happened to me.  For one thing, I began to understand in a deeper way, how much God loves me.  I started to understand grace in a totally dynamic way.  As I continued to engage those who I could call, “enemies” with hospitality and grace, I began to see other areas where I could demonstrate God’s grace toward those Christ died for.  I started to see people in the light of the knowledge that Jesus had placed great value on them and had paid for them with His life.  How could I treat or consider anyone with less consideration that God has given them.

On November 5th, the people of the United States will have chosen a number of people to represent them in local posts, state offices, national positions, and the highest place of government, the presidency.  For many believers there will be joy and hope.  For others, there will be despair, concern, and even fear.  Nevertheless, no matter how we “feel” about whoever won or lost, we as ambassadors of Christ are to follow after the tenets of 1 Timothy 2:1-6.  God’s promise is “that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity for this is good and pleases God our Savior,  who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”  It may not make sense to obey this biblical mandate, but that should be a clue.  It’s God’s way, not man’s.

Related Articles:

Salt and Light – P.G.Mathew

Works of the Flesh

Christians and Politics – Greg Boyd

On Facebook, join the group, No Strings Attached

Obama and McCain – Looking for the Christian’s Password

Observing Barak Obama and John McCain’s attempts to lure the American religious communities reminds me of a scene in the 1995 film Babe written by Dick King-Smith where Babe, the pig, seeks to find just the right words to be able to herd the sheep during the annual sheepdog competition. The problem for Babe was that he wasn’t a sheepdog at all, but a pig! Nevertheless, because of the confidence his owner, Farmer Hoggett had shown in him and the capability and competence he had previously demonstrated with the sheep back home, Farmer Hoggett believed that he had a chance to do well in the trials. The challenge for Babe was trying to work a herd of sheep that didn’t know him nor he them. He had to find the secret to connecting with the herd, and quick.

The reason Babe was in the trials in the first place was due to a series of strange circumstances and set of anomalies in his upbringing. Unlike other pigs, Babe had been adopted by a sheepdog. That unique factor created an opportunity for Babe to develop his skills to herding sheep. The name of his adoptive mother sheepdog was Fly, and soon thereafter, Fly begins to train the pig in the ways of a sheepdog. She explains to Babe that sheep are stupid animals and that dogs are smart animals. It’s the dog’s job to dominate the sheep in order to have them perform the farmer’s bidding. One day, however, a sheep named Ma takes sick and is kept in the barn for treatment. Babe meets her and becomes her friend and knows that she is not stupid and knows that he can treat her respectfully.

As time goes by, Farmer Hoggett begins to notice the strange behavior of this pig raised by a sheepdog. One day, Mr. Hoggett takes the pig out to the field in order to see if the pig can be a sheep-pig. Babe, though he is slow, follows orders perfectly. Also, since Babe is so polite and has made a friendship with Ma, the sheep are perfectly willing to obey his requests. They much prefer his manners to Fly’s barking and commands. The farmer continues using Babe to do much of the farm work. One day, though, two dogs attack the sheep. Babe hears their cries and races to the field to save them. Once Farmer Hoggett arrives at the field, he finds Babe with a bloody snout standing over a dead sheep that the dogs had killed. Farmer Hoggett thinks that Babe has attacked the sheep and decides to kill him. Babe is saved, however, when Mrs. Hoggett receives a call warning of two dangerous dogs in the area. Farmer Hoggett realizes then that Babe actually saved his sheep.

Farmer Hoggett then proceeds with his plan to enter Babe in the sheepdog trials. He trains his beloved pig how to guide the sheep quickly and accurately through a course. Fly watched Babe’s progress delightedly, but she worries that the sheep at the trials will not be able to communicate with Babe. Fly has learned some new respect for the sheep since she has witnessed Babe’s interactions with them. She asks them about this potential problem, and the sheep tell her a password that will help Babe to communicate with the sheep at the trials. The magic words that commanded the sheep’s obedience was,

“May be ewe, may be ram, may be mutton, may be lamb, but on the hoof or on the hook, I bain’t so stupid as I look”

Those words tell a lot. The sheep were looking for respect and mutual respect would be the reward. This is secret that gave Babe and Farmer Hoggett an unprecedented victory at the trials, stunning the mocking crowd.

Like Babe, Obama and McCain have been looking for the password that will appeal to the sensibilities and beliefs of the faith community in America. The problem for them however, is that many, if not most on the right side of the theological ledger aren’t buying it. Or, at least they are very skeptical. And rightly they should be. After the revelations of the George Bush administration’s use of faith-based initiatives as a bait-and-switch tactic in appealing to the Religious Right, many in that sector have jaundiced eyes toward any politician using faith as an appeal point.

In my view, God’s Kingdom, at least the one Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount, is not based on a faith in man nor the ways of the world. Politics, although interesting and often alluring, is not the way to see true peace in the world. Any Christian who gets in the saddle of politics will find his or herself in a corral of enmity, division and contention. These are the works of the flesh, in other words, the world. If the truth of the Gospel is taking a second seat to political expediency, that faith is in vain, built upon the sand. If Jesus had thought politics would bring about peace, justice, and joy, he would have enjoined the political process. The reality is that these things are rooted in the condition of the heart, something politics is totally incapable of providing. Nevertheless, if you are a believer and hold to the idea that either Barak Obama or John McCain can lead the nation toward these legitimately sought after ideals, you should remember that these men and their political policies will only lead you to more empty promises. They certainly have a form of godliness, but deny the power of it. – 2 Timothy 3:5

But here’s the real caveat for anyone seeking political solutions to spiritual problems offered by politicians. It is found in the two verses following 2 Timothy 3:5. ” They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” In a nutshell, desperate people who don’t put their faith in God but in man will be deceived, never coming to the truth that sets free.

Related Reading:

Evangelical Expose: Bush’s Faith-based Fraud

The Obama Snooker

Reed Urges McCain to Appeal to Evangelical Flock

Christian Politics in the 21st Century

Taking America Back for God

During a recent “Speaking of Faith” radio program, Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne discuss whether there is a “Christian” way to vote. Here’s the segment. To see the complete episode of “Speaking on Faith”, click on the link below the video.

Speaking of Faith

The Content of Jesse Jackson’s Character

Tell us what you really think Jesse!

For any harm or hurt that this hot mic private conversation may have caused, I apologize. My support for Senator Obama’s campaign is wide, deep and unequivocal.” These were the words the Reverend Jesse Jackson used to apologize for what CNN characterized as “vulgar” comments made by Jackson against the presumptive Democratic nominee Barak Obama for a speech Obama made in a black church on Father’s Day. (Read the speech here). Jackson said he was “very distressed” that his foul remarks became public because he supports the White House bid of Obama, a fellow Chicagoan. It happened, he said, when a fellow guest on a Fox News show last Sunday asked him about Obama’s speeches at black churches. Fox News captured Jackson criticizing presidential candidate Barack Obama for talking down to blacks on the issue of fatherhood. Not knowing the microphone was still live, Jackson said,

See, Barack’s been talking down to black people … I want to cut his nuts off.

Apparently, not catering to Jackson’s style of bringing racial equality to the country creates a risk of loosing one’s family jewels. I know that Jackson is passionate about racial justice and all that, but he really needs to take a sabbatical or something. He went way over the top in these comments. Not only were they less than “reverend-like”, but I get the sense that Jesse Jackson’s discomfort with Barak Obama has more to do with pride and position than anything else. Some suggest it’s that green-eyed monster – jealousy raising it’s ugly head. One commentator noted,

It’s called jealousy. Barack Obama is everything Jesse wanted to be to America, but somehow came up short. Now, he has to watch a younger, far more talented, man of color take the reins

Face it, Jackson is yesterday’s news and with Obama within reach of achieving what Jackson couldn’t acquire in 1984 and 1988 when he ran for president, Jackson can’t admit his confrontational race-baiting style of politics has failed to produce the equality he says he seeks.

But are we to believe that all this “hate speech” by Jackson was jealousy, or his way of venting over Obama’s disassociation with Jackson’s race-baiting policies, or could it be even something more calculated and dubious? What I mean is it possible that this was really all set up between Jackson and the Obama campaign as a way to endear fence-sitting moderates and some conservatives to see Obama as a balanced statesman verses the “radical” Jesse Jackson? That image would surely be a definite benefit for Obama, seeking to appear more mainstream. As Newsweek commentator, Howard Fineman noted, “What better way to prove your mainstream bona fides with white conservative voters than to be criticized by Jackson?” (Read his article here). Even Biko Baker, an African-American journalist and activist suggested such a nefarious scheme. (Read his blog here).

Whatever the true reason for Jackson’s vulgar outburst, one thing I can’t help but see in all this is another facet of Jackson being untethered from the faith he claims. That is, the Christian faith. Although I think his commitment to social and racial justice is commendable and of the highest tradition of Christian activism, I would suggest that his faith is clearly adrift in a sea of unChristlike conviction, behavior and conversation. His fruit is showing.

In context, Jackson’s reasoning for saying what he said was that, while he agrees with Obama’s arguments that blacks must do more to improve their lot, “the moral message must be a much broader message. What we need really is racial justice and urban policy and jobs and health care.” Let me get this right. So, because Obama, who has in fact, often promoted the broad moral message that Jackson insisted on making, didn’t quite say it the way Jackson would say it, that, somehow merits Obama deserving to be castrated? Anyone in their right mind, (not Jeremiah Wright) has got to notice that Jesse probably needs, at least, some anger management training. There is just no way he can legitimize or sanction his frustration at Obama’s apparent lack of a “broader moral message” by suggesting such a barbaric penalty. It was, pardon the pun, hitting below the belt. But not only was it that, but it was totally baseless. As Obama spokesman Bill Burton stated,

As someone who grew up without a father in the home, Senator Obama has spoken and written for many years about the issue of parental responsibility, including the importance of fathers participating in their children’s lives. He also discusses our responsibility as a society to provide jobs, justice, and opportunity for all. He will continue to speak out about our responsibilities to ourselves and each other, and he of course accepts Reverend Jackson’s apology.

What I find so disturbing about this whole deal is that it brings into focus how politics undermines the true gospel of Christ. The gospel is redemptive because it provides a savior who forgives, yet demands that we “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves.” Love of God demands that we are obedient to Him, showing our love for God by showing it to others, friends and enemies alike. If Barak Obama and Jesse Jackson really want to be witnesses of God’s grace, there’s no better time than the present to start practicing it.

My religion obligates me to be political, to seek to do God’s will and allow the spiritual word to become concrete justice and dwell among us. Religion should use you politically to do public service. Politics should not misuse religion. When the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, that’s called good religion. – Rev. Jesse Jackson

Related Articles:

Jesse Jackson takes One for the Team – Mike Gallagher

Has Jesse Jackson Become Irrelevant? – Jack Cafferty (CNN)

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Rebuts Dad – Lynn Sweet

Jesse Jackson’s Liberal Jesus – LaShawn Barber

Before Threatening Obama’s ‘Nuts,’ Jesse Jackson Dissed Faith-Based Projects

Why Jesse Jackson attacked Barack Obama – Daniel Finkelstein of The Times

Jesse Jackson, Figure of the Past – Michael Reagan

Obama, McCain and the Ninth Commandment

The perennial dilemma I run into every political season is the conflict that comes with one’s duty to participate in America’s future by voting, while at the same time having to hold my nose over the choices. It’s a blessing to live in a democracy, yet a curse to have to choose between “the lesser of two evils.” Such is the case for me in this year’s presidential contest as well. As time passes through the summer months, and the last day of the Bush/Cheney debacle nears, (Check out the Bush Countdown Clock here) I’m not feeling very comfortable with what I’m discovering about both candidates and their campaigns. In the cases of both Barak Obama and John McCain, one can very simply find too many examples of misrepresentations, outright lies, and bearing false witness against each other. That last one, bearing false witness is #9 on God’s Top Ten list. You know… the Ten Commandments. Unlike lies and misrepresentations of one’s own actions, ideas and policies, bearing false witness is an act of free will that is meant to destroy the character, status, and future of another. McCain does it. Obama does it.

Although I won’t address any of the specific charges against these two men in this post, I prefer to focus on the Ninth Commandment and it’s application in daily life, and most specifically, in the realm of politics. To start let’s look at the commandment in its context. We find the specific commandment in Exodus 20:16 where it states,

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Many people assume the scripture is merely talking about lying. While there are many caveats against telling lies, this one has to do specifically with lies against another person. Contextually it fits well with the general thrust of all the other commandments and is congruous to the command that Christ gave when he summed up the ten commandments into two basic motivations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12:30-31) Although it is obvious that the ninth commandment applies specifically to our love of neighbor, it is thoroughly accordant to the love of god as well. As the Apostle John noted, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Simply stated, our love of our neighbor is the tangible measuring stick to mark our love of God. It would seem by this standard that it would be hard to certify that Barak and John, both professing Christians, are passing the test of the kind of change (aka repentance) that is the required evidence of true salvation. It seems that political expediency has won the day over honest profession of faith. It’s pretty upsetting. If anything, Obama and McCain are bearing a true witness to their lack of credible faithfulness to the Word of God. One writer concerned with this contridiction noted it this way:

    …most of us are disenchanted with governing officials. Why? Because so many of them promise one thing on the campaign trail and then, once they’re in office, fail to fulfill their word. Not only do they make promises that, in all likelihood, they have no intention of carrying out, they spend a lot of their time and money bashing their opponent. Or if you will, breaking the ninth commandment of God. Just think, if the ninth commandment were in force what sort of changes we would see in the smear campaigns that pass for politics!

    If God’s law against bearing false witness were in full effect there would be no more ‘cover ups’. No group mentality where one segment of the populace, be it cultural, political, medical or even religious, felt it necessary to cover the facts in order to ‘protect their own’. Everyone would be honest and straight forward.

Good point. Nevertheless, it seems inherent in American politics that ad hominem attacks, smears, and personal bashings are the rule and not necessarily the exception. I’ve even heard professing Christians laud the use of such tactics, claiming the ends justify the means. If that were true, why do we need the commandments anyway. It’s all relative, isn’t it? Sadly, and I can’t pass this up, many Christians are actually doing the Devil’s bidding by engaging in and encouraging such behavior. In a word what they’re doing is EVIL. That’s right, evil. I use the word because I know what it means. (More about this in my next blog).

In a previous post titled, “Are You Doing the Devil’s Business” I submitted that a true test of whether God’s presence was having affect (CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN) in one’s own life was determined simply by which side of the blame game you fell on. As I’ve said before.

The work of Jesus was to be our advocate. The work of Satan is to be our accuser. Which one do you model?

In John 8:43-44 Christ says Satan is a murderer and liar. Jesus says of Himself that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). As a liar and murderer, Satan is the exact opposite of “the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Christ is the truth, Satan is a liar. Christ is the life, Satan is a murderer-one who takes away life. The thing about bearing false witness is that it is contrary to the truth and of the nature of Satan.

If our two major party candidates continue to claim a moral high road and specifically a relationship with Christ, then a good place to begin to show it is with how they characterize each other. They should continue to argue the facts of policy and account for their own political decisions. The same should holds true for their campaign surrogates and staff as well. That would really take some leadership. It’s the kind of straight talk and change I could believe in.

At this moment in history, or for that matter, any political contest, Americans should demand that their candidates exhibit respect for each other and a credible witness of civility. Moreover, Christian Americans, should not only demand it from their candidates, but of themselves as well. For many of them, that means that they will have to shut their favorite radio talk show hosts off and any other pundit or “prophet” who doesn’t show a commitment to the biblical axiom found in Philippians 4:8,

“whatever things are true, whatever things have honor, whatever things are upright, whatever things are holy, whatever things are beautiful, whatever things are of value, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, give thought to these things.”

When you have a steady diet of Limbaugh, Hannity, and O’Reilly on the right, or Combs, Goodman, and Maher on the left, there’s no way you can be following the principles listed in the above verse. Listening to these folks on a regular basis will paralyze your faith. Like the children’s song says, “be careful little ears what you hear.” It’s simple and wise.

If there’s anything a Christian can do during this political season it’s this:

If you’ve been bearing false witness or propagating false rumors and gossip about any candidate, repent of it.

Pray for each candidate and their families. One of them will be the leader of the nation on January 20, 2009. Get in the habit now!

Write the candidates and their campaigns, urging them to abide by the highest ideals of civility, respect, and Christian brotherhood. Remind them of their role model responsibilities and their witness as professing Christians.

Send letters and cards which reflect your blessings on them. Tell them you are praying for them and asking God to protect them and bless them with His wisdom. And,

Encourage others to do the same (especially if your pastor or Christian leader isn ‘t doing it).

As I pointed out before, come January 20th of next year, either Obama or McCain will be sworn in as the next president of the United States. If you are a Christian, it is mandated that you pray for your leaders, whether you like them or not.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

If you actually believe the Bible is the Word of God then you may deduce from the scripture above that the reason we live less than peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness may just be because there isn’t much fervent and effectual prayer being offered up for our leaders (and others, as well). Instead, the contemporary church in America has chosen the path of least resistance to curse instead of bless. No wonder we’re in this mess.

For over 25 years now, many Christians have cited 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the remedy for the nation’s ills. Even though I see the value of this scripture as being axiomatic to healing the nation, I also believe that too many Christians have failed to see that the health of the nation is dependent on the holiness of God’s people, “those called by His name,” not those outside the faith. It’s pretty clear.

IF my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Our nation’s well-being, safety, and security are totally dependent, not on political figures or radio talk-show hosts, but upon the faithful being faithful. We should encourage each other to follow the model laid out in the scripture’s above. As on of my favorite verses directs,

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Let’s follow these principle’s and encourage our politicians to do the same. If we can’t stomach their policies, at least we can choose to love our enemies.

Related Articles:

Obama Lies shamelessly about McCain – Hot Air

Distorting Obama – Newsweek

Factcheck.org

Obama – McCain Comparisons

John McCain Official Website

Barak Obama Official Website

In Praise of Hate

A few weeks ago I participated in a forum on hate crimes entitled, ““Hate Crimes: What Are They? What Are You Going To Do About It?” Like many other forums of its kind, finding a representative cross-section of church leaders, especially from fundamentalist churches is akin to finding a new planet in our solar system. I think that’s a shame and hardly fits Christ’s edict for the church to be “salt and light” in the world. I’m sure things like choir practice and the quilting club probably have a greater priority. I hate that! Sorry, I digress… Inasmuch as there is a serious need to address hate and the effects on individuals and groups, I think the avalanche of political correctness into the valley of wholesale tolerance has somewhat smothered an honest conversation where the emotion we call hate can appropriately be manifest. Even though almost every discussion on hate is focused on its negative and detrimental aspects, there is a place, as I stated before, for hate that is both constructive and motivationally positive. It is found in the hatred of the underlying forces and thinking that engenders destructive and abusive behaviors. It may seem to border on the oxymoronic, but in channeling a rational hatred toward irrational hatred, the outcomes are ultimately positive and productive.

For those in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are instructed by a word from the prophet Michah, who asserts that, “He (God) has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Implicit in that passage is the charge that we are to hate injustice and lying, hate cruelty and an accusing spirit, and most importantly to hate pride, haughtiness, and arrogance. These things we are to hate are necessary to being “good.”

Although there are many who would profess they don’t hate at all, I would suggest that they are out-of-balance. As Solomon noted, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven …A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” There are very legitimate times to hate, and if we are to follow God’s lead there are people and conditions we are to hate as well. For instance it is clear from scripture that there are many things that God hates. Read here… So, if we are to hate what God hates, what is hate? Let’s make sure we’re on the same page as it relates to the word. According to the dictionary reference, I feel pretty comfortable with the definition that suggests that hate is simply “a passionate dislike and a feeling of enmity toward something or someone.” Hate suggests an aversion to something and a need to do something about that feeling. It’s in the doing that requires some careful thought and consideration.

In my view, I have all kinds of license to hate something with reasonable judgment and with degree, but when it comes to hating another person, it’s a bit more tricky. Some believe, and with good argument, that the hatred of certain people is warranted. Others think that you can hate the deed, yet love the person who commits the deed. Such arguments are requisite to critical thinking and I’ve found these perspectives in the diverse writings of Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, formerly of Oxford University, where he proffers conditions that warrant hate toward certain people, and Dave Daubenmire, president of Pass the Salt Ministries, who advocates love for the wrongdoer, yet hate for the wrongdoing. Here’s their views…

By Rabbi Shmuel Boteachformerly the Chabad Rabbi at Oxford Universityhttp://www.arutzsheva.org9-22-1

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace (Eccl. 3).One of the most frequent themes of my writings is how we – a generation with a fifty percent divorce rate and a professional singles scene – have forgotten how to love. Today I will surprise you by complaining about how we have forgotten how to hate.

The proper response to the cowardly brutes who perpetrated the horrific attacks against America is to hate them with every fiber of our being and purge ourselves of any morsel of sympathy which might seek to understand their motives.

Forgetting how to hate can be just as damaging as forgetting how to love. I realize that, immersed as we are in a Christian culture that exhorts us to “turn the other cheek,” this can sound quite absurd. Little do we remember, it seems, the aphorism that those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind.

Indeed, exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible and God Himself hates every form of immorality because of its harm to mankind. Thus the book of Proverbs declares, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Likewise, King David declares regarding the cruel: “I have hated them with a deep loathing. They are as enemies to me.” Hatred is a valid emotion – an appropriate response – when directed at the truly evil: those who have gone beyond the pale of human decency by committing acts which unweave the basic fabric of civilized living. Contrary to Christianity, which advocates turning the other cheek to belligerence and loving the wicked, Judaism obligates us to despise and resist the wicked at all costs.

About two years ago, I was on the BBC discussing the tragic bombing of a gay pub that left three dead. I referred to the bomber as an abomination, to which Pastor Tony Campalo, President Clinton’s spiritual advisor, replied that we had to love the bomber in the spirit of compassion and forgiveness. Similarly, in my years in Britain I was used to hearing victims of IRA terrorist attacks, after having lost fathers or brothers or sons, immediately announce on air their forgiveness and love for the murderers, in the spirit of Christian love. I disagree vehemently. The individual who, motivated by irrational hatred, chooses to murder innocent victims is irretrievably wicked. He or she has cast off the image of G-d that entitles them to love and has forfeited their place in the human community.

Amid my deep and abiding respect for the Christian faith, I state unequivocally that to love the terrorist who flies a civilian plane into a civilian building or a white supremacist who drags a black man three miles while tied to the back of a car is not just insane, it is deeply sinful. To love evil is itself evil and constitutes a passive form of complicity.

Contrary to those religious figures who deny Solomon’s proverb and preach that religion is about unconditional love and forgiveness for all, I believe there is a point of no return for the mass-murderers of this world. The Talmud certainly teaches that the true object of proper hatred is the sin, not the sinner, whose life must be respected and whose repentance effected. The Talmud also teaches that it is forbidden to rejoice at the downfall of even those sinners whom it is proper to hate: “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth.” However, this attitude does not apply to impenitent and hardened monsters who pay no heed to correction. For us to extend forgiveness and compassion to them in the name of religion is not just insidious, it is an act of mocking G-d, who has mercy for all, yet demands justice for the innocent.

I have an a typical Christian artist friend who showed me a picture he painted of Jesus embracing Hitler. I felt the picture to be obscene, “How can you have Jesus holding Hitler?” I objected.

“That’s the whole point. That’s how far Jesus’ love extends.”

“But that’s not love,” I corrected him, “it’s disgust. It’s like saying that Jesus loves cancerous cells. If you love Hitler, than you are showing contempt for the good and decent people whom he turned into ash and lampshades. The only response to Hitler is utter contempt and violent hatred. The only way to react to incorrigible evil is to wage an incessant war against it until it is utterly eradicated from the earth.”

I maintain that any culture that does not hate Hitler and his ilk is a non-compassionate society. Indeed, to show kindness to the murderer is to violate the victim yet again. Thus, in the interest of justice, the appropriate response to the evil person is to hate him with every fiber of our being and to hope they find no rest, neither in this world nor in the next.

The pacifist will respond that fighting hatred with hatred accomplishes nothing, that, as in the old Bob Dylan song, “if we take an eye for an eye we all just end up blind.” This is poppycock because the purpose of our hatred is not revenge, but preservation of justice. To this end I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Simon Wiesenthal, one of the most inspirational men of the twentieth century, who has devoted his life to the pursuit of justice by not allowing Nazi murderers go to their graves in peace. We do not hunt Nazis in order to take revenge. We Jews have better things to do with our time than chase a bunch of pathetic, murderous thugs. Besides, our Torah prevents us from taking retribution. Rather, we track them down because G-d at Sinai entrusted us with the promotion of justice, turning the jungle into a civilized society. We seek them out on behalf of all humanity so that all of the world may know that for genocide there is no apology. In the words of Aristotle, “All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.”

Justice is not a cultural construct. Neither is it a human invention imposed upon the members of society in order that they treat each other with decency and respect. Justice was not created for some utilitarian end. Rather, justice is intrinsic to human nature. We do not teach our children to refrain from stealing because they might get caught. Rather, we teach them that theft is intrinsically wrong, even if they could get away with it.

In the Hebrew language there are three words for forgiveness: selicha, mechila and kapparah. The essence of the forgiveness is that an individual is so valuable that we allow them the opportunity to start afresh after error. But since repentance is based on recognizing the infinite value of human life, its premise cannot be simultaneously undermined by offering it to those who have irretrievably debased human life. For a murderer to cry in public and achieve instant absolution is an affront to everything forgiveness stands for and that’s why we should feel no guilt for our feelings of revulsion and hatred toward these terrorists.

The bottom line is that there are some offenses for which there is no forgiveness, some borders whose transgression society cannot tolerate under any circumstances, and mass murder is foremost among them.

Only if we hate the truly evil passionately will we summon the determination to fight them fervently. Odd and uncomfortable as it may seem, hatred has its place. Although they referred to a different era in history, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., still ring true today: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Let us make sure, therefore, that we never make the mistake of forgiving those whose sin is so inextricably woven with their rotten character that the two can never be separate. Let us love the righteous and fight the wicked. ___

Rabbi Boteach, formerly the Chabad Rabbi at Oxford University, is a well-known author and lecturer on Judaism. http://www.arutzsheva.org/


Now, for Dave Daubenmire’s view:

Coach Dave Daubenmire
June 15, 2006
NewsWithViews.com

I can honestly and unequivocally say that there isn’t a person on this planet that I hate. Many rub me the wrong way, but I usually write them off as misdirected or uninformed!

I suppose there are a few folks that hate me. I get emails every time I write a commentary. Many call me hateful. But I really can’t control the emotions of another person. As teenagers like to say–it’s on them.

While running the risk of being “Coultered,” I have to be faithful to what I know to be true. So I have to ask, is it wrong to be a hatemonger?

In our ongoing struggle with the PC crowd we usually find ourselves behind the eight ball because we continually allow them to frame the agenda. They have redefined the English language, and as a result, most mainstream Americans no longer know what is acceptable to say. Hate speech, hate crimes, and hatemonger are terms that have been created to silence the Truth. The enemies of God are trying to make hate obsolete.

You may think I’m nuts, that I am playing right into their hands, but I have to ask, is hate a bad thing?

Hatethe emotion of hate; a feeling of dislike so strong that it demands action.

You see it is OK–even necessary–to hate THINGS……but not PEOPLE. I wish more people hated some things.

What would America be like if more people were spurred into action because they hated:

  • Porn
  • Divorce
  • Lies
  • Dishonesty
  • Adultery
  • Broken homes
  • Child abuse
  • Lawbreaking
  • Injustice
  • Abortion
  • Evil
  • Thievery

Instead, we are taught to tolerate it, to accept it, and to even codify into law things that we should hate.

Perhaps I’m still not clear.

  • I hate what homosexuality does to people. Not homosexuals.
  • I hate what adultery does to families. Not the adulterer.
  • I hate the fact porn destroys lives. Not those who look at it.
  • I hate the lie that gays are born gay. Not those who believe the lie.
  • I hate abortion for the destruction it brings. Not the woman who is victimized.
  • I hate evolution-only education. Not those who teach it.
  • I hate laws that keep people poor. Not poor people.
  • I hate racism. Not those who practice it.
  • I hate lies. Not those who tell/teach them.
  • I hate suicide bombing. Not the bombers.
  • I hate evil. Not those who practice it.

I wonder, does America need more hate?

I saw a t-shirt the other day that read: Truth Is Hate To Those Who Hate Truth! “Have I now become your enemy by telling the truth?” Galatians 4:16

That’s it, isn’t it? Truth. No one wants to hear the Truth. Truth brings conviction. Conviction brings guilt. Guilt brings shame. Shame brings remorse, remorse brings repentance. Truth is hate, to those who hate Truth.

I know it is hard to believe, but the God who IS love, also hates. That’s right. God hates. In fact He goes further. He calls some things an abomination, which is a much more powerful type of hate. According to the dictionary abomination means “hate coupled with disgust,” and abomination occurs 174 times in the Bible.

I know you want to argue. But the proof is in the pudding. Check it out for yourself. Here is a list of 43 things God hates.

So where does that leave us? If hate is so wrong, why does God tell us that “there is a time for hate” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9)

Yes, folks, God hates. And His hatred forced Him into action. He hated sin so much that He willingly sacrificed His beloved Son to eliminate it. If God hated sin, shouldn’t we?

Someone was once asked when all of the suicide bombing would stop in the Middle East. The response was chilling. “The bombing will stop when Muslims love their children more than they hate the Jews.”

Is hate really the problem in America? Could the problem be what we hate….and what we love?

So, let’s ask ourselves a few hard questions.

  • Do you love the pornographer more than you hate pornography? • Do you love the woman getting the abortion more than you hate the abortion?
  • Do you love the adulterer more than you hate adultery?
  • Do you love the homosexual more than you hate homosexuality?
  • Do you love the pedophile more than you hate pedophilia?
  • Do you love the sinner more than you hate the sin?

Misapplied and misappropriated love is destroying America. “Have I now become your enemy by telling the truth?” Galatians 4:16

If we are ever to recover our moral equilibrium in America, then we are going to have to make the decision to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates. Because of the ongoing confusion in the Church, America loves the things that God hates.

I have a window sticker on the back of my car. “For God so loved the world, He did something!”

He hated sin….it spurred Him to action…..He gave his Son. I’m so glad He did.

John Lennon changed America with the mantra, “All you need is love.” He didn’t know God, therefore, he didn’t understand. Many in America love the wrong things.

So, which is worse, loving the wrong things, or hating the right things?

Is hate a bad thing?

I don’t think so. I believe that hatred of social and private sins have led to ever-expanding cultural and personal growth and progress. In fact, the history of the United States is a great example of how hatred against hatred is an avenue to liberty.

At our nation’s founding, much of the content of the Declaration of Independence was a accounting of colonial hatred against the repressive policies of the English king. Ever since that moment (JULY 4, 1776) our history has been an social evolution with “redress of grievances” as the catalyst for positive change. So hate, the intense and passionate dislike of personal and social evils, has driven the vehicle of politics and social behavior toward mostly, positive and progressive change.

As a last point I want to take an opposing view of something Rabbi Shmuel Boteach said. He argues that “the individual who, motivated by irrational hatred, chooses to murder innocent victims is irretrievably wicked” and “he or she has cast off the image of G-d that entitles them to love and has forfeited their place in the human community.” I think he is way wrong. The whole point of the Christian faith is based on the principles that God/Jesus is love and as the scriptures asserts, ” God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 This verse and others provide a stark contrast to the view that man is entitled to God’s love. You can’t earn it. It is a gift of God to those who are already lost. We are to forgive in our hearts, and by extension, forgive by our actions as a reflection of what God has done for us. Yes, there are consequences for doing wrong, but God never tells us to not forgive. As the apostle Paul said, “be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Even Jesus, on his “Sermon on the Mount” said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15)

Christians are taught to love as God loves. We are also taught that the “vengeance” we feel and often wish to exact should be left to God, the Eternal Judge. We are called to love our enemies, that’s the way of God’s Kingdom. Even though everyone should bear the earthly consequences of their earthly actions, for good or not, the heart of the offended should, however, embrace love for the offender. When Rabbi Boteach says that those who choose to murder innocent victims are “irretrievably wicked,” he has missed the whole point of redemption. Redemption is for those that have indeed “cast off the image of G-d” and have even, in some instances, “forfeited their place in the human community.” Nevertheless, we as redeemed members of the human community are to continue in the ministry of Jesus who seeks to save those that are lost, through love and forgiveness.

As a parting shot, I’d like to share a great story of love, forgiveness, and freedom. It’s a story of how a family chose to forgive and love someone who killed their family member. It’s a powerful story that truly reflects the image of God. Read on….

Presenting him with a Bible signed by the family of the woman he helped kill three years ago in Lake Vista, the victim’s daughter in court Friday told a convicted murderer that she forgives him.

After all, the daughter said, that’s what her mother, the slain 70-year-old Myra Centanni Mehrtens, taught her.

“Mr. Foreman, this is for you,” Sharon Giambrone said to Nathan Foreman from the witness stand, holding up a brand-new copy of the Bible, with a personal message to him from the family. “Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’ It says to Nathan, keep your eye focused on Jesus. Seek him. Our prayers are with you.”

Foreman was 18 when he drove the getaway car after his friend Jonathan Bailey, then 19, fired a single fatal gunshot into Mehrtens’ neck.

On Friday at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, 21-year-old Foreman was sentenced to the state’s mandatory punishment for second-degree murder: life without the chance of parole. But first, he heard a statement from the victim’s family and received their gift.

Assistant District Attorney Tanya Faia passed the Bible to the defense attorneys, who placed it on the table in front of Foreman.

“I pray for you every Sunday,” said Giambrone, who three years ago rode in the ambulance as medical technicians worked on her bleeding mother as a priest sat watch. “And my family prays for you each time we think of you, because, Nathan, you have a choice.”

Faia and prosecutor Mary Glass had helped secure the guilty-as-charged murder verdict last month even though Foreman never touched the gun used to kill Mehrtens. Louisiana law provides that anyone who participates in a murder may be charged with the same crime as the one who pulls the trigger.

Triggerman testifies

Jonathan Bailey, who robbed the widow at gunpoint as she had just arrived home the evening of March 6, 2005, pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder and is serving life in prison. Prosecutors offered him this as a plea bargain: Plead to life and escape the lethal injection needle.

Faia and Glass, veteran prosecutors who returned to Orleans Parish last year as part of the newly formed Violent Offenders Unit, asked Bailey to testify for the state just days before Foreman’s trial opened. He agreed, saying he wanted to clear his conscience.

In exchange for a sentence of probation and his testimony at trial, a third man, Christopher Cavalier, admitted to supplying Bailey and Foreman with the gun used to kill Mehrtens.

On Friday, defense attorney Robert Jenkins said that Cavalier had a felony indictment for theft out of Texas — for which he had received probation — and that since the Foreman jury didn’t hear of this at trial, his testimony was flawed and grounds for a new trial.

But Buras denied the request. Cavalier wasn’t the state’s key witness; that title belonged to the gunman who owned up to the crime in open court, fingering Foreman as his driver that night.

Bailey told jurors that he and Foreman had decided to borrow a gun and drive around New Orleans in search of someone to rob.

The only car they saw was the Lincoln Continental that Mehrtens was driving home that evening, after having supper at a daughter’s home. Mehrtens, who raised five children in Lakeview and Lake Vista and attended daily Mass at nearby St. Pius, begged Bailey not to hurt her, Bailey recalled.

Bailey said the gun went off as he flinched when his victim set off her car alarm to alert her neighbors. She died hours later at Charity Hospital, having bled to death from the wound to her neck. Her relatives waited outside the operating room, praying on their knees that she would survive the trauma, Giambrone testified.

‘We prayed for you’

On Friday, Giambrone addressed a packed courtroom where the audience included Foreman’s parents, the Mehrtens family and District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson, among other inmates awaiting their turn before Buras.

The night before the jury returned to hear closing arguments and then begin deliberations over Foreman’s fate, Giambrone said she spent the entire night weeping and praying to God to spare Foreman from prison if he were indeed not guilty of murder.

“We prayed for you,” she told Foreman, who was silent during the hearing and appeared in jail-issued clothes and handcuffs. “God, don’t let it come back guilty unless you know this man is guilty.” Giambrone, a local dentist, said that her family forgives Foreman and Bailey, and prays for their parents, who have also lost a loved one now.

Buras, who handed down the life sentence to Foreman after denying several motions by Jenkins for a new trial, also made a statement to the convict. Buras didn’t buy the testimony from Bailey that Mehrtens’ murder was a completely random act.

“This court feels Ms. Mehrtens was targeted because she was elderly and alone and it was night,” Buras said. “It was a carefully planned and executed crime.”

Police arrested all three men after an anonymous tip came in to Crimestoppers. The caller reported that Bailey and Foreman were bragging about having killed the woman, and laughing about their deed.

$10, crawfish bisque

As they sped away in Foreman’s mother’s car that night, the pair fished through Mehrtens’ purse, tossing items they deemed useless out the car’s windows. Detectives later walked along the neutral ground of Robert E. Lee Boulevard, following a trail of the widow’s belongings, which included an Elmwood Fitness Center membership card.

Bailey and Foreman had only made off with $10 in cash and some leftover crawfish bisque, which Mehrtens had carried home in a plastic bag from her daughter’s house.

Mehrtens, known for her gardening talents, was a member of local garden clubs and personally delivered many floral arrangements to weddings across New Orleans.

But Bailey and Foreman denied Mehrtens the pleasure of watching her first granddaughter get married, Giambrone said.

“My mother was a woman of dignity, of strength and compassion,” Giambrone said. “Nathan, my mother showed us how to forgive.”

Foreman nodded politely when Giambrone addressed him by name. She spoke for at least 15 minutes, without notes, in a statement that Buras called “most eloquent.”

Giambrone said that the violence plaguing New Orleans cannot be blamed solely on the city’s historically failed public school system and other neglected institutions.

“You drove the car,” she told Foreman. “We all have a choice between good and evil.”

Giambrone told Foreman’s parents that they too know sorrow and that she believes they tried the best they could to raise their son right. She then told the entire courtroom, including those awaiting trial for crimes, that violence will not go unpunished.

“They will get caught,” Giambrone said. “God is watching.”

Submitted by Gwen Filosa, Times-Picayune, March 7, 2008

Buyer’s Remorse in Selling Jesus

One of my favorite laugh-out-loud movies of all times is the Coen Brothers film. “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, a story based loosely on Homer’s The Odyssey, set in the Deep South during the Depression. Suave and fancy-talking Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney), dim-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and easily-excitable Pete (John Turturro) are serving time together on a prison chain gang. Everett knows where $1.2 million is hidden that’s theirs for the taking, and the three manage to escape; however, a stranger soon warns them that they’ll find treasure, but not the sort they’re looking for. As Everett and his partners hit the road, they happen upon a gluttonous, one-eyed bible salesman, Big Dan Teague (John Goodman); meet up with Baby Face Nelson (Michael Badalucco) as he robs a bank; encounter three Sirens doing their washing; run into Everett’s estranged wife Penny (Holly Hunter), who has told everyone her husband was killed in a train wreck; find themselves in the middle of a heated campaign between political boss Pappy O’Daniel (Charles Durning), and reformist candidate Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall); and even find time to make a hit record as The Soggy Bottom Boys.

In the meeting with Big Dan Teague, there’s this bit of dialogue:

What kind of work you do, Big Dan?

Sales, Mr McGill, sales! What do I sell? The truth, every blessed word of it. From Genesis down to Revelations. Yes, the word of God, which, let me say,there’s damn good money in during these times of woe and want. People want answers, and Big Dan sells the only book that’s got ‘em. And what do you do, you and your, uh, tongue-tied friend?

We, uh…We’re adventurers, sir,pursuing an opportunity, but we’re open to others as well.

I like you. I’m gonna propose you a proposition. You cover my bill for now, get your dinner wrapped picnic-style and we’ll retire to more private environs, where I’ll reveal how to make vast amounts of money in the service of God Almighty.

Jesus Cleanses the TempleThis conversation could have taken place in any of the many presidential campaign staff planning meetings in the recent contest. Selling Jesus has been good business and politically expedient. But many Christians have seen through the facade and don’t appreciate the blatant money-changing in the temple. I think it’s time to clear the air and let both campaigns know, enough is enough.

In a Christian Science Monitor article by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, he warn the candidates to “Stop Misusing Religion.” Here’s the rest of the article:

Americans will choose a new president in less than five months, but the losers of this election are already clear – the sanctity of religion and the integrity of democracy.

The latest evidence came late last month, when Sen. Barack Obama announced his resignation from his home church. Such an important decision should have been made purely for personal or religious reasons. Instead, it was apparently driven by political considerations.

As a practicing minister, I understand how painful it is for him to leave a church that has been an important part of his life for many years. It is the church in which Senator Obama was married, and it is the church in which his children were baptized. It is a place where he apparently found a community with his neighbors and with his God.

But as president of the Interfaith Alliance, I also understand why Obama found himself in this situation. During the primary campaign, the major presidential candidates engaged in a frenzied rush to prove their religious bona fides.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign went on a self-described “faith tour” of South Carolina, based explicitly upon a verse from the Book of Esther. Senator John McCain got off the Straight Talk Express to pander to the religious right when he gave the commencement address at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

And Obama is equally at fault. Early in the race, his campaign set up a website to feature endorsements from clergy, despite the fact that tax law prohibits religious leaders from making candidate endorsements in their official capacities as men and women of God.

Last fall, he asked a South Carolina congregation to help him “become an instrument of God,” despite the fact that the Constitution says no such thing.

The candidates have sought the endorsements of clergy, and both Senator McCain and Obama are now having some buyer’s remorse. But candidates cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue to use clergy for political gain and then discard them when it no longer fits their agenda.

The problem is not that these presidential candidates incorporated religion into their campaigns. The problem is that the candidates have used religion as a divisive tool, instead of a unifying power.

Rather than printing campaign brochures featuring a picture of Obama in front of a giant cross with the words “committed Christian,” as Obama did, candidates should tell the American people why, how, or if faith informs their policy positions.

Rather than declaring the United States to be a Christian nation, as McCain did, candidates should outline what steps they would take to respect the vast diversity of religious beliefs (and nonbeliefs) in this country.

Rather than asking the candidates to talk about when they have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit – as CNN did during a “faith forum” for Democrats earlier this year – the media should instead ask the candidates to outline their views on the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom.

If the Liberty Bell had not cracked in 1846, it most surely would have done so in 2008 thanks to the US presidential candidates.

If the meaning of the Liberty Bell’s biblical inscription – “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” – is to ring true in America today, no candidate for the presidency should ever have to resign from or join a particular house of worship in order to be a viable candidate for that high office.

To make such a decision for political reasons dishonors religion and disrespects the Constitution. It makes a sad statement about American politics and an even sadder one about American religion.

Obama is at the center of the storm, but all who wed religion to partisan politics share responsibility for this tragic development.

For the sake of both religion and democracy, we must do better. Our country deserves an electoral campaign which treats religion with the same respect held by those who built the Liberty Bell.