Friday, August 26, 2016

Alma Mater Class Names Reflect Evangelical Mindset Changes

From the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s America evangelicals underwent a highly significant change in how evangelicals saw themselves and in their interaction with the world. A shift in class names at my alma mater reflects how the evangelical mindset transitioned during this period.

As noted in an earlier blog, evangelical churches grew tremendously between 1966 and 1980s with a noticeable decline in mainline denominations. The growth corresponds with enormous social upheaval and stress. This was the period of the availability of the pill, desegregation, Vietnam and Watergate which caused the questioning of traditional social structures and authority, Roe v Wade, and the push effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Also, it was a period of tremendous economic upheaval that two major oil embargoes, gasoline and heating oil skyrocketing, gasoline rationing and odd-even gas purchasing days, and several years of double digit inflation.

Feeling validated by its numeric growth, the evangelical churches became increasingly militant in its language and interaction with the world. Its leadership was speaking how God had blessed them and that much greater growth was ahead. This was the age of mega conferences on church growth and the mantra of following the formula to growth that would double one’s church within 5 to 8 years. With the emergence of Moral Majority and other evangelical political groups this was the period when the evangelical church becomes wedded to the Republican party and the quiet mantra that a good Christian and being a Democrat was an oxymoron became more vocalized.           

At Asbury College (now Asbury University), an evangelical liberal arts college, has a traditions of giving each class a name. A clear transition takes place with the class names. Prior to the class of 1979 not a single class has a name that commonly carries strong religious connotation. Prior to the 1979 the classes were included Patriots, Cavaliers, Aztecs, Titans, Highlanders, Beavers, Eagles, Green Dragons, etc.

The Crusaders, the class of 1979, is the first class with a strong religious connection. If not for what followed, and what Freshmen were told during orientation in September 1975, the title could be viewed outside a non-religious context. During orientation the incoming Crusader freshmen were told that the class were named for the crusaders who defended faithfully the Christian faith and the holy land.

The class of 1980 was the Voyagers, a name not heavily laden with religious language and imagery as such. Starting with the class of 1981, with the exception of the 1988 Olympians, all class names carry a religious imagery and meaning, with names such as, Defenders, Overcomers, Victors, Heralds, Proclaimers, Seekers, Pathfinders, Anointed, Agape, Consecrated, Awakened, Ransomed, etc.

Was this a change triggered by the college's leadership? No, but it does reflect a change in evangelical views of themselves.
      

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Comic Relief Wins


When Donald Trump entered the Republican race to be the party’s presidential nominee, I did not believe he was a serious candidate.  He was the comic relief out to build his brand.



While he would strongly deny it, Donald Trump did not enter the race to be the nominee. When he announced his candidacy, he lacked a long game. He lacked depth on issues and lacked concern about getting up to speed on issues, because he was not going to be in the campaign long enough to need them. He was slow to hire a staff to help him run a national ground game, a team that would help Trump in the caucus states to track potential delegates, then secure and solidify those delegates. His Iowa ground game was anemic. Why? Was it Trump’s brilliance that saw that none of that was necessary?  While Monday quarterbacking his answer was his plan from the outset, the is highly doubtable. He didn’t have a ground game because he did not think he would win it all.



A master at amassing wealth through image branding, Trump’s goal was to broaden and deep his image, his “brand”. Hence, from the outset, what he did was designed for one purpose, to gain as much media attention possible in the most media intensively covered story that comes around every four years and which he could ride for six to nine months. His outlandish statements and over-simplified controversial solutions did just that, and quickly he was being in more stories than any other candidate.



In the wake a lot of conservative Republican firebrands were left in shock. In Cruz they had a “purist”, a man who was a darling of the Tea Party and who could as president serve as a quasi-evangelist-in-chief in the eyes of the evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians. They had a man who treated compromise as four letter word. As it turns out their ideal champion could not make it out of their own party let alone go on to win a national election. 



So what happened? While many books will be penned and expounded upon for years to come, as an outside observer, and listening to comments by people who voted for Trump, I venture to put forth the following list of what happened.



1.  Rubio, Bush, Cruz, Christy, etc. ran political campaigns. In contrast, Trump ran a brand marketing campaign. Such a campaign is designed to catch media attention, suck up as much attention as possible, create buzz by tapping into the fears of his intended audience, articulate those fears in a stark manner and then give a solution. Not only did Trump define himself he also defined his opponents who were not prepared to fight a branding campaign. As Trump was running a branding campaign, what he said to grab attention and move people may or may not be views he holds.  



2.  For about two decades talk radio and a handful of widely listened to right-wing commentators have increasingly generated anger in their followers. They have spoken of compromise, the basis upon which this nation was founded and the foundation of sound governance, as evil. These commentators sowed the seeds created the ground for dysfunctional government. As such, these stirrers of anger tilled the ground for Trump’s seeds to take hold and bloom. Trump became the standard bearer for their rage. His statements channel their rage and his simplified contentless promise to do something made them feel good.



3.  Coupled with anger is a dysfunctional delegitimized Congress that is accomplishing little helped create an environment for Trump’s success. At the state and national levels our politicians have through their demonizing of those in the opposite party, and an unwillingness to compromise and work together brought into existence dysfunctional government. When proposals by one party are being rejected and opposed by the other, even those proposals that were once one’s espoused by the rejecting party, they were delegitimizing the governing process.



When reasonable proposals are put forth it is not uncommon for the proposal to be framed to contain poison pills knowingly that they are forcing the party opposite to reject the idea. Extreme minorities in both parties through their rigidity have created a deep distrust of politicians across the nation. It is a shame that a nation that prides itself on the process by which it was founded has turned its back upon that founding process and delegitimized government officials, Congress, the Supreme Court and the governing process. Instead of working to make government more responsive to contemporary needs of the citizenry they have been through their bickering destroying government.



In such an environment, why would the general populist line-up behind Bush, Rubio and Cruz when they have Trump as an option serving as the piper with his enchanting song?  As government is delegitimized in the eyes of the average Republican primary voter, when looking at content-challenged Trump they follow him thinking, “Anything is better than one of these idiots. How could Trump do worse.”



4.  Throughout history economic trauma and insecurity gives emergence to voices of protectionism, nativism, xenophobia and outright bigotry. And sometimes major sea changes in a nation’s political life. Trump is tapping into and playing off those fears. He gives voice to those fears and unwashed reactions.



Such voices tend to point to particular groups for the cause of the nation’s woes, and warn that these people will destroy the nation unless they are strongly addressed. They create the ground in which a person of a different ethnicity is viewed by their neighbor with high suspicion. Such voices imply that if the nation stands against “those people” that the woe’s experienced by the citizenry will be reversed.  Trump is channeling and giving legitimacy to such discontent with his “believe me, I will make it so much better” statements.



5.  In the first months, neither the party nor the other candidates directly challenged Trump’s attention catching statements. They did not repudiate them firmly and state how they are clearly unrealistic and/or contrary to the values upon which the nation was founded.



Instead they remained silent or gave an empty and soft objection. It seems they didn’t do so for three reasons. For some they could not challenge him because either they lacked a position and wouldn’t venture forth onto foreign ground.  For others, such as Ted Cruz, they wanted to play nice with the hope to ingratiate themselves to his supporters so as to attract his supporters when he dropped out of the race.    For a few it may well be possible that they remained silent because they had a similar but softer position that Trump stated more starkly. Hence for this third group, Trump turned their right flank them and routed them into a retreat.



6.  A significant portion of the Republican primary voters are older than 55 and white, a demographic that is highly concerned that the government not destroy or tamper with their retirement benefits. Though many of the people drawn to Trump may state that they want small government and have concerns about religious liberty, for these older voters, those issues are secondary to their concern about hawks drawing the nation in additional foreign wars, and protecting their Medicare and Social Security. A hawkish Cruz was likely to tamper with their retirement benefits, and send their grandchildren off to die on foreign soil.   



7.  Trump captured as many evangelical voters as Ted Cruz which indicates that that group is not a monolith. While evangelical voters, and who are primarily 40+ and white, have concerns about religious liberty and various other morality issues, this group are more concerned about a host of other issues. One of those concerns is the coloring of the nation.



Cruz’s pushing his evangelical credentials worked against him with some evangelicals. Recently two evangelicals noted to me that the sincerity of Cruz’s faith was put into doubt in their minds when word came out that he had not been tithing to his church. As tithing is viewed as a mark of spirituality, Cruz not even coming close to doing so for many years raised questions. For these two people, the tithing issue opened them up to voting for Trump.



8.  Cruz tried to portray himself as an outsider and a Tea Party politician, yet as the campaign heated up the outsider image became hollow. Compared to Trump, Cruz was the insider who used insider tactics and techniques like other insider candidates. His effort to get “Trump delegates” to switch to him at a contested convention reinforced the impression that Cruz was a typical politician. 



His ethics and truthfulness came into question. When compared to Trump’s populist unwashed statements, Cruz’s obfuscating statements further demonstrated that he was a typical politician. Cruz’s Trusted signs in the eyes of many resonated as Trust Ted??  His effort to stack state delegates Naming his VP choice was viewed as a sign of desperation, the shooting off the fireworks as the ship flounders.  Trump came across as the true outsider, not carrying what people thought and saying what he was thinking.



9.   Populism triumphs over ideological purity, which differs from the assumption Cruz and his funders hold about the common Republican voter. Cruz and the ideological driven Republican purists advocate that if the party rallied around an ideological stalwart that Republicans would win the White House as well as increase their majority in the Senate and House. It is on this basis that the Freedom Caucus have been conducting themselves as if they represented the majority of the party and the general population (Cruz likely will hold that this is true for he argued recently that the majority of the party supports him. In doing so he is implying that a good portion of those who considered themselves Republicans and voted in the primaries are Rinos and therefore not truly Republicans.) 



Ideological purity does not to give you a victory and if ideological purity does not give you victory within the party, then it is correct to question what would be the results in a general election. 

10. Cruz's team were in error in thinking that as other candidates dropped out that they would get most of the supporters for those candidates. Instead, Trump gaining the lion share of those Republicans showed how limited Cruz's support was in the party, how flawed he was, and that the party would rather go with the comic relief who lacked policy that vote for Cruz.   



11.   Rubio gained no traction. He came off as a man who planned four years ago to run for President but who ran four to eight years too soon. Rubio was too unrefined and poorly articulated his positions. Also Rubio lacked a fire and passion that could have helped off-set his immaturity. Where was his heart?



12.  Jeb Bush was listless, and lacked passion. He gave people no vision and cause to vote for him. He was not prepared to give people a reason to vote for a third Bush to be president.



13.  Kasich lacked a vision around which people who were lukewarm to cold on Trump could rally. He seemed to have no burning fire to move people and stir them to support his run. His greatest argument was that he was a second term governor of Ohio. A major shortcoming was that he was a second term governor of Ohio, a state that economically under her leadership has at best been average.


14.  Bridgegate undermined Christy's run.   

Will Trump win the national election?  The chances are high that he will but will only be a one term president.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

To Cry or To Laugh Over Words Never Spoken


Two days ago was the anniversary of (May 9, 1912) William Booth delivering his final public address to members of The Salvation Army. His final words sought to reassure his followers that all would be well with the organization he founded after he passed away. His words were also intended to inspire his officers and soldiers to continue onward in the fight to help people in need and save souls. Hence, Royal Albert Hall was packed for the address. The press was there to capture his final words and so were the author's of the various Salvation Army publications. 

For nearly nine decades members of The Salvation Army have taken great pride in the following words that are attributed to William Booth on that occasion and held as final words.

“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end.”  

The common image is that once William concluded with these words that he then sat down as the crowd embraced his I'll fight charge.  

There is an audio clip on YouTube that some maintain is a recording of Booth. For a 1912 recording, it is not only amazingly clear for the state of the recording technology of the day, and even more remarkable that in an age where national leaders were not being recorded that someone set up what must have been a huge recording device to catch these last words. Given the state of the technology of the era, and the recording’s more recent emergence, for most listeners it is evident that the recording is a modern effort to give life to these dramatic words.

From my early teens I’ve been fascinated with history and the evolution of global/societal thought. Being raised in The Salvation Army I was naturally interested in the history of my faith community. Early I learned that due to various levels of hagiography I needed to be careful in my acceptance of what was considered to be my faith tradition’s history. One of those items that came into question during my college and post-graduate years was the attributing of the above inspiring words to William Booth.

Back in the 1980s, the issue I had was with silence of The Salvation Army’s primary historical documents from the 1910s through to World War I in noting these rousing words and when they were spoken. While William and Catherine Booth were alive, The Salvation Army’s primary publications, “The War Cry” and “All the World” took great care to accurately publish for Salvationists across the Great Britain and around the world, the major addresses of their leaders. Particularly so for Catherine, whose addresses were later gathered together and published in a serious of books.

When I read The War Crys and the All the World from mid May to August of 1912, there were a good number of references to his last address. I was disappointed that none contained these inspiring words, or even portions of them. The reports on The Salvation Army’s publications did note various other statements made by Booth, most of which were far from being inspirational, especially when compared to these immortalized words. The special edition of The War Cry covering the final address made no mention of the address. Later that year in describing his final speech All the World didn’t mention any portion of the words attributed to him. Over the months, Booth’s other well known statements from his final address, as well as lesser known and non-inspiring portions of his address were quoted repeatedly in Salvation Army publications without a mention of even a phrase from the quote in question. Subsequently, in learning that none of the news reporters who covered caught any of these words reinforced my solidifying belief that the words were not spoken by William Booth.

By 1985 I found myself with two options, a) hold that these inspiring words which have resounded in Salvationist hearts for decades was totally missed by the primary recorders of the day, both the news reporters and Salvation Army publication authors, or b) take the position that the primary recorders missed the words simply because these words were never spoken by William Booth.

Back then the heart was pulled in one direction but common sense and the mind directed to holding to option “b”. Years later, in extensively researching Catherine Booth my belief that these words were not William’s firmed further. The wider attribution of these words to William did not commence until 15 years later, in 1927, and even then the two authors that attributed the words to William have significant variance from each other and from the words above.  In 1929 Bramwell Booth claimed his father spoke the immortal words, but Bramwell’s assertion should be viewed in the context that he was embroiled in a leadership fight and was seeking to increase his legitimacy.

Over the subsequent decades, the myth has been perpetuated. So where did these inspiring words originate? First, we must recognize that the words are viewed as inspirational because of to whom they were attributed, and what grew from his work and leadership. If the words were spoken or attributed to a more common person, they would have long been lost. Second, we must recognize that the words and the myth have continued to live on because we want to believe in the words and until recently the organization's leadership has continued to publically attribute the words to their founder. What of those who claim to have heard them that day in May 1912? This can easily be accounted for by common human dynamics. Decades later many of those who were in Royal Albert Hall that day and recounted how they heard those stirring words, and how the address moved them, just thought they heard them. They recall being there and hearing William speak and as the words became attributed to William that day, they claimed to have actually heard them because they wanted to believe that they heard them from his lips and were not wishing to admit that they could not actually recall hearing his immortalized last words.

Do we know the source of the quote? While the true author of the final form may well be lost to history, the first portion of the “I’ll fight” appeared as a poem in a 1906 edition of “All the World”, six years before William was said to have authored them. It appears that core of the quote was penned by an early Salvationist, and possibly added onto by one or two others and then attributed to William.

While I’ve not been a member of The Salvation Army for years, it is my faith heritage and valued by me. At the end of the day I’m conflicted as to whether I should cry in sadness or laugh over how hagiography readily distorts history so that the words he never spoke have become William Booth’s most famous. Hopefully the poem's message will be embraced by the organization and its membership for it speaks to the ongoing spirit which drives them to provide a hand of assistance to those who are hurting and in need in our communities.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

TRUSTed??


Senator Ted Cruz in his run to be the Republican presidential candidate has positioned himself as a sincere Washington outsider who wears his Christian faith not only on his sleeve, but across his chest too. He proclaims that he is a dedicated evangelical Christian by deep conviction and lives by its primary principals. His TRUSTed signs help him push his brand that as a practicing evangelical Christian he is trustworthy and upright. His approached served him well in Iowa, and likely play well in South Carolina.
In light of recent actions will his branding and his claims to be a committed evangelical Christian become the ground of his undoing? Evangelical Christians hold that professed faith is evidenced through one’s conduct and actions. While no one is expected to be flawless, Evangelicals hold one’s profession can be questioned if conduct consistently does not match faith statements.   



One of those primary Evangelical values is the that a person of faith must support one’s church financially. That financial support should be more than a token sum. Most Evangelicals expect that support to be a tithe, 10%, of all one’s income. It is commonly held that if one does not tithe then one’s faith is rightly to be questioned by the church’s leadership. A friend of mine says that he is now favoring another candidate because now Cruz's character has come into question in his mind.



The public has been learning that Cruz has not been financially supporting his church. His statement that he had not been financially supporting his church ring hallow amongst those of who have evangelical roots. Saying that he was building his family’s cash reserves and establishing a family trust is problematic for the vast majority of households in the church have income below Cruz’s and if they did the same as Cruz over 95% of churches would be closed for lack of funds.



Will the news that Cruz has not been financially supporting his church create tensions in the eyes of evangelical voters and cause them to question his profession of faith?  Or will Evangelicals rationalize it, giving him a pass on his lack of tithing even though such a pass would not normally be given to others in their church who seek to be viewed as leaders?



Then just as the Iowa caucus were starting the Cruz campaign spread a rumor that Ben Carson was withdrawing. The same messages instructed their caucus precinct chairs to inform caucus attendees, particularly Carson supporters, that if they supported Cruz attendees would be wasting their votes. Anecdotal reports from caucus Evangelical attendees indicates that that numerous people changed their votes on the news and enlarged Cruz’s win.



Carson had no such plans to withdraw. On Tuesday, the day after the Iowa caucus, Cruz stated it was an accidental error and not something intentionally constructed and pushed by his team. We are all aware that rumors on the lips of one or two can take flight, sometimes creating havoc and destroying lives. Cruz offered an apology to Carson, an apology that was accepted.



Unfortunately, subsequent evidence contradicts Cruz’s Tuesday statement. Copies and the breath of the voice mails, text messages and emails indicate that the messages were not only intentional but were spreading downright falsehoods. The inner circle of Cruz’s team was involved. While Carson accepted Cruz’s apology, he is rightly put out if the apology was offered on false ground. Will Evangelicals now see Cruz as a typical obfuscating calculating Washington insider doing whatever he needs to say and do to win, a scheming chameleon changing to fit the terrain?



Will the TRUSTed brand be start some to wonder if it is not a sign that Cruz is the opposite of the sign?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Gives with “In Bill We Doubt”?


I read yesterday an AP article by unknown author(s) entitled, “In Bill We Doubt” that was published in the local paper. The author(s) are unknown as the article lacked a byline. The author( is a criticism of numerous decisions made by Bill Belichick over the last part of the past season. While I’m neither a Belichick nor a Patriot fan, I have great respect for him. His success as a coach is outstanding. His knowledge of the game, planning and strategies, and the utilization of his team to hamper the other team’s strengths and attack their shortcomings is beyond those held by nearly all other coaches at any level.

 

Belichick has delivered championship teams so frequently that it some, including the article’s author, seems to think that if Patriot’s are not in the Super Bowl every year that something is wrong. In the author’s view, what is wrong is Belichick. The tenor of the article is that Belichick is an exhausted coach who has lost his edge.

As the all wise Monday armchair coach the author lists several “instead if he had….” moments that occurred over the final portion of the season and in the last game against Denver. The implication is that if Belichick was not on the downside that the Patriots would again be winning this year’s Super Bowl instead of being bystanders to the game.  

 

Posturing as an expert this Monday comfy armchair coach is more pompous than balanced. Any  Monday armchair coach from the comfort of his chair and knowledge of the results has the luxury of time to consider and suggest different options. Such Monday coaches can say “they should have done…” as they pick apart particular decisions that did not work out.   

Two of the decisions for which the author lambasts Belichick were two late 4th quarter calls to go for it on the two 4th and short situations instead of kicking field goals. The author reasons that if they had gone for at least one of those field goals, the Patriots would have defeated the Broncos by one or two points. The math seems simple and the conclusion drawn by seems to lack any flaws. Yet there is a significant flaw in the assumption made by the arm-chair coach….that every play would have been the same.

 

The author makes his condemnation on the assumption that Broncos would have played the game in the exact same matter if their lead had been 5 points instead of 8. Highly skilled coaches match a strategy of the moment to the current game situation. Just to tie, the Patriots needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion. An 8 point lead focused the Broncos strategy upon running down the clock, forcing New England to start using their time-outs. Hence, the Broncos narrowed the range of their offensive calls as they became focused upon plays that would run down the clock. With New England in such a posture the Patriots defense enabled the Patriots to focus upon run plays. With the pass game, Manning’s strength, off the table, the Patriots were able to get the ball back more quickly and in better field position than if the Broncos remained in a more aggressive posture with Manning passing at the same rate as earlier in the game.

 

Now if, the lead had as a result of a field goal was down to 5 points, the Broncos would likely have been more aggressive as they focused upon at least off-setting the New England field goal with one of their own. While the Broncos may still have gone 3 and out, it was just as likely that a more aggressive posture would have yielded them two or three first downs and when they kicked the ball, left New England deeper into their own zone and with more plays to run to get down the field to score the winning touchdown.  

Drawing from his knowledge of his team, how the other team responds in one set of conditions versus another, the condition of his players at a given moment and how well his team has been handling the situations the opposing team executed, a coach is called upon to make real-time split-second decisions. The coach making such calls stands on the pre-event/play side of history whereas the arm-chair critic stands luxuriously on the post-side of history arguing for plays that none can attack as the plays were not executed.

The author overlooks three parts of Belichick’s and the Patriot’s successful formula…their comfort with running more risky plays, such as going for the 4th down and short play. They have had better success than most other teams and such success has yielded them championships. Further, they have also had a good level of success in putting their opponents in the uncomfortable position of having to run high risk plays, and to run them with little success. The comfort and success of running high risk plays are common features of championship teams. Few teams that play it safe by taking the safe low-risk options rarely become champions.

Let’s not fool ourselves if Patriot’s had made one of the 4th downs, and then one the game, the attackers would be proclaiming Belichick’s boldness and skills. I doubt few of those who are attacking Belichick for his calls, including the author, were crying out in their living rooms in the seconds before the 4th down attempt, “No, no, kick the field goal.” I suspect that most were hoping that the Patriot’s charm would hold.

 

If Belichick had gone for one of the field goals, and if with a different set of play calls Manning had lead his team deep down the field, what would have been the author’s thoughts if  the Patriots found themselves out of time.  I suspect the author would be attacking Belichick for not showing confidence in his team by going for it on the 4th downs in question and for taking the sure more modest points to narrow the score for a few minutes. The author would be lamenting that Belichick did not go for the victory when a successful 4th down play would have put New England in an excellent position to score a touchdown.

 

And that is the sham of the Monday coach, he is right as he knows what the outcome and one has little ground to criticize an option not exercised. The fact that some calls did not work out, does not diminish my respect. With his record, much more would need to happen before we should question or doubt his judgment.