Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Confederate Battle Flag

The killing on June 17th 2015 of nine people attending a prayer meeting in a historical Charleston SC black church has shaken that community as well as many across the nation. While senseless in the mind of most people, it was not in the mind the alleged murderer who clearly identifies himself as being a white supremacist. His stated intent was not only to terrorize that black community but to help spark a race war under the banner of the Confederate battle flag. Instead of triggering hate, he received back a demonstration of forgiveness and affirmation of life that has moved the nation.
At first SC US Senator Graham in talking about the Confederate battle flag flying on his state’s capital grounds noted the flag was part of the state’s heritage. His carefully worded response was an effort not to offend the citizens who form his base and elected him. On the surface the implication was that if the majority of the people wanted it fly on capital grounds that it would remain. His statement lacked passion and conviction hinting of an underlying implication carefully crafted response, that he would not be against its removal.
At the beginning of this week when Governor Nikki Haley courageously advocated for the battle flag to be removed from the state’s capital grounds Senator Graham joined her. When she stated that any flag flying over the seat of government should represent all the people, and that battle flag clearly doesn’t, Senator Graham concurred with her. While these two powerful South Carolina leaders have pushed the conversation on the flag into the open we wait to see if they secure the supermajority in both SC houses to retire the flag or if a symbol of racism will continue to be embraced and affirmed by the government of South Carolina.
Some claim that they fly the Confederate battle flag not as a sign of racism, but of pride in the old south, southern values, state’s rights and freedom of expression. There are many who say that the flag honors their forefathers, most of whom did not own slaves, who thought fighting and dying for their state in the civil war was the right thing to do. As noted in a prior post, if we would be revolted by a person of German heritage using the same rationale and similar statements justifying the flying of the Nazi flag in honor of his/her family members who bravely fought to the end in the German armed forces in World War II, then why do we not have the same reactions about the Confederate battle flag?
The Confederate battle flag is part of history and the heritage, a heritage that includes open overt racism as well as its more subtle forms. While such a symbol is part of its past, it should not be part of its future. No local, state, federal government should sanction its use on government lands and property, including license plates which are state sanctioned communication. Of course exceptions should be granted for filming of dramas and re-enactments, etc. There is a big distinction between private speech and government sanction speech...I may have the freedom to express a view but I should not expect my government to affirm my views through its various vehicles and symbols.
A private company should be allowed to determine for itself whether it wishes to produce and/or market the flag or items containing that flag. No retailer should be expected to sell any product it does not belief aligns with its corporate goals and/or image. If a retailer does, that is their choice and I in return have the freedom to support that retailer or take my business elsewhere if I’m offended strongly enough.
If a private citizen, or a private organization, wishes to fly the Confederate battle flag on their property, they should not be prohibited from doing so. They can do so as it is an expression of free speech. I in return have the freedom to dislike their expressed statement that they align themselves with a symbol and a heritage of racism, and take that into account in my interactions with them.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Justification For Flying a Despised Flag?

How do you feel about seeing a Nazi flag flying? The following is a statement justifying the flying of a Nazi flag.


“I don’t go around sulking about the fact that Germany lost the Second World War. Both of my grandfathers,  my father and numerous of their siblings and cousins saw fit to enlist and fight for their country. There is no record of any of my forefathers being anti-Semitic. In fact one of my great-grandparents bought a house in Hamburg in 1927 that was next door to a Jewish family, and a grand-aunt’s violin teacher was Jewish. When they fought for their country they were not supporting the killing of the Jews. Many of them and their neighbors fought to make a nation that they felt was unjustly impoverished after the First World War strong and proud again.


“Whatever the reason for their fighting, members of my family and their neighbors saw fit to enlist, fight and die for their nation under the Nazi flag. Most suffered horribly, sacrificing bravely their bodies and for many, their lives under that flag. Even family members that remained at home suffered as their property and lives were destroyed as the bombs and shells fell as the Soviets, Americans and British.  I come from all that. I look at those people as brave and gallant and a frightful force until their hearts and lands were destroyed and burnt away.


“I will never turn my back on that heritage and will fly the Nazi flag. It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and hate. To honor them and my heritage I will fly the flag under which they served, sacrificed, suffered, were maimed and died.”      


Do you agree with that view? Does the above statement trigger in you a strong negative reaction as it does in me? Yes, they may have fought under that flag heroically and with national pride, but a flag that represented such hate and atrocities should be relegated to history, reenacting and museums. It should not be honored by being flown, particularly by the government or appear on government issued documents.  I’m certain that there is wide agreement on this from those who would read this post.  


If we are revolted by such statements, and we're in agreement on the flying of the Nazi flag is wrong, then why do we accept the same arguments and phraseology about flying another flag from America’s history that was grounded in slavery, the owning and abuse of another human being?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Editorial on Pope Francis - Is Francis Moving to the Left - Part 2

On May 20th the Daily News Record carried an editorial regarding Pope Francis entitled “The Papal Seal” (see part 1 posted on May 29th on my blog for the text). While I’m not a Roman Catholic and it’s not my intention to defend specific pronouncements by Pope Francis or any other statements, I do defend the Pontiff’s responsibility to speak to various issues that impinge upon where life and faith intersect, and for those pronouncements to be given from a biblical perspective as viewed from a Roman Catholic theological perspective.  

While some religious officials, such as the Reverends Huckabee and Al Sharpton to name two, join political parties and become deeply involved in the body politic and should be evaluated within such a framework, the vast majority of clergy, from the lowest ranks to the highest, do not do so. To judge religious leaders such as the Pope from within political philosophy or a partisan politics does a disservice to them and the Bible.

By evaluation Pope Francis through a political dogma’s lens the paper’s editorial board has done a disservice to the Pope and all religious leaders.

Religious leaders must be apolitical, speaking to faith and life issues without a concern for political dogma. They must be free to speak to the consciousness of their adherents, the nation and its leadership. One set of comments may be in keeping with one party while another set repudiates the same party’s position. Our religious leaders must be free to speak out on host of moral issues, not from a right versus left perspective, but from the perspective of their understanding of faith. Their voices if used in a balanced manner helps our nation by asking us to pause as consider the morality and the impact of various political proposals.

What may be expedient for a particular industry and reap them riches, that pending legislation may be far from being moral. As we look at distant and the history of more recent years we must concede that what may be popular at a moment may be contrary to the moral and faith teachings of an idea’s most forceful proponents.

Using the structure and general thrust of the May 20th editorial I hope that the following will give those of faith a momentary pause. Coupled with giving some pause my intent is to note the significant danger that exists when politicians and news reporters/editors place a religious official into political box or upon them a particular philosophy. Religious officials need to apply Scripture to life, and do so apart from political dogma or affiliation. The flip side of the coin is that when religious leaders align themselves too closely with a political party/doctrine, the result is a compromising of the gospel since the gospel ends up being twisted to fit into a the framework of a particular dogma, and the religious official remains silent when questionable moral positions or actions are taken by the party to which one has pledged allegiance.

Is the People’s Preacher Jesus Moving to the Left?

There’s little question that Jesus of Nazareth – by virtue of his humility, spirit of inclusion, and desire to rid our Holy Temple and our Synagogues of their bureaucratic sclerosis, and even corruption – has rallied many common folk to his standard, if not the Yahweh standard. But, at times, we’ve been given to wonder if this humble preacher is appealing to the wrong people – and if he is, at heart, a man of the left.

Why such cause for wonder – and consternation? Consider these recent developments. This popular preacher from Nazareth, the self proclaimed messenger of God on earth, has reached out to the radical elements of the street, whose unorthodox theology seems animated more by the diktats of common street theology, and remnants of pagan mysticism than by the teachings of Moses and the learned teachers of the Law; he welcomed avowed tax collector and godless sinner, Matthew, to become part of his inner circle; and he gave his official imprimatur to prostitutes, adulteresses and other sinners who openly violate the Law, and has repeatedly distanced himself from the noble cause of resistance to Rome and fighting for liberty from tyrannical Rome.

The first two developments can be attributed – and readily explained – to Jesus acting as a good shepherd, tending to lost elements Yahweh’s flock, whether they be fallen-away Hebrews or, in the minds of conservatives, misguided ones. Even so, the tax collector Matthew casting himself in the role of the repentant son beggars belief – and sincerity – given that he long ago through his tax collection duties and tactics renounced the faith of his fathers for a total immersion in Caesar’s dispensation.

But alignment with the Samaritans and the Romans – is a veiled repudiation of the people of Israel – is not simply an apolitical act, but also one that suggests little discernment aforethought, and indicates that he is neither Yahweh’s prophet nor the righteous preacher as he and others claim. We understand in this street preacher’s eagerness to embrace others who claim to worship God – that in recent days he has told two stories about Samaritans as illustrative parables – but doesn’t he realize that by embracing such people he is compromising the true faith Moses entrusted to God’s people. The real threat to the well-being of God’s people and the Temple is from illiterate and unskilled preachers as is this Jesus. What’s more, by advocating a two kingdom view of the world with the heavenly kingdom and the fallen earthly kingdom being distinct yet coexisting together, and in his careless leftist handling and application of the Law Jesus of Nazareth is, at least implicitly, endorses the acceptance of a fallen sinful world as a normal reality, one where the earthly kingdom can refuse to even acknowledge Yahweh’s existence and Law.

All those strange imprimaturs prompt us to ponder whether past statements from Jesus were not aberrations. For instance, in the last year in response to the burdensome heavy taxes paid to Rome, he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He defends the unrighteous Roman government and its unjust taxation policies. Jesus, by healing on the Sabbath and allowing his followers to violate the Sabbath is teaching people to violate the Law.  Jesus again demonstrates his leftist nature by saying “Blessed are the poor,” elevating the state of being poor, creating the ground for class warfare, while in other addresses firmly condemning the wealthy for being successful. He demonstrates that he is man of the left by gleefully undermining the sacredness of the Sabbath laws, tossing out businessmen at the Temple who are merely providing a service to sincere worshippers who have traveled great distances and who lack the necessary ability to give a heart-felt sacrifice to Yahweh.

Has the Jesus ever understood the fullness and righteousness of the Law, how our religion stands far above all other religions as a beacon of hope and salvation afforded by carefully keeping of the Law and our faith in Yahweh? And what, pray tell, is the alternatives to the faith provided to us through Moses in divine Law? Surely not a watered down system of monotheism believes that “includes” an apostate belief in Yahweh but stifles opportunity and squelches human potential of true salvation afforded to us in the Law and sacrifices given in the Temple.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Editorial on Pope Francis - Is Francis Moving to the Left - Part 1

For today, I will allow the following editorial to stand on its own. I’ve included the full text here rather than a link since to view the editorial on the paper’s site one must have a subscription. Tomorrow or Friday I will publish an observation about the editorial.

Editorial – The Papal Seal
Daily News Record – May 20, 2015

Is Francis Moving to the Left?

There’s little question that Pope Francis – by virtue of his humility, spirit of inclusion, and desire to rid the Roman Catholic Church of its bureaucratic sclerosis, and even corruption – has rallied many folks to his standard, if not the papal standard. But, at times, we’ve been given to wonder if the Holy Father is appealing to the wrong people – and if he is, at heart, a man of the left.

Why such cause for wonder – and consternation? Consider these recent developments. The pope, Vicar of Christ on Earth, has reached out to the radical padres of Latin American, whose Liberation Theology seems animated more by the diktats of Marx, Lenin and Mao than by the teachings of Jesus Christ; he welcomed avowed communist Raul Castro, president of Cuba, to the Vatican; and he gave his official imprimatur to Palestine as a separate state.

The first two developments can be attributed – and readily explained – to Francis acting as Good Shepherd, tending to his flock, whether they be fallen-away Catholics or, in the minds of conservatives, misguided ones. Even so, Senor Castro casting himself in the role of the Prodigal Son beggars belief – and sincerity – given that he long ago renounced the faith of his fathers for a total immersion in the Marxist dispensation.

But alignment with the Palestinian cause – and with it a veiled repudiation of Israel – is not simply a apolitical act, but also one that suggests little discernment aforethought. We understand the pope’s eagerness to embrace Palestinian Catholics – he canonized two Palestinian nuns on Sunday – but doesn’t he realize that on all parties in the Middle East, Christians have nothing whatsoever to fear from Israel.  The real threat to their well-being is from Islamist extremists. What’s more, by advocating a two state solution, Francis is, at least implicitly, endorsing Fatah and Hamas, which have not only turned down statehood three times since they turn of the millennium but also continually refuse to even acknowledge Israel’s existence.

All those strange imprimaturs prompt us to ponder whether past statements from Francis were not aberrations . For instance, in 2013, he said, “Some people continue to defend trickledown theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” He considers this defense of capitalism an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts.”

Has the Pope never been to America, never witnessed success engendered by opportunity? And what, pray tell, is the alternative to capitalism? Surely not a socialism that levels and “includes” but stifles opportunity and squelches human potential, as practiced by the Raul Castros of this world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Legalism vs. Spirit of the Law

In recent days in Harrisonburg Virginia, Steven Blatt, a lawyer, served a writ of mandamus on a local school board member, Dany Fleming, seeking Mr. Fleming’s removal from the school board as Mr. Fleming’s house is on the wrong side of town. While the writ and the controversy will not have earth shaking or ongoing effects on either national or even local policies or politics, it does reflect how Americans tend to think politically, the boxes we construct and to which we hold even when the box does not fit the situation.  

The Harrisonburg School Board has six elected officials and all members are elected by the whole city. Two seats are aside for the west side the city with the remaining four designated for the more populous east side. Presumably the division in this manner was established to help ensure that families on both sides of the city have a voice in Board decisions. It is a reasonable division to ensure that the more populous east side does control the whole Board.


Rather than defining the dividing line between west and east by the elementary school to which your address and neighbor’s is associated, it is defined by which side of a particular street your house is situated…in this case Main Street. As we know, to achieve population balance as well as to make maximum use of physical resources, which families/streets are assigned to which school change over the years. And that is the rub of the situation as Mr. Fleming’s house is on the wrong side of the street by several blocks.

When he registered to run, the registrar told him to register to run for one of the west side seats as that is where his children and neighborhood went to school. So he ran in good faith, and has been serving in good faith until Blatt for whatever reason takes issue. 


Mr. Fleming should be lauded for wanting to serve on the Board, to be invested in what is happening in the school which his children attend, to participate on the Board and wrestle with issues which impact his family, those who live in his immediate neighborhood and the families that attend the east side school which his children attend. Mr. Blatt’s position is that due to his address Mr. Fleming should not represent those views even though he is invested in the east side schools. Mr. Blatt’s position is that Mr. Fleming should have run for a west side position, thereby represent parents who are not his neighbors and who are not the parents of the students with whom his children associate every school day.


I cannot speak to Mr. Blatt’s motivation, whether he or a friend of his wants to fill the vacancy, or if he did not like a vote Mr. Fleming took, or Mr. Blatt simply wants the letter, not the spirit, of the divide upheld. I hope that it is not the former, and really hope it is not the second option which is very petty. And if it is the last noted, then the legalist position undermines the intention and spirit of why the divide was likely created in the code in the first place. Blatt’s position upholds the letter of the law while diminishing the intent and purpose of the divide. Blatt's view means that citizens whose children go to a school on the other side of the dividing line have less of an opportunity to participate in civic life than other parents whose children don’t go to a school across the divide.

In some respects Blatt’s position represents in a microcosm on one issue the dynamics of what is making the American political system increasingly dysfunctional.  


Unfortunately, the School Board’s response was to pass a motion to solve the issue by asking the City Council to do away with the east-west divide in the next election. The Board’s response is wrong headed as it means that one day the east side residents may well have all six positions on the School Board.


I support the rationale for the divide. What is wrong is not that there is a dividing line but how the dividing line is defined. The definition should be determined by which elementary school is associated with one's address. Why the elementary school…because there is only one high school for the whole city. Using the elementary school is a simple solution which allows a person to represent one’s immediate neighborhood and the parents of the children who attend the school your children attend.

The political leaders of Harrisonburg, as well as at the State and Federal levels, need to seek for reasoned and sensible solutions. Firm adherence to ideology destroys more than it builds, has brought about far more religious, civil wars and national conflicts than such dogmatism has brought about civility and peace.  We live in a dynamic society that evolves and changes. The laws, regulations and codes are not infallible…unfortunately our lower nature pulls us to become legalistic and act as if our views and dogma were flawless or divine writ.

We, our fellow citizens and our leaders must beyond legalism to recognize that sometimes a law, regulation and code can get out of keeping with its initial rationale. And when such awareness dawns, thoughtful reasonable changes need to occur, or reasonable exceptions granted. In  the Fleming matter, the legalistic position is wrongheaded. The Board’s response is equally wrongheaded and doesn’t support the rationale for the divide. I hope the City Council responds more wisely than both Blatt's supporters and the School Board. I hope that they will cease using a street as the divide and move to using what elementary school is associated with one's address.

I suspect many people will swiftly jump on the legalist position. I suspect that a number will support the Board's recommendation too. Both would be unfortunate. I also suspect that within the week Fleming will resign, a resignation that the legalists would interpret as justifying the righteousness of their cause when such righteousness doesn't exist. I also fear three things will occur after Fleming's resignation, a) the true political issue driving the writ will become evidenced by his replacement, b) that the City Council will drop the matter and not correct a flawed dividing line, and c) that Fleming will not again become involved in civic life. All three would be a tragedy, particularly the last two.