Does This Look Like Peace?

Yesterday, the United States officially relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The move was not one I applauded. The timing could not likely have been worse, and the result was disastrous.  Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game on behalf of the nation he supposes to represent, the United States, and he is playing it with human lives as pawns.JerusalemJerusalem is a controversy in and of itself.  Jerusalem has been fought over sixteen times in its history. It has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Today, both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.  The embassy move has been considered in the past by former presidents Clinton, Bush (Jr.), and Obama, but each of those held back, because it has long been the policy of the U.S. to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and moving the embassy would place the U.S. squarely on the side of Israel … and against Palestine. Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert with the Center for New American Security, said that where the U.S. is “supposed to be acting like the fireman, instead, we’re acting like the arsonist — we’re making things worse.”

The move of the U.S. Embassy signals far more than a simple relocation … it signals that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Think about that one … who gave the U.S. the right to decide where Israel’s capital lies?  Nobody, that’s who.  So why did we do it?  Because he likes to keep campaign promises made to his base. Plain and simple. His base lobbied hard for the move, including evangelicals and, of course, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner lobbied for the idea as well.

The opening day festivities got under way, and it was a matter of minutes before trouble started.  The region, already in a heightened state of upheaval, partly as a result of Trump’s other disastrous decision to renege on the U.S.’ commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, erupted into chaos.  Well, technically, it should not have been considered chaos, as most of the Palestinian protestors were unarmed and were merely trying to get into Jerusalem.  But then the Israeli military opened fire.  As of this writing, there are at least 60 confirmed dead and more than 2,700 injured. No Israelis have been injured.  Donald Trump and Benjamin Netahyahu must own each and every one of those unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, the Kushers had a great time …kushners-partyThe utter ludicrousness of the scene was enhanced by the two U.S. evangelical pastors who took part in the opening ceremony. One, Robert Jeffries, was awarded Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week in November 2016 for his bigotry and hypocrisy  .  The man who once said that “Jews and Muslims will go to Hell”, yesterday said, “Israel has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, the Scriptures, and the Messiah.”  He also managed to get in a plug for Trump, saying Trump “stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.”  Quick, somebody get me a bucket!

I am told that evangelicals believe an embassy in Jerusalem is a key step to the ‘end of days’.  Not being of their faith, I fail to see how ‘end of days’ is seen as a good thing, but given the chaos the move created, it appears they may well have hastened that event, at least for many living in the Middle-East.

When Trump first announced his intention to move the embassy, he called it, “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”  Does this look like peace to you?Peace-not

Defining Freedom …

Have you noticed that some words seem to have taken on a different meaning in the past few years than they once had?  Take, for example, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).  It sounds like a decent organization, right?  Let’s break it down a bit …

Alliance:  a union or association formed for mutual benefit

Defending:  protecting from harm or danger

Freedom:  the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

So, by those definitions, what we have here is a group of people protecting the rights of others to act, speak and think as they wish without being harmed.  What’s not to like, eh?

Well, let me tell you what’s not to like about this group.  The group is actually one of the largest anti-LGBT organizations in the nation.  Just WHOSE freedom are they defending?  They are not defending my freedom, nor yours, and for sure not any of my friends who are gay or trans!

Founded in 1993, the group’s stated mission is …

“To advocate for religious freedom to uphold justice and preserve the right of people to freely live out their faith.”

Now can anybody explain how John Doe being gay infringes on the “right of people to freely live out their faith”?  There is no justification for this … none at all!!!

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) …

“Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion.”

State-sanctioned sterilization?  Denial of goods and services?  Destroy society?  What planet do these people come from?  This is among the craziest things I have heard, short of what comes from the likes of Alex Jones or Sean Hannity!

What brought this group onto my radar today is that Amazon has removed them from its AmazonSmile program.  For those who are not familiar with the program, it gives a small percentage from the purchase price of eligible products to a customer’s chosen charity.  I signed on to it when the program first started, and chose St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  It is a good program, and Amazon did the right thing, for it should not be sullied by allowing hate groups to solicit funds in this manner. As of February, Amazon had donated more than $80 billion to various charities.  ADF is not in any way a legitimate charity!

ADF, of course, is livid and threatening legal action.  But, as one person said, “Funny how the same people who think that they shouldn’t have to sell cakes to same sex couples seem to want to force a private business to give them money directly. Last I checked, Amazon will still sell stuff to ADF.”

ADF is the very type of organization that will gain more power under the executive order signed by Donald Trump on Thursday (more to come on that later).  But let me go on record here as saying that this is a hate group, pure and simple, that is attempting to take rights away from others, rather than to defend rights.  It would be far more appropriately named the Alliance Persecuting Others.  They have been involved in many legal battles against the anything they disagreed with, including Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

I end where I began … has the definition of the word ‘freedom’ changed that much in the past few years?  Kellyanne warned us some 15 months ago that there would be an ‘alternative’ vocabulary under Donald Trump.  It appears she was right. Members of any religious group have the right to their own beliefs, certainly.  If members of one group or another choose to believe that marriage is only legitimate if it involves two people of opposing genders, that is their right.  Nobody … not one single person or law … is forcing anybody to become gay!!!  But the line is drawn when those members of said religion impose their will on others.  Be religious, marry someone of the opposite gender, attend whatever church you wish … nobody cares!  But do not attempt to force your beliefs, your will, on others.  Defending ‘freedom’???  No, not by any definition. They are in the business of persecution and hate, plain and simple.  They are robbing others of their freedom.  They are, indeed, a hate group and there are more and more of them crossing my radar.  America:  The United States of Hate.

Ella Grace Deserved Better …

November 8, 2016.  Election day in the U.S. – a day we were all, democrats and republicans alike, biting our nails hoping for the best possible outcome.  Meanwhile, in Upper Tulpehocken Township, Pennsylvania, 2-year-old Ella Grace was coughing uncontrollably, feverish, and fighting for every breath.  Within hours, Ella Grace would give up the struggle and take her last breath.  The official cause of death was asphyxiation due to bacterial pneumonia, and was ruled a homicide by the coroner.  Ella Grace’s mother says the cause of death was “God’s will”.

Ella Grace Foster (10/30/2014 – 11/08/2016)

Ella Grace did not have the benefit of the antibiotics that would have almost certainly kept her alive and ensured her recovery.  She was denied that option, and her only “treatment” was the oil her grandfather rubbed into her skin. Ella Grace’s parents are members of the Faith Tabernacle Church, where the grandfather, Rowland Foster, is pastor.  As a tenet of their religion, they do not believe in medical treatment of any sort.  And so, Ella Grace was left to die, and the parents, who had six other children, chalked it up to “God’s will”.

Rowland Foster and wife

This story, brought to my attention by a dear friend, only came to my attention today because the trial for Ella’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, began on Monday.  Outside of the local news, coverage of the story has been largely non-existent.  The grandfather was charged in Ella’s death early last year on the grounds of failure, as a member of the clergy, to report medical neglect and child abuse, a third-degree felony, but the charges were dismissed by District Judge Andrea Book at the preliminary hearing.

The parents are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. “Our laws recognize that you have a duty to care for your child’s health and welfare, and we cannot justify a parent not seeking health care for their children when their children are ill,” said Berks County District Attorney John Adams. A brief summary of the case:

On Sunday, Ella Grace showed signs of a cold, with a sore throat and fever.  She got progressively worse during the next two days, but neither parent felt it necessary to seek medical treatment.  On Monday night, Grace called her father-in-law and pastor, Rowland Foster, who came to visit, rubbed oil on Ella Grace, and “prayed for her”.  By Tuesday, Ella was significantly worse, throwing up, coughing, and struggling for air.  Her mother, Grace, was frustrated, for she also had six other children, including an infant son to care for, so she called her husband, Jonathan, to come home from work to help out.  When Jonathan arrived home, he lifted Ella into his arms, where she took her last breath a short time later.

Grace & Jonathan Foster

State Trooper Brian Cipko questioned Grace Foster, and when he asked her if she knew what had caused her daughter’s death, she replied, “The way I think God just wanted her back. I believe that whether she died of this or we were in an accident that morning, He knew she was going to come home that day.”  She also stated that there were no circumstances under which she would have sought medical help for her daughter. “It never enters my mind,” she said.

Matters involving religion are touchy and, as most of you know, I steer clear of them.  This, however, I see as going beyond religion.  This is the life of a child.  But not only one child, for Ella Grace was not the first child to die because her parents’ religious beliefs kept them from seeking medical treatment, nor will she likely be the last.  Adherents to the Fosters’ religion, predominantly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have been charged in numerous other cases of children dying due to lack of medical care as a result of the parents’ religious beliefs:

  • Justin Barnhart, age two, died September 1981, in Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania of a Wilm’s tumor which grew larger than a volleyball in the child’s abdomen. The parents, William and Linda Barnhart, withheld medical care from their son because of their religious beliefs.
  • Five children of the Winterbourne family of suburban Philadelphia died of pneumonia between 1971 and 1980 without receiving medical attention. Roger Winterbourne, the father, stated: “When you believe in something, you have to believe it all the way. If you only believe in it part way, it’s not a true belief.”
  • Baby Girl and Baby Boy Still, of Germantown, Pennsylvania, died in February 1989 after their mother, Deborah, gave birth to the twins without the aid of a doctor or midwife. After 8 hours the father noticed his 5 lb. Infant girl had stopped breathing, and he called a funeral home. The next day police took her 3 lb. Brother to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The twins were born 6 weeks prematurely.
  • Melinda Sue Friedenbeger, age 18 weeks, died of starvation and dehydration on April 25, 1991, in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Parents John and Kathy Friedenbeger reported she had had a fever, vomiting and diarrhea for the last several days of her life.
  • Clayton Nixon, age eight, also died in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on January 6, 1991, of dehydration and malnutrition after contracting ear and sinus infections which caused continuous vomiting. He was four feet tall at his death but weighed only 32 pounds.

In Pennsylvania, more than 25 Faith Tabernacle children have died over the years. This church is not the only one that does not believe in medical treatment, but it just happens to be the one in today’s news. Nationally, some two dozen religious sects oppose all or most forms of medical care.

In the case of the Fosters, it is expected that a jury will render a verdict by the end of the week.  The Fosters have relinquished custody of their other six children to the state of Pennsylvania.

The United States Constitution gives us the right to freedom of religion.  It is certainly the right of Jonathan and Grace Foster to choose to belong to the Faith Tabernacle Church and to follow their tenets and beliefs.  It is their right to choose not to seek medical help … for themselves.  It was not their right to decide to eschew life-saving treatment for their two-year-old daughter who was not able to make the choice for herself.  As the judge in the aforementioned case of Justin Barnhart ruled, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they [the children] have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.” There are reasons that children of every species have parents, and the first, most important one, is to protect them.  It is the opinion of this writer that the Fosters are guilty of murdering their daughter just as surely as if they had plunged a knife into her chest.  Note:  In 1983, Rita Swan founded Children’s Health Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), an organization that lobbies against state laws that protect parents who choose faith over modern medicine. In 1998, she decided to team up with pediatrician Seth M. Asser to investigate the child fatalities associated with faith healing. The two began reviewing the deaths of 172 children where medical care was withheld on religious grounds. Their study showed that 140 of these children would have had a 90% likelihood of survival had they received routine medical care. 

Sit Down And Shut Up – PLEASE!

Last week it was Roger Stone who predicted that a civil war would ensue if impeachment proceedings began against Trump.  Now this week another dolt has jumped onto that bandwagon.  Who, you ask?  None other than the long-ago disgraced religious peddler, Jim Bakker.

bakker

“I predict if it [impeachment] happens there will be a Civil War in the US. The Christians will finally come out of the shadows, because we’re going to be shut up permanently if we’re not careful, and God says that faith without works is death, we have to do things.”

I sigh, shake my head, and wonder what rock all these nut cases are coming out from under. First of all, what the heck does he mean by “Christians will finally come out of the shadows”?  Christians, it seems to me, have been the loudest voices in the past several years … out of the shadows???  Seriously???  Second, the latest polls show that now some 40% of adults in the U.S. support impeachment, up from 30% a few months earlier.  Two-thirds of non-Trump supporters are in favour of sending Trump packing.  Nearly half the nation.  Civil war?  I don’t think so.

Oh sure, there are those die-hard Trumpians who will bluster and raise their loud, obnoxious voices in protest if Trump is removed from office, but they do not constitute a majority, nor an army, and there will be no civil war, though there are likely to be pockets of civil unrest, particularly in the southern half of the nation. I predict those will be put down quickly enough and that the nation will remain intact, though divided.

The amazing thing about Mr. Bakker’s utterance is that he had the nerve to even speak.  This is the ‘man’ who …

  • Defrauded investors by selling tens of thousands of $1,000 ‘lifetime memberships’ and ‘exclusive partnerships’ for a three-night stay in hotels that were never built

  • Paid $279,000 to a young woman, Jessica Hahn, in exchange for her silence after she accused Bakker and an associate of having drugged and raped her

  • Was called “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history” by Jerry Falwell

  • Was convicted on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy and sentenced to 45 years in federal prison, though he served only 5 years

  • Recently admitted that, though he had claimed to be a religious leader for years, had only actually read the Bible during his time in prison

  • Still owes $6 million to the Internal Revenue Service in unpaid taxes

One might think that the shame of all the above would send him either into a reclusive, quiet life, or give him the inspiration to try to make up for all his abuses and excesses.  But nooooo … not Mr. Bakker.  Since 2012 he has been engaged in another televangelist venture called the Jim Bakker Show.  With this one, the emphasis is on the sale of survival food, equipment and health products, selling buckets of food – ‘survival food’, at $800 a pop, for when the ‘apocalypse’ happens.  Seriously??? Is anybody buying into this?

And so now he proposes that Christians will start a civil war in the event that the dishonest and divisive president should be impeached?  By what authority, I wonder, does he speak?  For I am fairly certain he does not represent any large portion of Christians in the U.S. Baker lined his own pockets at the expense of his followers some three decades ago, and is apparently continuing to do so even today, though on a smaller scale.  Today his net worth is only around $600,000. While I do not know Mr. Bakker’s net worth at his peak, it is said that some $92 million was ‘unaccounted for’ in 1986, and that the Bakkers ‘earned’ nearly $2 million per annum in salaries and ‘bonuses’, so suffice it to say that he was not a poor man.

There will be no ‘civil war’, no uprising of Christians against the rest of us, no return of Jim Bakker to his ‘glory days’.  There will continue to be a divisiveness among the populace of the U.S., created by people who judge others based on superficial differences such as religious beliefs, skin colour or gender identification, but there will be no civil war.  So PLEASE, Mr. Bakker, go sit down and shut up!

A Fraud And A Hypocrite — Joel Osteen

It is said that some 30,000 people in and around Houston, Texas, are in need of temporary shelter in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.  Some of these people cannot return to their homes yet because of rising flood waters, while for others, there is no home to return to.  So many have lost so much, and according to the National Weather Service, it isn’t over yet.  Now, when tragedy such as this strikes, who do we think would logically be among the first to reach out, to offer whatever assistance and aid they could?  Why yes, the churches, of course.  Well, let me tell you a little story about one megachurch in Houston.

You have all heard, no doubt, of Mr. Joel Osteen, pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, a 16,800-seat indoor arena complete with plush carpeting and fountains.  Seems like a perfect place to shelter at least several hundred of those displaced by the storm, doesn’t it?  But while dozens of Houston-area churches, schools and community centers opened their doors to offer temporary shelter to survivors, while other local houses of worship organized volunteer teams to help with relief efforts, Lakewood Church’s doors remain closed.  Why?  The church’s Facebook page   claims that it would take too many volunteers to use the facility as a temporary shelter.  The official reason is that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” The church itself appears undamaged by flood waters, mind you, but they fear people cannot get to the church.  Another answer, perhaps the real reason, can be found in the comments section on one Facebook post:

Pattie Hibbs Wilson: Don’t open the church! The ingrates will destroy it like they did the Superdome.

<> on August 26, 2017 in Rockport, Texas.

This one made me cry … 😔

 

harvey-6<> on August 26, 2017 in Corpus Christi, Texas.Interestingly, considering that the church is supposedly “inaccessible”, they plan to serve as a “distribution center” today …

“Coordinating with the city, Lakewood is a collection site for distributing supplies to the Houston area shelters.

Beginning at 12 Noon tomorrow we are collecting infant and adult diapers, baby formula and baby food.

Help us help others. Please bring these items to Lakewood Church, Circle Drive off Timmons St.”

Note that they are asking people to donate these items, but that there is no mention of the church contributing in any way other than providing the venue for people to bring their donations.  The Facebook page has a multitude of comments on this post, ranging from disgust that the church is doing nothing more, to those defending the church.  I left a few choice comments of my own … I couldn’t resist.

Now, as for Mr. Osteen himself, he did what I’m sure he felt was helpful, he tweeted.

osteen-tweets.jpgI’m sure this all goes a long way toward helping those who need food, clothing and shelter feel ever so much better.  NOT.  And this is all he has to offer.  The man whose net worth is estimated at $40 million, the man who lives in a home valued at $10.5 million, with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, three elevators, a pool house and a guest house, cannot be troubled to open his church, to donate a bit of his own money toward relief efforts.

Osteen-Oprah.jpgIn a 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, when asked if he ever “makes any apologies” for his wealth, Osteen replied, “I really don’t, Oprah. We just feel like this is God’s blessings. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a nice place to live and being blessed.”

I will not editorialize much, for the above facts speak for themselves.  However, I would like to add that I think there are elements of both snobbery and racism involved in the decision not to open the church as a temporary shelter.  The demographics of Houston, as of the last census, were 37% Hispanic or Latino, 25% African-American.  In addition, Houston has a substantial number of Middle-Eastern refugees.  Though hurricanes are indiscriminate, the reality is that homes belonging to wealthier people are better-built, usually on higher ground, and therefore better able to withstand the damaging winds and torrential rains.  So the likelihood is that many of those who are displaced are non-white, and in lower income levels.  Looking at how many of the comments referenced the problems in the Superdome in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, I cannot help but think there is some snobbery and racism driving the decision not to open the church.

I close with a hope that others in the Houston area will be more generous than Mr. Osteen and his group, and send my heartfelt thoughts and best wishes to the victims of this disaster.

Note to readers: I just received a notification from Facebook that I have been blocked by Joel Osteen! Frankly, I am honoured. I guess they cannot handle anyone who disagrees!

Idiot Of The Week — Paula White

Idiot of the Week medal

I did not set out tonight to write an Idiot of the Week post, but this “lady” flew not only onto my radar, but flapped her ugly wings right in my bloomin’ face!  I wonder why it is that I have found so many of my idiots among the right-wing “moral majority”?  Note, dear readers, that I am not putting down any religion, nor religion in general, but am thoroughly disgusted by those who would use the guise of religion for personal gain.  So, on that note, please allow me to introduce today’s Idiot of the Week, Paula White!

White-1.jpg

Spiritual Advisor???  Ahem …

Who, you may ask, is Paula White?  She is a televangelist, a “pastor”, and most importantly, she is Donald Trump’s ‘spiritual advisor’.  Or, as Politico once dubbed her, and the name stuck, Trump’s ‘God Whisperer’.  While White has a long history of idiocy, and I will get to that in a minute, it is the thing that sent her onto my radar while eating my supper tonight that I want to share first.

On Monday, White appeared on a panel interview on the Jim Bakker show.  Let us look at a few of her remarks:

  • “They say about our president, ‘Well, he is not presidential.’ Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Thank goodness. And I mean that with all due respect. Because in other words, he is not a polished politician. In other words, he is authentically – whether people like it or not – has been raised up by God.”

  • “God says that he raises up and places all people in places of authority. It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.”

  • “How can you criticize him? He’s been chosen by God.”

  • “When our forefathers came over…They took their crosses when they landed at Plymouth and when they walked that beach area and put their white crosses down and dedicated this land and said that it would be a lighthouse for God and send missionaries around the world so that the Gospel will be preached. That was the original intention for this particular nation. We must take back our school systems, take back our families, take back our homes, take back our nation.”

And the one that really made me want to put a fist through a brick wall …

fist-brick-wall.jpg

  • “We were not sent into this earth to fit in. We weren’t just sent here to be a part. We were sent here to take over.”

Then White suggested campaigns against Trump are the work of demons.

  • demon-cute“We are scaring the literal hell out of demonic spirits right now. Because if we get two more [Supreme Court Justices], we will be able to overturn demonic laws and decrees that has [sic] held this nation in captivity.”

Guess that makes me a little demon then, huh?

One deep breath … puff, puff, puff … two deep breaths … puff, puff, puff … 

scream.jpg

She made the false claim that America is more than 70% evangelical (the actual percentage is somewhere around 25%) and encouraged viewers to be obedient and loyal to Trump because it is what God wants. If God hadn’t intervened in the U.S. elections, she said, religious liberties would have eroded to such an extent that people would have had to pray in an “underground church” within five years.

Now do you see why Filosofa is stomping her feet and howling at the moon tonight?

stomping.jpghowl-at-moon.pngPersonally, I think just those things would qualify her as an Idiot of the Week, but she has been building up to this, so let us take a quick look at Ms. White’s past endeavours.

She is a Pentecostal Christian televangelist and the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, in Apopka, Florida. She calls herself Dr. White, though she has no college degree, let alone a doctorate. She has been married three times, the second time to Randy White, with whom she co-founded a church called Without Walls International Church. The church filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after reportedly defaulting on some $29 million in loans.

White-2.jpg

Interesting look for a lady of the cloth, don’t you think?

White is a proponent of ‘prosperity theology’ which is loosely defined as “preaching that followers who donate large sums will be made wealthy by God.” Think Jim Bakker, Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson and the rest of the televangelists always soliciting donations.  Personally, I would define ‘prosperity theology’ as church-sanctioned greed coupled with a dose of narcissistic arrogance.  White’s personal net worth is a paltry $5 million, as compared to other televangelists, such as Kenneth Copeland ($760 million), Pat Robertson ($100 million) and Joel Osteen ($40 million).  Still, $5 million is nothing to sneeze at, and it was handed to her by hardworking people who probably struggle to meet their mortgage or rent payment every month.

White, along with five other televangelists, was the subject of a three-year Senate investigation that ended in 2011 with no definitive findings of wrongdoing and thus no penalties.  However, White refused to provide the information requested by the inquiry, saying the request violated her religious freedom. The investigation was looking at the personal use of church-owned airplanes, luxury homes and credit cards by pastors and their families, and expressed concern about the lack of oversight of finances by boards often packed with the televangelists’ relatives and friends.

White-3.jpg

I believe she took dressing lessons from Sarah Palin

White claims she ‘fully cooperated’ with the investigation and disagrees with the characterization of the “prosperity gospel”, saying donations, even the hefty four figure ones, are to help the ministry and its televised operations pay bills, and the “prosperity gospel” is misunderstood to be all about money. I leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions here, but I always thought donations to a church were supposed to go to some humanitarian cause?

White-4.jpgShe has been called Trump’s doppelganger by more than a few.  Like Trump, she has a bankruptcy under her belt, is on her third marriage, and has few morals.  At age 18, she left her first husband and ran off with Randy White, her church’s pastor, who was at the time married with three young children. The couple eventually married and founded their own church and broadcast ministry, generating more than $40 million annually at one point.  Yet, the church ended in bankruptcy in 2014.  White is now married to Jonathan Cain, singer/songwriter for the band Journey.

So, Ms. Paula White-Cain, for years of greed and immorality, for all that you have taken from those less fortunate than yourself, for your history of lies, but most of all for your supreme idiocy in saying that those of us with the common sense to resist Donald Trump are going against God, please accept Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week award.  I am sure you will find a good spot for it on the walls of your fine, gold-plated home.

 

The Awakening Begins …

A few days ago, in one of my posts about the events in Charlottesville last weekend, I mentioned my friend Bruce, a white, conservative, Christian minister who suddenly realized that the silence he, and others like him, had engaged in was part of the problem. I have, almost since the inception of this blog, and certainly since the arrival of Donald Trump on the political landscape, called for people to wake up to the fact that racism, bigotry in all forms, is still alive and well in this nation.  If Bruce is any example, I believe that awakening is finally beginning.

Although I am not religious, I acknowledge that religion can serve a purpose, can encourage people to strive to be better, to rise above the hatred in the world.  The church, whether Christian or other, has great power, and how the church leaders use that power is important, for too many have used it to promote hatred, rather than to speak out against it.

The events last weekend were horrific, tragic, and should never have happened.  But … if it has awakened people, if it leads to a change in how ministers, rabbis and the like talk to their congregations, then perhaps those who died did not do so in vain.  Below are Bruce’s latest words.  Please read them and be encouraged, for there must surely be other church leaders who feel the same.


“Why do I suddenly feel compelled to call out racism from among all the other evils in the world? Primarily because it is screaming in my face, mocking my silence up to now, and largely because this evil is so persistent in our country and even within the church.

Our country’s history with racism is no secret, but I suppose we can find some comfort in the fact that “it’s better now than it used to be,” or at least I thought so until recently. I am disgusted by the resurgence of racism, or maybe by the boldness of once closeted racists to pull themselves out of the darkness they were hiding in. If the goal were to deal with a vile ideology, it might be a simple (though not easy) matter of voting against racists in roles of authority until their influence becomes only annoyance from the fringe of society. Honestly, this may be the best we can achieve in the “land of the free,” though we may certainly hope for more and strive for more.

However, it is unacceptable for Christians to stand by silently while other “Christians” promote racism and use Scripture to endorse their views. While our American forefathers misunderstood it (or perhaps even ignored it), the Bible is abundantly clear that racism is not Christian. It is untenable for Christians to allow brothers in Christ to go unchallenged as they sing praises to God in a church service on Sunday, knowing that they were chanting “Blood and Soil” on Saturday. As James wrote in his letter, “My brothers, this should not be” (3:10, NIV).

In the church, we must strive for more, and I will strive for more. God, forgive me for my silence and for words and actions that may represent my anger and guilt more than your love.”

Well spoken, my friend … I hope that more will follow your example.

Bruce and those like him personify what religion should be about.  One Bruce is worth a thousand Franklin Grahams, for the Franklin Grahams of this world are guilty of promoting hate rather than love.  Perhaps this is a turning point.  We can only hope.

Kentucky Governor Strikes Again …

“The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian Religion.” 1797, The Treaty of Tripoli, initiated by President Washington, signed by President John Adams, and approved by the Senate of the United States

Recently I wrote a post about Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin because of his ridiculous notion that the solution to gun violence was to have roving ‘prayer groups’ throughout the city of Louisville.  Today, I find I must re-visit Governor Bevin, for he has crossed a line that I find intolerable.

church-state“Separation of church and state” is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson and used by others expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Governor Bevin is a former businessman, and apparently has very little knowledge of the Constitution, and the same must surely be true for the members of the state legislature.  For last week, Governor Bevin signed into law HB-128:

“AN ACT relating to Bible literacy courses in the public schools.

Create a new section of KRS Chapter 156 to require the Kentucky Board of Education to promulgate administrative regulations to establish an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament, or a combination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible; require that the course provide to students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy; permit students to use various translations of the Bible for the course; amend KRS 158.197 to permit a school council to offer an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament, or a combination of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the Bible.”

The Kentucky House of Representatives is currently comprised of 100 members, 64 of whom are republicans.  The Kentucky Senate is currently comprised of 38 members, 27 (71%) of whom are republicans.  There seems to be a disconnect between the state of Kentucky and the rest of the nation, for most of us understand that religion is not to be taught in public, taxpayer-funded schools.  It crosses a line. Yet, this law allows Kentucky schools to teach from and about the Bible, a document that is unique to one religion, the Christian religion.

Within the United States, there are nine major religions outside of Christianity.  There are also a number of Native American religions, as well as those who identify as agnostics, atheists, secularists, or simply ‘unaffiliated’.  In fact, the percentage of Christians in the U.S. has dropped from 93% of the population in 1962 to just 70.6% in 2014, according to Pew Research Center.

According to Bevin, “The idea that we would not want this to be an option for people in school, that would be crazy. I don’t know why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this.”

church-state-2According to the bill, the courses must discuss all aspects of the Bible — such as characters, poetry, and narratives — because they are “prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.”  Excuse me, but only the culture and society of Christianity … what about the rest of us?

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) establishes that the Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it, and treaties made under its authority, constitute the supreme law of the land. It provides that state courts are bound by the supreme law; in case of conflict between federal and state law, the federal law must be applied.

Why does it matter?  Apart from the illegality, it matters for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that non-Christian parents will almost certainly have strenuous objections to their children being taught another religion that may be contrary to their own.  Think about it this way … how would Christian parents react if they found their child was being taught the Qur’an in their public school?

It matters because religion is a very private, personal choice, and even among Christians, there are numerous sects who practice their religion in a variety of ways.  It matters because, while the intention of the Kentucky law is said to be simply to use the Bible as a teaching tool for literature, art, culture, history, etc., there is a fine line between that and pushing beliefs. It is, after all, Kentucky, one of the most homophobic states in the nation.

If there were to be any fairness in this law, then they would also teach from the Qur’an, the Talmud, the Tripitaka, the I Ching, and … well, you get the picture.  At this point, the schools would no longer be teaching Math, History, Literature, Science, or anything but religion.  We send our children to school to learn to think for themselves, not to be told how to think.

Then, of course, there is the taxpayer’s viewpoint.  I willingly pay taxes and am happy to support public schools, however I draw the line at paying for children to learn a religion.  Teaching religion is the responsibility of parents and churches, if the parents so choose.  It is not John Q. Taxpayers responsibility.

Mind you that I have nothing against Christianity, though it is not my own.  I also have nothing against Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Jain, or a hundred other religions. I believe everyone should have the freedom of religion, but also the freedom from religion.  When it becomes a part of public school education, or workplace mores, then it is taking rights away from some and it is tearing down the fundamental premise of separation of church and state.

The most likely outcome is that the law will be challenged in the courts and ultimately struck down as being unconstitutional.  That is the right and proper outcome.  However, it will take time and money – taxpayers’ money.

The Scarlet “I”

The year is 2017.  Remember this, as it is important.

Maddi Runkles is a senior this year at a small school in western Maryland.  She has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, played on the soccer team, and was the president of the student council.  She has never been a disciplinary problem.  But Maddi will not be allowed to graduate with her class this month.  Why?  Because, according to school principal David R. Hobbs, Maddi was ‘immoral’.  Maddi, you see, is pregnant.

hester-prynneMaddi attends Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland, a small Christian school.  When Maddi told the school of her pregnancy in February, they immediately stripped her of her position as student council president and suspended her.  Her father was a member of the Heritage board until his disgust with the treatment of his daughter led to his resignation. He appealed the suspension and Maddi was allowed to return to classes, but not to graduate with her class.  Because she was immoral.  Shades of Hester Prynne …

chillingworthIn a May 22 “Statement from Principal Hobbs” posted on the front page of Heritage Academy’s website, David Hobbs wrote “Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. … A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.” Shades of Roger Chillingworth …

According to a statement by Maddi, “We sign a student code at the beginning of each school year that we’ll refrain from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and pre-marital sex, stuff like that. And other kids at my school have been caught drunk, defacing public property, and other things like that, but they’ve never suffered a punishment as severe as mine…. I decided I wanted to confess what I did and ask for forgiveness from my school, but the other kids who had broken other rules – even when they were caught – they still lied about what they had done. It just seems unfair. I tried to make it right, but was still shot down.”

Maddi-famMaddi says she considered abortion at one point, but her moral opposition to abortion led to her decision to keep the baby. For the past year and a half, the right-wing, evangelical Christians have been protesting loudly against abortion, decrying a worship of the ‘right to life’.  And yet, this so-called ‘Christian’ school condemns this young woman who is guilty of no crime.  She engaged in sex at least once.  Frankly, Roger Chillingworth … er, excuse me, David Hobbs … she did nothing that 95% of your student body over the age of 15 has not done.  And let me ask you, Mr. Hobbs … what if a male student engages in sex … will you ridicule and punish him?

Is it 2017?  Or is it 1642, the year in which Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair, is imprisoned and forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her clothing to remind the world that she is an adulteress?

Maddi Runkles has worked hard … you do not achieve a perfect 4.0 by slacking.  In all my years of college, I never went above a 3.82. We are no longer such a backward society that we believe sex should take place only after marriage vows have been spoken.  The far-right Christian evangelicals cannot have their cake and eat it too.  They cannot abandon Roe v Wade, de-fund Planned Parenthood, claim that abortion is a crime, but then fail to support the young women who get pregnant without being married.  The evangelical Christians who voted for Trump on the single issue of abortion should be incensed by young Maddi’s story, should be storming the Heritage Academy with angry protests against the shoddy treatment she has received.  But the masses are silent.  Just as Hester Prynne wore the scarlet A, so will Maddi Runkles wear the scarlet I for immoral, and the world will remain silent.

scarlet letter

Will SCOTUS Undermine Separation of Church & State?

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802

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The case seems fairly simple, fairly straightforward, on the surface.

separation-3In the interest of child safety, Missouri provides a limited number of state grants to playground operators to replace hard surfaces with rubber. All was going well, until 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town of Columbia, applied for one of those grants and was turned down on the basis of Missouri’s Constitution, which bars spending any money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church.” The church sued, arguing that the prohibition violated both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Now, I could actually argue this one either way … there is no clear-cut right or wrong here … it is truly a matter of conflicting Constitutional clauses.  The church’s argument that to deny them funds for their playground is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, has merit. The Equal Protection Clause states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

On the other hand, I could just as easily side with the argument of the State of Missouri, whose constitution bars spending public money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” and the state Supreme Court has called for “a very high wall between church and state.” 

It might seem to the casual observer that, for the small amount of money we are discussing, and the fact that the safety of children is involved, it would be a simple enough solution for the State of Missouri to give the church the grant, rather than use precious resources (time & money) to hear the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.  But beneath the surface, this case could open doors that could lead to the erosion of one of the basic principles in the First Amendment, Separation of Church and State.

While it is true that the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, said government should not “force a citizen to contribute three pence only” in support of a religion. If it does, both sides are harmed — religions and sects battle each other for government cash, while the state finds itself forced to meddle in religious affairs, where it has no business. And of course, you can see Thomas Jefferson’s quote at the start of this post.

separation-2What are those doors this case could open?  There are so many.  Let us start with the simplest, the core of this case, grants to upgrade playgrounds.  So, if Trinity Lutheran Church prevails, then others will also seek grants from the state.  Okay, fine, you say … but what happens when a Jewish Synagogue requests a grant?  Missouri is 85% white, 77% Christian, with less than 1% of its population Jewish.  How do you think those white Christians will feel about their tax dollars going to upgrade playgrounds at Synagogues in this day of increased anti-Semitism?  Now let us go a step further … what happens when a Mosque requests a grant in this predominantly white, Christian state, at taxpayer’s expense?

Under newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, school vouchers are likely to become an issue along these same lines. The decision in Trinity Lutheran could influence the debate over school vouchers. “For a long time, it was thought that the federal Establishment Clause stood in the way of school-voucher programs that allowed religious institutions to participate,” said Rick Garnett, a professor of law and political science at Notre Dame University. “Over time, in the late ’80s and through the ’90s, the court’s doctrine evolved.” In the early 2000s, he said, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause doesn’t allow the government to directly fund religious activities, but it’s not a problem if people use state-funded vouchers to attend private religious schools. That could all change, depending on the ruling of the Supreme Court in this case.

And then there is another angle. Lambda Legal, the LGBT-rights advocacy firm, argued in a brief that a decision in favor of Trinity Lutheran could lead to discrimination against the LGBT community. Some churches “don’t wish to serve everybody,” said Camilla Taylor, a senior counselor at the firm. If the states provide grants to churches like Trinity Lutheran, “government funds will then be used to provide social services on a discriminatory basis.” 

It is, in essence, a highly-charged slippery-slope argument.  Where do you draw the line?  If government funds are provided to one church … any one single church or religious establishment … then they must equally be provided to all.  Do we really want to start down this slippery slope?  And do we want to tie up state and federal legislators, not to mention the entire court system, debating where to draw the line, or how to deal with these issues?  I think not.

In 2014, the Supreme Court heard the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., in which Hobby Lobby objected to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage to female employees. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby, allowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. It was the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief, but it is limited to closely held corporations.

There are three central concepts derived from the 1st Amendment which became America’s doctrine for church-state separation: no coercion in religious matters, no expectation to support a religion against one’s will, and religious liberty encompasses all religions. There is also a three-pronged test to determine whether government action comports with the Establishment Clause, known as the “Lemon Test”. First, the law or policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose. Second, the principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.  It is my belief that the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer meets the first two criteria, but not the third.  I foresee future struggles, if this case is decided in favour of Trinity Lutheran, that would lead to far more ‘entanglement’ than would be economical or feasible for this nation, and would only add to the divisiveness that is so prevalent today.  Of course, I am not a Supreme Court Justice, so my opinion does not count, but this will be the first case that newly-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear as a Supreme Court Justice.  There is little doubt how he will vote. The appeals court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was joined by none other than Neil Gorsuch, who also wrote a separate concurrence. From what I have read, it appears that the outcome is likely to be in favour of the church, as only two of the Justices seemed strongly inclined to rule against.

My hope, if the court rules in favour of the church, is that the decision is written in such a way as to narrowly limit future cases of this nature.  It is one to watch.

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