Category Archives: Current Issues

Why No Evangelicals on the Supreme Court?

I haven’t heard anything about the lack of religious diversity on the Supreme Court, and how Neil Gorsuch would fit in. Most recently, there were six Catholics and three Jews. When John Paul Stevens stepped down in 2010, it was the first time in US history that no Protestant served on the Supreme Court. (Merrick Garland, for the record, would have made it five Catholics and four Jews.)

Catholics have really come on strong in recent years. The first Catholic justice was appointed in 1836, but during the next 120 years, only six more Catholics were appointed. But since 1988, six Catholics have been appointed, all of them serving at the same time. What’s up with that?

Within Protestantism you have the mainline denominations, which tend to be socially liberal, and the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist denominations–the ones that got Trump elected. The mainline denominations have been over-represented in relation to the population, and evangelicals have been greatly under-represented. During my lifetime, every Protestant justice has been from a mainline denomination–Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran.

So, President Trump, how about putting an evangelical on the Court? Maybe a good ol’ Southern Baptist, the country’s second-largest denomination? The last Baptist Justice was Hugo Black of Alabama, appointed in 1937 (and there were only two Baptist justices before him).

Neil Gorsuch is Episcopalian, so a Protestant would replace the Catholic Scalia. We sometimes view Episcopalians as the closest thing to Catholics. But Episcopalians support abortion rights (with some limits), support same-sex marriage, and ordain gays, lesbians, and transgenders. Not exactly evangelical-friendly.

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Christian Leaders Address the Refugee Executive Order

Too many Christians let their views on public policy be shaped by talking-head pundits. This is particularly sad when it comes to issues of morality and biblical faithfulness. I always want to hear what Christian leaders have to say–missionaries, ministers, theologians, Christian college presidents, leaders of Christian organizations, etc.

Regarding President Trump’s executive order against refugees, a number of Christian leaders have spoken out. I give their views far more weight that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews–people whose views are shaped by ideology, not by Christian values.

Here is a statement from the leaders of eight Christian organizations, including World Relief and World Vision. These people are on the front lines, ministering to refugees and others devastated by conflict and natural disasters. I highly value their voice, and appreciate them speaking truth to power in the name of Christ.

Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence,

As evangelical Christians, we are guided by the Bible to be particularly concerned for the plight of refugees, individuals who have been forced to flee their countries because of the threat of persecution. Evangelical churches and ministries have long played a key role in welcoming, resettling, and assisting in the integration of refugees from various parts of the world. As such, we are troubled by the recent executive order temporarily halting refugee resettlement and dramatically reducing the number of refugees who could be considered for resettlement to the U.S.

The Bible teaches us that each person — including each refugee, regardless of their country of origin, religious background, or any other qualifier — is made in the Image of God, with inherent dignity and potential. Their lives matter to God, and they matter to us. While the U.S. has in recent years received only a fraction of 1 percent of the world’s refugees annually, we believe the refugee resettlement program provides a lifeline to these uniquely vulnerable individuals and a vital opportunity for our churches to live out the biblical commands to love our neighbors, to make disciples of all nations, and to practice hospitality.

Our faith also compels us to be concerned with the well-being of families. Most of the refugees admitted to the U.S. in recent years are family reunification cases, coming to join a relative already in the country. A temporary moratorium will unnecessarily delay families whose cases already have been screened and approved from being reunited.

We fully affirm the important role of the U.S. government in vetting and screening those considered for resettlement to our country; indeed, it is a God-ordained responsibility of government. However, the U.S. refugee resettlement program’s screening process is already extremely thorough — more intensive, in fact, than the vetting that is required of any other category of visitor or immigrant to our nation — and it has a remarkably strong record. While we are always open to improvements to our government’s screening process, we believe that our nation can continue to be both compassionate and secure.

We would ask that you reconsider these decisions, allowing for resettlement of refugees to resume immediately so that our churches and ministries can continue to live out our faith in this way.

We are praying for you and for all of those in positions of civil authority, that God would continue to grant you wisdom and guidance.


Chad Hayward
CEO, Accord Network

Shirley V. Hoogstra
President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

Hyepin Im
President & CEO, Korean Churches for Community Development

Leith Anderson
President, National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez
President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
Ambassador. The Wesleyan Church

Tim Breene
CEO, World Relief

Richard Stearns
President, World Vision U.S.

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Redemption and the Manson Family


For me, and possibly you, the Manson “family” has been a reoccurring presence. I was 11 when the Tate-LaBianca murders happened, and certain names were indelibly etched into my memory–Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten. Their names have kept popping up over the years, usually in relation to parole hearings. And each time, the gruesome details are recounted.

Except for Manson, who is insane, all developed into model prisoners. And interestingly, after all this time, only one of them has died–Susan Atkins, in 2009, of cancer.

This morning, I read that Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for the umpteenth time. Parole was recommended, but Gov. Jerry Brown denied it, saying she “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society.” I’ll confess, there is a very large part of me that wants to see her released. She’s not the same person she was at age 19. But after reading, again, what she did in 1969…well, it’s shocking.

In Norway, the maximum prison sentence is 20 years, regardless of the crime. A person might remain imprisoned longer than that, but the initial sentence doesn’t go beyond 20 years. There is no “life sentence,” and certainly nothing like our obscenely unjust “three strikes” laws, which are so beloved by law-and-order politicians.

Part of the reasoning, in Norway, is that people change over time. I’m reminded of the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” where Red says at his parole hearing, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.”

Norway apparently believes in redemption and life-change. In America, our focus is punishment and vengeance. You can argue that some of these Manson fanatics did redeem themselves, but must continue paying the consequences. I don’t know. It’s an interesting discussion to have.

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A Glimpse of a Father’s Rage

I’ve been thinking about a devotional speaker I heard during an Evangelical Press Association convention back in the 1980s. He was a pastor and an award-winning author. in addition, he and his wife, both white, had adopted and raised two black boys.
During one devotional, he mentioned how his sons had been stopped by cops different times, and he KNEW it was because they were black. No other reason. He related this in a calm, objective way, as he used it to illustrate a point. But I distinctly remember something very different about his voice, for just a second. Leaking through that pastoral calm exterior, I saw a father’s rage. It was just a glimpse, and I think he meant to hide it, but it was there. His beloved boys had been treated unjustly, and there’s no way he could disguise his anger.
How many moms and dads in the black community, how many grandparents and siblings and spouses, live with the scars of having been treated unfairly because of their color? Injustice casts a long shadow. It’s not something you get over.
When I see African Americans marching, I remind myself that they are individuals with stories to tell–if not from their own lives, from the lives of people they know and love. It’s not something I know anything about, but as a Christian wanting to reflect Jesus, I’m trying to learn. Or, at the least, I’m trying not to be blindly critical of things beyond my experience.
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Thinking About the Unthinkable

Donald Trump has ramped up his enthusiasm for torturing prisoners, saying we need to do the “unthinkable.” What do you think he means? Pulling out fingernails? Attaching electrodes? Breaking toes? Gouging out eyes? Raping family members in front of prisoners? When you’re talking “unthinkable,” all of this is fair game. So if you’re going to vote for Trump, you might want to learn what exactly “unthinkable” means to him.

This would obviously go way beyond what the Bush administration started, striking at the heart of what we stand for. And it would make it profoundly absurd to then sing, “God Bless America.”

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Sentencing Reform: Tackling an Out of Control Issue

An issue important to me is sentencing reform, and candidates’ views will influence my vote. It’s been a big problem in America for decades, with a most definite racist and class component (white rich people tend to get breaks). We need to get a handle on it. The Brock Turner rape case has magnified the issue.

Here’s a interesting and insightful article about a black student athlete who committed a crime similar to Turner’s, but received a 15-25 year sentence.

At the end, the article takes a broad look at criminal sentencing. For instance: “Black men are given prison sentences 20% longer than white men for the exact same crimes.” And: “African-Americans and Latinos are three times as likely to have their cars searched by police than whites and are twice as likely to be arrested for drugs over whites — even though studies show whites use and sell drugs at the same or even higher rates than African-Americans.”

Sentencing reform has actually become somewhat of a bipartisan issue. The Koch Brothers, for instance, support it. I’ve not heard Hillary address the issue. I knew Scott Walker took a hard-line approach and opposed a Madison prosecutor who was getting some national attention by taking some common-sense approaches, but Walker dropped out early. I can’t see Trump taking anything but a “get tough on crime” stance in favor of harsh sentencing, but he could surprise me. As with most policy issues, I kinda doubt he’s given much thought to it.

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Selective Outrage, and Which Lives Really Matter

Republicans have been criticizing President Obama for not canceling his Latin America trip after the Brussels attack. Apparently he was supposed to go back to Washington, issue a sober statement condemning Islamic terrorism, then sit in the Oval Office wringing his hands. All of the presidential candidates, of course, canceled their itineraries upon learning of the attacks.

About 32 people were killed in Brussels.

Earlier in 2016, terrorist attacks killed 60 in Libya, 32 in Cameroon, 63 in Somalia, 30 in Burkina Faso, 55 in Iraq, 86 in Nigeria, 60 in Nigeria, 28 in Turkey, 24 in Cameroon, 80 in Iraq, 32 in Somalia, 62 in Iraq, 48 in Tunisia, 22 in Ivory Coast, 38 in Turkey, and 18 in Egypt.

Where was the outrage from Republicans over these attacks? Why weren’t they demanding that Obama cancel his schedule after these attacks? Don’t all lives matter?

We shouldn’t care only when terrorists kill people in a white Christian European country. That would be the R word.

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14 Years for Stealing a Calculator?

A guy in Texas stole a calculator from Walmart, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was supposed to get just 2 years max. But they incorrectly applied a habitual offender law, and nobody caught the mistake. So, 14 years for stealing a calculator. Which helps explain why the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate.

Anyway, the error was eventually recognized, and steps were taken to fix it. But the Texas solicitor general fought it all the way to the Supreme Court, insisting that the 14-year sentence remain in place. He argued that if this guy was released, it might affect the sentences of other inmates. In other words, he was a sacrificial lamb. It’s nice to be needed.

I love the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy to the solicitor general: “Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?”

The matter was referred to a lower court, and eventually, the guy was released after six years–three times the maximum sentence for his heinous crime of stealing a calculator, but eight years less than his original sentence. I guess he should feel forever grateful to the State of Texas.

By the way the solicitor general who argued the case was Ted Cruz. A man of principle and compassion, obviously.

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When White Guys with Guns Take Over Federal Property


Some amusing comments being posted on Twitter about Ammon Bundy and his merry band of militia in Oregon.

  • Every successful revolution starts with the takeover of a closed visitor center with gift shop.
  • So just to be clear, these are the good guys with guns, right?
  • So a bunch of white guys are on Native American soil crying about wanting their land back from a tyrannical and oppressive system.
  • Occupying a backwoods federal building is a brilliant way to speak truth to…4 stoned hikers just looking to pee inside.
  • Wait, men are playing in a park with actual real guns?
  • In order to avoid potential bloodshed, authorities urge the militia members to remain white.
  • White men with guns stealing land? Never heard of such a thing.
  • So does this mean I’m allowed to grab a gun and “occupy” any federal building I want? God I love being white.
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The Pope Goes to Congress



I read the transcript of Pope Francis’s speech to Congress. I tend to do that, rather than let pundits slice and dice a speech and tell me what the person said. In this case, the Pope didn’t say anything earth-shaking. And yet, it was great hearing words like these in the public sphere.

Here are some of my take-aways.

  • Overall, he was very affirming of America, the American people, and the values on which America is built.
  • He was not preachy. He made his points without being (too) pointed.
  • It was a positive, hopeful speech–not berating humanity for falling short, but encouraging humanity to do well.
  • There were statements conservatives will dislike, and statements liberals will dislike.
  • Although the Pope has every right to be prophetic, he didn’t go that route. He avoided correction and condemnation. Instead, he stated his case with gentleness, softly prodding us in the direction he wanted us to go.

Here are a few quotes I drew from the speech (but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself):

“We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”

Discussing American Indians to make a point about immigrants: “Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.”

“We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).”

“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

“In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!”

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