Category Archives: civil rights

Remembering the Promise of Liberty: A Tribute to the WWII Generation

This week we remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the formal entry of the USA into World War II. While we were already defacto allies with Great Britain and the Soviet Union against Germany, the events of December 7-11 turned a European conflict into a World War and awakened the “sleeping giant” of our industrial and military capacities. Though we directly responded to the attack in the Pacific, Hitler and Mussolini’s declarations of war made the conflict global.

The events of 1941-1945 are well-known. In this essay I want to highlight the sacrifices of a generation and the consequences of the conflict for increasing the love for liberty in the USA and around the world. The soldiers in all theaters knew they were fighting for freedom against totalitarian regimes that regarded other races as inferior. Japanese treatment of conquered nations and prisoners of war was inhuman, for they regarded Chinese, Korean, and other Asian populations as created to serve them. POWs were starved and tortured, seen as cowards for surrendering rather than committing Hari Kari (suicide). The Nazi genocides and oppressions stagger the imagination as six million Jews and six million other non-combatants are destroyed in the demonic labor and extermination universe crafted by this evil regime. This is why millions of American men and women enlisted and gave their all.

A special note here: I am generalizing about the German and Japanese governments and people in power at the time, not declaring every Japanese or German person guilty.

One story coming out of World War II that deserves more attention is the millions of African American women and men that signed on for civilian and military service. In spite of the oppressions of Jim Crow and the segregation in the military, these brave folks fought and worked for their country, believing in the promises of liberty and justice in the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one of courage against great odds. Black civilian workers and soldiers were paid less, given less prominent positions, and, in general, relegated to the lowest rungs in the institutions. Yet, they shined in their bravery and sacrifice.

Another triumph out of tragedy narrative is the story of Japanese Americans serving in the military in spite of the oppression of the internment camps. The story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldiers in the Italian campaigns of 1944-45 is one of courage and sacrifice. Soldiers in the 442nd RCT and their partners in the 100th IB earned seven presidential unit citations, two meritorious service plaques, 36 Army Commendation medals and 87 division commendations between them. Individual soldiers from both units earned 21 Medals of Honor, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 15 Soldier’s Medals and 9,500 Purple Hearts, among many other honors. In 2011, 450 Japanese American soldiers from the 442nd RCT and 100th were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the United States’ highest civilian award for service.

These are wonderful stories, and their impact was felt far beyond the battlefield. After the war, the Civil Rights Movement found new life, with a simple question, “If someone is willing to die for America, why are they kept from voting, education, housing and jobs?” President Truman integrated the military and by the mid-1950s, with the Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling making segregation in schools unconstitutional, momentum for justice increased. By 1965, Civil Rights and Voting Rights were the law of the land. By the 1970s and 1980s, the injustice of the internment camps came to light and reparations started.

America mobilized for liberty in a global war. As a result, she was able to mobilize for liberty for her own citizens, especially African Americans and immigrants. It is fitting that we honor this “greatest generation” by expanding its members to include the marginalized and oppressed, who, through sacrifice, paved the way for opportunities for their children. Though there is much work to be done, we have come a long way due to the work of these humble women and men

Thankful: The Complex Tapestry of American History

The United States of America is – like every person we meet and any nation we study – beautiful and broken. Her history is filled with saints and sinners, imperial oppression and unprecedented liberty. As we gather around tables and express our gratitude to God and each other, here are some paradoxical facts that are part of our historical tapestry:

  • The First Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth with genuinely cordial relations with the local tribes. The Pilgrims owed their survival to Squanto and others that helped them gather, harvest, and hunt well.
  • Just before the Pilgrims came ashore (1620), the colony of Virginia began importing African slaves for work in the tobacco fields (1619), inaugurating a history that only a Civil War and later Civil Rights Movement would change.
  • Maryland and Pennsylvania were colonial havens for Roman Catholics and Quakers respectively, and both colonies promoted freedom of religion.
  • Meanwhile in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, religious dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were exiled or punished severely into the 1690s.
  • The Methodists prohibited members from owning slaves as of 1757; alas, a century later this dynamic tradition was divided in to Northern and Southern branches…as were almost all denominations.
  • Ellis Island processed millions of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though many faced prejudices and obstacles assimilating into a very White and Protestant America, within a few generations, most of their descendants were celebrating the opportunities the New World had to offer.
  • At the same time immigrants were gazing happily at the Statue of Liberty upon their arrival in the USA, millions of Native Americans and African Americans faced continued oppression, prejudice, and legal barriers to full inclusion into American society.

The USA continues as an experiment in virtue-based liberty, with a history of hospitality and generosity as well as nativism and xenophobia. As we rightly give thanks, let’s rededicate ourselves to building a land of access, equity, and opportunity for all.

Civility and Freedom

The first freedom of a civil society is liberty of conscience/religion. Living with civility and debating world views is critical for ordered freedom. Allowing for changes in perspective, policy and religious conviction and being thankful for redemption is also part of a civil society. 
People change. They may move in directions I differ with, but I want to offer ears of openness instead of suspicion, and a heart of humility instead of ideological rigidity. 

I am sad that there so few Democrats that are pro-life, unlike the 1980s. I am sad that too many Republicans do not see the structural barriers to equity for many Americans. I am gladdened by the efforts of local leaders of all parties that work together for neighborhood renewal. 

And I remain convinced that the Gospel-centered local church as a community of holy love, is the key catalyst of personal and community transformation. 

Dear political leaders and pundits: please evaluate current ideas and actions and do not judge women and men of either party too quickly based on 20, 30 and 40-year-old statements.
To all thoughtful friends: please pause and reflect before public reaction. You will keep friends and your ideas will be better-informed.

Certain Predictions for 2015

As 2014 ends and 2015 begins, prognosticators are hard at work, offering their insights on everything from fashion to global politics, cultural mores to economic opportunities.

If history is any guide, predicting the future is an uncertain science at best, though trend analysis and evaluation of the past can help us anticipate what may happen. The divine gift of freewill coupled with our global connectedness keeps certainly out of reach.

With these qualifiers, including my non-omniscience (a fancy way of saying only God knows everything and I am not God.), I do offer the following as “certain” predictions for 2015. They are general enough to keep me from being stoned and sufficiently specific so that future assessment is possible.

Here are my certain predictions for 2015:

  • Millions will come to faith in Jesus Christ and thousands of new Christian churches of all traditions will be planted – most in the Global South.
  • Almost under the radar, the Christian churches will grow in the West and the USA through compassionate, insightful outreach, church planting and revitalization and the awareness among thoughtful people that science and technology will not usher in Utopia.
  • Political and social leaders will continue to struggle to find consensus on shared principles and vision for America’s future.
  • The new Discipleship Dynamics Assessment from The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary at Evangel University will help thousands of individuals and hundreds of communities celebrate progress in their relationship with Christ.
  •  The Acton Institute’s new video series, “For the Life of the World; Letters to Exiles” will grow in fluency as thousands catch a new vision of human flourishing.
  • Hollywood will continue its march toward mediocrity.
  • The Oikonomia and Made to Flourish Networks will increase in influence as seminary leaders and pastors help their students and parishioners grasp 24/7 whole-life discipleship that integrates faith, work and economics.
  • Missio Alliance’s evangelical and egalitarian vision will inspire creative missional enterprises among diverse Christian communities.
  • The Institute and its sister organization REP will equip hundreds more for business-as-mission and the transformation of all spheres of society.
  • Messenger Fellowship will advance a mission of Kingdom vision and the ways of God as many more leaders learn to think kingdom before institution and mission before preservation of tradition.
  • Jihadi Islam will find resistance from two camps. The first will appeal to base passions of nation and race. These will gain momentary influence, but do not offer compelling principles for peace. the second will be diverse people of all faiths choosing resistance to evil and active peacemaking, calling on Muslims to accept philosophical and religious plurality as part of a free society.
  • Israel will resist all unilateral attempts by the EU, UN, USA and others to shrink her borders without the guarantee by a new Palestinian State of full diplomatic recognition as a Jewish nation.
  • Their will be new voices attempting to restore civility to public discourse and offer solutions instead of slogans.
  • New African-American voices will be heard, offering an alternative to the Jessie Jackson-Al Sharpton narratives and shakedowns. Hopefully they will be heard for their substance and not labeled/libeled for being different. By today’s standards, MLK was not “truly Black” with his appeals to Christian principles, non-violence and the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution!
  • China and Russia will continue their militant ways, trying to intimidate smaller neighbors and blackmails nations dependent upon their resources and wealth.
  • Republicans in the US Congress will have to choose between capitulation to totalitarianism from the White House and serious confrontation with policies detrimental to America’s future.
  • And in the midst of all this, Dr. Charlie and Kathy Self will continue to love God and each other and serve productively with our callings and gifts. All of this is possible because of God’s grace and the prayers and support of so many friends!

A very Happy 2015 to all!

 

Eros is not a Civil Right

Today the Supreme Court repudiated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by President Clinton in 1996. This ruling means that gay and lesbian marriages from states permitting such unions must be recognized by federal agencies. The decision appears to keep in place the Constitutional decisions of 30 states to define marriage as a monogamous heterosexual union and the 12 states that allow for non-traditional unions. California’s Proposition 8, twice affirmed by the voters of the state, was struck down on a technicality, with its proponents not having proper “standing.” Add to these decisions adjustments to the Voting Rights Act that upset progressives and you are left with confusion and consternation instead of clarity about our Constitution.

The LGBTQ community is celebrating America’s social progress and civil rights for all. Traditionalists are concerned that an activist court has overstepped its authority and ignored the foundations of a free, just and prosperous society.

What is missing in all the celebrating and commiserating is clear thinking about the nature of “rights” and the place of government. Our founders understood that government exists to protect natural, God-given rights, not bestow them. Rights are inherent in our humanity and good governments protect our dignity and protect us from depravity. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King pressed for Civil Rights and the original Voting Rights Act in the 1950s and 1960s, he appealed to universal moral precepts and the intent of our founders. He also understood that race was not a choice, but part of our nature from conception. The promises of Washington and Lincoln were finally realized for millions and our nation is better for such steps.

LGBT identity is completely different from the gender and race we are born with. There is no irrefutable evidence of any genetic link to gay or lesbian identity. In addition to the lack of empirical evidence, we have the activists themselves arguing for “fluid” definitions that allow subjective declarations at any stage of life to trump clear observation and natural intention. If John “discovers” he is bisexual, gay, or he wants a transgender procedure, it is fine for him to leave his traditional marriage and pursue his happiness. But if John has lived as a bi or gay man and decides to opt for traditional marriage, then he has been brainwashed and/or deceived. Woe to any caring person that suggests that someone with same-sex attraction can change!

Eros is not a right. Sexual happiness is not a right. Fulfilling any and every desire is not a right. These may be the happy consequences of liberty, but they are not government guarantees. All forms of adult cohabitation outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage, while permitted, are not the best for partners, children and our social future. These alternative lifestyles are morally unacceptable to billions of caring people in all cultures. A free society must prohibit deleterious behaviors, promote good choices and permit maximal liberty that still keeps the rule of law in place and social cohesion possible.

The fundamental error of our nation is thinking that “happiness” means the fulfillment of all desires, including current erotic orientations. This is actually dehumanizing, as we reduce persons made in the image of God to merely superior creatures with particular sexual proclivities. When I meet a man or a woman, my first questions is NOT about their personal passions. My first thought is how I might love and respect her or him and encourage them in their vocation. Everyone I encounter is first a human person, then a man or a woman with a calling. After this they may choose to share their orientation and partnership situation and I must respect them even if I disagree with their choices. The LGBTQ folks are diminishing their humanity when they reduce their identity to orientation.

Affirming biblical marriage (Genesis 1 and 2 and The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19) also means helping prevent divorce, receiving children as a gift and choosing selfless service over selfish oppression of another person. Affirmation of Christian faith also rejects covetousness and lust in all forms and urges adult women and men  to marry before enjoying sexual intimacy. The fact that much of humankind fail at these ideals in thought, word and/or does not nullify their eternal nature, authority and legitimacy for a flourishing society.

What now? Much prayer and personal humility, persuasive personal conversations and active political engagement are all needed. As we debate, let’s love and respect every person we encounter and make sure that the 2×4 is out of our own eye before we become sawdust inspectors of others.