Speaking very clearly

 

I’m going to speak very clearly now Gordon, in the form of a single question.

How in the name of God can you claim to be a Christian and a Democrat in the same breath?

I don’t know the person who put the question. We’re complete strangers.  We’ve never met. We live in different worlds.  Our understandings are foreign to each other, so strange that suspicion and name-calling, or the fear that the other is calling the other “a nut job”, undermines the possibility of real discussion.

I … read a few of your other posts, needless to say; everything I read merely confirmed my original “understanding” of who you are. In other words Gordon, (and I say this with both respect and disdain) You do not fool me, I knew you from your first words, your Credentials simply confirmed what was obvious from the start. Take that as you will.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that you are convinced that I am some sort of zealot or just another “right-wing nut job”, but in truth I am just another American. A Christian American.

I’m going to speak very clearly now Gordon, in the form of a single question.

How in the name of God can you claim to be a Christian and a Democrat in the same breath?

The writer was responding to Views from the Edge‘s post of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama’s speech on Hiroshima Day, 2006. Nothing in that post would lead a reader to assume, or to conclude, knowledge of my political party affiliation.

I asked myself how to respond. I pondered not replying at all. I chose to respond in writing as best I could, assuring the writer that I don’t call people right-wing nut jobs, and addressing other sections of the comment. After an exchange of blog comments and an email inviting a phone conversation, we shared some of the milk of human kindness over the phone long distance.

In further reflection I realized that the writer’s question articulates a point of view that rarely speaks so clearly. It assumes that Christian faith and the Democratic Party are polar opposites. Others on the left assume a Christian cannot be a Republican. Parts of America we are living in two separate worlds – on two different sides without much clear speaking. It’s not surprising that the “Nones” – those who now declare no religious affiliation in national polls – are growing in America.

The writer’s comments repeatedly refer to “the real war” in heaven and on earth, spiritual warfare between Satan and God. Until “the real war” is over, the argument goes, there will be cruelty and wars because of the fallenness of human nature, and there’s nothing we can do to change. In the midst of time we must chose which “side” we are on.

Views from the Edge’s first Hiroshima Day piece and the one that followed it had called attention to the hubris of all claims (Japanese or American) to national exceptionalism.

The writer therefore, as best I can tell, concluded I must be a Democrat, i.e. someone who doesn’t love his country, someone who thinks that America is not a Christian nation. Someone who might be a …. “You don’t fool me.”

The commenter was right that I’m a Christian but mistaken in assuming I’m a Democrat. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are, in my view, the left wing and the right wing of a single American party. Both wings belong to Wall Street. They march in parades on Main Street at election time, but the parades are funded by Wall Street and America’s wealthiest 1%. We do not live in a democratic republic. We are living under an oligarchy.

Jesus has a few things to say about that.  J.J. Von Allmen (A Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1958) makes a powerful case that Jesus’s teaching about money is original to him. He is the first to call money “Mammon”: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus choice to personify wealth stands out as an exception to his normal way of speaking. Mammon and its distribution are at the heart of Jesus’s preaching and teaching. There is the Kingdom of God and there is the Kingdom of Mammon. One cannot serve both.

Had the commenter’s question been “How can you be a Christian and a socialist?” the answer would have been easy.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 15, 2015

8 thoughts on “Speaking very clearly

  1. Gordon, I have just finished by Canadian, Douglas Hall, entitled: “What Christianity is Not.” I found it spoke to this issue in a clear manner.

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    • I have great respect for Doug Hall. Please say more.

      My position at present is that we humans seem to need an “other”, i.e., an enemy, a scapegoat, a la Rene Gerard. And this need for a scapegoat is what produces the crucifixion of Jesus, whose death-resurrection puts an end, in principle, to the scapegoat system. In history, God is on the “side” of the oppressed, but only to correct the balance between the “least and the greatest”. Brother Timothy Frantzich’s song based on the opening of the prison doors to Paul and Silas captures the essence of this point of view as well as, or better than, any theological treatise. ALL the prison doors swing open, all the chains fall off the poor ones and even the rich ones. The reach of God’s love is universal. God’s “preferential option for the poor” is the way of bringing the Kingdom of God for all.

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  2. Gordon,

    As the author of the above excerpts, I want to sincerely thank you for continuing our conversation. You have proven to be a most gracious and thoughtful man, and thereby you set an excellent example for us all to follow. I admire that quality very much, and I admire your courage in standing by your convictions. I may not be so good at the “gracious” part, but surprisingly enough, there are other unexpected similarities we do share. In any case, I sincerely appreciate the “milk of human kindness” that we briefly shared. As you know, it came at a time when it was sorely needed. I look forward to future exchanges that are not “undermined” or misunderstood for any reason. As you already know, I prefer to speak clearly. And with due respect. Furthermore, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify and support my position and participate in an open and frank discussion.

    Allow me to clarify this first; I am not engaged in a “slug fest” nor have I engaged in any “name calling” that I’m aware of. (other than myself) although I do recall the terms “belligerent American” and “exceptionalism” being tossed around. If this was an actual, or even metaphorical, “slug fest”, I can assure you sir, there would be no doubt in your mind about it. Perhaps I am not very good at it but, I have tried to be as courteous and professional as I can. And I want to emphasize this part, I am not a meek man, I am indeed straight forward and outspoken and I try to temper that with a little bit of common sense. From long experience I can tell you, I may sound aggressive or even insulting at times, but my true intent is to be as courteous as possible while I use my other natural gifts to speak effectively. Perhaps I am a bit naïve or maybe my “social skills” are not well practiced, but my hope is always that my shortcomings do not offend or prohibit open and honest communication.

    If my words sting, if my voice resonates with the truth and you or anyone else experiences pain or consequence of any kind because of it, that’s entirely on you/them my friend. In Texas we call that, self-conviction.

    Regarding my abrupt appearance and our obvious differences; Beyond what we have already discussed during our brief phone conversation, I feel it is important to offer at least some background about myself without compromising general sensibility when publishing information on the Internet. In brief, although much of this information is made available on our blog, I am a 53-year-old married man living in central Texas less than 40 miles from where my Mother was born and raised. As was my Grandmother, and my Great Grandmother, as well as my Great Great Grandmother. With the exception of my Mother, all were even born in the same house. Those same houses and surrounding property remain under the ownership of our family to this day.

    My Great Great Grandparents are buried in a nearby cemetery, when they arrived in Texas Indians still roamed the area in vast numbers, and horrible conflict was commonplace. (perhaps a familiar pattern in the history of man?)

    From those humble and difficult beginnings, my ancestors literally fought to survive and carved out their existence in a very harsh and hostile environment by sheer determination, great sacrifice, unceasing hard work, dedication, and their faith in God. After well over 100 years it is now considered the longest continuously operating ranch in Central Texas. My Great Grandmother and my Grandmother attended the same church their entire lives. In Texas, we call that heritage. It was not easily earned. And it means something.

    I cannot even imagine the hardships my ancestors endured, and I cannot lay claim to any of the hard work required to establish this long family tradition. But as for who I am and where I come from, this is the heritage and the place I speak from. And it is this heritage that provides the strength of my convictions and my willingness to speak boldly and without fear. As I said before, “I would have responded the same way if you had been any other human on earth”. And I meant it.

    It was the title of your original post “Koyama’s speech on Hiroshima Day, 2006.” that first drew my attention, that and the fact that your father served as an Army Chaplain during World War II. I am currently conducting research for a planned book and I was interested in hearing the perspective of your dear friend Ko as well as yourself as the son of an Army Chaplain. In doing so, it became immediately obvious to me simply by the very presentation of your post and many of Ko’s own statements that I was reading an emotionalized political commentary rather than a historical account of the events in Hiroshima.

    In the spirit of being open and frank Gordon, I was deeply saddened and disturbed by the absolute failure to recognize or even mention the tremendous sacrifice paid in American blood nor the actual atrocities and war crimes committed by the Japanese against multiple other nations. Sure there was the typical emotional rhetoric and “anti-war sentiments” expressed, but the truth is; the entire article was riddled with political overtones and blame which merely contributes to the very problem you claim as the cause itself. A problem by the way, that you contend can be resolved by simply accepting your solution above all others. (I’m still not sure what you meant by that whole “Had the commenter’s question been “How can you be a Christian and a socialist?” the answer would have been easy” thing???

    Care to clarify that for me?

    So in reality Gordon, your assumption that “Nothing in that post would lead a reader to assume, or to conclude, knowledge of my political party affiliation”, is completely wrong and in all honesty, embarrassingly revealing. As I said from the start, “I knew you from your first words”. You just don’t seem to realize that my friend. Although I do regret not addressing the topic at hand, (It deserved respect and I can understand your irritation regarding that) and for that I sincerely apologize. I still stand by my original statements. If nothing else, you obviously “assumed” that I was not capable of seeing and deciding for myself. In Texas, we call that an insult to one’s intelligence.

    I really didn’t even need to read the words written to know what I was looking at. In fact Gordon, it is almost a verbatim repeat of the same empty and delusional propaganda that is so often chanted (as if it is chanted long enough and loudly enough people will believe it) among the most radical and boisterous liberals on the planet. If you really think that is not extremely easy for a man like me to immediately identify at a glance, you are sadly mistaken. Sadly too Gordon, your own words convict you of the very thing you claim I have done; Assumption. I’m pretty confident the words I just wrote demonstrate that fact. In the spirit of true concern and compassion, I wish I had not been the one to write these words. But as forewarned, there it is. In Texas, we call that Brotherly love. (Disclosure: Some residents of Texas do still refer to it as; “Straight Shooting”).

    As I am personally fond of saying; “The sword of truth cuts both directions”. And I must admit, I have many scars my friend. But I must also point out, who better knows the truth than one who has tasted both sides of the sword? I “assume” Ko might agree.

    You see Gordon, I too once had an old and dear friend. He was not Japanese, but he spent a lot of time there. He was not an accomplished Theologian; he was just a kid from a small Texas town. While Ko witnessed the A-Bomb exploding over Hiroshima and felt one side of the sword, my dear old friend witnessed the mushroom cloud that rose above Nagasaki and felt the other side of the same sword.

    I can assure you, he would passionately agree.

    It was in his defense and that of over 70,000 other victims of Japanese War Crimes that I made my initial comments. And I would do so again if provoked and insulted by any attempt to distort, obscure or “revise” history in any way. Which is exactly what not only Ko, but many other Japanese are actively attempting to do today. (I suggest you fact check that, have you been to Japan lately?) Hokkaido may be a good place to start.

    Add to that, part of my research involves current events as well. (As I write this I have on my desk a copy of the official Cabinet Decision Statement issued by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just yesterday. (Now 2 days ago.) Although his statement is far more eloquent and well crafted, I see and understand his true meanings and intents as clearly as I saw your own. It’s really all the same and very easy to recognize once you know what you are looking at Gordon. Thus, my previous assertions that you had “allowed yourself to insult so many”.

    So I ask you again, are you even aware that you have done so? Or is it that your agenda would not be well served by the inclusion of historical facts? In Texas, we call that lying by omission.

    In your rebuttal to my assertions that you were/are a Democrat, you proclaim to have no political party affiliation whatsoever. Yet the entire presentation, premise and message you deliver is plastered with political rhetoric and ridicule that is identical to the major tenets and policies of the Democratic Party. While I support and encourage the use of the “bully pulpit” to address political issues (a view NOT shared by most Democrats, Liberals and Atheists alike) I find your claim of non-affilliation very difficult to believe.

    And furthermore my friend, and again with great emphasis, I agree we as a nation are in fact basically defined by two different parties. And I think that’s as it should be, it takes two halves to make a whole. But we are ONE Nation. “One Nation Under God”. “Oligarchies” and political factions exist only to perpetuate themselves. There is nothing new under the sun about that. It is We the People, who have forgotten who the real government is, and where it originates from. Thus, my previous comments eluding to the “falleness” of the nature of mankind. And the pattern of repetition, which in my view is also directly tied to “the blood of Cain”.

    Somehow Gordon, I’m pretty sure my original question still stands, and you avoided answering me. This too, seems to be a repeating pattern of the “fallenness of man”. Surely this was not your intent.

    Unwittingly or not, both you and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe followed identical motives and employed identical tactics. (As I said, I have a copy of his statement in hand as comparison) I will again frankly but respectfully declare, I am not fooled by either or. Your objectives are the same. The truth is obvious to anyone who bothers to actually pay attention, and even more so to those who know a few facts.

    You see my friend, I too had an old and dear friend who was there. He knew the truth more clearly than any Japanese soldier or civilian ever could. And he was not afraid to speak it. Were they still here today, he and thousands of others just like him could tell the truth about the realities of the “fallen nature”of man. In ways that you and I cannot even imagine. But I’m not very sure that any one of those men would view Koyama’s speech on Hiroshima Day, In the same context it was presented.

    In part, because of my dear old friend and all 70,000 + others who lived and died beside him at the hands of the Japanese, neither am I.

    I hope this exchange continues, I’m sure there is much more to be discussed. But I will leave it here for now as I’m afraid the word limit counter might explode if I continue.

    With Kind Regards,
    Doc’

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    • Dear Doc,

      There’s a difference in our ages. You’re 53. I’m 73. When I hear a statement alleging unspoken motivation, the hair on my back stands up. I hear the voice of Sen. Joseph McCarthy who ruined many reputations by innuendo and allegation. I refer to the following statement, Doc.

      “Unwittingly or not, both you and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe followed
      identical motives and employed identical tactics. (As I said, I have a copy of his statement in hand as comparison) I will again frankly but respectfully declare,
      I am not fooled by either of you. Your objectives are the same.

      With all due respect, Doc, your allegation of unspoken motives, tactics, and objectives is an insult to my character. My writing expresses clearly what I believe, think, feel, and wish to say. There are no motives, tactics, or objectives other than what is in the page.

      As a child, I ran home after school to watch the McCarthy hearings on television. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was on a crusade in search of Communists and Communist sympathizers until a single question – “Have you no decency, Sir? Have you no decency left?” – stopped him in his tracks, publicly stripping him of his power to destroy by insinuation and allegations of hidden motives, tactics, and objectives.

      You’ve shared some of your personal history. In that same spirit, I share this one of mine. Anytime anyone lumps me with others I do not know and imputes motive, I cringe.

      All the best,
      Gordon

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    • Dennis, it’s disturbing, but far from shocking. It’s not often one has the opportunity to engage like this. Thanks for thinking of me! What I’ve come to realize again is that there are many different bubbles we live within in America. Often, as the piece I just posted, each bubble sees itself as the home of goodness and the bubbles of others as the home of evil. How do we break out of the bubbled to live in the ONE house that blesses us all?

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  3. Gordon, I got a note from a friend last week that posited that we celebrate the birth of a Christian Socialist every 12/25. There is a profound hardening of the arteries over “Christianity and Government in the past 45 years. Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition (with Ralph Reed) and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Cal Thomas work with the addition of Newt and Reagan destroyed the Republican Party. Pat and Jerry knew what “God Likes” and organized the penticostles to enshrine those preferences into law. Reagan made several postulations which were and are flat wrong and unchallenged: 1. Government is never the solution it is the problem – Private businesses can do it better; 2. Regulations are bad we have to get government off the backs of people and businesses; 3. Laffer Curve lowering taxes will increase revenues; 4. New Federalism and a whole bunch of code words and symbols were hammered hard with the announcement of “I am a Candidate….” in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

    I know the first Republican Governor of Virginia since Reconstruction Cooked his dinner on fourth of July. He could not be nominated today. He was interested in governing. He built the Jefferson Labs facility in Newport News Virginia. It is one of three functioning in the world. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t support scientific research, human rights, critical thinking, taxes to pay for wars…..just wars and God I am tired…..of the loss of sanity.

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