Letter to the Editor of the Bryan Times. Published January 3, 2003. I thought posting this letter here might help readers understand how much my religious and political views had changed by the early 2000s.
What a wonderful and beautiful Christmas Day! The ground is blanketed with six or so inches of snow and all is peaceful and quiet. There is nothing more beautiful than a crisp winter morning after an overnight snowfall. This wintry scene causes me to reflect on the glory of Christmas Day and the meaning of it. Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is about Jesus, the Son of God, taking on human flesh and being born of the virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Jesus came into the world at the appointed time to bring redemption to all men. He came to proclaim peace and justice for all. He is called the Prince of Peace. Later in His life, Jesus would declare that peace and justice were to be character traits of those who profess to be followers of Him.
It is my thoughts of peace and justice that now begin to cloud my mind on this Christmas Day. Jesus came to bring peace, yet there is no peace. Jesus came to bring justice, yet there is no justice. Those who claim to be His followers show little concern for peace and justice. It seems they are all too busy with eating, drinking and being merry to bother themselves with such weighty notions of peace and justice. But, concern ourselves with them we must.
I have been reading of late the Social Essays of the Catholic monk Thomas Merton. These essays were written at the height of the cold war and the Vietnam war. I am amazed at how timely Merton’s essays are for today, though they were written 40 years ago. In his time, Merton had to constantly battle censors within the Catholic Church who attempted to silence his anti-war message. Merton was quite creative in the ways he got his message to the public. His voice still speaks loudly today.
Merton’s essays on nuclear war, unilateralism and preemptive war should be required reading for all Americans. Merton reminds us of the lunacy of the notion that a nuclear war can be fought and won. Once the buttons are pushed, the world as we know it ceases to exist. Thoughts of non-defensive, unilateral, preemptive war, Merton reminds us, are immoral and should be condemned by all Christians.
Today, America sits on the precipice of nuclear world war. We have become the big bully who thinks he can get his way by bluffing and threatening. Every once in a while the bully even whips some weakling to show who is the toughest. Such is the case with Iraq. But now we have added North Korea to our list of nations we are intent on bullying. Unfortunately, North Korea does not quiver and shake at our threatenings. They well remember an America who could not defeat them during the Korean War. Since then, the North Koreans have added nuclear and biological weapons to their arsenal. According to recent newspaper reports, the North Koreans are quite willing to use what weapons they have to defend themselves.
What troubles me the most in all of this is the silence emanating from the pulpits of America. It seems the only voices that are heard come from war mongers such as Jerry Falwell. Does he, and those of his ilk, speak for the rest of us? The German Church silently sat by while Hitler put into force the plans and programs that would later give us World War 2 and the Holocaust. Now the clergy of America sit by silently as George Bush and Company put into force programs such as the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. George Bush threatens war and destruction on any nation that opposes him. Our insane notion of national superiority, coupled with an immoral capitalistic greed, is leading us down a path that is certain to have catastrophic results, yet nary a word is heard from our pulpits.
The Scriptures are clear: Christians are called to be people of peace and justice. We are to be peacemakers. It is absurd to suggest, as George Bush does, that by waging war we will have peace. War always begets war and history bears this out. Only peace begets peace. It is time for all nations, including America, to lay aside and destroy ALL weapons of mass destruction. Our nation needs to repudiate its doctrine concerning preemptive first strikes against other nations. The world needs to know that America will be a peacemaking nation who desires peace and freedom for all men. While we must leave place for the need of defensive war or even what the theologians call “just war,” we must forsake attacking and killing others just because we do not like their government structure or way of life. Muslims have a right to live as they choose without America interfering in their affairs. It is time we stop exporting Western civilization as the answer to the world’s problems. Better for us to concern ourselves with our own moral, ethical, and civic failures than trying to fix the problems of the world.
Fifty or so years ago the phrase “better dead than Red” was coined. Unfortunately, that philosophy is still alive and well. The proponents of this notion believe it is better for us all to be dead than to have any other government or civilization than we have now. We had best think about the reality of such a notion because when the nuclear bombs start falling, it will be too late. The Reagan/Bush Star War notion of missile defense will not save us once the bombs begin to fall. It will only take a few bombs to render this world unlivable. Those who survive will wish that they had not.
It is not too late. Voices need to be raised in opposition and protest to the war policy of the Bush administration. Protesters need to make their voices heard via letters and public protest. Conscientious men and women in the military need to say “I will not” to their leaders who want to slaughter them on the altar of political and economic gain. Politicians need to get some backbone and be willing to stand up to the war mongering hawks on Capitol Hill. They have been raised up “for such a time as this!”
Published on August 25, 2005. This was written two years after I left the ministry. If you have been reading the previous editorials I have posted you will notice in this editorial that my worldview has definitely shifted. This was written in reaction to my frustrating inability to find a church to attend that did not support the war in Iraq This was not a Letter to the Editor. I wrote it for the Community Voice editorial column on the editorial page of The Bryan Times.
There is a new fundamentalism rising up in America. While it has Christian theological overtones, it is really right-wing political extremism wrapped in the clothes of conservative Christian dogma. There was a time when politics and religion did not mix and were considered separate planes in God’s created order. Things are much different today. Political activism from the pulpit is common. A recent front page feature article in the Columbus Dispatch about Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus shows very clearly the agenda of this new fundamentalism. Parsley pastors a Church with over 10,000 members. The annual Church budget is in excess of $32,000,000. Parsley advocates pastors rising up to become Patriot Pastors. Theocracy is the goal.
Some would suggest that we ignore this folly and it will fade away as quickly as the Atkins Diet. Our nation has faced many well-intentioned but misguided attempts at reclaiming the culture for God. All have run their course. All have utterly failed because they attempt to use political means to gain a spiritual end.
But we can not ignore this movement because it is resulting in the death and maiming of thousands of people. Virtually every person involved in this new fundamentalism supports the war in Iraq. They have bought into the rhetoric that the war in Iraq is a war of good vs. evil. Opposition to the war is shouted down with angry words such as traitor, unpatriotic, liberal, etc. All discussion has ceased. Arrogant fundamentalism has usurped the right to speak for all Christians. We must always remember that one the key tenets of fundamentalism is the belief that you have the complete truth and that all other views are error. No discussion. No shades of gray. Those who hold a different view are considered the enemy.
The most dangerous factor in the Iraq war is the fundamentalist religious right. Their thinking is not much different from the fundamentalist Muslims. They believe God is on their side and that the infidel needs to be destroyed. It is no wonder that many Muslims view the war in Iraq as a religious war. America, led by a Christian President, claims to be a Christian nation. God is invoked to justify virtually everything we do.
Most of the leaders of the fundamentalist religious right have a particular eschatological belief called pretribulational premillennialism. This is the theology of the wildly popular Left Behind book series. It is a relatively modern school of eschatological thought which is first found in writings of the mid-19th century. According to this system of thought, the world is headed toward a seven-year period called the Great Tribulation. This period of time concludes with Armageddon, at which time the thousand-year millennial kingdom of Christ will be established. Prior to the Great Tribulation, Jesus will return and rapture out all the Christians. it is important to keep this in mind when listening to the war rhetoric of the fundamentalist religious right. According to their theological system, Mathew 24 must be literally fulﬁlled. One of the key tenets of Matthew 24 is “war and rumors of war.“ Those holding to this theological persuasion have no impetus to be “peacemakers.“ War is inevitable, and the more war we have the closer we are to the rapture.
I am a conservative Christian. My theology and personal lifestyle practices place me squarely in the conservative Christian camp. Unfortunately, I am, along with many others, the son no one talks about. We sit silently in church while our ministers talk up war and nationalism from the pulpit. l speak for those who are Christians but who can not support the war in Iraq. I speak for those who believe that Jesus called us to be ”peacemakers.” It is not enough to believe In peace. We must actively promote peace.
Where are the conservative Churches and pastors that take a stand against war and actively promote peace? Have we become so blinded by our political agenda and fanciful eschatological interpretations that we have forsaken the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount?
We should note that when justification for war is talked about, it is the name of God that is invoked. Have you noticed that no one says, “Jesus supports the War In Iraq?“ Using the generic term God invokes the Image of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. When we speak the name of Jesus we come away with a different image. We do not see Jesus as the soldier, the warrior. We see him as the shepherd, as the meek, mild-mannered, peace loving Savior of the world.
slightly edited to correct some embarrassing grammar errors
This is the forty-sixth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses. Evil minds that plot destruction, Sorcerer of death’s construction. In the fields the bodies burning, As the war machine keeps turning. Death and hatred to mankind, Poisoning their brainwashed minds. Oh lord yeah!
Politicians hide themselves away, They only started the war. Why should they go out to fight, They leave that all to the poor.
Time will tell them they are Power Blind, Making war just for fun. Treating people just like pawns in chess, Wait till their judgment day comes.
Now in darkness world stops turning, Ashes where the bodies burning. No more war pigs have the power, Hand of God has struck the hour. Day of judgment God is calling, On their knees the war pig’s crawling. Begging mercies for their sins, Satan laughing spreads his wings.
Evangelical, Mormon, and Catholic leaders and parachurch groups are in full-blown panic mode as the day the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on same-sex marriage draws near. They rightly understand that if the Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage the culture war at the federal level is over. While there might be state and local battles to be won, on the federal level, the war is over.
Once gays are afforded the same civil rights and constitutional protections as the rest of us, Evangelicals will likely begin telling the faithful that we now live in a post-Christian world. Evangelicals, along with their fellow culture warriors in Catholicism and Mormonism, have lost their favored seat at the cultural table. No longer will appeals to God, the Christian Bible, the Law of God, etc. work. This is lost on those who are running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. From Ted Cruz to John Kasich to Rick Perry to Marco Rubio to well, whoever else is in the clown car, they seem oblivious to the fact that it is not 1950. Waving the U.S. flag and shouting I LOVE JESUS will not garner enough votes to put a Republican in the White House. The same white crackers, Tea Party lunatics, Patriots, and fundamentalist Christians will vote for the Republican nominee, but their ranks are literally dying, unable to attract young adults. Not only are they dying, but they remain a bastion of bigotry and racism. As the United States becomes browner, the Republican party becomes less relevant. In time, there either will be a huge party split, with the rednecks and the Christian nation crowd starting there own party, or the current Republican Party will be forced to banish the wing nuts and broaden their tent.
Winning the same-sex battle at the federal level would be a big boon to the Republican Party. It will also embolden culture warriors, a reminder to them that God is still on their side. While it will certainly be a huge blow to liberals and supporters of same-sex marriage like myself if we lose, we will live on to fight another day. We know that we are in a generational battle for the future of the United States. Unlike the culture warrior with their five item menu, the liberal knows war must be waged on many fronts. Same-sex marriage is just one of those fronts. We must also work to:
Reform voting and end gerrymandering
Turn back state abortion laws that are harmful to women
Neuter the military-industrial complex
Reign in the security-industrial complex
Provide a living wage for all
End the assault on evidence-based science
Shore up the wall of separation and church
Drastically reduce our global environmental footprint
Provide young adults with educational opportunities that do not saddle them with decades of debt
Rebuild infrastructure before the United States turns into one big pothole
End the war on drugs
Decriminalize and legalize marijuana use
Reestablish law enforcement as peacemakers
Empty the prisons of nonviolent offenders, especially those convicted of petty drug crimes
End capital punishment
Strip corporations of their power and influence over local, state, and federal government
The culture warriors, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, seem to have little interest in the things I’ve mentioned above. Guided by their literalistic interpretation of the Bible and the Constitution, they work to undo the social progress of the last 100 years. In their world, if women returned to the kitchen, gays to the closet, undocumented workers to the country they came from, all would be well. What they want is 1950. They want to return to the era of McCarthy, a period of time when fundamentalist patriotism and Christianity ruled the roost. They want to return women to the days when they feared pregnancy and feared their husband. They want to return to the days when the hegemony of whites had no challenge. They want to return to the days when the United States had no equal and used its military and economic power to advance an imperialistic agenda.
For these reasons, and many others, I rarely can find common ground to work with Republicans. Their Party is overrun by nuts, cranks, corporate CEO’s, lobbyists and conspiracy theorists. While sane voices can be found on the left fringe of the Republican Party, their numbers are few and they seem unable to make their voice heard. When Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Jon Huntsman are your party’s voice of reason, you have a big problem on your hands. While I am willing to compromise and work towards a common good, I find it impossible to work with people who think that every social and political change is a threat to America, Christianity, and the American way of life. When the discussions starts with abortion is murder or America is nation chosen by God, it’s hard to find common ground. Truth is, I’d probably find more common ground in an insane asylum than I would some corners of the Republican Party.
The issues I have mentioned in this post provide readers with a glimpse into my politics and how I view the world. The aforementioned positions are not a complete list, but it does show readers the issues that I think are most important.
This post should not be taken as an endorsement of the Democratic Party. I am increasingly unhappy with Party and President Obama. Some days, I think both political parties are the same, especially when it comes to how corporations and money influence their decisions.
Very few abortions occur at late or full term. 89% of all abortions occur in the first trimester, with 63% occurring in the first nine weeks. 98.8% of abortions take place before viability. Late term abortions after twenty week are 1.2% of all abortion procedures performed in the United States. Out of 1.2 million annual abortions, 14,400 are after 20 weeks. Most of these abortion are medically necessary due to the health of the mother, the fetus, or both.
I realize that almost half of Americans are pro-life, or at least when polled they say they are pro-life. I am not at all convinced that as many people are pro-life as the polls suggest.
I wonder how pro-lifers would respond to polling questions like these:
Your eleven year old daughter is raped by a serial rapist and she became pregnant. Would you support your daughter having an abortion?
Your wife is raped by an AID’s infected man. Her rape was a Todd Akin “legitimate” rape and she became pregnant. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is pregnant with a fetus that tests show will be born without a brain. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is in danger of dying if her fetus is carried to term. The doctor says unless she has an abortion she will die. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is carrying a dead fetus. Should she have an abortion to remove the fetus? Why? Perhaps almighty God will work a miracle and breathe the breath of life back into the fetus. Shouldn’t you wife wait to see if God works a miracle?
When faced with reality and not political talking points I wonder how many people would actually stand by their no-exceptions anti-abortion stance?
Some pro-lifers say they support exemptions for rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is at stake. However, these exceptions are antithetical to the pro-life view. If life begins the moment the egg and sperm unite, then any abortion is the killing of a human life. It is inconsistent and hypocritical to call yourself pro-life and then turn right around and say, in some circumstances, it is permissible to kill the fetus. Shouldn’t this life and death choice be left in the hands of God?
According to anti-abortionists, life begins at conception. At the very moment the sperm and egg unite a new life is created. Anti-abortionists are intractable when it comes to their position. Life begins at conception…end of debate.
Let me tell you a story……
This story takes place at the We Make Life Possible Fertility Clinic.
Sue gave birth to a beautiful baby girl through in vitro fertilization. Her baby girl is 1 month old . Sue stopped by the Fertility Clinic to show off her newborn to the Clinic staff.
While Sue was at the clinic, a huge explosion rocked the place and the clinic was engulfed in flames. Later speculation on World Net Daily, suggested a supporter of Barack Obama was behind the attack.
John, named after John THE Baptist, a pro-life activist, happened to be passing by the clinic when the explosion took place. John went running into the clinic hoping to perhaps save someone from the fire.
John had been to the We Make Possible Life Fertility Clinic before. His wife Patience had problems conceiving, and not wanting to wait on God to open her womb, John and Patience went to Clinic. While the treatment was successful, Patience miscarried a few months into the pregnancy.
John knew the Clinic stored hundreds of fertilized eggs (embryos) in a freezer. As he rushed into the Clinic, John saw Sue huddled in a corner with her newborn daughter trying to get away from the fire. John thought “Surely I should save these two.”
John thought for a moment, asking himself What Would Jesus Do? Suddenly, he realized the fire was going to destroy all the frozen embryos. John told Sue and her baby Sorry, maybe Jesus will come rescue you, and he rushed to the freezer where the frozen embryos were stored. Through John’s heroic effort, hundreds of frozen embryos were saved. Sadly, Sue and her newborn daughter were burnt to death.
Who among us would fault John? After all, he acted according to the greater good. Who wouldn’t save 200 lives at the expense of 2 lives?
The above story follows the logic of the life begins at conception viewpoint to its illogical conclusion. There is no difference between 200 embryos and Sue and her baby. Life is life. It makes perfect sense for John to save the frozen embryos and not Sue and her little one. Surely John would be praised for saving the 200 embryos, right? If the clinic is unable to reopen, perhaps the frozen embryos can be put up for adoption. After all EVERY embryo is a life.
If life begins at conception and terminating a pregnancy is the murder of a baby as pro-life zealots claim, then the following conclusions can be made:
The woman who has the abortion is a murderer
The doctor who performs the abortion is a murderer
The nurse who helps with the abortion is a murderer
The receptionist who books the abortion appointment is a murderer
The person who took the woman to the clinic is a murderer
If these conclusions are true, then it means that none of these people will go to heaven when they die. Why? The BIble says:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. Revelation 21:8
It is also fair to conclude that people who kill innocent men, women, and children in war are murderers too. Where are the same pro-life zealots proclaiming the evil of war? It seems that killing a zygote is murder, but killing an Afghan child or mother is not. It seems that the only life pro-lifers protect is that which has not yet been born. Why is this?
I have come to the conclusion that pro-lifers who do not condemn war are guilty of facilitating murder.(use their logic and exegesis) Pro-lifers charge those who believe abortion should be rare, safe, and legal with facilitating murder. Pro-lifers make it quite clear that those who promote and facilitate abortion cannot be a Christian. How can they be since they are facilitating murder? I ask then, what about pro-lifers who promote and facilitate war. How can they be Christian and support the murder of innocent men, women,children, and the unborn? It seems to me that heaven is going to be quite empty if murderers are barred from entering. If you still doubt that no murderers will enter heaven:
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. Revelation 22:14,15
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 19:17-19
In about 17 months there will be a Presidential election. Republicans know they have a fight on their hands. They need to make sure that the faithful turn out in record numbers and vote for the Republican candidate. They need to appeal to the value voters, those who hold to right-wing political and social beliefs.
One of the key issues that will make it to the ballot in 2012 is whether or not a fertilized egg is a person. Personhood USA is circulating petitions in all 50 states hoping to get politicians to enact personhood laws. According to Rachel Maddow, there are already eight states debating personhood legislation and with 2012 being a Presidential election year it is quite likely that there will be a concerted effort to get personhood initiatives on the ballot.
One of the implications of Personhood laws is that they could make the use of birth control pills illegal. (since birth control pills are an abortifacient and can, and do cause spontaneous abortion) 46 years ago in Griswold v. Connecticut the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right of privacy extended to the use of contraceptives and states could not ban the sale of contraceptives. (it is hard to believe there was a time when selling birth control was illegal)
Personhood laws could upend not only Roe v. Wade but Griswold v. Connecticut. If a fertilized egg is a person, then any deliberate effort to kill the fertilized egg would be considered murder. A quick perusal of The Pill Kills website will make it clear that the personhood crowd is dead serious about banning abortion and birth control.
What is the implications of a personhood law?
All abortion would be illegal, including abortion in the case of rape and incest
Abortion to save the life of the mother would be outlawed since it is illegal to murder one person to save another
Using any form of birth control that is an abortifacient would be illegal
Our entire legal code would need rewriting to reflect that a fertilized egg is a person
A person causing a woman to miscarry could be charged with murder.
Parents would be able to claim the fertilized egg as a dependent on their income tax return
Fertilized eggs would be eligible for adoption
Stem cell research would be curtailed and possibly banned
I can imagine a new Evangelical evangelism outreach to fertilized eggs. “Winning People to Jesus, One Fertilized Egg at a Time.”
We must not sit on the sidelines while right-wing Christians attempt to push their social agenda down the throat of the American people. We must consistently and continually point out that personhood laws are fraught with legal implications that will turn the legal code into a mine field.
Right-wing Christians are not going away. Obama being elected President was a wake up call and they have no intentions of sitting idly by and letting liberal, fertilized egg killing Democrats win in 2012. I expect a vicious fight, not only on the federal level, but the state and local level too.
Look at the graphic below. Is what you see a baby? Is aborting this the same as murdering your mother, father, or grandmother?
Only those blinded by their religious ideology can conclude that this is a picture of a baby. At best, it is potential life, but not life itself.
Now let me get personal for a moment.
If you believe people who support a woman’s right to an abortion are murderers or evil people, then why do you have anything to do with me? If this is your view, why would you want to associate with a neighbor, friend, husband, father, father-in-law, or grandfather who advocates m-u-r-d-e-r? IF I am a murderer because I support the slaughter (your word) of over a million babies a year, then aren’t I just as evil as Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy?
And herein lies the problem with your shrill rhetoric. I am a kind, decent, loving neighbor, friend, husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather. Yes, I am an atheist but I am more “Christian” than many of the Christians you know.
How about asking me WHY I support a woman’s right to an abortion? If asked, you would find out that:
I don’t think human life begins at conception. Potential life, yes, but human life? No. Science tells me that this is true, not a pre-science, antiquated religious text.
When I look at the embryo above I don’t see a “baby.” It is a group of cells, not a baby.
I support a woman’s right to use birth control to keep from getting pregnant. I know that some forms of birth control might cause a spontaneous abortion, but I have no problem with this since I don’t think life begins at conception.
Since 89% of abortions occur in the first trimester, long before viability, I fully support a woman’s unfettered right to an abortion. This right includes over the counter access to morning after drugs.
I do not support abortion on demand after viability. However, only 14,400 a year occur after viability, and, in most cases, these abortions are medically necessary due to the health of the mother, the fetus, or both.
I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe the teachings of the Bible. My beliefs are not governed by the Bible or the teachings of a sect. When I came to the view I now hold on abortion it was because of the science behind the abortion debate.
I am also a husband, father, father-in-law, and a grandfather. If ANY of the women in my family were raped or were carrying a fetus that could cost them their life, I would want them to have access to every medical and psychological means necessary to help them. I am most concerned for the LIVING.
I didn’t come to this position easily. I have a daughter with Down Syndrome. I know many women have an abortion when they find out they are carrying a fetus with Down’s. I can’t imagine our life without Bethany. My brother was born three months premature, not too many weeks past the viability line. I can’t imagine life without my little brother. My point is this: everything doesn’t fit neatly in a pro-life or pro-choice box. Life is messy and we are often forced to make hard decisions.
This post is an attempt to get people to see that it is simplistic and offensive when people label someone like me a murderer or evil. But, I don’t do that, you might say. Are you sure you don’t? Every time you post to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest that people who support abortion are murderers or evil, you ARE saying I am a murderer or evil. This is the inescapable conclusion of your rhetoric and moralizing.
I have come to the conclusion that there is no common ground to be had with people who are pro-life. They start with religion and not science, and I see no way of finding common ground. All I can do is present the facts about abortion and work to keep them from causing any further harm to women.
I understand the pro-life view, I really do. I was pro-life for most of my adult life. I fully understand the why’s of being pro-life. I know all the proof-texts and I think the Bible supports the pro-life view, along with the pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, pro-incest, pro-genocide, pro-war, pro-peace view.
I understand where you are coming from. Now it is time for you to give me the same courtesy.
The U.S. military’s budget request now pending on Capitol Hill includes a particularly notable oddity inside the special fund meant to support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: a new $810 million U.S. defense initiative to “reassure” Europeans of their security in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab.
This is not how America’s war budget – otherwise known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund – is supposed to work. The White House in 2011 reaffirmed that the OCO, originally established in 2001 under a different name, was for “temporary and emergency requirements” associated with U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, many experts say its continued use is emblematic of a five-year collapse in Washington’s fiscal discipline.
The OCO budget isn’t subject to spending limits that cap the rest of the defense budget for the next seven years; it’s often omitted altogether from tallies of how much the military spends each year; and as an “emergency” fund, it’s subject to much less scrutiny than other military spending requests.
This sort of special war funding was supposed to decline and then disappear as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. But that target has receded, if not disappeared altogether, as the OCO fund has become a larger catchall — a slush fund used by the military services, by lawmakers, and by the White House to escape budgetary constraints, officials and independent experts say.
Although President Barack Obama promised as a candidate in 2008 to “end the abuse” of wartime emergency spending, it’s now clear he will not do so before leaving office in 2016, these experts agree. This year, the main defense authorization budget is likely to come in at a cool $521.3 billion, snugly within the legal limits for federal spending in 2015. But the OCO includes an additional $63 billion. As a result, more than a tenth of all Pentagon spending will remain uncapped and subject to much less scrutiny than the remainder.
The European initiative is just one of many programs in the OCO budget that have little or nothing to do with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The new Defense Authorization Act for 2015, which may be signed by the president in coming days, includes $55 million to retain the “air superiority presence” of the U.S. Air Force. Another $351 million of OCO funds would go to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system….
…Moreover, the OCO budget isn’t a fiscal salve only once a year. The Defense Department comptroller can — and often does — ask the House and Senate committees on appropriations and armed services for permission throughout the year to add new spending to the OCO budget if programs already in that budget wind up costing less than anticipated. Often, additional non-emergency expenses sneak in during that process.
Over the past four years, for example, the Defense Department’s comptroller has sought congressional approval to add roughly $20 billion worth of expenditures to OCO to cover costs not previously stated in the budget, including many that do not appear to be emergencies or directly related to combat operations, according to a CPI tally.
These “reprogrammings” are typically approved without a public hearing, based merely on written assent from the four chairmen of Congress’s defense-related committees. Their letters are rarely made public.
On occasion, however, the Pentagon submits a reprogramming request for OCO funding so outlandish that lawmakers reject it publicly. That’s what happened on September 8, when Comptroller Michael McCord requested $1.5 billion in OCO funds to purchase 21 Apache helicopters, eight F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes, and assorted spares and repair parts to replace aircraft that the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force had lost in battles over the past two years…
…A close examination of OCO reprogramming requests that sailed through over the past three years reveals many that seem unrelated to core Iraq and Afghanistan emergency fighting needs: an $86 million request for unemployment compensation for ex-servicemembers; a $13.7 million request for funds to help prosecute alleged 9/11 conspirators; and a $104.5 million request to help test a bomb capable of destroying bunkers 200 feet underground…
…Far from the original OCO task of providing direct support for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration’s current OCO mandate anoints the Pentagon a global therapist, bodyguard, and trainer — and gives it uncapped funding to do all that those roles entail.
President Obama announced his wrongheaded, certain-to-be-disastrous, plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. For those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War, it is hard for us not to have visions of Lyndon Johnson, troop level escalations and increasing numbers of American casualties. Obama is foolishly committing the same mistakes that Johnson committed 45 years ago.
The war being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq is unwinnable. Only by pulling some form of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” can President Obama ever hope to claim victory in the Middle East.
Thirty years ago the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At one point, the Soviets had 300,000 troops on the ground, yet they failed in conquering Afghanistan and ultimately withdrew in defeat. The Soviet’s war in Afghanistan is often referred to as their “Vietnam.”
Adding 30,000 troops to those already in Afghanistan will raise troops levels to around 140,000 troops. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 private contractors operating in Afghanistan, bringing the force total to 240,000 people.
According to a recent McClatchy News report, the recently revised Army counterinsurgency manual states that mounting a successful counterinsurgency effort, in a country with the population and land mass of Afghanistan, would require 600,000 troops!
It seems very clear to me that President Obama is making a grievous and politically fatal error in embracing and expanding the war that former President George Bush left him. As a committed liberal and pacifist, I believed the anti-war, bring-the-troops-home message that candidate Obama preached during the presidential campaign. While I allowed for the reality that Washington is a place of compromise and campaign promises left unfulfilled, I expected Barack Obama to make a good faith effort to end the bloodshed in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, President Obama has embraced the insane notion that by waging war a nation can end war. There has never been a war ended by war. Hostilities may cease but war has no power to end war. Only peace brings an end to war. Foolish are the people who think that killing people will bring an end to killing people.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus did not say blessed are those who think peace is a good idea. He said blessed are those who make peace, who actively work for peace. Yet, here we are, a nation of millions of supposed Christ followers, and we continue to wage war with no end in sight.
I am 52 years old, and the United States has been actively involved in an offensive war somewhere in the world for almost half my life. It is hard not to conclude that we are a warring people who are willing to shed the blood of others to gain our objectives.
I renew my call to President Obama to end the war in the Middle East. I urge him to bring the troops home.
Ed Singer wrote the one letter I have read so far that succinctly distills the issues at stake in the 2008 presidential election. His appeal to Catholic school tradition is key to our choosing the next president of the United States. I only wish evangelical Christians had such a social tradition.
While groups like Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action attempt to bring social issues to the forefront of public discussion, evangelicalism is, for the most part, still a captive of the Republican Party. Many evangelicals are two-issue voters — abortion and homosexuality.
While I am certainly pro-life, I believe we miss the mark when we become single-issue voters. The issues are much broader and more complex than that. We need to think carefully about the current condition of our country and where we want to go in the future. I am 51 years old and I have voted in every election since Jimmy Carter won the White House. I am of the opinion that the current election is the most important election of my life.
I would ask my fellow evangelicals to consider what I call a “consistent life position.” It is not enough to be pro-life. We must also consider the issues of war, terrorism, torture, capital punishment and poverty. We must also consider the broad issue of social justice. What does it mean for me to be my brother’s keep? In a world filled with poverty, disease, war and injustice do I have a moral obligation to keep in regards to my fellow human beings?
America is a great nation filled with honorable, loving and just people. In recent years, as we waged pre-emptive wars, turned our backs on the poor of the world and continued to ignore to hurting and suffering in our own country, we have become less honorable, less loving and certainly less just. We need a president who will take a completely different course than the one we are on now and who will lead us back to being a nation of honorable, loving and just people.
As much as I like John McCain, I believe he will be four more years of George Bush. Will Barack Obama be any different? I don’t know. I find his speeches to be stirring, and they certainly are filled with all the things I think are important. Time will tell whether or not Barack Obama can deliver on what he has promised. I am willing to give him the chance. We cannot continue to stay the course, and I fear that is exactly what John McCain will do. We need a radical departure from the status quo.
Barack Obama’s message is one of change, and I can only hope that the change he brings will reinvigorate us as a nation and that will return to being a people of goodwill, both at home and across the world.
We will never collectively progress as a nation until we admit that much of our social, economic and political belief is based upon myth. Time shapes facts into collective myths that are rarely, if ever, examined by the average citizen.
Christian ministers continue to preach the Christian nation myth. America has never been, and never will be, unless the Christian right gets its way, a Christian nation. We have always been a secular, pluralistic society. Any notion to the contrary is revisionism and not supported by our collective history. In secular America there is a clear separation of church and state. For this reason, questions concerning the religious beliefs and practices of presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama should be considered out of bounds and irrelevant.
Our political leaders continue to preach the myth of continual economic growth. Few people seem to question the notion of continual economic growth. Is unlimited, unconstrained growth possible? Will we ever reach a place where no more growth can take place? Do we really need one more restaurant in Defiance? Do we really need one more drug store? Do we really need another church on another corner? How many varieties of the same old stuff do we really need? When will our razor have enough blades?
We are rapidly approaching the time where the myth of continual growth will be clearly revealed. Soaring food and energy prices, collapsing housing and economic markets are all signs that continual growth is not sustainable. Words like sustainability, conservation and self-sufficiency are the common vocabulary of the future. An economy built on consumption will ultimately fail because it cannot sustain itself. We are consuming ourselves to death. We cannot rely on the government to tell us the truth about the economic condition of America. Statistics like the GDP, unemployment, poverty rate, etc. are massaged and manipulated by government officials to such a degree that they are essentially meaningless.
The evangelical Christian church and many of our government leaders continue to promote the myth that war brings peace. In fact, our entire national history rests on the foundation of this myth. Our nation has a bloody, warring history. We have bombed, killed and destroyed all who have stood in our way. From the early days of our nation to the present conflict in Iraq we have used military force and brutal war to force our will on others. We have rarely been a peaceful people.
War will never bring peace. It can’t. It may bring a cessation of hostilities, but peace can only come through peacemaking. A peaceful country will not have nuclear armaments capable of destroying the world many times over. A peaceful country will not wage pre-emptive wars and will only use its military forces for acts of self-defense. Peaceful nations act peaceably. Our national conduct shows us to be anything but peaceful.
Peace begins at home with each of living like peacemakers. Peace begets peace.
Every time Christians gather together for communion it is for the purpose of memorializing the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus on the cross has many theological implications. Redemption and sanctification among many others.
The death of Jesus also has political implications. His death, along with his resurrection from the dead, proclaim a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Who, and all that Jesus did, challenges the politics and agendas of every generation. There is a new King in the world, and Jesus is his name.
Last Sunday, many Churches took time to briefly mention Memorial Day. Some Churches had full blown patriotic rallies, complete with the presenting of the colors and taps. Others sang a few patriotic songs and said a quick prayer for those who have died in our nations wars. Some took time to honor Church members who are serving or had served in the Military.
I always prepare myself for what may happen in Church on our nations various national holidays. I would prefer that Churches not meld worship of God and nationalism together, but I have come to the place where I can tolerate it in short doses. Interjecting nationalism into our worship of God diminishes the focus of our worship, and can, if we are not careful, suggest that Christianity and American nationalism are one and the same.
In many sermons we will hear that Christians need to view the sacrifice of war in and of itself, separated from its theological and political implications. An attempt is made to link the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for others and in war we are called on to do the same.
It is unwise to connect the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice of war. Jesus was the guiltless dying for the guilty. In war, there are no guiltless parties. It is also impossible to divorce the sacrifice of war from its theological and political implications. War ALWAYS has such implications.
My prayer is that Churches will stop being agents for the political agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties. Instead of giving public service announcements for the Defense Department, Churches would be truer to their calling if they proclaimed what Jesus said about peace and loving our enemies.
I am still waiting to hear a sermon anywhere that takes seriously the claims and teachings of Jesus concerning peace and as a result declares the war in Iraq to be contrary to Christian teaching. Instead of wrangling about just war I hope and pray Churches will wrangle with the implications of thou shalt not kill, love your enemies, and blessed are the peacemakers.
It is certainly proper and right to quietly remember those who have died during our nations wars. Some died defending freedom, others died for a political agenda, but all died as Americans and we should remember them. We should also take time to reflect on the awfulness of war and the danger of a nation with unchecked arrogance waging war against all who cross her path.