faith, personal

Against the Nashville Statement

CBMW, A Coalition for Biblical Sexuality, released their Nashville Statement today, and it is exactly as anti-LGBTQ+ as you might expect.  I’m not sure why they felt the need to articulate in a formal statement what they have been saying for years: that LGBTQ+ people are outside the fold, so to speak.  According to Article 7 anyone who adopts a “homosexual or trangender self-conception is [in]consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”  All of the signers have put it on record now if they hadn’t before.

But I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t be) by Article 10:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Apparently I am also outside of the fold for affirming LGBTQ+ relationships.  I haven’t identified as an evangelical for more than a decade, but I considered myself as still part of the Christian faith.  I’ve found a home in the Episcopal church, a much different tradition than I was taught.  But the signers say that we can’t merely agree to disagree on this issue.  In fact, my approval of LGBTQ+ individuals “constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”  To them, I am out.

The list of signers consists of many familiar names.  These are the leaders I have been told to follow, and read, and listen to for years from my evangelical friends and family.  They include John Piper, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, Russell Moore, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Francis Chan, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, James Dobson, Alistair Begg, Randy Alcorn, Karen Swallow Prior, and many other big names in the evangelical world.  It makes me wonder if my friends and family agree with the signers of this statement and think I have departed Christian faithfulness.  It makes me sad to think so.

It already makes me sad that many evangelicals consider Julie Rodgers or Matthew Vines or my friend David and countless others as outside the fold.  Now I realize that they may see me that way, too.

The more I think about it, though, and I can see that it isn’t about me.  It’s a re-affirmation of the same anti-LGBTQ+ stance they have consistently held, and those are the individuals hurt by this statement.  And even Article 10 isn’t really about me.  It’s an attempt to keep the evangelical flock in line.

According to Pew Research, white evangelical Protestant support for same sex marriage is growing, from 27% in 2016 to 35% this year.  And the younger generation is much more likely to support same sex marriage than older generations, though support is growing in every age cohort.

This doubling down on a culture war issue is likely to backfire.  The CBMW met last Friday, the same day President Trump was pardoning a racist sheriff in Arizona who tortured prisoners and a hurricane was starting to flood the 4th largest city in America.  This focus on who is in and who is out of the Christian community instead of living the good news to the sick, downtrodden, hungry and thirsty, and those in prison has led many to leave the church for good.

 

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faith, links, medicine, music, personal

Links for July 16, 2017

Here are some links to stories and blog posts that I’ve read recently that I think are worthwhile to pass along.

First up, my friend David Baldwin wrote an eloquent and moving meditation on love and his journey of figuring out his sexuality in an evangelical environment.  It’s beautiful.  Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on love, David.

The loving God that I believe in made me just the way I am. He filled me with desires for love and connection, some of which can come from friendship, and some of which can come only from a romantic relationship with a person to whom I’m wildly attracted, and who wants to be with me the way I want to be with him. If I believe that God is truly loving, I have to believe that he did make me exactly as I am, and I need to continue pursuing patience, kindness, humility, and the many other virtues of love in the way that best leads me towards these things. That way is love. So I will pursue love until I no longer can.

Two years ago I wrote about how I changed my mind about same sex relationships, and it was thinking about my friend David that began the change in my heart.  In that post I wrote that I would be following it up with some posts about the Bible passages that are usually used to condemn homosexuality.  I finally have one of those posts nearly finished so that should be up in the near future.  But before I get into abstract theological debates, I wanted to highlight the very real human element.

Next is a piece about a Christian alternative rock band named The Violet Burning.  Michial Farmer, a fellow alum from the same Bible college I attended (though we didn’t actually overlap), has been writing a series of primers on bands and artists in the 90s Christian alternative rock scene.  I was in high school and college during the 90s and these were some of the bands that meant the most to me in those years.  Farmer has been doing a meticulous job in listing, ranking, and commenting on the important albums from these bands; all of the entries are well worth a read if you know these bands or if by some chance would like to know them now.

I want to highlight this entry on The Violet Burning because their music intersects with some of my personal history with how I met my wife.  I met her on an online message board that discussed Christian alternative music, and my very first post on that message board involved TVB’s song “Ilaria.”  Farmer says about the song that “Despite the hermeneutic gymnastics of some of Pritzl’s more pious fans, it’s hard to hear “Ilaria” as about anything other than sex,” and sure enough, that’s what my first post on the message board argued as well: “I myself have had Plastic and Elastic since it came out in late 98 and, to be honest, I’ve always thought the song was about sex.”  She noticed my post.

We got married a little over three years after that initial post, and we ended up including one of The Violet Burning’s more worship-y songs in our wedding ceremony.  My wife’s older brothers played and sang a deeply meaningful version of “I Remember” during communion.  (While I’m mentioning our wedding music, I would be remiss not to share David’s version of The Magnetic Fields’s “It’s Only Time”—it’s so beautiful.)

At some point I’m going to write more about my relationship with Christian alternative music, and with Christian music more generally.  I touched on it in the piece I wrote last year for Rock & Sling about Michael W. Smith and the first cassette I purchased at a Christian bookstore, but there’s so much more to be said about how music, and Christian music especially, has been tied up in my identity over the years.

The last piece I want to share is about home health care workers by Sarah Jaffe.  I’ve written a number of short snapshots I’ve called “Hospital Stories” about the year I worked taking care of difficult patients in a hospital as a constant observer.  This particular piece of journalism follows the career of June Barrett who has worked in Florida as a home care worker since 2003, not long after she immigrated to the United States from Jamaica.  It’s a hard, demanding job, but it doesn’t pay very well.  I remember well that I didn’t make a whole lot more than minimum wage for my hospital job either.  It’s especially relevant now with the current health care bills in Congress and the potential for Medicaid cuts.  As the article points out, under the Affordable Care Act,

The expansion of Medicaid, which took effect in 2014, meant more funding for home care and more jobs for care workers. The bill also expanded healthcare for the workers themselves – Barrett had never had chicken pox as a child, and when she contracted it as an adult from a client with shingles, it aggravated her asthma.

The whole piece is worth reading to think about the value we put on the hard and sometimes menial work of taking care of sick people in their homes.

I might try this link format again if there is remotely any interest in it.

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parenting, personal

This Too Shall Pass

Yet again I’ve written a short piece over at the Rock & Sling blog about sleep patterns and adapting as a parent.  Each kid is different and unique, and the circumstances change and development occurs so rapidly: I have to be ready for anything.  I can never think I have it all figured out as a parent.

As I say in the essay, my wife reminds me again and again that “this too shall pass.”  The evergreen saying comes from Abraham Lincoln, who was passing along ancient wisdom.

From Lincoln’s Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, September 30, 1859.

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.”

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personal, politics, psychology

The Problem with Hillary Clinton and the Yankees

hillary-clinton-yankees

No matter who you support in this 2016 election, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: Hillary Clinton is not very authentic.  Her every move is focus-group-tested and she’ll say just about anything to get the power she’s always craved.  We all know it.

Back in the 1990’s while I was in high school and college, I hardly followed politics at all. I was a Republican, of course. Everyone I knew was a Republican.  I remember in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the first time, my changing voice cracking as I told my high school friends the results of the electoral college.  One of my friends listened to Rush Limbaugh, and I remember how he would refer to Clinton as Slick Willy.  Although I didn’t really follow the issues, I knew that Clinton was doing things I disagreed with and that the Democrats were despicable. My first vote for president was for a doomed Bob Dole in 1996 when I sent in my absentee ballot back home from my dorm room.  Looking down the ticket, I didn’t know about any of the other candidates on the ballot, so I voted for all the Republicans.

As little as I knew of politics at the time, I did know this: I didn’t trust those Clintons, either of them.

So a few years later when Hillary decided to run for the open Senate seat in New York for the 2000 election, I agreed with those who thought it was rank opportunism.  She and Bill bought a house in Chappaqua, and she engaged on her famous listening tour.  But one detail of her pandering stood out to me: in June 1999, a month before she formally announced her candidacy, she put on a Yankees cap.

The problem with putting on a Yankees cap is that everyone knew that she, a native of Illinois, was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.  Switching allegiance for the sole purpose of trying to win an election was clear evidence she was a faker.  Rooting for a sports team, especially the local team from childhood, is a part one’s identity.  To suddenly cheer for another team showed how inauthentic she really was.  Oh sure, she tried to tell Katie Couric in an interview that she could be both: “I am a Cubs fan,” Clinton said. “But I needed an American League team…so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees.”  The front page of the Style section of the Washington Post noted that “a sleepy-eyed nation collectively hurled,” at the obvious lie.  No one bought it.  And neither did I.

I knew Hillary Clinton was a fraud.  She didn’t have any core beliefs.  She would say whatever it took to win the election in New York.  Her newfound love of the Yankees was one more piece of evidence that confirmed my thinking.

But what if I was wrong?  I didn’t consider the possibility at the time.  I didn’t consider it eight years later during the 2008 Democratic primary when I supported Barack Obama.  Even though I had become a Democrat in the intervening years, I still didn’t trust Clinton.  (The story of my switch from Republican to Democrat will have to wait for another day.)

I found out recently that I have been wrong all these years.  Hillary Clinton genuinely did like the Cubs and the Yankees growing up.  Clinton’s love for baseball and her lifelong Yankee fandom were documented in two Washington Post articles, in the same Style section, years before she even thought of running for the New York Senate seat, left open by a retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The first article, published right before she became First Lady in January of 1993, showed how she practiced with her dad and learned to hit a curveball as well as this key detail from a childhood friend: “‘We used to sit on the front porch and solve the world’s problems,’ said Rick Ricketts, her neighbor and friend since they were 8. ‘She also knew all the players and stats, batting averages—Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle—everything about baseball.’”  Maris and Mantle, known as the M&M boys, were Hall of Famers who played for the Yankees during the years of Clinton’s childhood.  In the ’61 season, when Clinton would have been 13, they both chased the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth with Maris eventually breaking the record on the last day of the season.

The second article was published the following year when the Ken Burns documentary about baseball came out.  Burns admired Clinton’s swing of the bat when he asked,

“‘That was a great swing,’ Burns told her. ‘Did you get some batting practice before the screening, just to warm up?’  Mrs. Clinton, who as a kid was a ‘big-time’ fan of the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees and ‘understudied’ Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle, smiled.”

Banks played for the Cubs, and Mantle, of course, played for the Yankees.  Both started their major league careers for their respective teams in the early 50s, when Clinton was a young child.

So all this time Hillary Clinton had been telling the truth about the Cubs and Yankees.  The issue could have been easily cleared up in 1999, but it wasn’t.  Instead, a narrative about her cravenness took hold and persisted in my mind until a few months ago.  I’m sure I’m not alone.

This whole incident is a perfect example of my own confirmation bias.  One psychologist defines it like this: “Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.”  I already knew Hillary Clinton was untrustworthy, so when this piece of evidence about her posing as a Yankees fan in 1999 came to light, it confirmed what I already knew.

Even if it had been true, claiming to like the local sports team is obviously a venial sin.  But in my mind it represented a core truth about her.  My entire conception of her was informed by this anecdote; it stood for something much larger.  Believing such a falsehood tainted how I perceived Clinton for years.  It was impossible not to see her as a calculating panderer who would do anything to get elected.

During the primaries of the 2016 presidential campaign, I tried to take an open-minded look at all of the candidates, including Hillary Clinton.  But it was still hard to trust her.  As I learned more about her, my perspective on her slowly shifted, until I now find myself nearly 180 degrees from my college self.  My former self would have been shocked and incredulous to learn that factcheckers rated her one of the most truthful candidates.

So if I could be wrong for so many years on such a little matter that affected how I saw a prominent politician, what else could I be wrong about?

In the end, putting on a Yankees cap was a problem for Clinton, but not only because it falsely confirmed the narrative that she was a fraud.  It was a problem because the Yankees aren’t the only baseball team in New York.  Fans of the Mets had reason to be mad at her.

(I learned the truth about Clinton and the Yankees from Kevin Drum and Bob Somerby.)

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faith, personal, politics

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness

I have been called on to repent.

Me and all other progressive and liberal Christians.

The American Association of Evangelicals has written “An Open Letter to Christian pastors, leaders and believers who assist the anti-Christian Progressive political movement in America.”  They call on progressive Christians “to repent of their work that often advances a destructive liberal political agenda.”  They do this in a heart of love, of course.  I know this because the letter tells us, “We write as true friends knowing that most believers mean well. We desire the best for you and for the world God loves.”

Their main target of criticism is Jim Wallis of Sojourners because he has accepted money from George Soros, a liberal philanthropist.  Multiple paragraphs denounce the nefarious Soro, all of them filled with links about the many ways he is undermining their conception of America.  Wallis is presented as a stooge of the supposedly anti-Christian Soros, as are any other progressives who might agree with their political ideas about immigration reform or other social justice issues.

So who is the American Association of Evangelicals?  They describe themselves this way: “Speaking truth to power, more than 100 evangelical and Catholic leaders urge Progressive “faith” groups to turn away from the liberal political funding and agenda that demoralizes and weakens the poor, the family, the Church and the nation.”   I like the way they put “faith” in scare quotes in order to delegitimize progressive Christians.  That’s what true friends do.  I can tell that they’re really sincere when they say that “most believers mean well,” except they can’t accept that the faith of progressive Christians might lead towards a more liberal political agenda.  So they can’t call it faith.  It has to be placed in scare quotes.

I suspect, for a few reasons, that the author of the letter is Kelly Monroe Kullberg, founder of The Veritas Forum at Harvard.  She is first on the list of signees.  She is listed as the contact person for interviews.  Because of those first two clues, I searched for more information about her and came across a guest blog post she had written against immigration reform in 2013.  The writing style of that blog post has some similarities to the Open Letter¹.  Also, just as the Open Letter does, her blog post from 2013 takes aim against Jim Wallis and George Soros for their involvement in organizing evangelicals for immigration reform.  The same two targets for the Open Letter and the blog post from three years ago seems more than coincidental.  She has it in for these two.

Of the signatories to the Open Letter, I recognized a few names: Eric Metaxas (author of a popular biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer), Wayne Grudem (an evangelical theologian who has written a widely used Systematic Theology textbook, one that I used in some of my Bible classes in college), David Barton (a pseudohistorian), and John Morris (president emeritus of the Institute of Creation Research, a young earth creationist organization).  Metaxas and Grudem have published articles urging their fellow Christians to vote for Donald Trump in November, claiming that it is the Christian thing to do.  (Many other Christians, in turn, have written strongly worded rebuttals to Grudem.) [edited to add: In light of further revelations of ugly things Trump has said about women, Grudem has retracted his earlier statement of support.  In his new statement, he condemns Trump and Clinton.  He states that he refuses to vote for Clinton, but leaves open the possibility of still voting for Trump.  His earlier article called “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice” is still available in archived form.][Another edit: Grudem is back to arguing that voting for Trump is necessary because of his policies.]

The letter has attracted an interesting cross section of evangelicalism.  Of the remaining names I didn’t know on sight, I did recognize some of the organizations they were affiliated with: the executive director of Precept Ministries, the president of the American Family Association, the founder and president of Charisma Media, etc.  There are also pastors, educators, elected officials, and other ministry leaders on the extensive list of 100.  As of this writing, more than 800 people have added their signatures to the letter.

The letter claims that “We are not here endorsing or denouncing a political candidate but reminding you of basic Christian morality,” but it’s a little hard to believe (though I understand that they have to say that for legal purposes).  For one thing, this letter was published on September 27, 2016, which is 43 days before the presidential election.  Two prominent signers are vocal Trump supporters.  Soon after this statement about not endorsing or denouncing candidates, the letter has a list of ten “consequences of Progressive political activism over the past eight years.”  Hmm, I wonder who has been in office for the past eight years?  Right after the list of consequences, most of them distortions or falsehoods, they ask “why would any religious leader ask Christians to embrace a Progressive political agenda that is clearly anti-Christian?”  Immediately following this incendiary question, the letter impugns Hillary Clinton, who happens to be a political candidate at the moment.  Here’s what the letter says about Hillary Clinton in its entirety.

“When Hillary Clinton stated during a 2015 speech at the Women in the World Summit that religious beliefs “have to be changed,” she was openly declaring war on Christian believers and the Church. And now Progressives claim that supporting such a view is the Christian thing to do?  This is spiritual abuse of the family, the Church and the nation.”

There is a link to her speech, or rather a link to a short clip from the speech.  I recognized this.  I came across this same edited clip of her speech on Facebook a while back from a linked article that was even more wild-eyed and conspiratorial.  It was written by Theodore Shoebat, who calls himself a “proud fascist,” and supports having the government execute gay people, and says that women who have abortions should be put before a firing squad.  In his article, Shoebat claimed that “Hilary [sic] Clinton just said that Christians must deny their Faith through the enforcement of laws.”  Then he misquotes her: “Notice that she says that the change of Christian beliefs is the ‘unfinished business of the 21st century,’ which means she wants to persecute Christians.”  He caps it all off by calling her a “witch.”

Although the American Association of Evangelicals version is slightly more timid than Shoebat’s, they are both saying essentially the same thing.  And they are completely distorting Hillary Clinton’s words and their meaning in order to make it falsely look like she is against Christian belief.  They are bearing false witness.  Let me show why.

Here is the clip of the speech.

And here’s the transcript provided on the YouTube video:

“Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth, and laws don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

The clip was uploaded by a conservative talk radio program called The Joe Walsh Show.  Joe Walsh was a one term U.S. Representative from Illinois who was elected in the 2010 midterm Tea Party wave.  He lost in 2012 to Tammy Duckworth, and soon afterwards started his radio program.

So is Hillary Clinton “openly declaring war on Christian believers and the Church” with these words as the Open Letter and Theodore Shoebat would have you believe?  The answer is no.

The reason I know this is because the clip has been taken out of context.  Anyone who has learned the fundamentals of biblical exegesis knows the importance of considering context rather than trying to interpret a statement in isolation.  (Wayne Grudem, the systematic theologian who signed the Open Letter, points out that “the place of the statement in context” is one of four sources for interpreting biblical passages in a chapter he has written on Bible Interpretation.)

Clinton is not speaking about America or American laws.  In this quote, she is actually talking about the worldwide maternal mortality rate, not that you would know that because the edited clip begins partway through a sentence and omits the first words.  And the edited clip has had a much greater impact, having been viewed more than 600,000 times compared to the full speech, which has only been viewed slightly more than 150,000 times.  (The edited clip, or a brief summary with the key words “religious beliefs have to be changed,” has made the rounds of Christian websites and conservative media sites.  A partial list of Christian sites: LifeNews, CharismaNews, ChristianDaily, and Now the End Begins.  A partial list of conservative media sites: The Blaze, National Review, The Daily Caller, and Fox Nation.  Interestingly, the last two include the video of the entire speech, but only highlight the same portion about “religious beliefs have to be changed” as those who include the edited version.)

Here is the same quote with the fuller context.  I’m going to provide more than the beginning of the sentence that was cut, going back even farther so that there can be no mistake what she is talking about. (Begin the video at 7:40)

“But the data leads to a second conclusion that despite all this progress, we’re just not there yet.

Yes, we’ve nearly closed the global gender gap in primary school, but secondary school remains out of reach for so many girls around the world.

Yes, we’ve increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence, but still more than half the nations in the world have no such laws on the books and an estimated one in three women still experience violence.

Yes, we’ve cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

I’ve provided the larger context so it is clear that when Clinton says, “far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth,” she is talking about the maternal mortality rate in the developing world.  We can know this because of context and because of the facts about maternal mortality.  First, she is giving the keynote address at the Women in the World conference.  Of course her remarks are going to be global in nature. Second, the context of the first two examples in this list of three areas where more progress needs to be made—the gender gap in education and domestic violence—makes clear that she is referring to areas other than America (“global gender gap,” “girls around the world,” “number of countries,” and “half the nations in the world.”).  And third, according to the World Health Organization, “99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.” (All quotes from the World Health Organization come from their fact sheet on maternal mortality published in November 2015.)

So when Clinton says that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed,” in order to further cut the maternal mortality rate, she means in other countries, specifically in the developing world.  So what are the challenges with cutting the maternal mortality rate in these countries?  Though the maternal mortality rate has been nearly cut in half in the past 25 years, as Clinton said, still around 300,000 women die each year for preventable reasons associated with pregnancy or childbirth.  According to the WHO, greater than 50% of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and nearly a third in South Asia.

Here are the reasons given by the World Health Organization:

“The major complications that account for nearly 75% of all maternal deaths are:

  • severe bleeding (mostly bleeding after childbirth)
  • infections (usually after childbirth)
  • high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
  • complications from delivery
  • unsafe abortion.

The remainder are caused by or associated with diseases such as malaria, and AIDS during pregnancy.”

The first four reasons the WHO lists require what Clinton said in the first part of her statement: “access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.”  So that leaves the issues of unsafe abortion and the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.

According to WHO, “To avoid maternal deaths, it is also vital to prevent unwanted and too-early pregnancies. All women, including adolescents, need access to contraception, safe abortion services to the full extent of the law, and quality post-abortion care.”

There are two components here.  First, there needs to be access to contraception.  One reason is to “prevent unwanted and too-early pregnancies.”  The other reason is to prevent the spread of AIDS.  Consistent and proper condom use helps reduce the spread of STDs, and HIV/AIDS specifically.  So widespread access to contraception would help reduce the maternal mortality rate by decreasing unsafe abortions and by helping curb the spread of AIDS.

One of the barriers to widespread access to contraception, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is the belief that contraception is immoral.  I think it is most likely that Clinton’s comment that “cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed” has to do with the use of contraception.  If people changed their minds about contraceptives, then the maternal mortality rate would go down.  Here is the only place where Clinton could be urging Christians to change their beliefs.  The Catholic church still forbids the use of any contraceptives with the exception of natural family planning.  However, while that is the official position of the church hierarchy, the vast majority of Catholics worldwide (78%) do not find contraceptives morally wrong.  But Catholics in sub-Saharan Africa do agree with their church’s position on contraceptives at a higher percentage.  I find the idea that this is Clinton waging war against Christians and their beliefs hard to take seriously when American Catholics also overwhelmingly do not think that contraceptive use is immoral.

The second component is “safe abortion services to the full extent of the law, and quality post-abortion care.”  To a pro-life audience, which the AAE Open Letter clearly addresses, this is anathema, but please hear out my reasoning.  Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa restrict abortion much more than in the United States.  Only two countries, South Africa and Mozambique, allow abortion for any reason with gestational limits, the same as the U.S.  All of the other countries restrict abortion to save the life of the mother or they ban it outright.  The story is similar in the countries of South Asia.  So between the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, most of them restrict abortion heavily or completely ban it.  The WHO and Hillary Clinton are calling for the laws in these countries that do allow some abortions in some cases to be enforced and for those abortions to be safe.  How could it be the pro-life position to allow a woman who has a legal abortion to die from inadequate medical care during and after the abortion?  These women need good and safe reproductive care—whether they choose an abortion or not—during pregnancy and afterwards.

So while pro-life Christians can certainly disagree with Hillary Clinton’s positions on abortion, Clinton’s comments in this speech are about following existing laws in other countries and saving the lives of women.  She is not calling on Christians to change their beliefs on abortion or any other article of faith, aside from accepting the use of contraception.

So not only did the letter writers take Clinton’s words out of context to distort their meaning, they also charged that she is “openly declaring war on Christian believers and the Church.”  This accusation seems to presume that Clinton herself is not a Christian.  That is not true.  Clinton is a Christian, and though she is fairly private about her faith, it has never been a secret.  They are again bearing false witness.

Back in January of this year, at a campaign stop in Iowa, Clinton, when asked about her faith, proclaimed, “I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist.”  Later in her answer, she boiled down the essence of her faith: “My study of the Bible, my many conversations with people of faith, has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do.”  Her beliefs have led her to a life of service in which she fought for health care for children during her husband’s administration, for women’s rights around the world, for health care for 9/11 first responders, etc.  At the end of the Democratic National Convention in July, after her speech, Clinton listened to the benediction by a Methodist minister where he ended with the Methodist maxim, “Do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as we ever can.”  If she isn’t a Christian, she sure is trying to do the work of a Christian.

So here’s my answer to the Open Letter calling me to repent:

I do have reason to repent.  I need to repent of my selfishness and idleness.  For harsh words spoken.  My indifference to suffering.  And my envy of others.

But I will not repent supporting liberal political policies that feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.

And I will not repent supporting a politician who works towards closing the global gender gap in education, prohibiting domestic violence, and cutting the maternal mortality rate.


Footnote

¹In her blog post, she also used a phrase that stood out to me when she called an evangelical group in favor of immigration reform “an ad hoc group.”  The Open Letter also calls themselves “an ad hoc fellowship of evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox believers.”  In 2013, in response to the evangelicals in favor of immigration reform, Kullberg formed “Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) [which] is an ad hoc movement,” and more recently The America Conservancy, whose motto is “For America’s renewal. Because of love.”  The line “because of love” can also be found on the Open Letter just after the author describes them as an ad hoc group, “We stand — because of love.”

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faith, music, personal

Remembered Sounds

I wrote another short piece for the Rock & Sling blog for their Remembered Sounds series.  It’s about the first cassette tape I ever purchased: Michael W. Smith’s Go West Young Man.  The name Remembered Sounds comes from a line in a Wallace Stevens poem: “The self is a cloister full of remembered sounds.”  I like that, and I like it as a unifying theme for significant music in my life.  A lot of my memories are bound up with music in a sort of soundtrack to my life.

At the end of the essay, itself a meditation on music and faith in my life, I listed five spiritual songs I listen to now.  Whereas I used to expect explicit answers and easy messages, now I live with questions and doubt.  I plan to write about these songs in the future, but I’ll put them down here so they can provide a soundtrack to the essay.

Sinead O’Connor “Take Me to Church”

Vampire Weekend “Ya Hey”

Cat Power “Say”

David Bowie “Where Are We Now”

Phosphorescent “Song for Zula”

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music, personal

Covers

A few different times I’ve included a song with a post if it happened to be on topic, but for this post I want to share a few songs that I’ve been listening to a lot recently.  All of them happen to be covers.

Cover songs are interesting when done well.  They transform a song to a new context, give it a new shape and sound, and sometimes resuscitate life into it.  But what I find most interesting is that no matter how transformed a song is by a cover version, there is still some core identity that remains.  There’s a kernel of the song that the listener can recognize even when it changes clothes, speeds up, slows down, or completely metamorphosizes.

I’m thinking about this in part because my high school class’s 20th reunion is next month, and I’m not able to get back for it.  I haven’t kept up with many of my classmates, and some I haven’t seen since graduation.  I feel like I’ve changed a lot in the intervening years, but that there is something still distinctly me that is the same.  I’m different versions of the same song.

The first cover is Brian Eno’s version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free.”  Here’s what Eno had to say about the song: “That particular song always resonated with me but it took about 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. “I’m set free, to find a new illusion”. Wow. That’s saying we don’t go from an illusion to reality (the western idea of “Finding The Truth”) but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution.

I like to think of it in slightly different terms, something more like we go from one story to another story.  We tell ourselves the story of our lives, with ourselves as the main characters.  Sometimes it’s one long continuous narrative.  But sometimes we revise and start a new story.  We’re set free to find a new illusion.

The next song is Sturgill Simpson’s cover of “The Promise” by When In Rome.  Mostly this is an excuse to share something from Simpson’s album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music which I recently discovered and have been listening to a bunch.  When I heard this song I didn’t immediately know that it was a cover, but something about it sounded familiar.  It felt like I should know it, though when I looked up the original, I couldn’t say for certain that I had known it (though I had definitely heard it before during the ending of Napoleon Dynamite).  It’s a classic example of a one hit wonder.

Simpson turns what was originally a new wave synthpop driving melody into a plaintive cry.  A gentle piano solo in the original becomes a soulful guitar in the cover.  It’s a tremendous transformation all around.  Though they are worlds apart, I really like both versions.  And I like the song because I relate to the confession in the chorus of the speaker’s inability to communicate fully and completely what he desires: “I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say / I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be.”  Then, despite the shortcomings of the speaker, he overpromises that he will overcome everything to get his lover to fall for him.  The grandiose feelings are over the top, but that’s what love can feel like sometimes.

The last cover is divisive.  Max Richter took it upon himself to “recompose” one of the most famous pieces in classical music: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  He thought it had become too familiar, almost like elevator music.  So he wanted to “reclaim the piece, to fall in love with it again.

In this selection from “Spring,” Richter takes the bird like sounds of the violin from Vivaldi and loops them while providing a bass line progression that is emotionally evocative.  I found many reviews that hated this combination, especially the latter part.  One described it as “tak[ing] a bit of the original—the solo violin birdsong in the first movement of “Spring” for example—and repeat[ing] it mindlessly over a pop-ish chord progression”; another echoed the sentiment: “The string line underpinning the first section added an unfortunate dollop of schmaltz.”  Well, I like it.  Maybe because it is a pop chord progression and schmaltzy.  I found the effect extremely entrancing and moving.

And here are the originals if you want to compare.

The Velvet Underground “I’m Set Free”

When In Rome “The Promise”

“Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (The selection I picked featuring Anne Sophie Mutter doesn’t let me embed the video, so you’ll have to click on the link to hear/watch it.)

 

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