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“A Story Easy To Imagine Unfolding Today”: The Simple, Clear, And Still Radical Meaning Of The Christmas Story

The celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is a significant event for everyone raised in Western cultures, whether or not we happen to share the Christian faith – so meaningful that the Christmas holiday has been seized for partisan dispute, with even the most profane and irreligious political figures pretending to defend its purity.

These characters complain of a supposed “war on Christmas,” swearing to impose their own customs and even specific greetings on the entire population of the nation, which was founded on freedom from religious coercion of any kind. This year, the self-styled Christian warriors obsess over the Starbucks seasonal coffee cup, the latest proof that their protests have descended into parody.

Still, these ferocious displays of piety beg a deeper and more serious question. What is the real message of the Christmas story in our time?

It is a story, not a history, as scholars have observed in noting that the Biblical accounts as set down by Luke and Matthew differ in salient ways. But the narrative details of religious allegory need not distract anyone from the message, except those who demand that we interpret Scripture as literal truth, with intent to punish.

It is the story of a child born to a carpenter and his wife, the working class of ancient Judea, who lived under the rule of a distant dictatorial regime and its local enforcers — the one percent of their time. Joseph and Mary were homeless and in at least one version, they were refugees from political oppression. Rejected by society, they were driven into a manger, the equivalent of a cardboard shelter, where Jesus was born among the animals.

And it is a story easy to imagine unfolding today, in a Bronx homeless shelter or a camp tent on a Greek island. Oblivious politicians assure us that we need not concern ourselves with such people and that we can, in good conscience, turn away even children under five years of age for the sake of our own comfort and safety — even as they constantly assure us of their Christian morality.

The story of Christmas is not a political parable but an allegory of light brought into a dark and suffering world, on a date that coincides not accidentally with the winter solstice. Its newborn prophet is a harbinger of divine love for all, most emphatically including the sinners, the impious, the unclean, the unaccepted, the foreigner, the stranger, and the impoverished.

A true appreciation of the Christmas story can only grow from those fundamental insights, not from indignant ranting about paper coffee cups and greeting cards.

Its teaching is straightforward and clear and in the most benign sense radical: Bless the poor, the homeless, the workers, all those destitute and hungry, and especially the infants, children, and mothers. Treat them not with suspicion or hostility or meanness, but with kindness and generosity. Support every effort, public and private, to relieve the privations of humanity, both here and across the world. Cherish every child as your own, whatever their religion or race or nationality.

It is a message so simple that everyone — even Christians like Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Chris Christie — should be able to understand.

So Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And peace be with you.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, December 24, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Christmas, GOP Presidential Candidates, War on Christmas | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jeb Bush & Ted Cruz Only Want To Save Christians”: Advocating For The U.S. To Officially Discriminate Based On Religion

The terror attacks in Paris on Friday were a starting pistol for the Republican presidential candidates’ race to the far right on the Syrian refugee crisis, amid concerns that ISIS-trained terrorists could trickle into the United States as easily as they seem to have entered France, resulting in similar carnage.

The lurch to the right has gone so far that two of the major candidates are advocating for the U.S. to officially discriminate based on religion.

Ben Carson said that allowing any refugees into the United States at all “under these circumstances is a suspension of intellect”; Donald Trump said, “We cannot let them into this country, period”; Marco Rubio switched his position from being “open” to the idea of taking refugees to saying, “It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we can’t.” Rand Paul cautioned the U.S. to be “very careful” to not admit refugees “that might attack us” and, on Monday, announced to reporters that he was preparing a bill to halt refugees from countries with jihadist activity; Chris Christie said that not even “3-year-old orphan” refugees should be allowed to enter the country.

But Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush devised a compromise: The U.S. could admit Syrian refugees so long as the refugees are Christians.

“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said Sunday in South Carolina.

“If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation,” Cruz reasoned. “But it is precisely the Obama administration’s unwillingness to recognize that or ask those questions that makes them so unable to fight this enemy. Because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this.”

On Monday, Cruz announced that he will introduce legislation to ban Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the country.

Jeb Bush, who urged a “really tough screening” process for refugees, said Monday, “I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected, because they are being slaughtered in the country and but for us who? Who would take care of the number of Christians that right now are completely displaced?”

President Obama responded to Cruz and Bush’s proposal with audible frustration on Monday, at the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey.

“Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves, that’s what they’re fleeing,” he said.

And then he seemed to take a direct swipe at Cruz, who has long claimed that his father fled communist Cuba: “When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution? That’s shameful. That’s not American. It’s not who we are.

“I think it’s very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”

The campaigns of Cruz and Bush did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

The process by which refugees can gain entry to the U.S. is not a simple one.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program responsible for refugees, requires applicants to submit to a rigorous screening process which requires all sorts of personal information, from their fingerprints to details about their families and relationships, according to a spokesman.

And if those refugees claim to be fleeing from religious persecution, there is already a system in place to vet their claims.

An official familiar with the process said the DHS uses all “biographic and biometric information” and vets that information against law enforcement, intelligence sources, and other databases in order to check the refugees identity. The refugees are also checked for any criminal history or other “derogatory information, and identify information” during the process.

The refugee cannot travel to the U.S. until all the checks are complete.

The U.S. has been accepting refugees since World War II, when 250,000 of them entered. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 welcomed 400,000 more people.

In 1979, 110,000 Vietnamese refugees came into the country, and 97,000 followed in 1980. During the same period, 120,000 came from Cuba.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the number of refugees entering the U.S. declined. The New York Times notes that in 2002, only 27,131 came. The system for gaining entry to the U.S. is so complex that, as the Times wrote, “most refugees need at least a year and sometimes two to navigate” it.

Sarah Demant, the senior director of the Identity and Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International, told me that the group was “concerned” by the presidential candidates “politicizing” a human-rights issue.

“Human beings who are most vulnerable—refugees and asylum seekers—shouldn’t be used as political maneuvering,” she said. “Human rights are not political.”

“People of all religions are at risk… particularly in Syria with the Syrian refugee crisis. Christians and Muslims and people of all faiths are at risk,” she added. “The U.S. policy should be that all asylum seekers are allowed to seek asylum, no matter what their religion. The value of nondiscrimination is not just a human-rights value, it’s an American value.”

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Discrimination, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Endangering Christian Lives”: Ted Cruz Demonized Arab Christians Before He Liked Them

Just over a year after giving Middle Eastern Christians advice that could have put them in danger, Sen. Ted Cruz has announced Syrian Christian refugees are not a threat and should be first in line to enter the U.S.

And some of his old critics say that’s a long-overdue change in tone.

On Sept. 10, 2014, Cruz headed to the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington to speak at the gala for a conference called “In Defense of Christians,” which brought together Christian leaders from throughout the Middle East to highlight the brutal persecution their congregants faced at the hands of the Islamic State.

The fact Cruz was speaking there at all caused waves in the conservative Beltway press. It started when the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier that day that some of the conference’s speakers and attendees had controversial affiliations; one speaker had previously defended Hezbollah, and another—years earlier—had touted a conspiracy theory about “Christians with Zionist orientations.”

Despite the bad press, Cruz took the stage that evening and launched into a speech, saying that everyone present was united by their commitment to defending persecuted Christians and Jews. He criticized ISIS, Hamas, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah, all to applause. But then he started talking about Israel.

“Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state,” he said, to a mixture of boos and applause. “Let me say this, those who hate Israel, hates America.”

A mixture of boos and applause followed.

“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, I will not stand with you,” he concluded, exiting the stage.

The next day, Cruz doubled down, defending his decision to walk out on the group. He even gave a statement to Breitbart saying the evening “deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred.”

“[B]igotry and hatred have no place in this discussion,” he continued in that statement. “Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight.”

Breitbart’s initial headline of one story even implied the event’s attendees weren’t really Christians.

The event’s organizers—who brought together a historic group of Christian leaders at a moment when their communities faced (and still face) genocide—weren’t impressed.

“He came to a summit in defense of Christians and actually endangered Christian lives,” said the group’s executive director, Andrew Doran, according to the National Catholic Register.

Doran noted to the paper that “standing with Israel”—as Cruz demanded that event attendees do—can make already-vulnerable Christians top targets for Islamist extremists. And in the case of the Syrian civil war, Christian bishops have pushed for their flocks to stay neutral. Middle Eastern geopolitics make for happy hour chit-chat in Washington; for Christians in that region, though, those stances are sometimes matters of life or death.

“People had come here trusting us not to put their lives in danger,” Doran continued to the paper. “People had come here for the sake of unity, and for politicians to take advantage of this for their own agenda is absolutely disgraceful.”

So while Cruz has apologized to conservative political pundits, he has never expressed remorse for demanding that attendees applaud Israel or for characterizing them as hateful bigots.

Since launching his presidential campaign, though, event organizers say Cruz’s tone has changed. In particular, they point to comments he made on Sunday about Syrian Christians.

“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said at a recent campaign stop in South Carolina, arguing that the U.S. should admit Christian refugees but not Muslim ones.

That particular debate arose in the wake of the terror attacks on Paris, as one of the shooters entered France by pretending to be a refugee.

“If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation,” he continued. “But it is precisely the Obama administration’s unwillingness to recognize that or ask those questions that makes them so unable to fight this enemy. Because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this.”

An adviser to the In Defense of Christians group told The Daily Beast that this new approach represents a change in tone for the senator, and a welcome one at that.

“Senator Cruz took an unfortunate posture at last year’s IDC Summit considering the lives of some in the room were imperiled by what he said, and since some of the attendees were recent survivors of the invasion by Daesh, and others had lost family members to Daesh,” the advisor said.

“That said, we are pleased to now see Senator Cruz offer more thoughtful and constructive comments to improve, rather than imperil the Christians of the Middle East who seem to be forgotten when it comes to the soundness of the strategies and tactics to defeat Daesh, on the matters of refugee status, and qualifying Middle East Christians as victims of a genocide,” he continued.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz’s campaign, strongly disagreed that the senator’s tone on Middle Eastern Christians has changed.

“Cruz rightly spoke against those who loudly booed his support for Israel,” she said. “The entire purpose of the dinner, of which he was a keynote, was to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East, a cause for which he has consistently and strongly supported. I completely disagree with any assertion that he has changed his ‘tone.’”

Does Ted Cruz talk differently about marginalized populations depending on who’s listening—defending their integrity when it’s convenient and characterizing them as hateful bigots when needed? You decide.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, November 18, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Syrian Refugees, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Guns Are Cheaper At This Tennessee Store If You’re A Christian”: What Better Way To Honor Victims Of A Mass Shooting Than With A Big Gun Sale

Christians who are looking a good deal on a gun need look no further than Frontier Firearms. The Kingston, Tennessee liberty-defending establishment began offering 5 percent discounts last week for anyone who says “I’m a Christian” before purchasing a new handgun.

The rebate was announced shortly after the tragic shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon earlier this month—where the shooter allegedly asked his victims if they were Christians before shooting them.

And what better way to honor victims of a mass shooting than with a a big gun sale?

“If Christians are going to be targeted, we need to protect ourselves,” owner Brant Williams said when the discount began. He, and Frontier Firearms vice president Eric Parish, characterize the mass shooting as religiously motivated, citing reports that shooter Chris Harper Mercer asked students about their faith before killing them.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, or Republican, an Independent, the Green Party, I don’t care what party you’re with. But to say that that shooting right there had nothing to do with religion is ludicrous,” Parish told the Daily Beast. “What if someone had done the same thing and they only shot them if they were Muslim? Would the President react differently?”

Parish alleges the sale, now extended until the end of the month (so hurry!), is no longer reserved for just Christians—or people who say they are Christians— but any and all people willing to declare a religion prior to buying a new weapon.

If a customer said they were Muslim, would there still be a discount. “Of course,” according to Parish, so long as they didn’t also say they were an extremist planning a mass shooting. Obviously.

“Religion was a part of this country’s founding, you know religious freedom. And that’s what it’s about,” Parish said. “Being able to say ‘hey I’m this,’ without getting shot in the back of the head because of it.”

Frontier Firearms has gotten their fair share of colorful commentary from customers who do not appreciate the creative sale. “FUCK YOU, you fucking fear mongering opportunistic scum wads!” wrote one thoughtful potential customer. “You fucking gun idiots make me sick. BTW the Oregon shooter was a Conservative Republican… he was one of you. BTW the bearded fool is he the owner? He looks like a JEWBAG.”

Not exactly the armed, kumbaya  Parish was hoping for.

Despite Parish alleging that the store is welcoming any and all faiths, Frontier Firearms’ owner is promoting his own Christian Carry Pins which as the name suggests read: “I am Christian and I carry.” They are $5.00 each which is way less than the 5 percent customers would save on the new guns they buy. Semi-automatic pistols are available at Fronteir Firearms for as low as $408.

“This is America,” Parish said. “And I’m still pretty sure you can pick what your religion is without being persecuted for it.”

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, October 13, 2015

October 19, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Gun Control, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Horrors! There Are Muslims Among Us”: Demanding Every Public Space Be Accommodating To Christians, First And Foremost

For an object lesson in how social media can create a tempest in a teapot, look no further than Wichita State University in Kansas.

Six months ago, the university renovated a nondenominational chapel on campus so that it could more easily accommodate prayer by Muslim students. Essentially, pews were removed (replaced by stackable chairs) so that prayer carpets could be spread on the floor.

The alteration was uncontroversial … until an alumna of the university caught wind of it and bewailed the indignity on Facebook. “The Muslims are ecstatic,” she posted, according to the Wichita Eagle. “Sumpin’ NOT right here.”

Other alumni escalated the issue, and in short order the university’s president agreed (in a Facebook post) to revisit the decision to remove the pews.

It took six months for the now furious alumni to learn of the changes, raising questions about just how invested they are in the chapel and the religious life of the student body.

The alumna who started the furor is now declining interviews, but for a while she continued to post comments such as, “God will always trump allah” (sic).

She’s likely unaware that the “Allah” is Arabic for God. And, given other posts, it’s doubtful she’s waded into the deep theological discussions. Rather, what we have here is a Christian who demands that every public space be accommodating to Christians, first and foremost, and that everyone else needs to stand back. It’s all about feelings — her own.

“Again, it was NEVER just about the pews,” she wrote in another post. “It was WHO/WHAT caused them to be removed and the affect it will have on non-muslims.”

It should also be underscored that Christian students who used the chapel also favored taking out the pews to make the space more inviting to Bible study groups and interfaith events. The request came through the student government association.

As news of the imbroglio spread, Fox News got in on the act. A columnist on its website called the chapel renovation “Christian cleansing.”

“This is what the Islamic transformation of a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values looks like, folks,” wrote Todd Starnes. “The Christian faith is marginalized while the Islamic faith is given accommodation.”

Why not accommodate Muslims at Wichita State? They number about 1,000 out of the nearly 15,000 student body. As the Wichita Eagle also explained, most of the foreign Muslim students pay three times the tuition rates of in-state students.

For some, every accommodation of other faiths (or of those of no faith) is an affront to their own. Christians are not the only offenders in this regard.

Patterns of belief and worship change, and that can be hard to accept, but that change has been going on for a long time. In cities across America, there are predominantly African-American Christian churches that have stained glass windows and other remnants from the time when those spaces were Jewish synagogues. The congregations changed as Jewish populations moved further away from urban neighborhoods.

God is no less present because of the shift in believers.

Wichita State’s Harvey D. Grace Memorial Chapel was never intended to be only for Christian students, although revisionist arguments are being made now. The chapel was a gift to the university by the namesake’s widow, dating back to 1964. A “nondenominational” worship space back then more than likely had a Christian context. These days, on virtually any state university campus you will meet many Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims.

But Muslims are the focus here. Given what’s happening in the world, some regard any Muslim as a potential threat, whether they are a foreign student, a U.S. citizen by birth or a refugee in crisis. And it’s not only in Kansas that people think this way.

The week the Wichita State story broke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was chastising Eastern European governments for letting Islamophobia undercut humanitarian outreach efforts to Syrians escaping turmoil and now streaming across Europe.

Obviously, alumni of any university or college have an important role to play. They have a vested interest in the stability of their alma mater. But alumni who are good stewards understand that they shouldn’t meddle by imposing their prejudices.

As Wichita State President John Bardo wrote, “Our goal should be exactly what Mrs. Grace set out to do in her gift, to have an all faiths chapel that is welcoming to all religious groups on campus.”

Now there is an example of a generous gift that had some foresight toward the future.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, October 10, 2015

October 12, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Muslims, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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