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“The Harrowing Lives Of Christians In The Middle East”: When All Is Said And Done, They Have Only Their Faith

Witnessing sectarian turmoil in the Middle East, and observing the back and forth over which threat is most existential to countries in that religiously sensitive region, a soft voice asks: “Don’t Christian lives matter, too?” Depends upon how it’s expressed.

This weekend, the Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations will celebrate the Feast of Saint Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church will recognize Mary’s assumption into heaven.

Words

● An Aug. 11 article by The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, featured Aviya Morris, a 20-year-old West Bank settler, described as “the fresh new face of Jewish extremism.”

According to the article, “in 2013 [Morris] was arrested on suspicion of involvement in vandalizing Jerusalem’s Monastery of the Cross, where assailants left behind the spray-painted message ‘Jesus — son of a whore’ on a wall.”

Morris, The Post reported, was released without being charged.

● An Aug. 10 Anti-Defamation League news release expressed outrage at remarks made by Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, director of Lehava, which the ADL called “a far-right extremist organization in Israel.” According to the release, Gopstein reportedly said he favored the burning of churches and compared Christianity to idol worship.

The remarks were made, the ADL said, during a symposium on Jewish religious law on Aug. 4 in Jerusalem, when Gopstein was asked: “Are you in favor of burning [churches] or not?” He replied: “Of course I am! It’s Maimonides. It’s a simple yes. What’s the question?”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in the release, “Rabbi Gopstein’s views have no place within the Jewish tradition or in a democratic society,” and Greenblatt called for an apology.

● A June 18 ADL news release condemned a suspected religiously motivated hate crime against the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

The ADL said the 1,500-year-old church was set on fire early in the morning, damaging the prayer room and outer areas of the church: “Graffiti reading ‘False idols will be smashed’ — a line from Jewish prayer — was spray-painted on one of the walls.”

“We deplore this despicable hate crime against one of the holiest Christian sites in Israel,” said then-ADL leader Abraham H. Foxman in the release. Foxman also noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had condemned the attack and promised to prosecute the perpetrators.

Until those words describing anti-Christian hostility appeared in The Post and the ADL releases, I had never heard of Morris or Gopstein. They were made prominent by the publications. There is no indication that more than a small minority of Israelis shares such hatred. But it does exist, at least among a few, in the region where Christianity was born, and it finds expression in venom-filled words and desecrated churches.

Deeds

Christians beyond Israel are far worse off.

You wouldn’t know that is the case, however, from the attention that Middle Eastern Christians receive.

Followers of Christ in Iraq, quiet as it has been kept, have borne a large brunt of the pain resulting from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Before 2003, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today, because of killings and panicked flights from terror, that number is below 500,000.

The Islamic State’s calling card to Christians in Syria and Iraq: Convert to Islam or pay with your life. Recall the scenes on the Libyan beaches where Ethiopian and Egyptian Christians were beheaded.

“We’re certainly looking at the potential end of Christianity in the Middle East if no one does anything to protect these ancient communities that are dwindling now,” said Eliza Griswold, author of a recent New York Times Magazine article about the dire straits of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

But the international dueling over the Iran nuclear deal, sectarian turmoil and Israel’s response to foreign threats overshadow the plight of Christians.

Middle Eastern Christians have no army of their own, no government that represents them in world capitals, no voice in international parleys that have a bearing on their fate. They are vulnerable; their plight is slighted by Western powers fearful, as Griswold wrote, of “appearing to play into the crusader and ‘clash of civilizations’ narratives the West is accused of embracing.”

When all’s said and done, Christians in the Middle East have only their faith.

But they know, as do the Christians who will pay tribute to Jesus’s mother — a saint, not a whore — this weekend, that earthly powers don’t have the last word, that a cup of strength lies within their grasp, and that though they suffer, they, as Christians, actually matter to the one who matters to them most of all.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 14, 2015

August 17, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Middle East, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boldly Claiming Things That Aren’t Even Remotely True”: Ted Cruz’s Biggest Liability Is Probably His Constant Lying

Politicians lie. It’s almost non-controversial; elected officials are advocates who want to show themselves and their causes in the best possible light. Nobody tells the whole truth.

Senator Ted Cruz wants you to think he is different: the video he released Monday morning ahead of his presidential campaign announcement was titled “Time for truth.” Those were also the first words he spoke at Liberty University after making his official announcement.

If Cruz is different, however, it’s because of how boldly he claims things that aren’t even remotely true. His vacations from reality take on a gleeful exuberance, like a college freshman on his first trip to Daytona.

Cruz told a CPAC crowd, for example, that Democrats issued an ominous threat to the Catholic Church: “Change your religious beliefs or we’ll use our power in the federal government to shut down your charities and your hospitals.” Politifact naturally deemed this “both incorrect and ridiculous.”

A quick survey of some other Cruz gems:

  • Cruz said ISIS is “right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees.” It wasn’t, and Cruz wasn’t able to offer any evidence.
  • Cruz described a “strong bipartisan majority” in the House that voted to repeal Obamacare. Two Democrats joined the Republicans.
  • He bluntly claimed that “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception … have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” This is not true.
  • In recent weeks, Cruz has been using some variation of this line: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” The IRS doesn’t have 110,000 employees, let alone agents. (There are 14,000).

This may read as an oppo-dump of misstatements from a guy who’s now running for president. But anyone who has followed Cruz’s career knows it’s the tip of the iceberg—he frequently just seems to be free-associating conservative grievances with “facts” pulled from nowhere.

In some ways this is a huge asset for Cruz: he is clearly trying to establish himself as not only the most right-wing presidential candidate, but the truth-teller who isn’t afraid to say what conservatives know to be right. (They got that e-mail forward about it, after all!)

Combined with his aggressive play for evangelical voters, in this way Cruz is not unlike the Michele Bachmann of years past—except with a much better political resume and a bigger bankroll.

Of course, the last image many people have of Bachmann is being chased down a hallway by CNN’s Dana Bash in the final days of her congressional career; Bash wanted to confront Bachmann over the thoroughly ludicrous claim that Obama was spending $1.4 billion on personal expenses each year. It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media made hay with Bachmann. Even normally credulous reporters just couldn’t resist the easy layup.

One wonders if Cruz, too, might eventually see his truthiness turn into a liability. Speaking at CPAC is one thing, but standing on the national stage seeking to be president is another.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, March 23, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Politicians, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“WTF Is ‘Natural Marriage’?”: When You Don’t Like The Way A Debate Is Going, Change The Terms

Today’s Politics 101 pop quiz: In the course of a fierce ideological battle, when it becomes clear that one side is getting its butt kicked, what are leaders of the losing team expected to do? A. Double down. B. Scare the crap out of their followers. C. Beg for money. D. All of the above.

No one really needs help with this one, do they?

So with public acceptance of gay marriage growing faster than Justin Bieber’s rap sheet, the culture warriors at the Family Research Council have been hawking their National Campaign in Defense of Natural Marriage. In multiple email calls to arms, FRC president Tony Perkins is urging people of “character and values” to “take a stand” by signing an on-line petition and, while they’re at it, donating a little something to this “counteroffensive.” By March 31, FRC wants—nay, “needs”—250,000 signatures and $1.1 million to “fund this demanding work of behalf of America’s families.” At that point, the e-petition will be deposited at the feet of the group’s latest hero, Sen. Ted Cruz, “in a public display of support for natural marriage.” Perkins pleads/warns/threatens: “I want to encourage you: natural marriage is not a lost cause in America—unless we give up and let the same-sex ‘marriage’ advocates have their way because we failed to stand up for what is right.”

Now, as a political obsessive subscribed to an unhealthy number of email lists, I receive a daily flood of overwrought solicitations from across the spectrum. Most I toss after a quick glance. But Perkins’s latest entreaties stopped me, not because of their tone or topic but because of their language. Specifically, I somehow missed the moment when “natural marriage” became the preferred term of anti-gay-marriage crusaders. (Sadly, despite several interview requests, the folks at FRC were unavailable to discuss this matter.)

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. As political rhetoric goes, “natural marriage” is ever so much more evocative—and, better yet, provocative—than the more commonly employed term “traditional marriage.” After all, plenty of folks would be amenable to, or perhaps even charmed by, the idea of an untraditional marriage. An unnatural marriage, by contrast, brings to mind all manner of unsavory couplings—like, for instance, the man-on-dog action that keeps Rick Santorum up at night. And, indeed, defenders of “natural marriage” talk a lot about how gay marriage is an affront to God’s “natural law.”

The folks at FRC did not, it should be noted, come up with the phrase on their own. The Catholic Church, for instance, tends to refer to “natural marriage” in contrast to “sacramental marriage”—the former being an exclusive, lifetime covenant between a man and a woman of no particular religious backgrounds, while the latter is specifically the union of a man and woman baptized within the Church. In this context, a natural marriage, while good and legitimate, is nonetheless spiritually inferior to a sacramental one.

Less canonically, “natural marriage” is also at times used as a rough synonym for “common-law marriage.” Even if limited to the hetero variety, such non-ceremonial arrangements, recognized by only a handful of states, would seem to be a far cry from the super-stable family environments that natural-marriage advocates are ostensibly seeking.

Not that any of this much matters now, as “natural marriage”  has become a rallying cry for those looking to beat back, as Perkins puts it, “the agenda of the Progressive Left and radical homosexual lobby.” Back in 2004, a FRC pamphlet promoting hetero-only unions was all about “traditional marriage,” as were many of the group’s other communiques up through 2012. More recently, however, its commentary has been increasingly all “natural,” so to speak. Similarly, conservative groups like the Liberty Counsel (the legal nonprofit that takes up conservative causes pro bono) and Americans for the Truth about Homosexuality are solidly on the “natural” bandwagon.

As conservative spin doctor Frank Luntz taught us, if you don’t like the way a debate is going, you need to change the terms. Literally. Trying to rally a nation against the estate tax is a tough lift. But a “death tax”? Now there’s rhetorical gold. “Global warming” = scary and bad; “climate change,” not so much. In some cases, the differences may amount to no more than a couple of letters—say, the Democratic party vs. the Democrat party. And when it comes to firing up the faithful, not to mention separating them from their cash, “natural marriage” certainly seems to pack more gut-level oomph than its more “traditional” cousin.

The debate in question, however, may be beyond the point of such rhetorical retrofitting. These days, not even the veiled threats of bestiality, polygamy, and other comparably “unnatural” acts seem likely to derail the marriage equality train. Which may explain why, with less than a week left in its petition drive, FRC had yet to crack 10,000 signatories. Only 240,000 to go.

 

By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, March 27, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Warning For Republicans In 2014”: Francis Proves Fighting Yesterday’s Culture War Is Folly

What a difference a year makes. And what a difference a pope makes. At Christmas services this year, the priest at our local church told the families gathered for the children’s pageant that Jesus loves and is represented in everyone, including gays and lesbians. Our local church isn’t Jesuit, nor particularly liberal, but before Pope Francis stepped up with a new message of inclusivity, none of us had ever expected to hear anything like that at church, let alone at Christmas Eve mass. The congregation cheered.

The priest also pressed his core Christmas theme that the greatest joy we will experience is the joy we feel when serving others. Serving the poor is another significant shift in focus that Francis has brought to reinvigorate the church. Surely, there is no message more central to Jesus’ teaching and the Christian tradition than serving others and loving humanity, and, yet, prior to Francis’ ascent, it was a message eclipsed by a Catholic Church bent on fighting culture wars and chastising those who stray from its teachings. All too often, serving the poor had taken a backseat to the Church’s war on abortion and gay marriage.

Francis called an end to those culture wars, urging bishops to spend more time healing their flock and less time fighting political battles. He started a revolution by answering a reporter’s question about gay priests with the question, “who am I to judge?” and then later, elaborating, urged bishops to drop their “obsession” with gays, abortion and contraception and to create a welcoming church that is a “home for all.” Recently, Pope Francis removed a conservative American cardinal from a key Vatican committee after the cardinal said, “One gets the impression … that [the Pope] thinks we’re talking too much about abortion [and gay marriage.] But we can never talk enough about that.”

Instead of focusing on political fights, Francis is urging a renewed focus on serving the poor, pushing his cardinals to abandon their “psychology of princes” and get out of the lavish Vatican. He, himself, has rejected the posh apartment, cars and wardrobe of previous popes to live, travel and dress simply and humbly. He celebrated his recent birthday with homeless men, and has drawn attention for kissing and embracing a severely disfigured man and washing the feet of girls in a juvenile jail. Surely, there is no Catholic leader this Christmas who is closer in his own practices to the teachings and life of Jesus. In retrospect, his selection of his papal name seems perfectly apt: Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century patron saint of the poor.

Where the previous Catholic Church hierarchy had denied communion to elected officials who voted to give poor women the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies, the current pope exhorts that communion is open to all and not to be treated as “a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

What a difference a year makes. Actually, it’s been a mere nine months.

There are some lessons here for Washington. And for the Republican party in particular.

The first lesson is how quickly things can change. Republicans starting 2014 giddy about the coming elections for Congress may not want to count their chickens before they’ve hatched. Much of their giddiness rides on the poorly handled roll-out of Obamacare and resulting negative public opinion about both health care reform and the president. But the federal website – healthcare.gov – is rapidly improving. Although only about 30,000 people were able to enroll in the launch month of October, the same number was able to enroll in the first two days of December, alone, with nearly 1 million people enrolling in December overall.

Americans are starting to find out for themselves what affordable, high-quality health care looks like without pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits and caps on coverage, now that insurance companies no longer call the shots. And they like it. Over this year, word will spread around America about people too young for Medicare – but too old and sick to find a new job or to buy individual insurance – who finally have insurance, or kids with cancer who finally get care, or women who don’t lose their insurance simply because they become pregnant or get breast cancer. And, as that word spreads, minds will change. Republicans who gloat today over projected victories in November based on their presumption of public distaste for Obamacare are vulnerable to a quickly changing future.

The second lesson to take to heart is that culture wars may not be as popular as those waging them think. No doubt many American bishops leading the war against gay marriage and contraception believed the majority of their flock, as well as their fellow Catholic leadership, was behind them. Today, they are shocked to hear words of chastisement from the Vatican and surprised at how Francis’ message of inclusivity and economic justice is garnering sky high public approval ratings – from 88 percent of American Catholics and three-quarters of non-Catholic Americans, in a CNN poll shortly before Christmas – and landing him on the cover of Time and other magazines as person of the year.

Just like their political allies among conservative American bishops, Republican obsessed with social issues are somewhat out of touch with the general public, yet they remain unaware of this critical fact. And this is their Achilles heel. They were surprised on election night this year to find their extremism rejected at the polls in Virginia, Alabama and elsewhere, and they continued to believe they lost because they had not pushed their extremist agenda harder – out of touch with the polling that showed American voters rejected extremism and favored leaders willing to work across the aisle to forge compromise and get results.

Republican leaders obsessed with so-called family values while simultaneously breaking up undocumented families, slashing food stamps and cutting off unemployment insurance will be as disappointed in November as conservative American bishops were this fall when they discovered they were out on a limb in their culture wars without sufficient backing among either their flock or their colleagues in Rome.

 

By: Carrie Wofford, U. S. News and World Report, December 30, 2013

December 31, 2013 Posted by | Pope Francis, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Cross And The Coin”: Why Conservatives Just Don’t Get Pope Francis’ Anti-Poverty Crusade

On Sunday, Pope Francis matter-of-factly announced that he was not actually a Marxist, telling Italy’s La Stampa, “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” It was an incredible thing for a pope to proclaim about himself, especially since it was directed at one particularly loud group of critics: U.S. conservatives.

Since outlining his vision for the Catholic church in late November, Pope Francis has endured an amount of criticism from the American right wing commensurate only with the praise piled on by the remainder of global Christianity. For most, Francis’ moving exhortation to spread the gospel and engage personally with Jesus was a welcome and invigorating encouragement. But for many right wing pundits in America, Francis’ call to relieve global poverty through state intervention in markets was unconscionably troubling.

Francis’ message likely raises American conservative hackles because the American right wing has invented such a convincing façade of affinity between fiscal conservatism and Christianity over the last few decades. Though free markets, profit motives, and unrestrained accumulation of wealth have no immediate relationship with Christianity, the cross and the coin are nonetheless powerful, paired symbols of the American right wing. Catholic conservatives thus must carve a way around Francis’ difficult insistence that governments be harnessed toward the relief of poverty, not the creation of it.

A popular conservative criticism has thus been to accuse the Pope of having an unhealthy, non-theological affinity for the political left. Rush Limbaugh labeled Francis a “Marxist” for that reason, while Fox News’ Adam Shaw wrote him off as akin to President Barack Obama, derisively noting that “anti-Catholics in the left-wing media are in love with him.” Ross Douthat at The New York Times put the same argument more delicately, writing that Francis’ “plain language tilts leftward in ways that no serious reader can deny.”

It is no surprise that aligning Francis with the whole of the political left brings with it the arguments right wing critics usually lob against liberals: That the left is corrupt on the moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriage; that the left is incorrect as to how poverty comes to exist; and that the left means to replace Christian charity with soulless, dependency-producing state aid programs. Between Limbaugh, Shaw, and Douthat, Francis has been accused of each of these errors, all in an effort to drain the religious content from Francis’ message in order to dismiss him as just another leftist.

But the reality is that this method of criticism does little more than demonstrate the ordering of right wing priorities: Though they accuse Francis’ message of rising from an unduly political place, their arguments rely on a uniquely American political frame rather than a Christian one. Limbaugh, Shaw, and Douthat may claim to object to Francis as Christians, but they argue against him first and foremost as conservatives invested in the free market.

Douthat, for example, argues that global capitalism has been responsible for an overall reduction in poverty. But Francis’ exhortation never called for an elimination of capitalism, only that states, as creations of humankind, be structured so as to alleviate the poverty that arises after capitalism has done its work. For Francis, all institutions created by humanity — and yes, distributions of wealth are created, not spontaneous — must be intentionally shaped to further just goals. Since Francis’ notion of justice is informed purely by the teaching of Christ, just goals include establishing an equitable distribution of wealth that alleviates poverty and contributes to peace.

That Francis’ right wing Christian critics are informed by a uniquely American belief in the moral neutrality of markets and distributions is especially clear when they’re compared with their European Christian counterparts, whose intellectual traditions differ broadly from what Thomas Nagel has called America’s “everyday libertarian” approach to politics. When Pope Francis was still Cardinal Jose Bergoglio, the British party known as the Christian People’s Alliance stated the following in their 2010 platform:

The Christian Peoples Alliance believes that Britain will return to economic prosperity when government chooses instead to put human relationships in right order. This requires power, income, and wealth to be redistributed and for greater equality to be achieved. These are deeply spiritual convictions and reflect a Biblical pattern of priorities… [Christian People’s Alliance]

It would be disingenuous to label the British Christian People’s Alliance a left wing party: They’re opposed to abortion and support the teaching Christian values in public schools. But because they are firstly a Christian organization, their sentiments regarding the distribution of wealth track perfectly with those expressed by Francis, as is the case with numerous European Christian parties. This is because for the Pope as well as Christian groups organized outside of the American tradition, the primacy of Christian ethical thought is applied to all aspects of human existence, markets and the distribution of wealth included.

But the sanctity of markets is a foregone conclusion for his right wing critics. Their politics precede their religion, and their criticisms belie their accusation that Francis is the one who displays an overly strong affinity for politics. So far, no serious theological arguments have been raised by the right wing contra Francis, and I doubt any will be raised: For the Pope’s conservative critics in the U.S., the first concern is not religious.

 

By: Elizabeth Stoker, The Week, December 17, 2013

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Pope Francis, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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