Blasphemy Day

blasphemy-unThis morning I learned that today is International Blasphemy Day.  According to Wikipedia, it is an annual tradition that began in 2009.  The date was set to coincide with the publishing of the cartoons of Muhammad by a Danish newspaper back in 2005.  As you may recall, the resulting violence led to hundreds of deaths.

Blasphemy laws still exist in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, European ones, and even in parts of the United States.  However, they aren’t really enforced in this country since the 1952 Supreme Court case which ruled these laws are a violation of free speech.

Personally I believe that every religion (or lack thereof) should be examined and questioned.  After all, there are a multitude of religions out there professing to be the correct path for salvation.  Given their competing and even contradictory claims, they can’t all be right.

When you come right down to it, it isn’t hard to say that most religions would be considered blasphemous to adherents of another.  There are Jews who consider Christians blasphemous for their beliefs and Muslims who similarly condemn Hindus.  And I’m sure we all have an atheist friend or two (or at least know of one) who thinks the whole matter of religion is just downright silly, who can’t understand why anyone would follow ancient texts or pray to some unseen deity.  These days we hear a lot about the barbarism of ISIS, how they butcher Christians, Muslims, and others who don’t adhere to their strict religious standards.

And what about the long struggle amongst differing denominations and sects?  The multitude of historical wars between the Catholics and Protestants as well as Shia and Sunni?  How much blood has been spilled, property confiscated, and liberty stolen as a result of these conflicts?  Each sought to impose their religion upon the unwilling masses, each punishing the other for what it perceives as blasphemy.

I’m sure that my fellow Christians will remember that even Jesus himself was condemned for blasphemy by the Jewish leaders of his day (example Mark 14:55-63) which ultimately led to his execution.  Although we believe it fulfilled God’s plan for humanity, can we declare the actions of the Jewish and Roman authorities just?

For those who support local, state, national, or even UN imposed blasphemy laws, what sort should we enact?  Should they be Christian?  Or Muslim?  Should they protect the image of Muhammad?  Jesus?  Moses?  The pope?  Or how about our head of state or other government officials?  Should we imprison or kill those who say that there is no god?  Or that there is but one god?  Or those who worship a million gods?  How about punishing those who work on the wrong day?  But what is that day?  Is Sunday?  Or Saturday?  Or perhaps some other day of the week?  Are you starting to see the problem?

Drawing on the picture at the beginning of this article, there are some people in this country who choose to believe in and even worship a man in a red suit who supposedly brings presents to good children on December 25th.  If another person declares that the man in red doesn’t exist, should that statement be considered blasphemous to his faithful devotees?

Delving further, when crafting anti-blasphemy laws, whose definition of blasphemy ought we use?  Should it be the will of the majority?  Do minorities have rights too?  What happens if the makeup of the country changes and some new religion becomes dominant?  Should this new group be allowed to impose its wishes upon those previously in power?  After all, such is the nature of a true and pure democracy, isn’t it?

Nevertheless, with all of these thoughts in mind, I have to say that I find it sad that we celebrate something called Blasphemy Day.  Just because we may or may not hold to the same religion as our neighbor, that doesn’t mean that we ought to delight in demeaning his or her beliefs.  There is nothing wrong with questioning religion, even our own, but outright mocking of a person for his or her faith is another matter.

One legitimate purpose of the state is the ability to allow me, you, or anyone else the freedom to practice (or not to practice) his or her own religious beliefs so long as doing so does not infringe upon our neighbors to do likewise.  Ideally, blasphemy laws have no place in a free society but neither does something called Blasphemy Day.  At least that is my $.02.

Obenshain Out? Gillespie In?

Senator Obenshain
Senator Obenshain

In a move that surprised many political activists, yesterday Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham), widely considered to be the Republican front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor of Virginia in 2017, announced that he would not be seeking that office.  With Obenshain’s decision, it now seems likely that Ed Gillespie will not only seek the nod, but also be the new presumptive front-runner.  Gillespie, as one may recall, narrowly lost the race for U.S. Senate in 2014.

Although some people in the Republican Party are enthusiastic about Gillespie being their standard-bearer in 2017, others have expressed dismay.  Rewinding the clock to the last election, I spoke to many liberty activists in Virginia who were opposed to Gillespie, viewing him as yet another establishment, big government Republican.  As the 2014 election drew close, a vast majority of liberty-minded Republicans told me that they would be casting their ballots for Libertarian Robert Sarvis as opposed to the official Republican nominee.  A few others stated that they would write-in Shak Hill or simply not vote.  At one point, I could only find one member of the liberty movement statewide who openly supported Gillespie.  Even though that number has grown slightly, a vast majority of the liberty activists in Virginia seemed to be opposed to a Gillespie candidacy in 2014 and have remained that way today.

Does that mean that Gillespie cannot win in 2017?  Certainly not.  After all, even without the support of many traditional Republican voters he came remarkably close to knocking off Senator Mark Warner.  Now, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that Warner has far better name id and favorability than likely 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam.  Therefore, one would assume Gillespie’s chances couldn’t get any worse.  However, if the Republican Party of Virginia nominates Gillespie again, it will likely widen the rift and civil war currently plaguing the party.

For one example, last night one of my liberty-minded friends posted a piece on Facebook in support of Ed Gillespie’s candidacy.  Although several people were quick to respond, denouncing Gillespie publicly, I was told that even more expressed their disapproval of him privately.  As another activist wrote, “Anyone who wants to challenge Gillespie for the 2017 gubernatorial nomination in VA – please get in touch with me about helping your campaign.”

Even though I would argue that Obenshain is in a weaker position than he found himself in 2013, yesterday’s announcement was still unexpected.  Given the relationship between Obenshain and Gillespie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the state senator throws his support behind the former RPV Chairman.  However, unless Gillespie discovered and articulates the principles of liberty, I assume that one or more conservative challengers will rise up to oppose him.  And, meaning no disrespect to Ed Gillespie, as he seems like a decent person outside of politics, if Gillespie is the nominee again then I hope that the Libertarians nominate a strong candidate so that the liberty vote within the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, and elsewhere has someplace to make itself heard.

Finding a Political Home

RLC LPThe “On this Day” feature of Facebook is rather amazing, isn’t it?  Today, it reminded me of an event that took place two years ago, my removal from the board of directors of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia.  This action was taken in response to my employment with the 2013 Robert Sarvis for Governor campaign.  Although I fought against my expulsion, at first, as I strongly believed in the mission of the RLC to promote liberty within the ranks of the Republican Party, I did understand where they were coming from and thus did not contest the matter further.

When I posted my piece on Facebook, the Treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Virginia told me that it was “time for you to come home.”  I assumed it was an invitation to join the LP.  In some ways it was a rather curious message.  After all, at that point I was not a member of the Libertarian Party nor had I ever been.  Like many folks that promote liberty and reducing the size and scope of government, the Republican Party was the only political home that I had ever known.  But that home would soon be destroyed.  Little did I know that less than five months later, in early 2014, I would be kicked out of the Harrisonburg Republican Party, a group I had volunteered countless hours with since the age of 15.  I discovered that being without a political home sort of sucks and, as such, a month or two later I ended up joining the Libertarian Party.  Although I ran for office that fall, I did so as an independent for a variety of reason beyond the scope of this article.

Unfortunately, the liberty movement is divided and without a unified home.  Many of us reside within the Republican Party, others in the Libertarian Party, a few with the Democrats, and some that have taken another path or given up on politics entirely.  Even worse, we spend so much of our time fighting each other that often the push for liberty is lost.  Libertarians think Republicans are sell-outs, Republicans declare that the Libertarian Party is a waste of time, and neither group spends much time thinking about the handful of us who are Democrats.

What can we do?  The answer to this situation is illusive.

Being in the Republican fold these days means that my fellow liberty activists are often compelled or even forced into supporting candidates who stand in stark contrast to their principles.  Some of my brothers and sisters in the GOP have told me that they despise the Republican Party and her candidates, but they feel that they have no other option.  I’m sure that many of us profoundly wish that the Republican Party held true to their principles and actually supported liberty and limited government.  Now, there certainly is a segment who do hold to these values, but they are a minority.

Conversely, the Libertarian Party is quite small and faces enormously unfair hurdles in areas such as ballot and debate access.  There are many stories of the LP being bullied by the Republican establishment, presumably done in order to keep the liberty-wing of the Republican Party from switching sides.  The Libertarian Party is plagued by division and a lack of resources.  Like any political party, there are a variety of ideological disagreements among members.  In addition, they have a bit of an image problem; for the longest time I viewed them as little more than immoral, pot-smoking, hedonists.  As for the Democrats…well, I don’t really know what to say about them.

The simple fact is that every political ideology requires a home, a party which promotes its interests.  The liberty movement is divided and is a diaspora.  It needs a major political party to steadfastly promote its principles.  Although they bash each other in public, behind closed doors I have heard conversations from both RLC members and Libertarians who agree on almost every major point.  So, the question remains.  What can we do to find a common political home for the liberty movement, one that both wields significant political influence and one that doesn’t routinely betray the cause?

Evil In Politics

rachel2I have to say that I’ve seen a lot on my political journey.  That’s one reason why I began writing a book back in 2013 which catalogs my various adventures and encounters.  Hopefully, you will be able to find this tome at a bookstore one day.

When it comes to my fellow activists and politicians, you can find quite a variety of positions and personalities.  Of course it is great to discover fellow liberty activists, but it is always refreshing to find some people who, motivated by the noblest intentions, are seeking to better the political environment, promote a certain set of values, and generally improve society as a whole, even when people with such traits happen to hold a radically different ideology.  There is certainly something to be said for civility and decency.

Unfortunately, I regret to say that I have discovered that such honorable individuals are a minority in the political sphere, especially when in comes to those who are in the high places of power and influence.  Whether it is using your influence to cover up drunk-driving or assault, to give taxpayer dollars to your friends and donors, or to bully others into silence or submission, these actions are all too common.  And, when a good person rises up, far too often he or she is either marginalized, defeated, or, worst of all, corrupted by the establishment.

However, the absolute worst people in politics I have found, the greatest evil, have to be the sociopaths.  Although I don’t know if they have been professionally diagnosed with the disorder, I have unfortunately had a variety of dealings with at least two individuals who I am fairly certain are sociopaths (or something quite similar).  Yes, they may appear quite charming at first, but that only masks their true nature; they are manipulative, deceptive, self-serving, without remorse, and completely devoid of empathy.  I’ve read that people with such personality defects are drawn to power like a moth to flame.

In addition, there are quite a lot of folks who actively ignore, cover-up, or rationalize evil committed by others.  In order to get ahead, they hide their boss’, staffer’s, or party’s transgressions.  Although quite willing to condemn an opponent for the very same behavior, in blatant hypocrisy they won’t speak against their own side unless forced to or they believe that such an action can be leveraged to their own personal advantage.

Although we’d like to think people enter and remain in politics for the right reasons, that ideal is often far removed from reality.  So, that begs the question.  Under such circumstances why would good people ever willingly choose to entangle themselves in such a morass?

Well, to borrow a quote that I shared about a month ago on Facebook from the film Batman Begins, as Rachel Dawes says, “What chance does Gotham have, when the good people do nothing?”

I know that it is easy to get discouraged.  But, whenever we find one of these rare noble men or women, still willing to stand up for what is right, no matter the odds or personal cost, we must rally behind them, not because it is necessarily painless or popular (because it is often not), but because it is right!

Yes, we can simply sit back and do nothing.  And what will be the outcome?  The government will continue to expand, taxes will continue to rise, and our liberty will continue to slowly erode.  The simple fact is that when good people refuse to get involved, when we leave governance to the worst elements of our society, the natural outcome is that the evil elements will win.

The Political Dating Game

Image from retroland.com
Image from retroland.com

This morning I thought to myself, what if dating was more like our election process?  I suspect that life would be similar to The Dating Game, which appeared on TV from time to time starting in 1965 and finally calling it quits in 1999.  Here’s what I’d imagine:

Host: Hello and welcome to today’s episode of The Political Dating Game!  Today we have one lucky bachelor from Virginia looking for the woman of his dreams.  Fortunately for him, we are joined by the two best ladies in the region!

Contestant: Thanks for having me, Chuck.  I have to tell you, I am a little nervous.

Host: (Laughs) No reason to be nervous at all.  You are about to win a date with one of these two lovely women.  What do say about that audience?  The audience roars its approval.  Well, let’s get right down to it.  Bachelorette #1, what do you have to say for yourself?

Bachelorette #1: Well, I’d like to start off by letting everyone know that Bachelorette #2 is greedy and self-serving.  She doesn’t care about anyone other than herself and she’s taken every red cent she can from the last several guys that she’s been with!

HostLooks as if he is thinking contemplatively.  All right, all right.  A good beginning.  And Bachelorette #2 how do you respond?

Bachelorette #2Glares at Bachelorette #1.  Bachelorette #1 says that she has strong moral values, but she’s dating three other guys right now!

Host:  Oh my, quite an interesting pair we have here, don’t you think audience?  The audience cheers again while the two bachelorettes continue hurling insults at each other.

Contestant: Wait.  I’d like to hear something positive about my two choices.  So far, they haven’t said anything about themselves.

Host:  Well ladies, how do you respond to that?

Bachelorette #1: I put out on the first date!

Contestant: Gross.

Host: Looks at the contestant as if he is crazy. And Bachelorette #2?

Bachelorette #2: I promise that we’ll turn heads whenever we are together.  We’ll only frequent the finest restaurants and events.  Sure, I may cost you everything you’ve got, but I’m worth every penny!

Contestant: Ugh.

Host:  (Laughs again)  This looks like it will be a difficult choice!

Contestant:  What are you talking about?  These choices sound horrible!  Isn’t there anyone else?

Host: Furrows his brow.  Well, there is a third option.  Bachelorette #3 will you please say hello?

Bachelorette #3:  Hello Chuck.  To tell you a little about myself, I enjoy long walks, philosophical conversations, and…

Host: That’s enough from you Bachelorette #3!  Some people will talk your ear off!  Sorry about that audience!

Contestant:  Wait, I’d like to hear more from Bachelorette #3.

Host: I can’t allow that.  Both Bachelorette #1 and #2 have said that they will leave if I allow her to speak anymore.  Honestly, I have no idea why she is even permitted on the stage, even if she is off in a corner by herself.  Besides, the first two bachelorettes come from the most well-known families in America.  Bachelorette #3 is a nobody.  In order to even qualify she had to take an extensive written exam and complete the obstacle course.

Contestant: Wait…weren’t all the candidates vetted the same?

Host: Looks at contestant incredulously.  Certainly not!  Why should they?  As I’ve said, the first two come from well-respected bloodlines.  It would be beneath them to make them compete for a spot on this show.

In the background Bachelorette #2 calls Bachelorette #1 a whore while Bachelorette #1 declares that #2 is a gold-digger.

Host:  Glances at his watch. Well, we’re almost out of time.  Have you made your decision, contestant?  Remember, whichever of these two ladies you choose, you agree by law to date each other for at least two years.

Contestant: Bachelorette #1 and #2 seem like they are both manipulative, selfish, and immoral.  Although I don’t know too much about her, if I have to make a decision right now, I think I’ll pick Bachelorette #3.

Host:  What?  I’m sorry, but that is just throwing your vote away.  If you don’t know who to pick, let’s let the audience decide.

Contestant:  Huh?  No way!  This game is rigged!

HostIgnores the complaints of the contestant and turns to the audience.  So what do you say, ladies and gentlemen?  Will it be Bachelorette #1?  Half of the audience cheers.  Or Bachelorette #2?  The other half of the audience applauds.

Contestant:  Wait, isn’t this supposed to be my decision?!

Host:  It’s time to vote for the lesser of two evils!

Although an extreme example, wouldn’t you agree that this kind of show would be a horrible way to form relationships?  Nevertheless, in some elections the media and political rules squelch competition by only allowing us to hear from two options.  When we feel that one or both of the options are good choices, we don’t complain.  However, when both are poor, we are forced into a rather dreadful situation.   My question to you is, if you wouldn’t tolerate this sort of game ruling your personal life, why do you accept it in your political life?

A Few Thoughts on Kim Davis

Kim-Davis-1024x664
Photo from Timothy Easley and the AP

Since the story about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses, broke, coupled with her jailing for contempt of court, some of my fellow Christians have rushed to her defense citing religious persecution.

For example, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, two Republican presidential hopefuls, flew to Kentucky to be alongside her at her release from jail.  Mike Huckabee raised her hand in triumph as the song “Eye of the Tiger” played in the background.  The former pastor and governor even went so far as to make the claim (which I believe is shocking) that God “showed up in the form of an elected Democrat named Kim Davis”.

I have to say that I would have liked to discuss this topic in depth on Andy Schmookler and my monthly radio hour last week, but unfortunately other issues took priority.  She reminds me of the Samaritian woman that Jesus met at the well and I brought my Bible into the studio in case I needed it for reference.  Although we weren’t able to tackle this topic on the air, I’d like to share the thoughts of a couple of folks.

The first is by Russell Williams, a self-identified pastor.  Since posting it on Facebook, it has been shared over 125,000 times.  Perhaps you’ve already read it:

Since I am a pastor of a southern Baptist church please allow me to weigh in on the case of Kim Davis, the lady in Kentucky who refuses to issue a marriage licenses to a same sex couple.

First: This is not a case of the government forcing anyone to violate their religious belief. She is free to quit her job. If she quits her job to honor God surely God would take care of her.

Second: This is not a case of someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage. If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she should not have been married four different times. If she is worried about her name being affixed to a marriage license that goes against a biblical definition of marriage, she should not have her name on the last three marriage licenses given to her.

Third: This seems to be a case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the south will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus.

This is why we are losing.
This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals.
Not because we disagree but because we don’t take the bible seriously. If ever there was a case of “he who is without sin cast the first stone”, this is it. If ever there was a “take the log out of your eye” moment, this is it.

We must stop looking to the government to make America a Christian utopia. Our kingdom is not of this world.
We must abandon all thoughts of fixing others and let Jesus fix us.
If we want sanctity of marriage then stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces. That is the way for the church to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage, not by someone martyring their self-righteous self.

The second arrived in my email inbox today.  It comes from former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson:

Friends,

There are 3,143 counties in the United States.

In each of those counties, a public official is responsible for issuing marriage licenses to those who are legally entitled to them.

As far as I am aware, none of those officials is empowered to deny a marriage license to a couple simply because he or she doesn’t approve of the marriage.

But then there is Kim Davis, the elected Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. Claiming religious objections, Ms. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She even went to jail for a few days rather than carry out her statutory duty. Suddenly, Ms. Davis is a national celebrity, a martyr, a hero, a criminal or whatever — depending on one’s point of view.

We even watched as presidential candidates literally raced to Kentucky to be the first to join Ms. Davis for a photo op outside the jail when she was released.

It was quite a spectacle, and it isn’t over yet.

Religious freedom is important. It is one of the liberties Our America seeks to protect — and even strengthen. That isn’t the issue, despite what too many politicians would have us believe. Ms. Davis has every right to believe whatever it is she believes. But when she is sitting at her taxpayer-funded desk in her taxpayer-funded office in a taxpayer-funded courthouse — collecting her taxpayer-funded salary, she does not have the luxury of imposing her beliefs on those she is elected and paid to serve — especially when doing so means denying marriage rights that have been confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It isn’t complicated, and her “disobedience” frankly isn’t worth the attention it has received. All over the nation, every day, public officials carry out responsibilities with which they may not be entirely comfortable. How many gun permits are issued by officials who are anti-gun? How many liquor licenses are handed out by teetotalers? Hundreds, if not thousands, of officials and public employees deal with such “conflicts” every day – – because we live in a nation that is founded on the idea that religious or personal beliefs, while preciously protected, cannot be imposed on the legally-protected freedoms of others. The alternative is tyranny.

Even in the case of marriage equality, while Ms. Davis is having her 15 minutes of fame, state and local officials across the nation are quietly and respectfully adjusting to a new, if long overdue, reality, including taking steps to make it easier for public employees to reconcile their duties with strongly-held beliefs.  If Ms. Davis can’t handle the conflict, then she can find another job. No one’s stopping her, and no one is stopping her beliefs.

It’s that simple.

No, this single County Clerk isn’t the issue. The REAL issue is that politicians, including some who want to be President, are using her behavior to promote an anti-liberty social agenda based on the notion that it is OK for government to impose beliefs at the expense of freedom.

This entire episode has reminded me why we created the Our America Initiative in the first place: To fight back against those who use the force of government to erode liberty — through unnecessary laws, overreaching policies and out-of-control spending and taxes.

The millions of Americans who believe government should exist to protect liberty, not destroy it, deserve a voice…

I don’t believe anyone, including elected officials, should ever be forced to violate his or her conscious or religious beliefs.  Although it was certainly unfortunate, several years ago I wasn’t able to take a political job.  The reason why was that as part of my employment I would have been required to sign a document about my own faith that I did not agree with.  Thus, I was unwilling to sign.  If Ms. Davis is unable to give out marriage licenses due to her beliefs, then I do not fault her for it.  However, she ought to either delegate the task to one of her subordinates or, if that is not possible, resign her position.  In much the same way, when this issue came up earlier in Virginia on the other side of the coin, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring ought to have resigned his office rather that actively opposing the Virginia Constitution that he swore to uphold.

When you couple all of these thoughts with the fact that Ms. Davis has been married multiple times and has conceived children with a man (who wasn’t her husband at the time), one is hard-pressed to make the moral claim that she either knows or cares much about the traditional Christian definition of marriage.  Despite what Mike Huckabee might tell you, I agree with Russell Williams and Gary Johnson.  Kim Davis is neither a hero nor is she is a martyr for the faith.

In closing, as I’ve stated previously, who I decide to marry (if anyone) will ultimately be a covenant between myself, that wonderful woman, and God.  Whether I approve of your marriage, or whether you approve of mine, it isn’t the proper role of the government or people like Kim Davis to give or deny its stamp of acceptance.

The Republicans’ Foolish Pledge

Picture from Reuters and Fox News
Picture from Reuters and Fox News

When Donald Trump refused to agree to support the eventual Republican Party nominee for president during the first debate, that move upset the Republican Party establishment.  After all, many worried that, given Trump’s current popularity in the polls, he could end up bolting the party and siphoning away enough voters to lead to a Democratic victory in 2016.

As such, many state parties, including Virginia, considered making each candidate sign such a pledge in order to be included as a choice on their primary ballot.  With the deadline to appear on the “first in the south” South Carolina primary approaching, after some tough decisions, or perhaps merely theatrics, Donald Trump ended up signing the pledge.

If case you haven’t read it, here is the text of the pledge:

I (candidate’s name), affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for President of the United States I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is.

I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.

Think about this pledge for a moment if you will.  It doesn’t pledge any of the Republican candidates to a certain set of principles.  It doesn’t even pledge the candidates to uphold the Republican Party platform.  Instead, it encourages unquestioning allegiance to the GOP and whomever ends up being their standard bearer.

The current field of Republican candidates appeal to different and diverse groups of voters, ones that increasingly don’t have much in common.  Are you telling me neoconservatives, like Lindsey Graham, will support a libertarian nominee?  Will constitutional conservatives, like Rand Paul, support a neoconservative nominee?  Will social conservatives, like Mike Huckabee, support a pro-choice candidate like George Pataki?  Will a candidate who has railed against the establishment, like Ted Cruz, end up supporting the establishment choice Jeb Bush?  Does it matter to any of them if their ideological opposition is elected?

Along those same lines, does it matter to you if the Republican nominee is a liberal… or a conservative… or a libertarian…or perhaps an authoritarian?  Is it important if he or she will work to shrink the size of the federal government…or expand it?  Or are you happy so long as a Republican is elected over a Democrat regardless of his or her positions?

When it comes down to it, do principles guide Republican politicians?  Or, like the Mafia, does blind and unquestioning support for the party and their candidates hold the greatest value?  As long as people like Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell have a willing accomplice in the presidency, is that all that truly matters to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican Party?

11951774_10204377543189733_4022918454679309719_nWill the Republican Party win the presidency in 2016 or will it fall for the third election in a row?  Although voters gave the party control of both Houses of Congress, given the GOP’s repeated failures to accomplish anything of substance, the 2014 election is a decision that more and more citizens are coming to regret.  According to Quinnipac, support for the Republicans in Congress has reached a six year low, with a 12% favorability rating and 81% disapproval.

Given this foolish pledge that the Republican Party has forced upon all of its potential nominees, one has to wonder if the party cares about anything other than gaining power for itself?  And, if principles don’t really matter, why would the American people send a Republican to the White House ever again other than as a protest to express disapproval of the Democratic Party?

Fear of Radical Islam

Image from George Takei's Facebook page
Creator of image unknown

Toward the end of First Friday, the monthly Republican luncheon for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, my former pastor rose from his chair and asked the audience how many of them feared radical Islam.  Although I couldn’t see the entire group, I believe that everyone in attendance raised their hands…with the exception of me and the fellow sitting beside me.

Now, that’s not to say that I am not at all concerned about terrorists who commit terrible acts on behalf of their religion, but I do not wake up every morning worried about what these radicals will do in our country nor am I concerned that some or all of my Muslim neighbors (supposedly about 7% of the Harrisonburg population) will rise up and begin killing or enslaving the rest of us.  According the news that I’ve heard in the last several years, it seems more likely that local Muslim property will be vandalized by non-Muslims due to religious disagreements than the other way around.

As we all know, as a result of the actions of some radical Muslims on 9/11, many Americans have been living in fear of this religion and those who practice it.  Although there were some vague mentions of Islam before 9/11, I don’t recall it being particularly pronounced and when it was, it could be disregarded as religious bigotry.

Unfortunately, due to the fear generated against radical Islam, our citizens and our lawmakers have surrendered many of our civil liberties and greatly expanded the power of the federal government through legislation like the Patriot Act and new government agencies like the TSA and Department of Homeland Security.  Patrick Henry’s famous cry of “give me liberty or give me death!” has been replaced with “do everything you can to keep me safe!  I don’t mind if you take away our liberty!”

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  Our government has both the right and responsibility to keep its people safe from all threats, including those posed by radical Islam.  Any person, group, agency, or government who seeks to deprive any American citizen of his or her life, liberty, and/or property without the due process of law must be held to account.

Image from the Libertarian Party of Colorado
Image from the Libertarian Party of Colorado

Have we become so hyper-sensitized to an over-imagined threat of radical Islam on American soil that we have forgotten that it has supposedly been the longstanding policy of conservatives to push back against growing government power?  Yes, it is hypothetically possible that terrorists hiding in caves in the Middle East can deprive us of our lives, and I certainly don’t want that to happen to anyone, but it is also quite true that the legislators in Washington D.C. and our state capitols, not to mention black robed men and women in our court system, have been slowing eroding our liberties, taking more and more of our tax dollars, deciding what does and does not constitute as free speech, degrading our religion, imprisoning people for years without trial, and even depriving some people of their lives through the use of drones.  Politicians are marching us toward a police state.  Which of these two actions, in the grand scheme of our nation, poses the greater and more pressing danger to our well-being?

As President George W. Bush stated on September 20th, 2001, “They [the terrorists] hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”  Well friends, if we have taken away our freedoms and replaced them with fear, then who can make the argument that the terrorists have not won?  If the terrorists are as irrational and hate-filled as our leaders claim, why in the world would we ever want a citizenry or a government which emulates them?

Yes, we must not allow radical Islam to succeed.  Stand firm against evil!  But, I urge you too to resist the call to surrender to fear!

Debts or Trespasses

Image from Wikipedia by J-P M. Bongayon
Image from Wikipedia by J-P M. Bongayon

When it comes to the subject of public prayer, the one public prayer said most often by Christians has to be what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer.  A version of it can be found in both the Gospel of Matthew and that of Luke.

Many of us know it beginning as follows:

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread…

The words that come next depend on the church.  Many add the line, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  However, those who grew up in the Presbyterian tradition usually say “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  As a result, during my travels as I visit Methodist Churches on behalf of my own church, I often find myself using the term “debts” as opposed to “trespasses”.  But why is there the difference?

According to Wikipedia, “As early as the third century, Origen of Alexandria used the word trespasses (παραπτώματα) in the prayer. Though the Latin form that was traditionally used in Western Europe has debita (debts), most English-speaking Christians (except Scottish Presbyterians and some others of the Reformed tradition), use trespasses.”

In my experience with my local Presbyterian Church, the topic of money seemed to come up a lot.  Therefore, using the word debts does make some sense.  However, it seems to me that using it in the Lord’s Prayer makes it sound like the most important issue is our financial relationships.  Yes, one can owe all sorts of debts not related to money.  Dictionary.com defines debt as “Theology. an offense requiring reparation; a sin; a trespass.”  However, the far more common understanding of the word is “something that is owed or that one is bound to pay to or perform for another.”  Therefore, I would argue that using the word debts in the Lord’s Prayer leaves us incomplete.

In the same way, trespasses doesn’t seem quite right either.  Much like debt, trespass can mean “to commit a transgression or offense; transgress; offend; sin.” but in common understanding I would assume most people these days consider trespass to be “a wrongful entry upon the lands of another”.  Although I strongly support property rights, I believe the Lord’s Prayer should encompass more.

If we are to use a different word than debt or trespass, what should we say?  Well, ideally we ought to follow the original text.  For example, the shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke uses the term sins.

Father, may your name be honored.

May your kingdom come soon.

Give us our food day by day.

And forgive us our sins-

just as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

And don’t let us yield to temptation. Luke 11:2-4 (NLT)

Although we are constantly encouraged to forgive those who wrong us, one potential pitfall with the use of this language is that it may lead some people to believe that they have the ability to forgive sins.  After all, if sinning is a transgression of divine law, who can absolve us of this transgression other than the lawgiver?

Jesus addresses this issue in the book of Mark:

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there said to themselves, “What?  This is blasphemy!  Who but God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew what they were discussing among themselves, so he said to them, “Why do you think this is blasphemy?  Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or Get up, pick up your mat, and walk?”  Mark 2:5-9 (NLT)

Then Jesus adds this next important statement.

“I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Mark 2:6 (NLT)

Without this authority, which is granted by God, a person does not have the power to absolve someone of his or her sins.  Later, in the Gospel of John, Jesus transfers this authority to his disciples.

Then he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.  If you refuse to forgive them, they are unforgiven. John 20:22-23 (NLT)

Keeping this thought in mind, any of us can and should forgive those who have wronged us.  So long as we are mindful that we are able to forgive those who have sinned against us but not the sin itself, as it is written in Luke, I would argue that using the word “sin” in the Lord’s Prayer would be more appropriate than either “debts” or “trespasses”.

Northam v. Obenshain?

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Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam presiding over the Virginia Senate January 19th, 2015

Are the 2017 gubernatorial elections in Virginia beginning to take shape?  Rumors of candidates and potential candidates for a contest still two years away have been swirling these last several months.

On the Democratic side of things, it appeared likely that there would be a showdown between Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring in much the same way that then Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli fought over the Republican nomination back in 2012 and 2013.

Moving on to the Republicans, State Senator Mark Obenshain from Rockingham County seems to be the most likely choice as he lost his 2013 statewide race by a razor-thin margin.  However, there are other possibilities too.  Some of the possible candidates being mentioned include: Representative Rob Whittman from the 1st district and 2014 Republican senatorial candidate Ed Gillespie.

As for the Libertarians, although I would be surprised if they didn’t run a candidate for governor, I haven’t really heard any names bandied about; their 2013 nominee, Robert Sarvis, seems like a possibility.

Well, now the 2017 picture has become at least a little more clear.  Attorney General Mark Herring has announced his plans to seek reelection to his current post, which leaves Ralph Northam as the likely Democratic nominee.  Personally, I think this a wise move for the Democrats as I believe Northam would be the stronger candidate for governor.

Right now, my prediction is on a Northam v. Obenshain contest, but a lot can happen in the next year or so.  Who will be the next candidate to officially announce his or her plans for 2017?