Monday, December 3, 2018

The Predicament of Being Male: The Ancient Serpent's Original Anger, the Curse, Cain and his Lineage: A Remarkable Observatoin in the Hebrew Text


In the biblical text, the ancient serpent first appears with an angry agenda against the woman, this anger transfers to the man, then to Cain and then to his lineage. The consequences are devastating, and for which we all need the Savior.

1] At the beginning of the second sentence of Genesis 3:1, every one of the 26 English translations I have seen -- Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant -- says something like this: "He said to the woman ..." But in the Hebrew, there is one word which never gets translated right after this, ap (or aph), which is a homonym -- either a particle conjunction as an emotional intensifier ("And the serpent said to the woma, Indeed! ..."). But this translation is never made. Or it is a noun from the verb anap (or anaph), "to be angry." Thus, the translation would be "And the serpent said to the woman (in) anger," or "... angrily."

Hebrew has only 900 root words, and context is crucial in translation. In nine clauses in the Tanakh (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:3; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; Psalms 86:15; 103:8 and 145:8), we read in English translation that Yahweh is "slow to anger." The actual Hebrew is that Yahweh "has a long nose." The primary meaning of anap is "nose." The beards of ancient Hebrew men were thick, dark and high cheeked. When a Hebrew man becomes flush or hot with anger, it is not seen first on the cheeks, but on the nose. Thus, in the development of language, the word for "anger" in Hebrew becomes synonymous with "nose," again, as context indicates. In these nine clauses in the Tanakh, metaphor and idiom collide, namely, that Yahweh is so slow to anger, that it is like having a long nose where it takes much time for his anger to reach the tip and become evident. A "long nose" does not work as metaphor or idiom in modern English, for it can become confused with the story of Pinocchio as a liar; likewise with "nosey" as it refers to a gossiper; and a "long fuse" does not work in a pre-dynamite era. So "slow to anger" works well in terms of meaning, but not metaphor or idiom. It is two-dimensional not three-dimensional.

In Genesis 3:1, a proper translation would be, "And the serpent said to the woman (in) anger ..." Translating a noun in this syntax requires the (in), or some might translate it as an adverb, “angrily.” Grammar between different languages does not line up in many ways. Why then do translations ignore this word? Why such a yawning lacuna? The answer lies in the identity of the serpent. Is it some undefined earthly creature, as in Jewish understanding? Or is it as John says in Revelation 12:9? The text refers to "... that ancient serpent, the one called the devil, or the Satan." For Jewish scholars, they see no linguistic link between the few references to ha'satan (the Satan, the slanderer) in the Tanakh, and ha'nahash (the serpent). And for Christians scholars, the arguments I have read for the serpent being Satan derive from New Testament sources, and not from within the original Hebrew text. I believe the apostle John, and the whole New Testament, understand all Messianic fulfillments to be rooted in an original understanding of the Hebrew Bible as given. Indeed, in Revelation 12:12, the original fall of Satan is profiled, as he is driven from the heavens to the earth, and he is full of "wrath" for he knows is "appointed time" is short. His expulsion is before the creation of man and woman, and the appointed time is until the final judgement on the devil. All filled with uncontrollable anger.

2] In either case, the presence of an angry serpent means there is an agenda, a history in place, one that occasions an angry approach. What is it? Genesis 1-2 starts off with a positive theology (God's nature) and a positive anthropology (human nature), but there is no formal demonology. The reason for this is that Satan's fallen ontology means there is nothing positive in him, and thus he is entirely negative -- the destroyer, slanderer, liar and murderer. So he cannot, by definition, be positively identified -- but only via his negative self-manifestations. And this proves true across the Bible as Satan works through political proxies in particular to seek to destroy the Messianic lineage, the Messiah, Jesus, and now, after the resurrection, to destroy the believers in the Messiah through whom the Holy Spirit works until King Jesus returns and crushes Satan once and for all. This is large theological territory beyond my purview here, and it is central to Christian interpretation across the millennia. But virtually through the prism of post-Genesis texts.

Genesis 1:1 and 2:1 are dynamically linked in a way that marks a theological whole in the work of creation. In 1:1, we read: "In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 2:1 marks the completion of Genesis 2:1: "And the heavens and the earth were finished in all their armies." Now, few translations say "armies." More common is "host" (an old word for armies or stars), or something silly like the NIV which says, "all their vast array." But in the Hebrew is it simply tz'baam, "armies" or, if you will, "agents of warfare" (from tz'aba for war). Whenever we see in the translation of the Hebrew Bible, as found so often, "the LORD of hosts," or "the LORD Almighty," the actual Hebrew says "Yahweh of armies." This traces back to Genesis 2:1. But if all is good in Genesis 1, what are "armies" doing there at its completion? What or whom is there to protect against or fight against? Of holy angels and fallen angels? Simply, the fall of Satan (always angry, whether implicitly or explicitly), with his demonic horde, as described later in both the Tanakh and New Testament, occurs after the creation begins but before its completion. This too, is large theological territory beyond our present scope, but needs mention to help us understand why the ancient serpent, Satan incarnate, is angry in Genesis 3:1.

In his anger -- with man and woman as one in marriage, with their joint authority over all creation, and to whom the holy angels are servants -- the devil only seeks to destroy their unity and trust in marriage, that through which civilization is to be built. He mocks their authority in masquerading as a serpent, and craftily channels his anger to get Hayyeh (rendered "Eve" in English translations) to act independently of Yahweh and Adam, and for Adam to act independently of Hayyeh and Yahweh. When Yahweh comes to judge, Adam blames Hayyeh and away we go ...

3] In Genesis 3, the serpent is cursed, with no exit, and a war is prophesied between the seed of the serpent (those whom he kidnaps, the anti-Messianic lineage) and the seed of the woman (the Messianic lineage), where in the end the Messiah triumphs. War is the ugliest manifestation of anger. The curse that the woman brings upon herself, and likewise for the man upon himself, both take their complementary strengths (thighs and uterus in childbirth, and biceps in plowing and moving boulders), and turn them into weaknesses. Man and woman are wired to honor the image of God, but now they are handicapped. Large territory. But for here, let's look at the first clause in Genesis 3:19, in the midst of the curse on the man. It is usually rendered something like: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food." The actual Hebrew text is this: "By the sweat of your anger (from anap) you will eat your bread." For the translator not aware of the serpent's anger, and only assuming the curse to be physical in nature, not paying attention to the deeper spiritual realities, "the sweat of your nose" still makes no sense. It is not a runny nose at play, and the nearest physical possibility is the brow or forehead. It is a mismatch based on a faulty premise. There is no other use of anap in the Tanakh for "brow," and the word rendered as "brow" (qadqod) is twice a word meaning "head" or "crown of the head." There is no other proper word for "brow." Which is to say, it is anap used in Genesis 3:19 and not qadqod.

4] For me, the understanding of producing food, making provision for my family, by the "sweat of my anger," proves to be liberating. It is the frustrating reality in the pursuit of the good in a now broken world, and as catalyzed by Satan. All is spiritual warfare, and we ignore this to our peril. This is the curse upon the male in Genesis 3:19, but the anger is not initially a hostility against Yahweh, or against the well-being of others, as it is with the ancient serpent. But it is the "nose inside the camel's tent" (to borrow a latter metaphor with deliberate pun), as the goal of Satan is to turn frustration and sweat into such anger. We wear ourselves out in a sinful world, eventually returning to the dust. For me, a sanguine personality, the ever "tunnel-view optimist" (as my father put it) in a broken world, I know this reality to the very verge of death, finally in terms of a demonic attack in Oxford, March 20, 2018. This, and its prior history, is detailed in my forthcoming book: Meeting Satan Face-to-Face, and Other True Stories: The Testimony of an Ex-Unitarian.

In this world, we see so much male chauvinism. It sexually reifies (to treat as disposable property) girls and women, it hinders the possibility of future healthy marriages, it drives the ethos of the abortion industry, it leads to much otherwise unchosen and de facto disembodied single lifestyles, and too, it serves the broken and ultimately unsatisfying refuges in lesbianism and male homosexuality. It presages Sodom and Gomorrah, where across the whole biblical witness, this is where sexual anarchy morphs into social anarchy and the trampling of the poor and needy.

So, in the face of this reality, how many men, in their frustration and anger in seeking to do the good by their wives and children, fall prey to serious misunderstandings? All by the design of the ancient serpent?

5) This leads us to Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Both have the same parents, and both have the same "sweat of anger" to labor at in producing their food. Yet both have opposite ends -- one proves to join the anger of the ancient serpent, and one chooses to praise Yahweh with thankfulness. Both are whom they are given to be, yet both become whom they choose to become. In his offering, Cain gives an undesignated portion of his produce, almost in a sense of a grudging acknowledgement of Yahweh's Lordship and provision. But Abel gives from the "birthright" (literal Hebrew) of his produce, ergo, the best of his best, in an evident spirit of thanksgiving. There is also a pun at play. Cain holds the birthright as the first son, yet gives something secondary; Abel is a second son, yet gives the birthright. Giveness and giving back, with human freedom in place.

Yahweh "gazes" upon Abel and his gift, but not so with Cain. So Cain "burns greatly," and his face falls. "And Yahweh said to Cain, 'What burns so deeply in you? And what is it that your face fell? And whether you lift up the good, or if not the good, to the doorway, sin lies in wait and desires you, and you must rule it.' ” The term for "burning greatly" is a deeper and manifest term for an anger that "hotly contends" (harah). Cain still has the power to choose the good, even while sin "lies in wait" to devour him (the language refers to a leopard ready to pounce on its prey, and here we see intimations of Peter's language in 1:5:8 of the devil as a prowling lion). Cain must rule it or perish. But he fails in his freedom. His anger with Yahweh, seeded by the ancient serpent, turns into the murder of his younger brother. Indeed, it can be argued that any uncontrolled anger is first directed against God, in whose image we are made, and then it results in anger against our neighbor, made in God's image, and can result in murder. The rest of the Bible flows on these assumptions about anger, from Cain to Lemech on forward, and can be readily detailed in a larger review.

Thus, in Cain and Abel, we see the reality that the male "sweat of the anger" can lead in one of two directions -- acknowledged frustration that chooses to turn into gratefulness in spite of it, or a chosen uncontrolled anger rooted in the devil that leads to murder. Too, in the Sermon on the Plain, in the context of loving enemies, Jesus says, "And God is "kind to the ungrateful and wicked" (Luke 6:35). I think this is adirect reference to Cain, the original and defining quintessence of ungratefulness thaty leads to wickedness.

5] And this is the crucible upon which true manhood is forged. For those of us who are men, which road do we choose?


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

You Have the Power to Choose Life



[Brochure #1 for www.teamsofseven.org]


In the late 1980s, I was at Harvard Divinity School, earning a post-graduate Th.M. degree in Ethics and Public Policy. As a white heterosexual male, evangelical pro-life minister, married with three sons, and a daughter yet to arrive, I was virtually a minority of one.

And this is one reason why I was at Harvard to begin with – to be accountable to the most thoughtful and penetrating questions of those who disagreed with me. I found myself intersecting with the Women’s Studies Program, and where the assumption of legalized human abortion was firmly in place. My double thesis focused on the two leading feminist scholar critics of the Bible (Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Phyllis Trible), and on human abortion and public policy.

In 1989, I organized a presence at New England’s largest abortion center, Preterm, in Brookline. We countenanced no accusatory language and no bloody pictures. As Jesus spoke of himself, he came not to condemn but to save. We worshiped, prayed, held signs, and engaged in conversation with anyone interested. In two years of Saturday mornings, we saw well over 200 women walk away from their abortion appointments of their own volition. As well, many others who merely saw the signs and our presence turned away. This was also at the height of “Operation Rescue,” a short-lived movement seeking to blockade abortion centers, and it led to some 100,000 arrests nationwide. I met with the founder, Randall Terry, on April 1, 1989, and asked some theological questions he could not, would not answer. Especially: How does vigilante action comport with the biblical order of creation in Genesis 1-2? And: How can you force someone to choose life?

Indeed, one popular pro-life sign has always been: “Choose Life.” But in front of an abortion center, where women are being forced into abortions by chauvinistic and irresponsible men, this language misses the mark since it is in the imperative tense. Elsewhere too. In the metaethics of language, this is easily perceived by such women as an “in your face” attempt to “force” them to “choose” not to have an abortion. Even as the intention is the opposite.

Thus, our slogan became: You Have the Power to Choose Life. This is gift language, it is empowering language, and it includes the life of the mother and unborn child equally. And unless the woman is empowered to choose life for her unborn child, it will not happen. As well, as the “pro-choice” feminist language is examined, “the power to choose” is supposedly central, but also, unidirectional – “the power to choose abortion …” But we redeemed the language of choice to serve human life, and the impact is always dramatic.

On June 3, 1989, when we began, the Boston Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) recruited college students to “counter-protest” us. We had some 200 volunteers turn out across the morning, and almost none of them had ever been an “activist” or done any public “protesting.” They trusted a biblical vision for “active ministry” – bringing the Good News to a place where people, especially women, were hurting deeply. Boston NOW had roughly equal numbers that day.

We started arriving at 7:00 a.m., and we sang and prayed aloud while holding our signs. The NOW recruits started yelling chants (e.g., “Anti-woman, anti-gay, born-again bigots, go away!”). But their lungs tired sooner than did ours, and by 9:30 there was a lull. It had also hit 90° Fahrenheit, and we were well equipped with cold water and cups, so we started passing the water around. Most NOW recruits accepted the water and the conversations began. Multiple dozens of bull sessions erupted.

While standing next to a reporter from the Boston Globe, one woman NOW recruit told me how she had the freedom to choose an abortion. So, I asked her if she had chosen to be born, or if she were only alive because of the choice of her parents. I concluded: “How can you, who are alive through no choice of your own, then use your choice to deny the life and future choices of the unborn?” She said, “Wow, I had never thought of it that way before,” and her whole demeanor changed.

After ninety minutes, I was standing a few feet away from the president of Boston NOW. She suddenly looked at what was happening, and said alarmingly, “We are not in control here! We must put a stop to this!” She thus ordered her lieutenants to break up the conversations. But perhaps three-quarters of their recruits said no, they enjoyed the conversations, and liked the Christian pro-life men and women there. The power of informed choice in service to human life, in action.

On our second Saturday, at the end of the morning, one of our volunteers was a few feet away from one recruit as she asked a question of an NOW leader: “How do we answer them when they say, ‘You have the power to choose life?’ ” The leader said: “Well, that is their language – we don’t use it anymore.” Those who define terms honestly will win hearts and minds. And across nine months, our volunteers had multiple hundreds, if not one or several thousand intelligent and gracious conversations with these recruits. Then, the leadership of Boston NOW gave the order for the recruits to stop coming down, for we “were persuading too many” of them.

This is at the core of biblical theology, where in the Garden of Eden, with Joshua in the Valley of Shechem, with Elijah in the face of the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel, and with Jesus in the face of his enemies during Passover Week, a level playing field is provided for all – even the devil – to pose their toughest questions of God, leaders and one another. Truth and mercy always rise to the top. The power to choose life is the bequeathal of the Gospel.

We also had twelve signs asking questions, all aiming to empower the women to choose life. Now, as this effort is reconstituted in 2018 (Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn organized through Teams of Seven [.org]), the TEI has condensed these twelve questions into five. And they are suitable not only at abortion centers, but in any context where the politics of the issue are at the forefront (political rallies, university campuses etc.).

Question #1: Can You Imagine Jesus Performing an Abortion: Why Not?

I first expressed this question spontaneously in a 1985 college debate with a man representing the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) of Massachusetts, the Rev. Spencer Parsons. When I spoke these words, he stopped, and then tried to come up with language that would imagine Jesus in such a capacity. He was unable, and we had several good debates and conversations thereafter.

Once, in front of Preterm, as I was holding the sign, a young woman said I was imposing my religion on her. And I said, how so? Namely, she did not have to look at the sign, and it is part of my religious and political freedom of speech. She was welcome to her selfsame freedoms. Then I said, “If Jesus means something to you, this is an important question. If he means nothing to you, then it is of no concern.” And we had a great conversation thereafter: Who is Jesus?

Question #2: How Does Human Abortion Add to a Woman’s Dignity?

Every woman knows there is no dignity in having her body violated by an abortion, and the grief of later mourning for a lost child – whether consciously or subconsciously. The Latin term for abortion is ab + oriri, and it means “to cut off from rising.” It is reactive, not proactive; destructive not creative; and women do not plan ahead of time to get pregnant in order to have an abortion.

Question #3: How Many Men Push Their “Girlfriends” into “Choosing” Abortion?

When the research data of the Alan Guttmacher Institute of Planned Parenthood is examined, and the data of thousands of Pregnancy Resource Centers likewise, the reality is that male irresponsibility and chauvinism drives the abortion ethos. Men who get women pregnant and refuse responsibility. At Smith College in 1994, in a forum with the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Patricia Ireland, I was asked a question from a woman student at the end on how I could “oppose a woman’s choice.” I had fifteen seconds to answer, and I said, “Just as much as abortion rips off women, it rips off the unborn and allows the male chauvinists to run free.” An audience of over 500, mostly in favor of legalized abortion, erupted in loud and sustained ovation. Reality has been defined.

Question #4: Are Planned Parenthood and the Abortion Industry Racist?

The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was a eugenicist who praised Adolf Hitler in 1922. Today, about 38 percent of all abortions, in the United States, are performed on Black Americans who equal 12 or 13 percent of the population. The same racist ratio holds true for other minorities, and Planned Parenthood et al. heavily locate their abortion centers in poor neighborhoods. And they earn billions in blood money.

Question #5: Pro-Life Libertarian or Pro-Abortion Statist?

These are exact opposites. Pro-life libertarians want maximum religious, political and economic freedom for all people equally, from biological origins to natural death. People are free so long as they do not injure the lives, liberties and property of others. Pro-abortion statists support massive and enslaving top-down state intervention in people’s lives, especially against religious, political and economic freedom.

The Toughest Question: What About Rape and Incest?

This is not suitable for a public sign, since the hell of such evil and its pain cuts so deep. But it needs to be addressed. I have been asked this question many times across the years, and indeed, this is the title and content of Chapter One in my book, Changing the Language of the Abortion Debate (available at johnrankinbooks.com).

Whether at Denison University as a college student several months prior to the January 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, when a fellow male student pressed me on it in a religion class; or at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), in answering the question of a woman student who had been conceived through the rape of her eleven year-old mother; or at Brown University in debating the former president of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island who had been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, in addressing the question posed by a woman student; or with a woman caller on WGAN Radio in Portland, Maine, who personally knew the hell of rape and abortion; or with a “pro-choice” physician and wife of an astrophysicist working on the Hadron Collider; or in a forum at Dartmouth College with the woman head of Republicans for Choice – they all responded well, and also with others in different instances. Only in a forum at Yale Law School, with the woman president of the national Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), did I not get any response – silence instead.

To sum up this territory, one question emerges: How does human abortion unrape the woman? She has been through hell, abortion only deepens the hell, and we who follow Jesus are here to serve her courageous power to choose life in the face of a hell that very few of us can imagine. Indeed, we are here to serve any woman who needs the courage and power to choose life for her and her unborn child, regardless of the situation.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Male Chauvinism, Human Abortion and Women's Pain at the Bushnell Theater


On Thursday night, September 20, I was asked to join a rally at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, one that was organized to support Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The occasion was the Connecticut Forum, as they hosted a panel discussion on women's empowerment. The marquee speaker was Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Connecticut Forum always has a good turnout for its events in the 3700 seat auditorium.

So as thousands of people passed by, I had four of my pro-life signs in place. [Addendum: What I did not realize until I reviewed the pictures later, is how most of these people had already seen the sign I was holding. Their cars were backed up, inching past where I was standing, from the State Capitol to the parking lots beyond the Bushnell.] Whereas the purpose of the organizer (and the one taking the pictures) was political, my purpose in joining was primarily theological (for which he was also glad). We used signs like these at New England's largest abortion center (Preterm in Brookline, Massachusetts, adjacent to Boston) virtually every Saturday from June, 1989 to June, 1991. In that time, some 200-300 women walked away from their abortion appointments, and there were hundreds of activists with the Boston chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to counter-protest us. After nine months, the leadership of Boston NOW told their recruited volunteers (mostly college students) to stop coming down to Preterm, because we "we were persuading too many of them." Click here. And click here. And also click here.

I held the sign: Can You Imagine Jesus Performing an Abortion? Why Not? Our slogan sign says: You Have the Power to Choose Life. Two other signs said: Why Does "Feminism" Abort Unborn Girls? and: Is the Abortion Industry Racist?

You can see the pictures here.

As you look at the first one, look at the young man and woman behind me, as they look at the sign. Notice the greatest difference in terms of posture, gaze and disinterest versus interest. The vast majority of abortions happen because the man who gets the woman pregnant refuses responsibility, indeed, often rooted in explicit male chauvinism. The man and woman had just stepped out of a chauffeured limousine.

[And, a day after this post, a new picture was sent to me, now the second one below. (Correction: I first thought it was a reflection of some other light, looked at the possibilities, but concluded there was no other source to cause reflection, and on a granite wall. So I came to believe it was the invisible realm of the heavens interfacing with the visible human world. I even visited the site again and saw no natural explanation. But days later, the chairman of the TEI Team of Advisors drove past, and noticed it was streetlight. The lamppost is to the left, against the lines of the building. But the arm is obscured by the bright light, and as I focused on the light, it seemed to stand alone without natural explanation. The folly of an incomplete review. Still a cool and surprising photo).]

[And later, I learned that this man and woman were part of a group of young persons recruited to be trained by Planned Parenthood, and that they were to meet with Cecile Richards at the event.]



Here are some observations:

1. The Connecticut Forum has many season subscribers, others come to various events to hear opposing ideas (as I have done across the years in various venues), and thus not all those attending were necessarily in favor of legalized abortion. But I believe most were.

2. As several thousand people walked past over a 45-minute period, within feet of these signs, many eyes avoided looking at them.

3. But many did look and pondered briefly or more engagingly.

4. Of the half dozen or dozen of negative reactions that occurred, they were mostly by women in deep pain. This was clear in their curses, body language and gestures. I interacted with some, and was able to say that my deepest concern is the male chauvinism that drives the abortion industry. I had some positive responses.

5. For several who cursed us, I said "God bless you" and they did not further curse. Jesus teaches us to bless those who curse us. To do so employs spiritual power to minister to their hurting souls, and it is their persons, as created in the image of God, that we bless, not their actions or curses.

6. One woman, standing behind me, said to some of her friends, "I wish I could take that sign, You Have the Power to Choose Life, and trample it on the ground." So I turned and said that I would never do that to any sign she might be holding in favor of abortion. But she responded, saying I was intolerant, and such a sign should be destroyed. I thought afterward, how much pain is in her person, so that she would destroy such a sign? Does she believe she does not have the power to choose life, whether for herself or the unborn? Indeed, this sign is the Gospel -- for only in Jesus do we have the good news and godly power to choose life for all people equally.

7. Some passersby quietly approached us and thanked us for being there.

8. I spoke with a young woman -- with her mother and grandmother with her -- for a good amount of time. She asked good questions, and responded well to many of my answers, as did her grandmother.

9. Toward the end, one women looked at my sign: Can You Imagine Jesus Performing an Abortion? Why Not? Then she called me a fascist. Does she also believe the same about Jesus since that was the sign I as holding? I did not assume this was necessary so. But ...

10. Then a young woman passed by, and almost tripped when she looked up at the sign, being caught off guard by it. She was wearing a bright yellow dress that distinguished her from everyone else, and was suggestive in it, along with her gait and attitude. She looked at me, said something disparaging about the mention of Jesus, and then said "Rapist." I was taken aback, but then said, "Are you calling Jesus a rapist?" And she said, "Yes!" There has to be very much pain in her soul to say such a thing, and we pray for her that God will indeed bless her, minister to her pain and draw her to faith in him as Savior.

11. [Added to the original post}: Toward the end, a man approached me from the Bushnell and offered me a ticket to attend the event. He said it would good if I listened to the other side. So I told him a little of my history, how for decades I have gone out of my way in listening to those who disagree with me, and for example, in my Mars Hill Forum series, where I have paid honoraria to such people as Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), at Smith College, to pose me her toughest questions before 550 people, 90 percent of whom were not on my side of the issues; and Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), whom I paid likewise at Georgetown University before some 300 people, and broadcast live on C-Span. His stereotype of me vanished. I said, yes, I would be pleased to accept the ticket, but first I had to put the signs away and attend to another detail, and thus, I might be up to ten minutes late for the event. He balked, and said he had to talk with someone about it, and would let me know. He did not return, and we had more fruitful encounters with the passersby and Bushnell staff. To what degree, I muse, was he simply trying to mute my witness as well? Several years ago, when we had these signs in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion center in the Bronx, they kept asking us how long we would be there. Women, in seeing the signs, were turning away from their abortion appointments.

teidonate.org


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Is Jeff Sessions in Control of the Department of Justice?


From my distant perch, I say yes. As Attorney General, he is serving constitutional law and the office of the President with equal integrity.

Why do I believe this? Due to the reality of the image of God given to us all. Here, the pursuit of trustworthiness, in self and others, overcomes so much evil.

If we look at the public language and actions of Jeff Sessions, this is at the very core of his identity. He is a man of his word, and he will not risk anything to sully that identity.

Sessions supported Donald Trump early in the campaign, because he saw in him – a very different person – a core identity to be a man of his word in public life. Trump made campaign promises he intended to keep, and this he has done. To be successful in business transactions, and to secure genuine reciprocity as a prerequisite to economic freedom, words must be kept. Trump learned this early and knows it well.

Thus, I take Sessions at his word – he recused himself in the “Russian collusion” matter out of a clear demarcation in his own understanding. He had actively supported the Trump campaign, and this “Russian” matter was putatively one concerning the campaign. Sessions wisely seeks to avoid any hint of impropriety, even at the cost of certain freedoms that might otherwise be justly claimed.

And I also take Sessions at his word when he says he has been in control of the Department of Justice (DOJ) from the outset of his tenure.

Given this integrity – free from political compromise in any direction – Attorney General Sessions is thus able to better serve the Constitution and President Trump. He is free from becoming a false lightning rod for the political opposition, and this allows him freedom to attend to matters that have real substance. He has 27 investigations underway into classified leaks within the DOJ, and who knows what else he is looking at. Draining the swamp and on forward.

President Donald Trump uses tweets, in part, to distract the top-down media with shiny objects. Then, at the same time, he successfully goes about his positive agenda that serves religious, political and economic liberty for all people equally under the rule of law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions allows the shiny object of the ephemeral debate over his recusal to free him for his substantial work.

Now, how deeply toxic, dangerous and occultic is the swamp at the DOJ? It may be so toxic, that the free-flowing liquid has long since been drained, and now it requires pickaxes and shovels, with gas-masks in place, to remove the hardened muck.

Thus, in the serendipity of Sessions’s recusal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sets to work on a matter where Sessions knows there is no “there” there, and in time, this will be publicly known to all. Rod becomes the lightning rod. To be “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” (pace the language of Jesus), Sessions allows evil to gradually implode on itself, while himself not getting caught in the muck.

He knows a frontal assault against such an entrenchment would be folly. Instead, he shrewdly peels away one layer after another, keeping his friends close and his political enemies closer. As well, he is committed to strengthening the DOJ for its true purposes, and will not risk its injury while doing the necessary surgery. A true precipice that requires due patience and wisdom.

So, what of the dance between Trump and Sessions on the recusal? Trump gets publicly upset about it, but keeps Sessions in office, and does not (yet) release classified documents that could easily sink the Robert Mueller probe.

Could it be a mutually understood mime, providing the top-down media with yet another shiny object? Could the Art of the Deal be aiming at a chosen political timing for which the miming well serves? Regardless, Sessions would keep a clear demarcation in not even raising the matter with Trump. So that in the end, the Constitution, and the offices of both the Attorney General and the President, are not polluted.

Time will tell.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Jesus, in the Face of the Political Dishonesty of Annas


In John 18:19-24, when Jesus is hauled before the de facto high priest, Annas, he is met with deep political vitriol. Annas has long since forfeited his Jewish soul in order to try and claim his position of power under Roman political and military dominance. His son-in-law Caiaphas, the titular high priest, already sees political expediency in seeking to have Jesus killed.

Jesus is a threat to the status quo where the Jewish faith is quarantined behind the temple walls, with no freedom to address matters of religious, political and economic justice. This status quo only serves self-appointed religious elitists who yield to politically raw power, in order to keep their own positions, circumscribed power, and wealth.

So Annas questions Jesus about his teaching. Jesus answers in noting that he has taught openly, not in secret, and indeed, in the synagogues and temple courts.

Which means, he teaches not only in the presence of his disciples and others who welcome him, but also in the very presence of those who are seeking to have him killed.

Jesus knows this "trial" before Annas is a set-up, and he knows that Annas already knows the answers to any question he would pose. So Jesus levels the playing field, and calls Annas to account. "Question those who have heard me. Certainly, they know what I have said."

This challenges the theological and political dishonesty of Annas, face-to-face. And Annas responds with violence, breaking the Law of of Moses by ordering Jesus to be struck in the face. In other words, Annas shows his soul to be one that has forsaken the very Law to which he claims allegiance.

How often, across history, have professing Christian leaders yielded to raw political power, based on one form of rationalization or another? How many of them, like Annas, have forfeited their souls in such a pursuit? How much is that the case today?

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Rankin’s Proposal for the President: Healing a Toxic Political Culture


April 5, 2018

In the face of a toxic political culture, what can be done to introduce some honesty and charity? The need is to provide a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally for all partisans – where they all know they are being given an honest listen in the presence of opposing partisans. That is, to accomplish what is presently an oxymoron in status quo politics.

A level playing field means 1) the pursuit of an honest definition of terms on any given topic, which 2) yields the information necessary for all partisans to make informed choices on policy matters, so that 3) partisan debate can flourish to the well-being of the nation.

Truth is then free to rise to the top, and only those who pursue the truth will have interest in such a level playing field.

Here the President, at the national level, and indeed, governors at the state level, can do a great service. Rooted in my three and a half decades of public policy ministry in the face of the most passionately debated questions, I am willing to serve the President in such a process as a non-paid consultant. What might it look like?

First, it can be titled: Presidential Conversations.

Second, choose a topic for each Conversation, e.g., To Build or Not to Build (re: immigration along the southern border).

Third, the President can select the most qualified partisan who strenuously opposes his stated policies on the chosen question. Then invite him or her to a prime-time televised one-hour conversation with a live audience and media who are broadcasting it live and in its entirely. Those partisans who accept commend themselves; those who refuse for no good reason disqualify themselves.

Fourth, have the opposing partisan read a maximum 150-word prepared statement on a) the facts of the debated topic as he or she understands them, and b) an interpretation of what they mean for public policy. The President will likewise give his own 150-word statement.

Both the President and his dissenting partisan can each have one or two select advisers with whom to consult in the conversation that follows.

And fifth, I, along with a co-moderator of balancing perspectives, would question both the President and his partisan disputant equally on their definition of terms, and interpretations. Then they question one another as they see fit. All in a conversational pace.

This proposed format can be changed in any number of ways in service to the goal, which is very simple. Namely, to have each person heard as fully as possible, face-to-face, in public profile. This way, the public is best served in coming to know the real debates at hand, and thus better able to make informed choices. Any honest partisan should be glad to embrace such a face-to-face public conversation.

Other possible questions include, among many possibilities: To Filibuster or Not?; To Russia with Love?; To What Extent Can China be Trusted in Trade?; Israel, Iran and Palestine: What are the Facts?; To What Extent Can North Korea be Trusted?; Should the Government Help Underwrite Planned Parenthood?; What is the Agenda of the Never-Trumpers?; How does the well-being of men and boys affect the well-being of women and girls?; What is the relationship between religious freedom, and political and economic freedom?; and What Does Nathaniel Hawthorne Have to do with the Second Amendment?

Such conversations across the partisan divides can become must-see television – and presidential leadership can make it happen – all in the conviction that truth rises to the top on a level playing field.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

40 Years Ago Today I Left a Cult: Choosing Biblical Integrity and Freedom Instead


Today is the 40th anniversary of Tuesday, January 10, 1978, when my wife and I, along with twelve others, were the first group to publicly depart a nasty cult. It is as fully depraved as ever, these four decades letter. Below is a post from January 27, 2014 that describes it.

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"I was Once Deceived -- 'In Normantown.'"

Lakeview Christian Life Church, Bridgeville, PA, on Citysearch.

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In this series of "TEI stories," my purpose is to share personal anecdotes from across the years where my interaction with the Gospel and others is in view. The prior four stories in this blog go back to my college years and right after, and this one does too. A biblical faith is an honest one - in the sight of God and one another. So here, let me be candid about the time I was deceived, and how thankful I am that God's grace turned me from it.

Eight months prior to my deception, in January, 1974, I took "J term" for college credit, done at Grace Haven Farms in Mansfield, Ohio. It was at the apex of the "Jesus Movement" years, and Grace Haven leased a 360-acre farm and had a lodge not unlike Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri in Switzerland, where there and here, many college students and others engaged the Gospel. It was a wonderful ministry, forty years later Grace Fellowship Church remains, and I have good friends there still.

During the month I did farm work and was involved in community life. When it was my time to cook breakfast for sixty people, I decided not to go the scrambled eggs route, but cooked eggs to order, sunny-side-up or easy-over. I had to work a furious pace, enjoyed it immensely and was especially satisfied that I only broke one egg yolk in the process. Then I enjoyed my own easy-over eggs.

A significant part of the program was study. Here I read in depth about some Protestant offshoots of the nineteenth century that deviated from the biblical teachings on the nature of the Trinity - Mormonism, Christian Science and (the later named) Jehovah's Witnesses.

Back at Denison University in February, I was walking across campus and remember praying, in view of having studied these deceitful religions: "Lord, I thank you that I cannot be deceived because of how much I love you." God have mercy (and he did) - I actually prayed these words, and what a foolish and proud statement. Not unlike the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

In other words, I set myself up to be deceived, and it came to pass from September, 1974, to January, 1978. Some friends in college and just married, Rick and Noel, with both being seniors, were eager to find "apostolic" authority. With them, my wife-to-be, Nancy, and I, visited a small satellite church outside Columbus, Ohio, when the overseeing "apostle" from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area came to visit. His name was Norman H. James. In truth, I was deeply wary, yet Nancy and I both thought we kept attending because the other one was - in a crazy season in courtship that had not yet come to engagement.

Nonetheless, Norman had some eccentric and false doctrines (though he was within confessional Nicene orthodoxy), and I eventually bought into at least two of them. In fact, our friend who led us to this church actually cajoled me into one. These were doctrines that were exclusivist, where Norman believed that the "true born-again church" was a very small portion of the larger church, he was at the center of it, and was the real (if yet to be acknowledged) Apostle of the "true" church. He proved to be a prima donna, expecting people to submit to his professed authority, no questions de facto allowed.

In early 1976, Norman ordered that his various small satellite churches all move to Pittsburgh, and they did so by the subsequent fall. "Prophecy" and twisted scriptures made this seem to be the great movement of establishing the "true" church with its worldwide epicenter in Pittsburgh, and Norman believed that Pittsburgh had been "given" to him by the Lord as his spiritual fiefdom. He encouraged people to drop out of college if need be, or transfer to a college in Pittsburgh, or leave secure jobs, including a friend, George, who left after 19 years as a government computer programmer, losing all his accrued benefits set to kick in after 20 years. One exception was made for a favored couple, Dan and Joanne, while the Dan was finishing pharmaceutical school.

Norman also directed the college students, explicitly, to lie to their parents as to why they were moving to Pittsburgh. I did not buy into this, but also, I had no risk because I was graduating that spring. Nonetheless, I told my father why I was moving there. Nancy was able, by God's grace, to do her senior year at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, and also earn her K-3 teaching certificate not possible at Denison (where she was an art major), all her scholarship monies transferred, and she graduated the following spring from Denison.

Norman was legalistic and petty in micromanaging people's lives, using the image of the "plumb line" accordingly, and in fact cajoled into existence perhaps several dozen marriages in the Pittsburgh church (actually located in the South Hills through various locales until property was bought, under several names over the years; they are virtually invisible on the internet today). The church had a large ratio of new college graduates, and people of the same age, while Norman was a high school graduate raised Roman Catholic before becoming Pentecostal/charismatic. He preached marriage, and through proxies and the pulpit, insisted that all the single men and women soon find a spouse within the church. The order was given. They did so, almost without exception, as on assignment. Thankfully, by this time my Nancy and I were already engaged, having a history well prior to this church, and we married in August, 1977, following her graduation.

While in this church, I was known as one who actually knew the Bible. I was only 21-24 years old in this season. Norman and most the leadership knew it largely as a series of proof-texts, whereas in my prior experience in 1) reading the Bible relentlessly, in whole books and always seeking to learn context, 2) the Anglican liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer, along with the hymns, in prep school, 3) my involvement in the Fellowship of Christians in University and Schools, 4) in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and 5) in learning some skeptical as well as honest biblical scholarship in college, I was wired and prepared to learn the whole biblical storyline on its own terms. And too, my upbringing (see the first blog post from March 9, 2010) blessed me with a love of hard questions. And yet, these forty years later, I know how little of the Bible I then knew, how much more I now know, which also means I now know more how little I know compared with what there is to be known.

Then the explosion. Norman was forcing a friend of mine (the former government computer programmer, George), to resign as an elder for the "sin" of - hold your breath - having his two older sons attend the youth group of a different church. Norman's church, aka in my own language, "Normantown," had no such youth group as the demographics were so young. Norman was requiring this man to lie as to why he was resigning as an elder of one of the house churches (small groups in the larger church), and not to tell anyone ahead of time. But George's wife Pat couldn't hold it in, she told me and Nancy, with George present, in December, 1977. So along with some petty hypocrisies evident, the four of us decided to leave the church. When I made the decision, it was a breath of fresh air to my soul. Awaking from a toxic fog.

Norman was planning to come to the Wednesday, January 11, 1978 scheduled house church meeting, to oversee my friend's resignation, and appoint a new elder (Dan, the pharmacist). George thus, in fear, called the meeting for the prior evening, January 10, in secret, to announce the real reasons why he was resigning. He taped it in order to give it to Norman (which he followed through on). Ten others joined us in choosing to leave the church - the first public exodus from Normantown. But one woman in the house church, Maggie, was horrified, and immediately called Norman. The fury was so great that Norman phoned all the elders, and word of such "infamy" spread like wildfire through the church. Norman also phoned the fourteen of us through the night, and called an emergency meeting of the whole church the next night - some two hundred people - to publicly decry and "dis-fellowship" (excommunicate) all of us ex post facto. He also directed that no one in the church communicate with any of us. We were to be "shunned."

Our neighbors in the apartment above us, in a two-family home, Lenny and Colleen (having also a young child), were members of the church, so they immediately shunned us. And, as it so happened, I was switching jobs that week, taking a slightly better paying job in retail management, and had two days off in the interim. So Lenny, making a momentary exception, seeing me at home for two days in the middle of the work week, asked me if I had lost my job. The expectation in the church was that those who left it would be cursed by their own "sin" of leaving, and descend into personal turmoil and failure in work and marriage. When I answered Lenny, he was crestfallen. Another man in the church, Jim, saw me in traffic some weeks later, and oh, the glare of his eyes upon me. May God have mercy - they were entrapped in a cult.

My wife and I then visited the leader of Grace Fellowship Church ministries in Mansfield, Ray, who along with his wife Eunice, were so hospitable to us. He concluded by saying I should be in seminary, and it came to pass for the fall. As it is, Norman, at that time, prohibited people from going to seminary, and generally disparaged higher education.

However, I knew that having a secret meeting on January 10 was not the right way to go about it, even though it was not my decision. George was in deathly fear of Norman, and he acted accordingly.

So, in February, I wrote Norman and said as much, and reiterated the reasons why we left. He was so enthusiastic in receiving the letter, thinking we might be persuaded to return to the church - to "snatch us from the fire" as it were - that he personally rushed over to our apartment, while I was at work and my wife was at home (not knowing either variable), knocking on the door. I never did dislike the man, and intuitively have always felt the grace of God can reach his heart. We met with him and an associate pastor some time later, we told him further why we left, and I also asked some questions about his theology and his conduct relative to our friends. Norman said he found no fault in us, only fault in the people with whom we associated in leaving the church. And he invited us to rejoin the church, where "exciting" things were happening - "The Spirit is on the move." It turns out that the associate pastor also later left the church.

Nancy and I responded, 1) we find no fault in our friendships, 2) no thank you to the invitation to return to the church, and 3) we are heading off to seminary. Then he said, "You can go to seminary while staying in the church." We demurred. But I concluded the conversation something like this: "Norman, now that we have had this conversation, I trust that if ever we cross paths again, we will do so as friends." He did not disagree, but still, such a resolution was not his purpose for the meeting.

And indeed, when my schedule had me coming through Pittsburgh in 1989, I wrote Norman ahead of time to arrange a visit where my interest was in an open-ended theological conversation, separate from the details of our departure from the church. In receiving no reply, I called the church office, he was unavailable to talk, but his eldest son, also named Norman (but not Jr.), spoke with me. Yet, no meeting was possible with his father. "Little Norman," as he was then called, was a teenager in 1977, and once I took him and his next oldest brother, and the two eldest sons of my friend, to a Pittsburgh Pirate's game. I liked him, and in the 1989 phone conversation, it was pleasant enough. When I was in town in 1998, I tried to set up a meeting with Norman (the elder), and no reply. Several years ago, I sent a copy of my one of books, The Six Pillars of Biblical Power, to Norman (the younger) who had since become senior pastor. No response.

This I did in a proactive attempt to lift up Jesus, even though I knew some of the hell into which the church has descended in the meantime. I only know a few details of these intervening years, not even scratching the surface I am sure. In the 1990s, our college friends were divorced, de facto at Norman's behest. Noel started questioning Norman and his wife, it was unacceptable, and sometime later Rick unilaterally divorced her and locked her out of the house penniless, with virtually no possessions. This we learned, because she and my wife talked at some length on the phone afterward. It turns out, too, that there were quite a few married couples where divorce was insisted upon by the leadership in Normantown, because one spouse was asking impermissible questions, and better it was in Normantown to keep one person in the church, than to have them both leave and keep the marriage intact. One such woman unilaterally divorced by her husband was Maggie, then single, who in our house church in 1978, was initially horrified by our "rebellion" in Normantown and had immediately called Norman. Years later Maggie had questions, but they were not permitted ...

This is a hallmark of idolatry. Norman and his group of pliant elders, on the one hand, insisted on marriage for the young adults within the church, in the name of the biblical covenant; but on the other, as soon as one spouse began to challenge Norman's authority, divorce was decreed. Indeed, membership in Normantown meant being "married" to Normantown. When I last heard from my friend Rick, who had led us into the church, it was in a letter in the spring of 1979 when I was in seminary. I had sent him an announcement of the birth of our first son the prior October. He was cordial, but also said that he had no purpose in further communications since I had "divorced" myself from the church.

Now, when I invent a term that invents itself, "Normantown," some may think of "Jonestown." I am not making this analogy, for the members of Normantown may live in a cult (and their church property and adjoining neighborhood of houses occupied by members gives it a geographical fortress mentality), but they also work real jobs in the outside economy. I pray they have no such willingness to literally drink poisoned Kool Aid, and I highly doubt its possibility; but the idolatry in place is just as dangerous to the soul. Various people in Normantown, when I was there, treated Norman's words as the Word of God, even over the Bible at junctures. As I began to realize this, my soul was already preparing to depart Normantown.

In the 1990s I met a minister of the Gospel in a meeting in Connecticut, who pastored a church in the Mount Washington section of Pittsburgh in the 1970s, Joseph Garlington. He has since preached the Gospel internationally and extensively. He knew Norman well, and said to me that he has never met a man more practiced in the art of manipulating other people. Let me add though, manipulators are virtually always first manipulated in their youths, insecurity of the soul thus multiplies, and a vicious cycle ensues where manipulation of others is an internal hedge against being manipulated, a cycle that needs to be broken for all concerned.

By God's grace, we escaped. I was deceivable due to foolish pride. "Fool me once and shame on you; fool me twice and shame on me." And as a result, as I began seminary, I focused on the biblical ethics of freedom, "no coercion in the Gospel" as I then phrased it, and my life has been thus shaped. Do pray for those still in Normantown, that God's grace may happily interrupt their lives too, though in truth, for those who have been there thirty or forty years, the die is deeply cast. But nothing is impossible to God.

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[Addendum: January 28 - the church has no website, but after this posting, I discovered a place where many former members vent themselves, the CitySearch site linked at the top; February 6 - I added my own comments]