Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Four Simple Political Promises

If a political candidate could honestly make the following four simple promises, what would be the response of a) political insiders, b) political outsiders and especially, c) the voting public?

1. Cut law by 99 percent.

2. Cut taxes by 50 percent.

3. Cut ISIS by 100 percent.

4. Thus, set the economy ablaze.

These are all possible as rooted in the Gospel, and I will unpack these realities in future blogs.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is Trump a "Loser" or a "Winner?"

My concerns, as always, are biblical.

Donald Trump is a putative Christian for whom evangelicals are a trump card in his stockpile of vote gathering, that is, until he has no further need for them.

My reason for saying this is rooted in placing Mr. Trump and Jesus side by side.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives a parable of a rich man who stockpiles his wealth, but he is unprepared for the day his soul is required of him. Jesus also says: "Whoever purposes to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for me will save it. What purpose is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet lose his very soul?"

That is, the one who seeks to gain, or to win all the marbles as it were, can and will lose it in a flash. The egocentric pursuit of wealth and top-down power as an idol is de facto self-condemnation; the one who is a "winner" here is the ultimate "loser."

In two of my books I write about the "six pillars" of biblical power and honest politics; namely, the power to give, the power to live in the light, the power of informed choice, the power to love hard questions, the power to love enemies and the power to forgive (see johnrankinbooks.com). This is my language, rooted in the biblical order of creation and the Sermon on the Mount, seeking to sum up the love of God and neighbor, thus defining true power. Mr. Trump, and all of us, would do well to probe this biblical foundation, and eschew the idolatry of "power" politics.

Thus, as Mr. Trump claims to be a "winner" in his business and political dealings, such "winning" is but a passing shadow en route to becoming the greatest of "losers."

Mr. Trump: Be careful in your judgments of others. To "fight back very hard" when people do not flatter you and do it your way, to misunderstand the lex talionis of the Law of Moses which Jesus fulfills and transcends, and thus miss the Golden Rule, is dangerous to your soul. And I pray much better for you. The same danger stalks any other presidential candidate from various angles.

Try reading the Sermon on the Mount. If you grasp it, you will repent of much, and your political campaign will be turned upside down. Then you and the nation will prosper much better.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tough Thinking: Is Trump Capable?

Part of Donald Trump’s political appeal is through his tough talk on issues where the American people yearn for clarity and action.

But is Mr. Trump also capable of tough thinking? Here are six questions as an invitation.

1. Mr Trump: Do you have a proactive political philosophy, one that has no need for the put down and invective?

Mr. Trump has a financial philosophy, as it were, one that is equally at home with any political philosophy or partisan, so long as he can negotiate his own prosperity. But if politics change and threaten his finances, he changes allegiance. Thus, he is wired for the reactive of the ad hominem toward anyone who threatens to get in his way.

2. Mr. Trump: When it comes to economic philosophy, do you think only inside the given box, or can you think outside of it if necessary?

Mr. Trump is a businessman in narrow context. He knows how to build buildings and casinos, and how to use intimidation in financial dealings. By spreading his money around politically to serve his financial interests, and in using corporate bankruptcy laws to escape consequences, he works within the given system.

3. Mr. Trump: To repair our broken economy, do you have any track record in thinking outside the box?

In other words, reactive bromides a broken economy does not fix. A proactive economic philosophy is necessary to distinguish what is inside the box, what is outside, and what is necessary in a given context.

4. Mr. Trump: How do the writings of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek impact your understanding on how to repair our broken economy?

In other words, there is the need to discern the difference between tough economic thinking, on the one hand, and simplistic financial strategies that work only within a narrow context, on the other.

5. Mr. Trump: What is the etymology of economics? Why does it matter, and what are the consequences?

I will leave this open-ended, and it will be instructive to glean Mr. Trump’s answer.

6. And finally, Mr Trump: What is your most concise way to define the nature of money?

I will likewise leave this open-ended.

The measure of Mr. Trump’s ability to serve as the U.S. President can be fairly judged by how he handles these questions.


Friday, June 26, 2015

"Raw Judicial Power" and "Judicial Putsch": What is Next?

In the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing human abortion, dissenting justice Byron White called it an exercise in "raw judicial power."

In today's U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, dissenting justice Antonin Scalia called it a "judicial putsch" (overthrow).

In both cases, these supposed "rights" were invented apart from Constitutional law. This means we are no longer a nation of laws, but of a nation where the human wills of certain elitists are imposed on the rest of us.

Does it matter? From antiquity we have the biblical understanding of human freedom under the rule of law, and governed by King Yahweh. In Mesopotamian and Egyptian culture, we have kings who call themselves gods, and impose slavery on the non-elites of society. The "state" is god.

In the biblical profile of Sodom and Gomorrah, social and sexual anarchy lead to the state becoming god, no dissent is permitted, and the poor and needy get trampled.

In the Roman Empire, Caesar was eventually lifted to the status of a god, where Tiberius was the "son of the divine Augustus." The self-proclaimed son of god. So when the true Son of God appears, the greatest contest of the ages comes to pass. Thus, for early Christians to call Jesus Lord was to oppose Caesar as lord, and thus the persecutions began.

We are now a nation that has forsaken its heritage of unalienable rights given by the Creator, and replaced it with the state as god.

The trajectory now in the United States is to remove the religious liberty of all people who dissent from the state as god, including those of us who say no to human abortion, say no to same-sex marriage, and say no to state enforced healthcare that cheapens real care and costs us much more.

And just like Nazi Germany where the church was squeezed into compliance -- save a few brave souls who resisted like Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- the next assault will especially be against pastors, churches and Christians who do not yield to the state as god. Support homosexuality, ordain homosexual clergy and perform same-sex marriages or lose your tax exemption ...


Monday, May 18, 2015

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (16): Dispute Over Religion

Though Muhammad guarantees the “religion and property” of the Jews in the Treaty of Medina, he still warns them of Allah’s “punishment and vengeance” if they fail to convert. He enters a Jewish school accordingly, and the rabbis challenge him:

“ ‘What is your religion, Muhammad?’
“ ‘The religion of Abraham’ [says Muhammad].
“ ‘But Abraham was a Jew’ [say the Jews].
“ ‘Then let the Torah judge between us’ ” [says Muhammad].

As the rabbis then refuse to convert, Muhammad declares a verse of the Qur’an coming down from Allah: “Hast thou not seen how those who have received a portion of scripture when invited to [Allah’s] book that it may judge between them, a party of them turn their backs in opposition.”

The Jews claim Abraham as their own, with their Judaism tracing back through to the Israelites and Isaac. But here Muhammad challenges them to prove it from the Torah (the Pentateuch), and also, he includes the Torah in Allah’s book. They refuse, which is historically curious given rabbinic love for debate and searching the scriptures. Perhaps it is because Muhammad never quotes the Torah – he only cites it as an objective reference point – and they assume he is going to argue from the Qur’an, which is historically ex post facto, and in their eyes, settles nothing. Then some Jewish rabbis and Christians dispute whether Abraham is a Jew or Christian, and Muhammad claims Abraham is Muslim.

Jesus: The identity of Abraham as the father of faith is summed up when Jesus says to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” In other words, as Jesus is the incarnate Yahweh Elohim, Abraham is a Hebrew man who is called to be a blessing to all nations, out of whom the Messiah for all nations is to come, and not to be exclusively claimed by one group over and against another.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Does the Church Have Responsibility for Same-Sex Marriage? The Question of Animus

As same-sex marriage is set to revisit the United States Supreme Court, a question has already been raised by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Namely, is political and legal opposition to same-sex marriage rooted in an “animus” against homosexual persons qua homosexual persons?

Sadly, there is a reality within the church and culture of such animus, and this has only served to disembowel the constitutional argument for the social goodness of one man and one woman in marriage. This animus is usually the exception, but its presence is poisonous.

In the fall of 2002, I was baptized into this animus reality as I addressed a forum at Boston University on the topic: “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?’ My interlocutor was Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. We had not met before, and I arrived at the auditorium first. When she entered the room, with a number of followers behind her, I stepped forward, reached out my hand to shake hers, and with a smile said, “A pleasure to meet you.”

As I did so, her followers all reared back in surprise, which is say (as I interpreted the moment), they expected me to be a “homophobe” and were not prepared for genuine humanity and hospitality.

Arline led off the evening and said up front that every other person she had debated on this subject “had palpably hated me, but not so tonight with John Rankin.” I was surprised, and even more so later when she also said, “John, we know that you love us.” I never used the word love, but certainly showed respect for her equal humanity, and sought to listen well.

After a forum some years later, Arline gave me a hug, and in an email said to me: “John, you are a true gentleman and a thoughtful advocate.” She also gave me permission to publish and attribute these words. This from the woman who successfully led the lobbying movement for the nation’s first “gay rights” bill in Massachusetts in 1989, and again in 2005, led the lobbying effort for the first in the nation same-sex marriage law.

In my post-graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School in the 1980s, I was once took a class in feminist ethics. During lunch, early in the term, three women classmates approached me as I was sitting in the refectory. One of them introduced herself along with her two friends, and she said, “You know John, for an evangelical, you’re a nice guy.”

She continued, and introduced a topic de novo. She noted that the three of them were lesbian, and every lesbian they knew had been the victim of “physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse” by some man in her early years. This was new information to me. And why, I still wonder, were they sharing this testimony with me?

I remember praying in my spirit as I heard these words, Dear God above, has the church ever heard this? Or do we merely pass judgment on those who are homosexual and move on?

In 2003 I shared this story at a huge turnout before the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature, broadcast live on CT-N. The topic was pending legislation on same-sex marriage, and as I relayed this story briefly in my testimony, the whole room was filled with groans so cacophonous I could hardly hear myself speak. A friend in the audience later told me that all the groans were from women wearing same-sex marriage stickers, and that they held their breaths until I was done with that segment.

I was neither questioned nor challenged by anyone there, nor subsequently. It was something to get past for those in charge. What I did, unknowingly, was to speak a pain that dares not speak its name – and to speak it with unfeigned human care for those who have suffered. This reality has deep resonation among the male homosexual population as well.

I have addressed this and related topics in many other settings such as the University of Rhode Island, Yale, Wesleyan, New York University, Syracuse, Harvard, the University of New Hampshire, Smith, the Chautauqua Institution, a homosexual restaurant, churches of various theological persuasions, many personal conversations with avowed homosexual persons, Trinity, Dartmouth, Brown and the University of Hartford. As well, at the behest of an ad hoc meeting of fellow ministers, I was the scribe for The Ministers Affirmation on Marriage in the Hartford Courant: “Yes to Man and Woman in Marriage: No to Same-Sex Marriage.” It never elicited any public critique, as first 200, then 700 ministers and Christian leaders signed it. I even once debated the infamous and late Fred Phelps of “godhatesfags.com,” itemizing fourteen ways in which he made an idol out of hate.

Yet all the while, in my proactive theology and politics, I argue that one man and one woman in marriage is sine qua non for a healthy civil order, and that same-sex marriage undermines this foundation. This is in ways that almost no one discusses, and why I have submitted an Amicus Curae before the Supreme Court posing seven questions – where the well-being of all people equally is the goal.

Here are the questions:

1] Is there any written source for unalienable rights in the United States apart from the Creator identified in Genesis 1-2?

2] Is marriage itself an unalienable right – one that all people can demand for themselves – or is it an option under liberty?

3] How does the Creator define human sexuality?

4] Are same-sex marriage advocates thus forcing a choice between unalienable and ultimate rights given by the Creator, on the one hand, versus basic and penultimate rights defined by human authority, on the other?

5] And if so, are same-sex marriage advocates decoupling the Declaration of Independence from the United States Constitution and civil law?

6] Can same-sex marriage advocates give any example in human history where a homosexual ethos has advanced the well-being of the larger social order?

7] Is homosexuality a fixed or immutable trait? In Goodridge, re Marriage Cases and in Kerrigan, no scientific basis for a supposed genetic or social determinism for homosexual identity was even attempted. And I have seen none attempted otherwise. Apart from clear evidence of a “fixed or immutable trait,” Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, relative to defining a “suspect” or civil rights class status, is not met for homosexual persons qua self-identified homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a civil rights class in U.S. law.

Before the Court can make any ruling, I believe these questions must be addressed and answered.

On my website, www.teii.org, at the Marriage or Pansexuality icon, there are nearly 70 articles that explore this plus much more cognate territory. I invite those in the church to consider a question: To what extent does male irresponsibility despise and abandon boys and girls into an ersatz human sexuality, one that teems with sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and early death? And for those so abandoned, as they find homes among communities of shared suffering, what would we have done had we suffered such violation, and sans a true grasp of the Gospel?

The harshest language Jesus ever used was in calling some of the hypocritical elite “sons of hell.” Any man who betrays true manhood, and does sexual violence to others, along with the hatred of a Fred Phelps, are clear examples I know where such judgment is merited.

I also invite those who disagree with me in any capacity, inside the church or outside, to pose their most rigorous questions.

Jesus removes the condemnation from a manipulated woman caught in the act of adultery, and then calls her to leave her life of broken trust (my language for the most biblically comprehensive definition of “sin”). And he gives the power of his Holy Spirit to all those who want to heed his words. I have a friend, a Unitarian minister, whose church has welcomed many avowedly homosexual persons. And yet, he made a remarkable statement to me once in a public conversation. Namely, though in his counseling with many of them, he affirmed them in their homosexual identities, but saw no resulting improvement in their psychological and physical health across the years. There are far deeper painful relational realities at play. Does legalized same-sex marriage cause any remedy for such human suffering, or only give imprimatur to deepening broken trust?

If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, the church bears great responsibility. Broken relationships will continue to multiply and the social order will continue to crumble on many fronts. I pray otherwise, but we in the church must be proactive and not reactive in our grasp of the Gospel. And if same-sex marriage does not become federal law, our calling remains equally the same.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

40 Vignettes on the Life of Muhammad (15): Offer to the Jews of Khaybar

As the interaction with the Jews in Medina continues, Muhammad writes a letter to the Jews of Khaybar, saying: “O scripture folk, and you will find it in your scripture[,] ‘Muhammad is the apostle of [Allah].” He then gives some statements as to why this is the case, and concludes, “If you do not find that in your scripture then there is no compulsion upon you. ‘The right path has become plainly distinguished from error’ so I call you to [Allah] and His prophet.”

In these words, a remarkable challenge is posed. Yet Ibn Ishaq gives no follow through of any discussion of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) itself (which neither Muhammad nor Ibn Ishaq ever quote), and whether Muhammad’s assertions are confirmed or not. Ibn Ishaq does continue here and say: “Among the people concerning whom the Quran came down, especially the rabbis and unbelieving Jews who used to ask him questions[,] and annoying him in confusing truth with falsehood … the apostle as he was reciting the opening words of The Cow: ‘Alif, Lam, Mim, That is the book about which there is no doubt.’ ”

So the Qur’an is used again to silence questions and discussion, and Muhammad is also challenging the very basis of the treaty he just made with the Jews of Medina – to respect their religion and property. He calls them to submit to Islam, but also, at this juncture, leaves open their freedom, at least in that one moment, to say no if they do not see Muhammad in the Tanakh.

Jesus: In his dialogues with his enemies, Jesus invites them to prove him wrong relative to fulfilling the scriptures. His patience in this regard is never exhausted, and he does not cut off debate.