Category Archives: religious news

Religion and politics: as toxic a mix as you get can get

A social media meme is making the rounds calling for the elimination of religion from the world of politics.

I should add my own description: I mean “secular” politics.

Donald Trump’s re-election bid is likely to be fueled in good measure by the support he continues to have among evangelical voters who, for the life of me, cling to rear bumper of the clown car with Trump at the wheel. Why they continue to hang onto this guy’s message — such as it is — is beyond me.

However, religion in my mind has its place when discussing certain aspects of certain issues. I get the religious element to issues such as abortion, prayer in public places, same-sex marriage. I listen to those arguments and will argue my own point of view, which normally conflicts with the evangelical views on the issues I have just listed.

Then we have those on the right and the far right who continue to insist that they support political candidates on the basis of their faith. More to the point, they make judgments on candidates’ fealty to the New Testament, or whether they are devout enough in their Christian faith, or whether they worship God at all, or whether they adhere to faiths other than Christianity.

Indeed, this is where Trump’s support among evangelical voters would seem to break down, except that it doesn’t, again for reasons that escape me.

The U.S. Constitution states specifically and categorically that there should be “no religious test” applied to officeholders or those who seek to hold public office. The founders were as categorical on that subject as they were on practically any principle they wrote when building the nation’s governing framework.

And, yes, the Declaration of Independence, written 13 years before the Constitution was ratified, does refer to “God” and “the Creator.” They left it to the authors of the Constitution to develop a secular governing document which they wrote precisely that way to steer clear of injecting religious policy into the laws of the land.

So, as this campaign gets wound up and as we start heading down the campaign trail toward the White House, it is my fervent hope we can make our judgments on candidates’ fitness for the office without seeking to determine whether they are holy enough in their principles.

That’s what I want, so help me God.

Trump’s weird association with evangelicals takes an even weirder turn

It looks as though the nation’s strangest political alliance has taken a strange new twist.

Donald Trump has hired a thrice-married, money-loving televangelist to be his link to the evangelical Christian community that continues to support the president, even in the wake of a mountain of impeachment evidence that is piling up all around him.

This person’s name is Paula White. She is far from your run-of-the-mill person of the cloth. She has been marred by marital scandal. She lives in a glitzy mansion in Florida. She reportedly believes God wants believers to gather wealth. She delivers her ministry on television.

Doesn’t sound so, oh, very Trumpian? I believe it does.

The New York Times noted some fascinating spiritual comparisons.

The Times reported that Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon turned the Rev. Billy Graham, who the Times said was “so ubiquitous he became known as America’s Pastor.” President Obama turned to Rick Warren, whose best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” became the second best-selling hardcover book in American history; the No. 1 best-seller is, um, The Bible.

Read the Times story here.

Paula White comes from a vastly different mold than previous presidential pastors. She is, shall we say, more than a tad unconventional in her approach to God’s holy word.

She preaches something called “the prosperity gospel,” which the Times reports has drawn widespread criticism from mainstream religious leaders. Imagine that … if you can.

But there she is, working within the White House as a sort of “spiritual adviser” to a president who, to my way of thinking, has lived one of the most un-Christian lives of any notable public figure I’ve ever seen.

Didn’t he once tell us that he’s never sought “forgiveness”? He has admitted cheating on two of his three wives; and there’s plenty of evidence that he’s fooled around on Wife No. 3. He has preached a doctrine of toughness to obtain business success. Trump has mocked others’ physical disabilities, their appearance, their intelligence.

Does any of that resemble what Jesus Christ would endorse?

Don’t answer that.

Now he has someone named Paula White advising him. She will work to shore up his religious movement support.

Weird, man.

Atheist group needs to settle down

So now we hear that the Freedom from Religion Foundation is angry with a Texas trial judge because the judge gave a convicted murderer a Bible at the end of a sentencing hearing.

I believe I’ll weigh in with this: The atheist group needs to settle down and look for more egregious examples of public officials shoving religion down citizens’ throats.

District Judge Tammy Kemp presided over the trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who a jury this week convicted of murder and then sentenced her to 10 years in prison. Guyger shot a man, Botham Jean, believing that Jean was an intruder in her apartment — except that she went to the wrong dwelling and shot Jean in his own place.

Botham Jean’s brother, Brandt, then spoke to the court after the jury sentenced Guyger to prison; he asked the judge if it would be all right if he could hug her brother’s killer. He said he forgave her. Brand Jean and Guyger embraced.

Judge Kemp’s gesture was meant to provide a level of comfort to a woman who is going to spend several years in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Freedom from Religion Foundation believes Kemp’s act of kindness is a form of foisting religion on citizens in a public place.

C’mon! Judge Kemp did not instruct Guyger to read the Bible and to adopt its teachings while she is serving her time. All she did was hand her a holy book. Period. Had she placed some sort of ludicrous caveat on her giving the Bible to Guyger, well, that would be different.

She didn’t. Judge Kemp sought to endorse in some fashion the compassion and grace demonstrated by the brother of the man Guyger had shot to death.

The atheist group needs to give it a rest.

Trump tries to re-define political ‘disloyalty’

Donald Trump’s blathering about Jewish voters endorsing Democratic candidates brought to mind a nearly six-decade-old commitment stated by a previous president of the United States.

Trump’s statement has been taken by some to be an anti-Semitic utterance from someone who presumes political candidates must be “loyal” to Israel and to Israeli government policies. So the rationale — if you want to call it such — is that Jewish voters would be “disloyal” to Israel if they back candidates who might be not quite as friendly to Israeli policies as candidates from the other major political party.

This is utter hogwash, claptrap, bull corn — whatever you want to call it — from the president.

In 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy was running for president as a practicing Catholic. There were whispers that turned into shouts about whether a Catholic president would take his marching orders from the Vatican. Sen. Kennedy sought to assuage those concerns and he did so in a most brazen manner.

He attended a Texas convention of Protestant clergy, stood before them and said categorically that he would take the oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. It would be to that document that the president would adhere.

Presidents do take an oath to defend the Constitution. They do not defend the Bible, or the Torah. Their loyalty first and foremost is to the secular document crafted by the nation’s founders in the late 18th century.

Donald Trump’s abject ignorance of the very oath he took in 2017 reveals the danger we face if we return this guy to office in 2020.

Sharia law? It is not possible in the U.S. of A.

This meme showed up on my Facebook timeline today and it compels me to write a brief rejoinder to what I consider to be the mother of red herrings.

Many Americans — too many of them, actually — seem to have this unnecessary fear of Sharia law. The picture attached to this blog post shows Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota taking her oath of office with a hand on the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The meme accuses Omar of committing an act of “treason” because the Quran recognizes “Sharia law.”

Let me be crystal clear: The U.S. Constitution is a secular document that prohibits the federal government from enacting laws that have their basis on religious faith. The Constitution doesn’t mention Christianity by name; it makes no mention of Jesus Christ; it doesn’t mention Islam; nor does it invoke the name of Mohammad.

It is a secular document!

Therefore, any attempt to invoke Sharia law — the ultraconservative doctrine to which a segment of Muslims adhere — is laughable on its face. Sharia law cannot possibly become part of any federal law enacted by Congress.

Furthermore, let’s get real on this point: Does anyone believe the current U.S. Supreme Court, with its current conservative majority, is going to reject any Sharia law-based complaint that finds its way to the highest court in the land?

The hatred of Muslims and of officeholders who adhere to Islam is far more troubling to me than any unfounded fear of Sharia law.

I also need to point out that Article VI in the Constitution states categorically that there shall be “no religious test” applied to anyone who seeks public office in the United States of America.

I know this post won’t stem the tide of mistrust and outright hatred of Muslims. I just needed to get off my chest this goofy notion that we need to cower in fear of the imposition of Sharia law into the lives of Americans.

The U.S. Constitution itself serves as an impenetrable shield against any such intrusion into the way this country governs itself.

VP ignores hypocrisy in his commencement speech

Vice President Mike Pence told graduating students at Liberty University this weekend that they will be “shunned” and “ridiculed” because of their Christian faith.

He said his wife, Karen, has been subject to such bad behavior because she hooked up with an evangelical-based educational institution.

“Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs,” Pence told the Liberty U grads, calling himself “a brother in Christ.” “As you go about your daily life, be ready.”

For those who ridicule others merely because of their faith, yes, that is wrong, hateful, hurtful and not in keeping with any great religious faith of which I am aware.

However, the VP might be missing a critical element in the criticism that comes toward those who proclaim their Christian faith. It is the hypocrisy associated with Christian leaders who talk a good game about faith, but who continue to stand with a president whose own life and his brief career in public service have been testaments to practically everything counter to what Jesus teaches the world.

I would put the vice president in that category.

I don’t doubt Pence’s faith. I have serious doubt about Donald Trump’s proclamations of faith. I cannot wrap my noggin around the idea that just because the president says he’s a believer that he actually is one.

His entire life prior to becoming a politician has been focused exclusively on one element: enriching himself. Yet there is the vice president standing with him as he panders openly to evangelicals who comprise the political base that keeps buttressing his support.

Scripture instructs us to be truthful. Has the president followed the commandment that we “must not testify falsely against your neighbor”?

It’s the hypocrisy, Mr. Vice President, that puts evangelicals too often in a position to be “shunned” and “ridiculed,” even if they aren’t deserving of either.

‘Church/state separation’ surely is included in the Constitution

While the president of the United States renews his boast about how he has brought “Merry Christmas” back into fashion during the holy holiday, I am reminded yet again of a phony argument that many on the far right continue to use about what the U.S. Constitution says about religion.

A former colleague of mine at the Amarillo Globe-News was fond of saying how the Constitution does not contain the words “separation of church and state.” His argument, preposterous as it sounds, was that if the Constitution doesn’t state it declaratively then such “separation” does not exist.

I sought on more than one occasion to counsel him that the Constitution does not need to make an overt statement to stand on a principle.

The First Amendment says that Congress “shall make no law” that establishes a state religion. Right there, in plain English, is the separation of church and state argument.

I mention it because Donald Trump continues to extol the virtues of Christian belief in a nation comprising people of many religious faiths. It’s laughable that this president, given his sickening personal history, would even venture into that briar patch . . . but he does.

He told the nation just the other day that since he became president, people are saying “God” in public again, as if they ever stopped saying the word. Then he talked yet again about how business owners are instructing employees to wish customers “Merry Christmas” during the holiday season. That, by golly, is the way it should be, according to the president.

I need to remind those who read this blog who might be disposed to side with Trump on this matter that the Constitution is as clear as it can possibly be on the matter of religion.

The government does not require people to worship any deity. None. It declares that the absence of a state religion means that citizens are free to worship as they wish — or not worship at all, if that is their choice.

Church/state separation is a reality in our nation’s governing document. On that score — and, yes, they missed the mark on a few matters in the creation of this great nation — the founders got it exactly right.

God should not become a political tool, Mr. POTUS

Mr. President, I am having trouble understanding your relationship with the Almighty.

You invoke God in public speeches. You mention him by name. I heard you interpret a portion of God’s holy word at the National Day of Prayer event at the White House.

I hear all this stuff, Mr. President, but then I keep wondering: Does he really mean it?

It’s difficult for me to question anyone’s faith, Mr. President. It’s such a deeply personal matter. Whether you’re a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, how we worship should be of no on else’s concern. Isn’t that what “religious liberty” is all about? Well, I think it is . . . but that’s just me, I reckon.

Here’s the deal, Mr. President, about why I wonder about your religious sincerity. You keep mentioning your own political ambition in light of these holy matters. You did it again at the White House this week.

I heard you say that the word “God” was rarely spoken in public before you took office, which I thought was a silly assertion. You made that goofy campaign promise in 2016 to ensure that business owners ordered their employees to wish customers a “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holiday” when they purchased items at Christmas time. No president can force anyone to do such a thing. Yet that was what I heard you imply.

I have to wonder, too, about one of the Ten Commandments and whether you violate it when you insert yourself into discussions about God. The Third Commandment instructs us — according to my New Living Translation of the Bible: “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.” 

One of the many fascinating aspects of the Bible is how one can interpret its meaning. I take that passage to mean, Mr. President, that it is wrong to reap personal or political gain from the use of the Lord’s name.

Hey, it’s just my reading of the Bible, a book I’ve been reading since I was a little kid.

Thus, I run into this sincerity question whenever I hear these references come from you.

I will attach this link to this blog post, Mr. President. It speaks to the kind of questions I believe surface in the minds of many Americans when they hear you say such things.

Here it is.

Tread carefully, Mr. President. The Good Lord is watching. He knows every single thing about every one of us.

What Bible is Franklin Graham reading?

The Rev. Franklin Graham inherited the mantle of his late, great father, the Rev. Billy Graham, in preaching biblical doctrine as pitched initially by Jesus Christ.

I do not deny Franklin Graham’s influence on the nation’s evangelical movement. However, I have to wonder which version of the Holy Bible empowers him to say:

That a Democratic candidate for president, Pete Buttigieg, should “repent” for his “sin” of being gay, and that it’s OK to throw his support behind Donald Trump, who has cheated on all three of his wives and who has acknowledged that his celebrity status enables him to grab women by their pu***.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Franklin Graham in 2000 when he came to Amarillo for a series of “crusades” at Dick Bivins Stadium. He came across as a pleasant man and we had a cordial visit. I recall asking him about his political activism and he spoke forthrightly about his support for politicians who espouse their Christian faith.

However, the man’s support of Donald Trump continues to perplex me. He looks past this president’s lengthy life prior to becoming a politician, a life that has included an endless array of behavior, conduct and lifestyle that spits in the face of the holy figure he purports to worship.

Juxtaposed with that we hear Rev. Graham suggest that “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg must repent because he is an openly gay man who also happens to be faithful to his husband. Graham recently cited the Old Testament passage that calls for gays to be put to death, for crying out loud. He also did not mention that Jesus called on us to love everyone unconditionally.

Buttigieg’s presidential campaign has caught fire in recent weeks. He has emerged from a no-name, unknown Midwest mayor to become a legitimate contender for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Many conservatives, though, are focusing on his sexual orientation.

Franklin Graham is one of them.

Perhaps this matter illustrates one of the beauties — or curses, if you choose to call it that — of the Bible. We are free to interpret it any way we wish. We can take certain passages and mold them to suit our own bias.

I choose to draw a different interpretation from the Bible that Franklin Graham and I both read.

As for his support of the serial liar, philanderer, pu*** grabber Donald Trump . . . well, that’s his call. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Easter is perfect holiday to note rebirth of cathedral

There’s symmetry to be found in the tragedy that struck the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the middle of Paris, France.

Think of it. The fire broke out during Holy Week, which Christians celebrate Easter, the most joyous holiday on their calendar. Easter symbolizes the emergence from darkness, brought on by the death of Jesus Christ.

The holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. Christians sing joyful hymns in church and welcome the rebirth brought on by the spring season.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was damaged heavily by fire. French government officials vow to rebuild the iconic structure.

What many of us find fascinating is the survival of the crucifix in the cathedral’s sanctuary. Pictures of it seem to glow amid the rubble left by the blaze.

So the rebuilding will commence . . . eventually. French fire investigators need to determine the cause of the fire. What is left of the structure needs to be assessed and it needs to be determined how much of it can be saved. Initial reports indicate the structure is sound enough to withstand reconstruction.

How much better can it get than that, albeit given the tragic fire that has scarred this iconic holy building?

The world will await the resurrection of the heavily damaged Cathedral of Notre Dame. The more I think about it, the symbolism of the church’s pending rebirth juxtaposed with the timing of the event that brought so much misery could hardly be more perfect.