Faith, Worship, Morality, Tolerance, and Fellowship

Posted May 15, 2017 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In my Church of Christ tradition, I was taught I was my brother’s keeper. I had some obligation for “seeking the lost.” This did not translate into an evangelical imperative that I should convince my Methodist cousins to give up their love for the piano in Sunday morning worship, or their resistance to baptism by “immersion.”

It took me a long time to appreciate the sincerity and dedication of the young Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witness missionaries who knocked on my door with Bibles and printed religious tracts. I was more appreciative of the welcoming neighbor, bringing baked goods and the offer of fellowship within their steeple of choice.  I feel a kinship among friends in most religions, and the welcome in the many congregations I have visited.

Our First Amendment is a wall of separation, a barrier to an established government religion, and also a fortress of refuge for believers from falsehood and fanaticism. The growth of non-denominational Christianity has restructured our paradox of unity and diversity. Congregations offer traditional or contemporary praise and worship, and we promote or quietly deny our liberal or evangelical leanings to recruit the young and the unaffiliated. Christianity, as I knew it in my childhood, has become rare. The Church of Christ which I now attend has an electronic screen behind the song leader rather than fumbling through the pages of hymnals. Much of their Christmas was focused on food and heavy coats for charity. I found them to be very apolitical during the election. Their young minister is academically conversant with contemporary and classic literature and media hype, but astute in rational Christianity and biblical integrity.

I enjoy the faith, worship, morality, tolerance, and fellowship of Christians. They are in no way as despicable as they are perceived to be in politics, mega church television charlatans, retail bigotry, ostentatious end zone celebrations, or divine attribution for trophies of vanity. They reach beyond their faith, their praise and worship, and selective biblical literalism, and embrace a harmony of tolerance and fellowship.

Concurrent with Sunday worship, in my extended week, I find a similar harmony in our secular culture. Most people are church going spiritual people for whom their spirituality is more personal and less vocal. Most of them believe in a higher power, the unseen designer and author of truth, morality, ethics, love, tolerance, and charity.

On a more secular note, I find comfort among agnostics, humanists, Unitarians, moralists, and freethinkers who have found and embraced their morality, ethics, tolerance, love and compassion through secular intellect and logic, through reason rather than revelation. Earlier in one of my books, I included a reference to a comparison of religious ethics and secular ethics. I shared a conversation I had with a professor who has taught in more than one Church of Christ universities. Our mutual thought was that secular ethics may be stronger today than fundamentalist religion. This is not by design of God’s will, or the Messianic message of Jesus. Neither is it an apostasy, or a religious falling away of a chosen people.

Academia and the several theories of ethics have served us well historically. Logic bends toward ethics, morality, love, compassion, and fellowship. You don’t have to abandon your Sunday morning praise and worship. You don’t have to abandon the inspiration of the New Testament writers when you receive your doctorate of science, technology, literature, history, political science, or philosophy. Christianity is not a fairy tale or mythology. There is a harmony of faith and reason. The human mind and altruistic love are the creations of divine will, by whatever name or written document.

This harmony requires tolerance without compromise. Absolutes are imperative, or pragmatically idealistic. Truth is truth; falsehoods are untrue; sins are sins and crimes are crimes as defined by appropriate law. In our culture and politics we may find some conflict and compromise of ideology and immorality. We often find less affection for persons who are different by birth, created by a loving but indiscriminate God. We often find discomfort around people with special needs, physical frailty, limited cognitive skills, different sexual orientation, or coveted heroic and gifted attributes. We find our warmest fellowship among those with the greatest commonality.

I have come to rethink the concept of inspiration. As a writer, I seldom find inspiration and make no claim to it. I respect the writing of the Old Testament scribes and God’s covenant with the people of Israel, and the metaphorical story of creation. I embrace the Apostle’s writing and the Epistles chosen to be included in our Christian Bible. This was and is the religion within which I grew up, and eventually grew old. I have less affinity for inerrancy, fundamentalism, charismatic signs and wonders, visual and physical manifestation in praise and worship. I find no common purpose with the Religious Right and no kinship with the movement we have come to know as Evangelical. I like the word Christian, even in derogation, as a label, maybe somewhat short of the image or of likeness of Jesus. As a measurement of attitude and compassion, I like the word liberal. For intellectual integrity, I think I like the designation logical disciple.

Populism and Christian Nationalism

Posted March 29, 2017 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In searching for a correlation of populism and nationalism, I found the period in American History between 1876 and 1898 in a textbook title, “The Triumph of Nationalism.” In the years following the Civil War and Reconstruction and signs of national prosperity, the Republican Party claimed and received the reputation of being “the party of progress.” In the election of 1884, religious issues were allowed to enter politics and introduced the phrase “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” The ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments in 1868 and 1870 gave citizenship to former slaves. One of the first women’s suffrage laws was passed in Wyoming Territory in 1869. This period saw the introduction of the fraternal society, the Grange, to protect farmer interest. Also new, were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the National Rifle Association, the Knights of Labor, Yellowstone Park, the first Jim Crow law, a completed Transcontinental Railroad. It was a period of unrest—Little Big Horn, Boss Tweed, and the Molly Maguires. We had the split administrations of Grover Cleveland and a sequence of Republican Presidents from 1897 through 1893. William Jennings Bryan was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee three times during a period of populism and a People’s Party and a Progressive Party during a period in which Liberalism and Conservation were not easily delineated. 1(Mahoney, 340-347).

The Populist movement was composed of two successive organizational vehicles, the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s Party. The central goal of the Alliance was to relieve the suffering of farmers who were increasingly tied to a cycle of debt. The major economic demands of the Alliance were intended to bring higher prices for farm products and to reduce debt. Alliance men pursued cooperative efforts at the local level and advocacy of economic reform at the national level. Eventually, the political passions of many members and leaders, combined with the frustrations that emerged in the course of the movement’s experience, pushed the Alliance into the independent political action that had been building alongside the movement. This led to the formation of the People’s Party, the followers of which came to be known as “Populists.” As in most analyses, however, the term “Populism” is used here to cover both parts of the movement.

Populism, attuned to the needs of “the people,” as used today is a reminder of theories rather than the structure of the original Populist or People’s Party. Today’s most prominent Democratic candidates are more about “mines and mills than towns and gowns.”2 (Safire, p. 560)

The 2016 election seemed to follow a pattern of Nationalism that we have been discussing in recent classroom lectures. Our reference to the factors of –language, religion, allegiance, and our national symbols of patriotism has implications of parallels of populism and nationalism. While our country denies any formal or delineated class system, the word populist has become the symbol of white, Anglo-, working class, patriotic Bible reading Christians.

“In this broad discourse, talk about the religious heritage of the West has reemerged. Steve Bannon, former member of the Breitbart group,  wants to advance a Judeo-Christian traditionalism” for economic reasons, and to deconstruct a liberal government.  During his campaign, Donald Trump sought the endorsement of religious communities and emphasized America’s Christian heritage. Fifty-two percent of Catholics as a whole, and sixty percent of white Catholics, voted for Trump. Fifty-eight percent of Protestants supported the Republican candidate.  Eighty percent of white evangelicals supported Trump, yet fifty-one percent of these indicated in polling they were actually voting against Hillary Clinton, “rather than for Trump.” This number is probably similar in the Catholic electorate.  Many conservative Christians backed Trump not because they approved of him as a moral role model, but because they could not endorse Hillary Clinton’s perceived stance on late-term abortion, or fear of gun confiscation. This was a major issue in the third presidential debate. More generally, many conservative Christians were worried about the future Supreme Court appointments. Trump’s charming Midwestern Vice-President-elect Mike Pence certainly helped his campaign secure a majority of the Christian vote (which makes up seventy-five percent of the total electorate). Pence, who once worked as a Catholic youth minister and who “wanted to be a priest,” had charted new territory in ecumenism by describing himself as an “evangelical Catholic.”3  (Peterson).

Christian Nationalism is an important concept, because the threat to a pluralistic society does not come from those who simply believe in a very conservative interpretation of Christianity. It comes from those who adhere to a political ideology that proposes a Christian right to rule. Christian nationalists believe in a revisionist history, which holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to create a secular republic. Separation of church and state, according to this history, is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives. One of the foremost Christian revisionist historians is David Barton, who, in addition to running an organization called Wallbuilders that disseminates Christian nationalist books, tracts and videos, he is also the vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party. The goal of Christian nationalist politics is the restoration of the imagined Christian nation. As George Grant, former executive director of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries, wrote in his book “The Changing of the Guard:”

“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion we are after. Not just equal time, but world conquest that Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less… Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.” 4(Grant)

Dr. Grant is currently the minister of the Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee. In the past his name has frequently been linked with Dominionism or Reconstructionism.  In my personal conversations with him, he  disavows any current ties with the religious populism that we associate with those ideologies.

We usually associate those with the writings of R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001), Calvanist philosopher, historian, and theologian and is widely credited as the father of Christian Reconstructionism and an inspiration for the modern Christian home school movement. His followers and critics have argued that his thought exerts considerable influence on the Christian right.

While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all. Liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country’s heritage. Our founders expected that Christianity — and no other religion — would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples’ consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.

The iconography of Christian nationalism conflates the cross and the flag. It claims supernatural sanction for its campaign of national renewal and speaks rapturously about vanquishing the millions of Americans who would stand in its way. At one rally at the statehouse in Austin, Texas, a banner pictured a fierce eagle perched upon a bloody cross. For a liberal, such imagery smacks of fascism. But plenty of deeply committed Christians also object to it as a form of blasphemy. It’s important, I think, to separate their faith from the authoritarian impulses of the Christian nationalist movement. Christianity is a religion. Christian nationalism is a political program, and there is nothing sacred about it.

“Christian nationalism is contingent on symbols and imagery. The flag salute and the Pledge of Allegiance with the addition of “under God” to the Pledge added a religious tone which I would think should be considered a violation of the Establishment Clause if the recitation is compulsory in a public education setting.  In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled accordingly in Engel v. Vitale. The petitioners contended among other things that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents’ prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause.” 5 (Woll, pp. 150-151).

Every society has the right to perpetuate itself by building loyalty to its institutions and its values through the education it provides its youngsters. Tyrannies are often characterized by their use of schools and youth movements to indoctrinate their youth to blind loyalty to the regime, trampling the truth where necessary, or suppressing it when it is necessary for them to do so. Free, democratic societies, however, rest upon the premise that rational persons will choose to be loyal to them if they have access to truth. The educational system of a liberal democracy, therefore, should be able to develop a commitment to its perpetuation through a course of instruction that develops in the students a spirit of free and unhampered inquiry and critical thinking.”6 (Leiser, p. 287)

“It was never intended or supposed that the [First] Amendment could be invoked as a protection against legislation for the punishment of acts inimical to the peace, good order, and morals of society. However free the exercise of religion may be, it must be subordinate to the criminal laws of the country. It was passed with reference to actions by the general consent as properly the subjects of punitive legislation.” 7 (Hamilton), Gillette v. United States.

“As the populist ideology has found harmony with religious fundamentalism, what began as economic justice and freedom has become an instrument of both nationalism and authoritarianism. Liberals hear the words of the Moral Majority and see a monster. They are caught between the mind-crippling force of fundamentalism on the one hand and the promise of freedom and life through learning and education on the other. When I first began to hear the words of Jimmy Carter and Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell, and others like them, I thought I was hearing ghosts.” 8(Young, p. 6)

From our Ronald Reagan narrative in 1980, “Once upon a time, America was a shining beacon. Then liberals came along and erected an enormous federal bureaucracy, that handcuffed the invisible hand of the free market.” 9(Haidt, p. 332).

“Fundamentalist Christians are politically conservative. How are they distinct from progressive Christians? What do fundamentalist Christians mean by “freedom” and “liberty, “and how does that meaning relate to right-wing political leaders? There is a single answer to this question—strict father religion.”10(Lakoff, pp. 182-183)

“Yet it is surprising that most conservative Christian leaders, who represent some of the constituencies that have provided a major source of legitimacy and stability in the public order, are now going beyond challenging policies to questioning the very structure and basis of public life.”  11(Adams, p. 127) ( 2002)

“I  believe the coalition of fundamentalism and evangelicalism with their re-emergence in politics and their opposition to public education have drastically moved organized religion so far to the right we are losing the best and brightest of academia and politics. Case in point, the influence on the Republican Party, in Congressional and Presidential elections with opposition to reproductive rights, opposition to same-sex contractual rights, displaying religious images in public venues, and symbolic utterances of religious verbiage, has distracted politics from matters of governance, of Constitutional integrity, human rights, and attention to human suffering. We may need another Age of Enlightenment. Where is Thomas Jefferson when we need him?” 12The Eye of Reason, (2012) p.282

I just read a lengthy article on the new wave of liberal Christian involvement in politics. It is difficult to understand the meaning of the establishment clause and the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment. It seems that government sanction, endorsement, legislation, or financial support of religion is a violation. Also, government denial of religious freedom is equally a violation. Within the IRS codes “as prohibited by the Johnson Amendment” any tax-exempt organization cannot endorse or finance a candidate or party, but may support or oppose behavior or ideology deemed to be immoral or irreligious. Christians have historically opposed slavery, segregation, and wars from the left, and more recently been involved in reproductive rights, gun rights, public education, and marriage equality along liberal and conservative political lines.

The 2016 Presidential election injected a major conflict of liberal and conservative ideologies and the moral and ethical behavior of the candidates. Christians have an imperative to respect the institutional separation of church and state, and to reject any religious tests for candidates. But we also have to differentiate religious dogma from morality. There are several reasons. We do have a social contract with the poor, the sick, the handicapped, the stranger among us, the children, and the long list, explicit and implied, in the teachings of Jesus. Also, exemplary icons are needed as role models for public office. We cannot require a Christian label across the forehead, but as voters, we can send a message for our moral and ethical standards, as peacemakers, and our compassion for those identified as “least of these.” Christianity is not a political party. We have Liberal Christians, Republican Christians, and non-partisan Christians.

“Politically and culturally, Christians on the right feel threatened by public schools, abortion clinics, homosexuals, the Supreme Court, gun control, the ordination of women, liberalism, the welfare system, deficit spending, anti-capital punishment groups, and other ominous influences over which they have no control.

On the left, poised to defend their beliefs, are those who believe that education and secular or civil autonomy are being threatened by the religious right and conservative coalitions.  They advocate separation of church and state, non-sectarian public education, and the integrity of scientific and medical exploration.  Most leftist Christians support reproductive rights, tolerate diversity of gender identity and sexual orientation, and oppose all forms of violence, including capital punishment and war.  They are skeptical of televangelists, the faith healers, the snake handlers, and other charlatans of the industry.  They openly oppose legislation concerning school prayer, the Ten Commandments, the modified Pledge of Allegiance, and all efforts of civil government to impose religious principles by civil law.  To them, morality is a rational societal imperative for human interaction, contained within a body of ethical theory that came from man’s rational interpretation of God’s will.  To them it encompasses both intuitive directives from the human conscience and written ecclesiastical doctrine, without conflict, but being all sufficient for shaping human behavior without the other.

The subject of American exceptionalism has been the recent focus of controversy about the content of History textbooks in public schools. We believe this refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty. This is derived from our political institutions founded on the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution, and the Constitution.

There is a counter argument that there is also a negative connotation that we have been exceptionally immoral, racist, and violent. We tend to exaggerate and politicize both extremes as we reevaluate the incremental recognition of rights and the violence involved in the denial or acquisition of those rights.

We began as a group of independent colonies which found the necessity of national unity to gain our independence from England and “to form a more perfect union.” We debated the need for a standing army, or reliance on a system of well-regulated militias. Our Tenth Amendment allowed states to practice or prohibit slavery, later resolved by a bloody war. Our entrepreneurial spirit enabled us to achieve the American dream, and also gave us industrial giants and the financially elite. We ran our factories with low wages, child labor, and workplace tragedies. We created unions, suffered acts of violence in our coal mines, walked picket lines, and eventually found ways to regulate commerce and monopolies. We denied voting rights and access to social equality on bases of gender, skin color, and national origin.

We cited the wisdom of our founding fathers to determine whether we were a Christian or secular nation. We attached labels of Christian or Deist to measure the spirituality and secular wisdom of those who wrote our Constitution and formed our government. We speak of and fear moral decline, or impending theocracy.

We include a chapter on immigration. We tell the story of the English, Spanish, and French who discovered, settled, and built a new nation. We include the history of the Irish, Catholics, Jews, Asians, and Native Americans whose seats at the table of democracy and religious equality were reluctantly and belatedly acknowledged. We recite the celebratory phrase “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores” and we appeal for a higher wall and more security on our borders.

Our History books accurately define our exceptional America in democratic ideals, free enterprise, religious freedom, military superiority, family values, our historical founding documents, and human rights. Yet there should be a few paragraphs or pages to document and learn from the times and events in which those have been denied to some, or unwillingly and violently imposed on others.

I read a newspaper account of a Catholic Priest who suggested that those who voted for Barack Obama should confess their sins for voting for a pro-abortion candidate.  Statistically, approximately 54% of voting Catholics supported Senator Obama.

In small rural country churches, in inner city black churches, in suburban mega-churches, there were millions of liberal Christians who raised their voices from the pulpits and from the pews for the end of racial prejudice, for the end of an ill-conceived war, for a season of hope.  At the same time, there were other sincere people of faith who voiced their fears of a potential election of someone who might be a Muslim, whose pastor was not an American, whose friend was a 1960s radical revolutionary and a terrorist bomber.

I believe within a decade or two, this battle will end.  Peace will come to the southern fields made fertile by the bones of intellectual giants and Bible scholars.  No longer will our hallowed land be strewn left and right with the bruised and broken bodies of Christians, left and right.

Christianity, by its only document, is non-violent.  Hatred is precluded by the Christian conscience, and sustained by love and compassion.  When we will have survived the fray, we must rejoin the defense of religious freedom and intellectual freedom and insure for all of us–the right to believe, the right to know, and the right to think.

As long as there are craftsmen who fashion, shape and forge the links of chain, for mind or ankle, there will be southern writers who will fashion, shape, and forge the words that break those chains.”13  (Wisdom, pp 38-39).

Bibliography:

  1. Mahoney, Rev. Charles J., (Editor) Book Three, Christianity and America (1948)
  2. Safire, William, Safire’s Political Dictionary, (2008)
  3. Peterson, Paul Silas, Essays & Exchanges, The Election of Donald Trump, “Religion and the new populism.”
  4. Grant, George, The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action, published in 1987 by Dominion Press
  5. Woll, Peter, American Government: Readings and Cases (Sixth Edition, 1962)
  6. Leiser, Burton M., Liberty, Justice, and Morals: Contemporary Value Conflicts. (1973)
  7. Hamilton, Marci A., God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (2005)
  8. Young, Perry Deane, God’s Bullies (1982)
  9. Haidt, Jonathan, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012)
  10. Lakoff, George, Whose Freedom? The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea (2006)
  11. Adams, Lawrence E., Going Public: Christian Responsibility in a Divided America (2002)
  12. Peach, Bill, The Eye of Reason (2012)
  13. Wisdom, Emma, editor, Barack Obama: Vision to Victory (2009). “A Broken Shackle in the White House,” Peach, pp. 38-39)

Songs for Political Theory Class

Posted February 1, 2017 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In our Political Theory class at Columbia State we were assigned the choosing of ten songs that were relevant to what we are learning about government and politics.

I will begin with the anti-Vietnam War songs. Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan and Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger were probably the most played, recorded by many folk artists including Peter Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio.  I was a child of the 60s. I included lines from one of these songs in a play I wrote for our local community theater, Pulltight Players.  The play also included a reference to the now infamous photo of Kent State. Neil Young wrote Four Dead in Ohio which is about the shooting by the National Guard at Kent State.

We Shall Overcome became the anthem for the Civil Rights movement. I think the lyrics were written by Zilpha Hart, but it has roots in Gospel Music and has a history of creative lyrics to fit the occasion. Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changing and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come were favorites for defining the Civil Righs movement. The Byrds recorded Turn, Turn, Turn also by Pete Seeger, taken from the well-known Biblical quote in Ecclesiastes, “There’s a time for every purpose under Heaven.” It fit into the 1960s which depicted the decade as the “best of times and the worst of times.”

On freedom of speech, my daughter introduced me to One Voice by the Wailin’ Jennys (not Waylon). The first verse is a solo proposing the idea of one voice for freedom of speech. This is followed by a duet for the second verse with two voices, and a third with a trio and three voices. Then they all sing the fourth verse as the voice of everyone, and the fifth verse as one voice including everyone.

On the subject of pluralism, Woody Guthrie, made a statement for diversity and inclusion with This Land is Your Land, “From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream Waters. From California to the New York Island, this land was made for you and me.”

On a current note and recurring theme, Woody Guthrie, wrote and recorded Deportee. It is a story of migrant farm workers who picked fruit in the Southwest who drowned after being deported. The references to the disaster included no names, just repeating the word deportee.

On the subject of nationalism and patriotism, three come to mind. The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key brings us to our feet routinely at athletic events and proudly when our athletes win medals. It has had moments of protests. Members of our track team raised black gloves and clenched fist on the winners stand at the Olympics. More recently NFL players have “taken a knee” to protest Black Lives Matter and other racial issues. This was followed by a right wing backlash of anger and condemnation.

Lee Greenwood’s Proud to Be an American has become the anthem for conservative America. Wherever there is a gathering of Republicans or any right wing group Lee seems to show up and inspire the crowd. “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

To make the quantum leap from the sixties to 2017, I have one of the classics from the worst of times or best of times. The campaign, election, and first month of the new Presidency have filled the streets with demonstrations and protests similar to my generation. Barry McGuire captured the mood of troubled times in 1964 with his hit, The Eve of Destruction.  Ironically, when I went to a link to look for a quote from the lyrics, the first images on the video were of President Trump. Here are the lyrics:

https://genius.com/Barry-mcguire-eve-of-destruction-lyrics#note-1526781

Christian, Liberal, and Logical Disciple

Posted January 3, 2017 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In my Church of Christ tradition, I was taught I was my brother’s keeper. I had some obligation for “seeking the lost.” This did not translate into an evangelical imperative that I should convince my Methodist cousins to give up their love for the piano in Sunday morning worship, or their resistance to baptism by “immersion.”

It took me a long time to appreciate the sincerity and dedication of the young Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witness missionaries who knocked on my door with Bibles and printed religious tracts. I was more appreciative of the welcoming neighbor, bringing baked goods and the offer of fellowship within their steeple of choice. I remember years ago when a new youth minister at the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ first offered a church bus ride to children in a segregated neighborhood to our Vacation Bible School.

Our First Amendment is a wall of separation, a barrier to an established government religion, and also a fortress of refuge for believers from falsehood and fanaticism. The growth of non-denominational Christianity has restructured our paradox of unity and diversity. Congregations offer traditional or contemporary praise and worship, and we promote or quietly deny our liberal or evangelical leanings to recruit the young and the unaffiliated. Christianity, as I knew it in my childhood, has become rare. Even the Church of Christ at Millview now has an electronic screen behind the song leader rather than fumbling through the pages of hymnals.  I found them to be very apolitical during the election. Their young minister is academically conversant with contemporary and classic literature and media hype, but astute in rational Christianity and biblical integrity. Still much of their Christmas message was focused on food and heavy coats for charity. I feel a kinship among friends in most religions. Last week, I spent an afternoon at a visitation for a friend among the members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

I enjoy the faith, worship, morality, tolerance, and fellowship of Christians. They are in no way as despicable as they are perceived to be in politics, mega church television charlatans, retail bigotry, ostentatious end zone celebrations, or divine attribution for trophies of vanity. They reach beyond their faith, their praise and worship, and selective biblical literalism, and embrace a harmony of tolerance and fellowship.

Concurrent with Sunday worship, in my extended week, I find a similar harmony in our secular culture. Most people are church going spiritual people for whom their spirituality is more personal and less vocal. Most of them believe in a higher power, the unseen designer and author of truth, morality, ethics, love, tolerance, and charity.

On a more secular note, I find comfort among agnostics, humanists, Unitarians, moralists, and freethinkers who have found and embraced their morality, ethics, tolerance, love and compassion through secular intellect and logic, through reason rather than revelation. Earlier in one of my books, I included a reference to a comparison of religious ethics and secular ethics. I shared a conversation I had with a professor who has taught in more than one Church of Christ universities. Our mutual thought was that secular ethics may be stronger today than fundamentalist religion. This is of course not by design, of God’s will, or the Messianic message of Jesus. Neither is it an apostasy, or a religious falling away of a chosen people.

Academia and the several theories of ethics have served us well historically. Logic bends toward ethics, morality, love, compassion, and fellowship. You don’t have to abandon your Sunday morning praise and worship. You don’t have to abandon the inspiration of the New Testament writers when you receive your doctorate of science, technology, literature, history, political science, or philosophy. Christianity is not a fairy tale or mythology. There is a harmony of faith and reason. The human mind and altruistic love are the creations of higher intelligence, by whatever name or written document.

This harmony requires tolerance without compromise. Absolutes are imperative, or pragmatically idealistic. Truth is truth; falsehoods are untrue; sins are sins and crimes are crimes as defined by appropriate law. In our culture and politics we may find some conflict and compromise of ideology and immorality. We often find less affection for persons who are different by birth, created by a loving but indiscriminate God. We often find discomfort around people with special needs, physical frailty, limited cognitive skills, different sexual orientation, or coveted heroic and gifted attributes. We find our warmest fellowship among those with the greatest commonality.

I have come to rethink the concept of inspiration. As a writer, I seldom find it and make no claim to it. I respect the writing of the Old Testament scribes and God’s covenant with the people of Israel, and the metaphorical story of creation. I embrace the Apostle’s writing and the Epistles chosen to be included in our Christian Bible. This was and is the religion within which I grew up, and eventually grew old. I have less affinity for inerrancy, fundamentalism, charismatic signs and wonders, visual and physical manifestation in praise and worship. I find no common purpose with the Religious Right and no kinship with the movement we have come to know as Evangelical. I like the word Christian, even in derogation, as a label, maybe somewhat short of the image of likeness. As a measurement of attitude and compassion, I like the word liberal. For intellectual integrity, I think I like the designation logical disciple.

Keeping America Great in 2016

Posted September 21, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The 2016 Presidential election is about more than whom you could not possibly vote for, or who you think is evil, or stupid, or a liar, or a buffoon, or should be in jail, or in a circus. We need to think about qualifications, a combination of intellect and common sense, temperament, respect for the Constitution and compassion for the diversity of our people. The words Liberal and Conservative are not pejoratives, but imprecise coloration of our religion, our economics, and our politics. On November 8, we are going to elect a President, who will have to work with Congress, who will be our Commander-in-Chief, who will propose nominees for the Supreme Court, and occupy the most powerful pulpit on our planet. I have been impressed with the many people who have expressed their rational and positive support for their candidate of choice.

Voters and citizens are not deplorable; obscene speech and ignoble behavior are deplorable. Tennesseans will also be choosing 9 members of Congress, who make decisions about immigration, taxes, regulations, environment, defense, diplomacy, civil rights, and our social contract. We will elect 99 House members of our State Legislature. These people may impact your life more than the President.

I am sorry that my inquiry into your political privacy may have emboldened people on the left and right who might have been uncivil and intimidating. I appreciate many of you avowing your faith and your moral principles as the attribution for your political decisions. I respect that. But I would remind you America is a Constitutional Democratic Republic, not a Theocracy. Your public image is more than an affirmation of your faith. It requires a validation of your speech and your compassion for people with whom you live and share a sense of community.  The moral world view that comes from God is shared by people who derive their ethics from reason and human introspection. If you can for a moment, put aside your distaste for one or both of the candidates.

The first vote I cast for President was for John Kennedy in 1960. It was an absentee ballot during my active duty in the Army Reserve at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I stood in the snow in January and watched the Inaugural Parade from the curb. From that day, until President Obama leaves office this January, we will have had 28 years of Republican presidents and 28 years of Democratic presidents in the White House.

America has been and is great now, and the word “again” is irrelevant. None of us are fleeing as refugees into Mexico or Canada, or a mythical time or place after the election. On a positive side, in my asking for votes for Hillary, I have found a Democratic party, unified and willing to go forward with a continuum of the Obama legacy. I have also found a bonding with my many sincere conservative Republican friends who find optimism in things that unite us as Americans that are more important than the things that divide us. Whatever you do, please vote, whether you follow your party, your conscience, or love of country. Also, even if you leave the top of the ballot blank, or write in the name of your cat or vote for a minor party candidate, give serious thought to our elections in the State Legislature in Districts 61, 63, and 65. These are our friends and neighbors. They make decisions about our schools, our local government, our quality of life, and the public political integrity of our County.

The Corruption of Children

Posted April 22, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In one of the closing scenes of the movie version of Inherit the Wind, Spencer Tracy, in the role of Clarence Darrow, quotes from Proverbs 11:29—“He that troubleth his own house…”—just before he puts copies of the Holy Bible and On the Origin of Species into his briefcase. I have watched this on late-night satellite television until it is archived forever in my brain beside To Kill a Mockingbird.

Those of you who arrived late to the South may have missed our regional reluctance to racial understanding and academic honesty within the walls of rural public education and fundamentalist Sunday school. The story of John Scopes and the Dayton, Tennessee trial, jokingly referred to as the Monkey Trial was documented on front pages of newspapers, North and South. Scopes was found guilty and fined a minimal sum for violating a state law that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools.

The trial began as a tourist phenomenon to draw a crowd to the public square and Main Street of Dayton. It became much more. Fundamentalist rural Tennessee and the liberal Eastern media created a comedic but historic spectacle involving William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

In recent days, I have been reading again the writings of Plato, including Apology, in which Socrates defends his conduct as a philosopher. Charges within the evidence presented against him include corrupting the youth of Athens, and denial of the gods.

The difference in importance between Scopes and Socrates is obvious. The similarities often go unnoticed. Teachers, or philosophers, who encourage students to think critically, contemplate the complexity of the universe, or question paradigms, are sometimes chastised by public consensus. Great men of science and thinkers of periods of enlightenment have found themselves in conflict with public opinion and religious orthodoxy. From Socrates to Jesus to Copernicus to Galileo to Darwin, those who challenged the existing order were accused of corrupting the youth and denying the iconic deities. Through the history of the Reformation, the Civil Rights Movement, advanced scientific and medical research, and innovation in education, persons often defamed the images of conservatism and Christianity, with their opposition to human liberty and intellectual freedom.

More recently, talk-radio personalities publicly assail classroom assignments in schools, and challenge the academic diversity of public education. Parents, in opposing assigned readings that they find offensive, often could deny access to other students for reasons of ideology. Legislators would ban or disclaim the content of some chapters in our science textbooks.

There is, however, the risk that those of us who are advocates of secular intellectual freedom may at times become intolerant of religious expression. With caution, we avoid sectarian instruction in the classroom. The proper guidelines seem to be: the protection of all religious freedom, and the non-participatory role of government in matters of collective religion. Those of us in elected public office, who hold positions of authority in public education, are prohibited by law and logic from imposing our religious views on our youth or challenging their religious beliefs, writings, symbols, or practices.

Those who find an attraction to philosophy and the Socratic method of reasoning, often derive delight from circuitously challenging the advocates of certainty. We thrive on the gamesmanship of challenging the Sophists in the Greek marketplace who define truth and virtue in their own street-vendor rhetoric. We love confounding the Pharisees in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem. We applaud Luther as he rattled the ramparts of royal and papal Christendom.

I wish that I could trace their steps, sharing their courage and mischief, into the churches, temples, mosques, courtrooms, classrooms, and halls of government, and identify with those thinkers and reformers who have advanced human thought and liberty. We live in a time and place in which the Sophists and Pharisees have changed their raiment and taken new names, and sit in seats of authority, and we would be at risk if they thought we were corrupting their youth or questioning their gods.

Truth in Labeling in Politics, Religion, and Retailing

Posted April 13, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There is something paradoxical about “truth in labeling” in writing or speaking about both religion and politics. We have come to convey the argument that there is an ideal degree of liberalism or ideal level of conservatism that makes a candidate, public figure, or elected official in some way heroic and admired and any deviation from that we label as a flaw of character and add derogatory adjectives to discredit either. We offer some designations of compromise—fiscal conservative, social liberal, Christian humanist, progressive, or constitutional purist. In both religion and politics, we have found denominations within the Christian faith and political parties reaching the point of being “too” conservative or “too liberal” to an extreme that would lead us to change our party affiliation or church membership. When you identify attitudes issues such as bathroom privacy; insure Tennessee; official state book, song, animal, or wild flower; academic curriculum and standards; deviant sexual behavior;  or opening a public meeting with a prayer as being either liberal or conservative you will find both ideological and behavioral contradictions.

I don’t know the answer. I think in our labeling of “right” and “left” we may have neglected our attention to “right” and “wrong.” When we say that Hillary Clinton is too conservative, Donald Trump is too liberal, Bernie Sanders is too secular, or Ted Cruz is too religious we further confuse the ideology, the competence, the qualifications, and the character of each. At the local level of school board elections, state legislators, and friends who engage in a social media thread of likes and commentary, we often wonder “what is he or she drinking or smoking to vote for that candidate, or attend that church?”

We think and act based on our life experiences, our educational background, and our bonding with friends and family. We find comfort among kindred minds, and strength from our ideological adversaries. I appreciate “both of you” who have, with voices support and compassionate tolerance, helped me find some harmony of faith and reason.

On a more mundane level, I still have people who approach me and show me a label inside a suit or sport coat. Most of those were “combination labels” of the corporate integrity of the manufacturer and the local storekeeper, before the trend of “designer labels” and deceptive advertising and pricing.  I think there is an analogy there of a different time in our history and our culture. I learned in my formal schooling in consumer behavior, history, political science, philosophy, and the aesthetic content of the liberal arts there is usually a disparity in perception and reality. A product, candidate, elected official, public servant, or even a friend is limited to the level of the lesser of the two images.